By on April 9, 2014

Anything is Possible... (photo courtesy: http://theinspirationroom.com)

Aaron writes:

Hey Sajeev,

Huge fan of TTAC and the piston slap articles. My problem is that I noticed my car(2007 honda civic)would shudder, under light throttle and low rpms especially when going up a slight slope. This usually happens at 30km/hr or 40km/hr. I took it to the honda dealer(4 months ago) and he said the torque converter(tc) needs to be replaced(300 for tc plus 900 for labour and stuff).

My university got a bit busy and I took some time to think about it. The problem might be slightly worse now so I recently went back to the dealer to get more details about the cost and now they are saying the price of the tc has increased to 800 plus another 800 for labour. The guy suggested maybe just changing the transmission fluid(because it is starting to get dark) and driving the car until it fails and getting a new transmission for $3000 because the transmission will probably go out soon anyway.

I’m not sure what to do now. I’m considering going to a transmission shop and see if they can change the tc, but I’m worried about going to a random mechanic. I know a small time mechanic whom I go to for small stuff but I’m not sure if his shop is capable of swapping the tc(is it that complicated?). I have also looked online and found other people saying that if the torque converter is failing, the transmission is probably going to go soon. Some other people have said that if the torque converter fails, it could take out the rest of the transmission which might have been working fine otherwise. I then found another group of people saying that I should just drive the car without changing the transmission fluid because even changing the fluid could cause the transmission to fail sooner.

I just want to know which of these are actually true and what should my next course of action be. If the torque converter can be changed for a reasonable price and my transmission keeps working, I would like to do that. Or maybe I should see if I can get the entire transmission rebuilt or replaced.

Thank you,
Aaron

P.S: Not sure if this matters, but the car once overheated severely (about 3 years ago) and about half the engine had to be replaced under warranty. The engine has been running smoothly since then and the only other problem is that recently(2 months ago) my engine starter and battery had to be replaced. The battery connectors also look pretty bad so I’m going to replace that soon. Hmmm maybe I should just sell my car.

Sajeev answers:

Oh great, another mystery box transaxle/crystal ballin’ yo tranny problem: one day the B&B will string me up for these blind guesses.

That said, on a more serious note, how many miles are on the Civic?

Aaron responds:

Hey Sajeev,

Thanks for the quick reply. It has 156,000 km(96,000 miles). Admittedly, the car has been driven pretty hard. I just did a quick stall speed test(mashing the brake and hitting the throttle) and the revs went up to 2,500rpm in both drive and reverse. That seems pretty normal. I drove around trying to recreate the problem(Light throttle and flat roads or slight inclines).

It happens at:

  • 15 or 20km/h (9 or 12mph)
  • 30ish km/h (18mph)
  • 40ish km/h (25mph)
  • And at 55ish km/h (34.18mph), the shuddering is only minor at this speed

There is also a sound when this happens, it sounds like metal spinning against metal in a liquid. However, this sound can only be heard if the shuddering is not too violent. If it is violent, it just sounds like the car kind of wants to stall. I checked the transmission fluid and it looks pretty brown and has a slight burning smell. If the car is accelerating faster( atleast above 2000rpm), it feels like there is no problem. Also no problem when slowing down.
Thank you,
Aaron

Sajeev concludes:

Great assessment!  At this age (under 100k miles) odds are new and correct fluid will solve it: flush the old fluid out of the converter and also drop the pan to change the filter. Which might be asking a lot for many shops, but I’d want all the old ATF out of the system. So will this cure the problem?  Will thoroughly removing varnished ATF cause even more problems than a shudder?

Maybe on both counts.  Or maybe one and not the other.  See how much fun this is for me?

My best guess: do as the dealer said, change the fluid. If it fails, get a rebuilt transaxle from a Honda savvy shop.  Because opening up a transaxle for anything and not doing a rebuild is likely a waste of time, labor and money.

It’s usually best to prolong that moment with anything…including a fluid change. Even if the fluid change actually shortens the tranny’s lifespan. So much fun!

Send your queries to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

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26 Comments on “Piston Slap: Crystal Ballin’ With Yo Tranny! (Part II)...”


  • avatar
    rpol35

    I was going to suggest a fluid and filter change too as that will sometimes fix a shudder (make sure your use the right fluid if you do it yourself; if my memory serves me correctly Honda’s are “unique”). You may have trashed the existing fluid by overheating the engine severely as the fluid is cooled by the transmission cooler in the radiator.

    I am a bit concerned about the metallic noise however, sounds like an impeller problem in the TC but you have nothing to lose, other than a few $$$, by changing the fluid and the filter and it may help.

    • 0 avatar
      MBella

      Here is a video on how to change the fluid. Do it about four times with maybe around 100 miles in between each to really mix the fluid. By the fourth you will have something like 98% new fluid. These transmissions don’t have a serviceable filter. Also, Honda has a new synthetic fluid that came out not long after your car was built. They recommend switching to it, and this is what they should give you at the dealership. Don’t use anything else.

  • avatar
    FormerFF

    I have a friend who has a similar vintage Civic, whose transmission went out at 160,000 miles, and when researching his problem we found that torque converter failures was relatively common for those cars. I’d agree that with that many miles, you might as well have the entire transaxle gone through once you get it out of the car.

