By on January 24, 2011

Jonathon writes:

Sajeev, my just post-college daughter is driving our 2003 Honda Accord EX – V-6, leather, Navigation, all the sweet bells and whistles.  The bulk of 175,000 miles have been highway-easy, and the vehicle has been well-maintained during its life. . . except the transmission.  After an early flush-and-fill at 30K, it didn’t see fluid change until something north of 95K, and is now waaay due for fresh fluid.

It doesn’t whine, and up- and downshifts when expected.  My daughter mentioned a “shudder” in the car when she backs from her parking space and shifts into Drive.  She took it to the dealer and — guess what? — they recommended she replace the tranny for a cost of $4,000.  “We give you a three-year guarantee,” they cheerily promise.

Uh, not gonna happen.  But, she plans on keeping the car for at least another year or two.  Maybe longer.

That’s the windup and here’s the pitch:  Considering the age, mileage and mostly highway-driven wear, when I have the transmission fluid replaced next month, should I have it powerflushed to make it squeaky clean or do a simple drain and topoff (out of fear of “dislodging” some clearances that have been built over thousands of miles)?

Sajeev Answers:

Let’s say that “something north”  fluid changed happened at 100k, that leaves a fairly long 75k between service intervals.  Considering the overall driving conditions and current problem with the autobox, I’d still suggest a proper power flush of the system. In my entirely unscientific research, most tranny failures from worn fluid came from well over 100k of usage on said ATF.  So it’s worth the risk, especially if the appropriate Honda forum recommends an additive to help with shudder before gear engagement. So do a little homework after dinner one evening, then do the right thing with confidence.

Bonus!  A Piston Slap Nugget of Wisdom:

Piston Slaps about Honda automatics are getting a long in the tooth. Let’s fix that.

It’s been a while since I’ve (erroneously) found a reason for an LS-X powertrain swap. I checked the forums and saw an intrepid soul trying to put an LS-4 with a 6-speed automatic (Lambda CUV sourced) into W-Body GM sedans. Epic win, making me see the light.  Think of the potential when you combine Japanese quality, Honda fit and finish, etc with the legendary power of GM’s all-aluminum small block V8 and close ratio 6-speed automatic: both specifically designed tight underhood FWD applications!

Can you imagine the parking lot discussions at the office? Your post-college daughter’s LS4-powered Accord will make serious inroads with upper management. Think of the career advancement possibilities! And do it for her!

Send your queries to mehta@ttac.com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry.

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58 Comments on “Piston Slap: More Honda Slushbox FAIL…...”


  • avatar
    Scoutdude

    Do not have the “power flush” done it will spell an immediate end to the transmission. Those machines inject solvents, a percentage of which stays in the transmission, breaking down and reducing the lubricity of the the new fluid.
     
     

  • avatar
    redmondjp

    Don’t do the power flush.  There are numerous debris-catching screens inside the transmission which are probably clogged with clutch disc friction material (causing low pressure to clutch pistons), and a power flush won’t unclog them.

    Go to http://www.odyclub.com/forums and search the forums for the automatic transmission threads – the 5-speed auto used in this car also was used in the Odyssey starting in the 2002 model year.  Every single thing you ever want to know about what goes wrong with these transmissions and how to fix them is posted there.

    If you’re lucky, you can clear out the debris screens, do several drain & fills with an approved ATF, and eek a few more thousand miles out of it.

  • avatar

    That picture is a 4-clynider Accord.  Sajeev FAIL ;)
     
    I’m glad I got rid of my ’04 V6 Accord.  Even at 15,000 miles something just seemed fishy with the transmission compared to new.

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    Replace it with a 1973 Caprice Classic with a 400 small block and sold durable GM transmission.  There’s even one on eBay right now for a reasonable price.  ;)

    • 0 avatar
      texan01

      My ’77 Chevelle had 130,000-ish miles on it when I got it, the TH-350 was so gunked up that it had no reverse or third gear. I eventually ran enough clean fluid through it to make it work for a while, till it lost forward range all together, about 5,000 miles later. In the end of that trans life, it had reverse and third, but no 1st or 2nd. Swapped in another TH-350 that I had laying around, that has as many miles on it, and it shifts butter smooth, just like the modern electronic transmissions. Just has 3 speeds though, coupled with a pathetic 2.56 rear end, it’s no neck-snapper off the line, and sometimes it really needs a gear between 2nd and 3rd.

    • 0 avatar
      sabast20

      Sweet…
      http://cgi.ebay.com/ebaymotors/BEST-COLORS-SURVIVOR-1973-Chevrolet-Caprice-31K-MI-/180615983462?pt=US_Cars_Trucks&hash=item2a0d8d3166#v4-41
       
       

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      Now you know what sort of auctions I like.  Forget the Honda. 

  • avatar
    BMWfan

    I disagree strongly with Sajeev here. DO NOT powerflush the trans on this car or it will fail. Drain and fill two times, and it may improve, using ONLY Honda atf. You did well to get 175k out of this trans. I just can’t understand though, why Honda can’t seem to get a handle on the transmission issue. I sure won’t be buying another one.

  • avatar

    this here is why you get the V6 6 speed, dude!  3rd gear popout cured by MTF change is a lot easier than a new slushbox!

  • avatar
    geofcol

    Give autorx a try.Ihave used it in my engine with great results. Dealer wanted to sell me an
    engine for a sludge Toyo 3.0 and used Autorx with great results. It is supposed to work in trannys too.

  • avatar
    HoldenSSVSE

    Don’t power flush this transmission.  If bad things are getting ready to happen, then you’re just moving the bad things express along.

    I don’t know enough about this tranny mechanically, but I do know the Honda V6 automatics are problematic from this era, this spilled over to Acura on a number of products including cars, minivans and SUVs.  You’re lucky you got 175K miles out of it as it is – and in general as Michael from True Delta recently posted, the average life span of a vehicle in all his survey data is about 160K miles.  The car doesn’t owe you a thing at this stage of the game.

    This tranny needs a gentle touch, not the blunt force trauma of a power flush.  Drop the pan, change the gasket, drain, clean the screen(s) (if equipped) and/or change the filter (if equipped).  Fill, run, drain again, discard.  Fill, run, drain again, discard.  Fill, run, and hope things are better.  This was the old fashioned way of changing tranny fluid before the invention of the power flush machine.

    The problem with the flush is any bits floating around can get power flushed into the lines and/or channels and clog/block them.  This will result in a catastrophic transmission failure shortly after the flush.

    Don’t power flush a fragile tranny with fluid that has been in there too long.  Bad, bad, things can happen.

    • 0 avatar
      John Horner

      No pan on a Honda automatic. It is an entirely different beast from nearly all other automatic transmissions. Basically, Honda builds a conventional sliding gear “manual” transmission and then adds the bits and pieces needed to shift it automatically. Honda’s automatic transmissions are sort of the technological descendants of Chrysler’s long abandoned Presto-Matic units of the late 40s, early 50s.
       
       
       

      • 0 avatar
        Kevin Kluttz

        You are so right! An automatic with parallel gears, just so they won’t have to pay a Borg-Warner royalty on every one they would be building with planetary gears. That’s why they can’t get a handle on it. Had one but it was a 2001 EX 4-cylinder, and with 222000 miles it was slipping badly when cold on the 2-3 shift (it was a 4-speed, but still the same makeup as the 5). Traded. The 5-speed in my 2006 Civic, the first year of its run, feels bulletproof. Done their homework, have they? My .02…

    • 0 avatar
      JimC

      I didn’t know that about Honda’s automatics.  I read up a bit on them.  That explains the “firm” 3-2 downshift I remember at about 18-20mph in my stepfather’s ’91 Civic… and the reverse gear whine- in an automatic!  (Am I imagining that or do I remember correctly?)  I was used to the characteristically subtle Torqueflite 2-1 downshift with the overrunning clutch (or the manual “1″ low/reverse band which any old Mopar fan is familiar with).

  • avatar
    cdotson

    I’ll throw in as another voice against the “power flush,” less so because of process after-affects but more because it just plain won’t help your problem. A drain/refill is pointless, but may extend your service before it well and truly goes Tango Uniform.
     
    I traded in a 2000 Ody with downward spiraling transmission performance several months ago.  It had the 4spd, but from what I remember reading on the OdyClub forums it was a similar issue to what plagued the early 5spd autos as well.  There are solenoid valves in the hydraulic circuits that have filter screens where the valves install in the top of the case.  These plug up with varnish, for lack of a better word, from heat-affected ATF.  Use of non-Honda ATF was rumored to exacerbate this issue (it’s a Honda-specific, non-Dexron formula).  On the 4spds, there was a report of where someone removed the solenoid valves and cleaned the gunk from them and from the fluid circuit openings in the casting and extended the life and improved the performance of a trans that was essentially limping.  I’m not sure how long-term this could be, or how different or more difficult the procedure will be for a 5spd, but if you absolutely need more time to arrange a new car or the funds for a new trans before your current one dies it may be worth a look.
     
     

    • 0 avatar
      windswords

      Like Chrysler, it’s very important that you use the tranny fluid they specify. Don’t let anyone tell you that using an additive to another kind of fluid or using a “universal” fluid is ok. It is not. A not insignificant number of early 4 speed Chrysler autos died as a result of the wrong fluid being used.

      • 0 avatar
        Kevin Kluttz

        USE ONLY HONDA TRANSMISSION FLUID. PERIOD. I don’t mean to shout, but that is very important. If you read or hear anything different, DO NOT believe it. I tried some of that Lucas molasses shit in my ’01 and a week later the shudder began, and without helping the problem. Quickly did 2 changes and no more shudder.

      • 0 avatar
        Kevin Kluttz

        Why is that comment being moderated? I’ve seen a lot of words worse than that on this site. Just trying to make a point! Sorry! Geez!

  • avatar
    windswords

    A little off topic but some owners manuals say you don’t have to change the tranny fluid if you drive the “normal” (not “severe”) way. We have 2003 Durango (1st gen) that has just over 100,000 miles on it. It is used by the wife for kid schlepping and shopping. It’s 2wd, never goes off road, and never tows anything. I checked the trans fluid dipstick a couple of weeks ago and it was as clean as brand new fluid. No unusual smells. The car has been shifting fine. Should I change the fluid anyway?

    • 0 avatar
      texan01

      I would, I did on my 1995 Explorer at 103,000 miles, and then again at 160,000 miles. By the time the trans failed, it wasn’t due to clutch/hydralic failures, it was due to metal fatigue at 225,000 miles. It seems I abused 2nd gear a bit too much going up and down mountain passes in Colorado the month prior and it tore the anchor off the intermediate band. Shop said it would have probably lasted another 50,000 miles though. It might still be going on the original transmission at 280,000 miles, but the electronic solenoids are getting weak when it gets hot. I did do a service on it at 12,000 miles by the company that did the transmission, and then again about two years later at 30k on it.

    • 0 avatar
      HoldenSSVSE

      I would also.  I’ve had a couple of cars with the “sealed” transmission and the same thing, no recommendation to change the fluid.  I change them every 50K regardless (possibly overkill) I would change any automatic tranny in a passenger car/light truck at 100K.  It is very cheap insurance compared to the alternative.

    • 0 avatar
      Kevin Kluttz

      I think transmission fluid is like shock absorbers. The deterioration is glacier-slow and unnoticeable until you renew.

  • avatar
    ExPatBrit

    Sajeev  is having an off day.
    I have never seen a power flush revive a transmission, if you do it  it might feel good for a couple of days but be dead within a month.

  • avatar
    Lorenzo

    Good luck finding a shop that will do the multiple drain/refill job. They’ll charge you for the extra labor, but you’ll wonder if they actually did it right – unless you do it yourself. If they do the power flush, thinking you won’t know the difference, I agree with the others – you won’t be wondering for long.
     
    Re: Honda automatics, my ’88 Accord’s torque converter froze about a month after being tuned by an independent shop. I specifically told them NOT to “top off” the fluids, but they did it anyway, overfilling the transmission. I had to siphon out the extra transmission fluid, but it had already mixed. I have no idea what they added to the transmission, but the Honda-only shop that repaired it told me it was incompatible with Honda-recommended fluid.
     
    BTW, a recently retired mechanic told me he suspects the engine computers are responsible for a number of slushbox failures. He’d seen formerly robust components fail at a higher rate, usually accompanied by faulty/damaged sensors connected to the engine computer. I’m no ATF expert, but It sounds plausible that a torque-driven hydraulic system can be messed up by an engine computer acting on bad sensor readings.

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      Well since you need to drive it some between those drain and fill procedures I don’t see a problem just make a standing appt on the same day for the next 3 weeks. I’m sure particularly in this economy they’ll be happy to do it again and again.

    • 0 avatar
      Truckducken

      Totally agree Jonathon should DIY. Easier than an oil change. Tools: wrench, funnel. Just save the fluid you drain in its own container (gallon milk jug works well), so you can determine the volume you drained out. Then pour that much new Honda ATF back in the dipstick tube.

  • avatar

    I’ve never heard a good thing about a power flush either. Drain, clean and/or replace filters/screens as appropriate, maybe put a fresh external ATF cooler on it, and refill. But that’s it.
    Maybe Sajeev is suggesting the power flush because Steve Lang has a spare transmission stored somewhere for his next “Rent, Sell, Kill” segment. Just kidding, guys.

  • avatar
    hgrunt

    My mother’s V6 Accord of the same vintage had it’s ATF changed around 75k, and shifted noticeably smoother afterwards. Originally I was going to change it via the the drain-and-refill method, but ended up taking it to a Honda dealership after finding out the labor was reasonable. Honda approves the use of certain types of machines to change the fluid, ones which exchange the fluid as it circulates, as opposed to forcing it through the lines.

    Since only 3 quarts of fluid comes out when the drain bolt is removed, most Accord V6 enthusiasts simply drain/refill the 3 quarts every 15k miles to keep the ATF fresh. Also, despite honda’s insistence that it isn’t there, isn’t serviceable and doesn’t exist, some variants of the V6 transmission have an easily accessible filter element on top of the transmission. For the ones that don’t, people install an inline filter with a transmission cooler.

  • avatar
    tedward

    I know two people with Acura CL 3.2′s (which I believe is the same drivetrain, not sure). One guy is a service manager at a honda dealership and changes his ATF every 10k miles without flushing and he hasn’t replaced a tranny yet. My other friend followed the usual requirements and is on transmission #3. So from what I gathered one should replace the fluid and clean the fluid filters regularly without actually hooking the thing up to a flush device. Good luck, I would just sell it.

    • 0 avatar
      Jellodyne

      > I would just sell it.
       
      THIS. A million times this. It’s probably going to fail and it’s gonna cost $3500-4000. Which it to say it will be totaled. Even if you don’t get what you’d like for it, sell it to someone else, and then buy an Accord as God intended, with an inline 4. Or a Sonata, or something, just not an Accord with the V6.

      I speak from experience.

  • avatar
    OldandSlow

    Change with fresh Honda approved ATF rather than power flush.   The MightyVac 7201 shown below is an easy way to remove the old fluid.  It can be used for engine oil changes as well.
     
    http://www.thetoolwarehouse.net/p-3799-mityvac-mv7201.aspx
     
    I’m impressed that you reached 176K on the original transmission.

  • avatar
    DenverMike

    Leave it alone, it’s too late for a flush. That shudder is otherwise known as ‘slipping’ and the dirty fluid is the only thing giving the clutch discs traction. Clean fluid is slippery and it may stop moving altogether, forward or backward, as reverse shares a clutchpack with direct drive (4th gear). She may get another 2-4 years out of it if she drives it conservatively.

  • avatar

    Looks like I am 100% overruled.  Probably a good thing this time around, I was going back and forth while writing it.

  • avatar
    John Horner

    All of Honda’s service literature specifically says NOT to use power flush machines. The Honda routine is drain, fill, drive, repeat three more times. Honda’s transmissions have a readily accessible drain plug, so there is no need to monkey around with a Mityvac arrangement.
    That said, these transmissions are not know for their longevity, and getting in excess of 170k miles out of one is a big win …. and means that a rebuilt tranny could be needed at any time.
    The recommended change interval is at 60k miles from new and then every 30k miles thereafter. I’ve noticed degraded shift quality on our ’03 Accord after 25k miles or so. I cannot imagine how bad that fluid is with over 100k miles on it.
     
     
     

    • 0 avatar
      FleetofWheel

      Does Honda specify performing the drain and fill four time times or is that your own proactive recommendation?
      Also curious to know if you are re-using one batch of fresh fluid for the entire 4X drain and fill regimen or using fresh fluid for each iteration?

      • 0 avatar
        Kevin Kluttz

        If you change it 4 times you only have one-sixteenth of the old fluid in there. I guess that means it’s a lot less contaminated by the old fluid than if it were only changed once or twice. I believe in it, anyway. From experience also. 222000 miles can’t be wrong. Damn, I miss my Accord.

  • avatar
    SherbornSean

    No offense, but I thought the whole reason for buying a Honda was to get hold of their velvetty manual gearboxes. 

    Maybe now is the time to switch to a 6MT and teach the daughter to drive a stick?

  • avatar
    Ian Anderson

    Change as much of the the fluid as you can twice, do NOT powerflush it or whatever the shop calls it.
     
    Put a filter in the trans lines if you don’t have one on top as mentioned above, change as much of the fluid as possible and go trade it on a used stick shift TSX.

  • avatar
    George B

    I vote for drain and fill with Honda ATF-Z1, no powerflush.  It’s an easy DIY job to remove the drain plug on a Honda automatic and replace with 3 quarts of clean Honda ATF-Z1.  I tried Amsoil synthetic plus Lubegard Black and hated the shift quality in the 4 speed automatic.  There are no filters to replace, so any further maintenance involves opening up the transmission and rebuilding it.
     
    The delayed shift from reverse to drive, along with the somewhat loud “thunk”, is a warning sign that transmission failure is in your future.  Might get a year of use, but wouldn’t plan on two years.  Tax refund time might be the right time to sell this car to someone else.

    • 0 avatar
      rocketrodeo

      I see I am late to the discussion but I will emphatically reiterate the points above:
       
      NO POWER FLUSH!
      Drain and replace only. Shift quality may be restored after two or three sequential drains a week apart. If not, go trans shopping. Thereafter, every other oil change.
      Use ONLY Honda fluid, NO equivalents.
       
      IMPORTANT!  Don’t panic if you can’t find ATF-Z1. It has been superseded by ATF-DW1; there are stocks of Z1 remaining here and there (possible closeout bargains–stock up!) but DW1 is the new spec.
       

  • avatar
    RogerB34

    With 175k miles and little maintenance the tranny is likely worn out.
    The car is a Gen 7.  My Accord is a 2005 V6 auto Gen 7.
    It doesn’t have a conventional filter in the transmission.
    Drain plug and refill.
    It does have a teacup sized filter top of the transmission outboard of the transmission fluid warmer.  The warmer is about 4 inches diameter with in and out hard lines.
    The filter is attached to the arm outboard of and part of the warmer.
    Small and not usually serviced.  Mine had substantial debris at 32k miles.
    Suggest buy 6 qts of only Honda fluid, drain about 3 qts, fill, drive for 500 miles or so and repeat.

  • avatar
    vvk

    Do not touch the gearbox at all. Do NOT drain and refill. Do not powerflush. Just don’t touch it.
    I have seen this happen many times. People don’t service their automatic transmission for a long time and then do it at high mileage. Never ends well.
    I would also recommend using Lubeguard Red in it. You can buy it at NAPA part stores.

  • avatar
    neevers1

    Go back in time and teach your daughter how to properly drive a car, with a manual.
     
    Problem solved.

  • avatar
    tparkit

    “My daughter mentioned a “shudder” in the car when she backs from her parking space and shifts into Drive.”

    Check her technique. Many people put the car in drive while the car is still backing up, and switch into reverse while a car is still moving forward. They also start moving from a stop before the transmission is given a chance to engage. I’d suggest getting in the car, and trying this yourself:

    1. Put the car in reverse, let the transmission settle for a moment (you should feel it engage), and then back up.
    2. While backing up, stop. Put the transmission in drive, let it settle, and then drive forward.

    The shuddering problem may go away.

  • avatar
    vbofw

    Doesn’t the front-and-center comment that the bulk of the 175k miles have been highway play a significant role, here?

  • avatar
    geozinger

    I wonder what the commentary would have been if I had posted about my Chevy Cavalier that went 8 years and 190,000 miles when a leaking seal helped to kill off the 4T40E tranny. I’m sure it would have been all the usual comments about “POS” this and “GM trash” that.
     
    Amusing.

    • 0 avatar
      Zackman

      geo: Yup! I agree. We bought our daughter a 1997 Cavalier when she finally killed my beloved 1990 Acclaim in 2000. She bought herself a new car in 2003. A neighbor bought the Cav and just recently sold it. Someone weeks ago stated that they are the “cockroaches” of the road. I have to agree, whether he was being complimentary or not, it’s true. They are what they are and that’s not a bad thing in my opinion. My daughter replaced the Cav with a new Civic – she hated it! Got rid of it and bought herself a 2007 Trailblazer. She loves her Sherman tank and plans to run it into the ground! My wife drives a 2002 CR-V. It’s O.K. but not something I want to or like to drive, but it gets the job done, I suppose. Me? I’ll stick with my Impala for a while longer.

    • 0 avatar
      Kevin Kluttz

      Yes, and I would have been first in line. And right.

  • avatar
    rocketrodeo

    I see I am late to the discussion but I will emphatically reiterate the points above:

    NO POWER FLUSH!
    Drain and replace only. Shift quality may be restored after two or three sequential drains a week apart. If not, go trans shopping. Thereafter, every other oil change.
    Use ONLY Honda fluid, NO equivalents.

    IMPORTANT!  Don’t panic if you can’t find ATF-Z1. It has been superseded by ATF-DW1; there are stocks of Z1 remaining here and there (possible closeout bargains–stock up!) but DW1 is the new spec.


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