    It sounds like the car has had a rough life, less than 100,000 miles on it and the engine and transmission are both needing work. That’s rare.

  • avatar
    Halftruth

    Maybe it’s trade up time? Swapping the fluid out won’t undo the damage done by the TC grinding away (per the sound description) and you’ll need a tranny swap anyway. 100K miles and more problematic than a used German car? Perhaps it’s time to bail and get what you can via a trade in.

  • avatar
    S197GT

    fluid change first is a no-brainer. relatively inexpensive and you may win the lottery and problems go away. i’m with sajeev, if that doesn’t solve it then run it till it dies and replace it all.

    • 0 avatar
      Battles

      +1
      Sounds like the guy needs a recommendation from a pal on where to have the job done though. Doing it at the Honda dealer means it’s not so much of a cheap fix and he probably won’t get the practical advice that he needs.

  • avatar
    ponchoman49

    And here lies the problem with many of these newer designed cars. Overheating aluminum, plastic and lightweight castings causes large scale headaches. By overheating the engine you also overheat the trans axle fluid which most certainly has compromised the trans axle and torque converter to some capacity. Some fresh Honda spec fluid may help. These should be sealed units so there won’t be a filter to change going by past Civics with trans axle issues. I’m curious why such a late model car with under 100K overheated in the first place and is having all these issues. Do you live in a really hot arid climate?

  • avatar
    TEXN3

    On the K series auto transaxle, it’s recommended to change fluid every 30k miles. Change the fluid, don’t flush it, with Honda recommended ATF. It sounds like this car has been severely neglected, no matter the brand.

    • 0 avatar
      fendesj

      The R18 engine in some years had some issues with the engine block cracking which would result in losing the coolant which results in overheating. Maybe this was the issue and perhaps Honda replaced the engine block. I think they are still replacing these under warranty even if its expired. Maybe you could get Honda to cover all or some of the transmission replacement by making the case the engine overheating caused the problem. This is assuming the overheating was covered by a cracked block.

  • avatar
    mfgreen40

    This is why I love my RWD cars. I was a thousand miles from home and had an indy trans. shop replace a cracked TC while I sat and watched. I was back on the road in far less than 2 hrs and the price was very reasonable.

  • avatar
    johnhowington

    i dont think i agree at all with changing the fluid, unless that is just a wild guess by the author. i think this tranny is “cooked.”

    • 0 avatar
      MBella

      Why wouldn’t you try changing the fluid first? There’s the potential to save a good chunk of money. If it doesn’t work, than he has to spend the money on a trans.

  • avatar

    I had bad slipping in first gear in my Rodeo unless the transmission was warmed up (and even then some slip when mashing the pedal). I did a fluid change and added a two part additive to it. It fixed the problem immediately. I was pretty surprised as I wasn’t expecting it to really work and I have 240k miles on my transmission I just figured it was time for a rebuild.

    This was the stuff I used:
    http://www.autozone.com/autozone/accessories/Bar-s-Automatic-transmission-repair/_/N-2609?itemIdentifier=94554_0_0_

  • avatar
    RogerB34

    Not rocket science.
    Change the tranny fluid using Honda ATF.
    05 Accord V6 tranny doesn’t have a pan filter.
    Doesn’t have a radiator tranny cooling system either.
    Does have a teacup sized tranny filter buried near the fender
    wheel well under the hood and is a PITA to R/R.
    Every 20k for me and don’t believe the 100k propaganda.
    Beyond 125k is borrowed time till overhaul.

    • 0 avatar
      Russycle

      He has a Civic, not an Accord. But yeah, changing the fluid is pretty cheap and can’t hurt. Honda is a little insane regarding some of their fluid change intervals, if he’s still running the original trans fluid, that’s not good. I’d change fluid and drive it til it dies, then consider having an independent shop install a junkyard drivetrain. The fact that this motor has already been cooked worries me, I wouldn’t put much $$$ into it. Once you’re paying someone to get in there, might as well rip it all out.

  • avatar
    kmoney

    A fluid change might not be a bad idea. On your car it is actually something that you could do yourself, as it is basically the same procedure as an oil change (actually easier, because there is no filter to change).

    Assuming that doesn’t help however, I would suggest going through the entire transmission, rather than simply putting a torque converter in it. Your Honda unit is a sealed unit — i.e., the filter and more importantly the valve body assembly cannot be accessed through a transmission pan like on most automatics. As such, all the potential debris from the failing converter will already be inside these critical components, so even when you change the converter you run the risk of a plugged filter, or more likely a hung up valve in the valve body coming back to bite you at a later date. This is not so much of a problem on a conventional auto, as you just pull the pan and valve body if this happens, but on a Honda…

    If the shop is willing to work with you, ask if they can change the converter and do a full reseal on the unit. This involves taking the major assemblies apart, cleaning and inspecting, and essentially reassembling using all new seals and gaskets, but without replacing busings, rebuilding drums etc… This will remove any debris and confirm if there is indeed any additional damage to the unit. When we did it, it was usually about half the price of a rebuild.

  • avatar

    And get a stick on your next car :)

  • avatar
    thunderjet

    Auto transmissions need a fluid change at least every 30k miles. Don’t believe the hype of 100K+ mile transmissions fluid changes.

    As far as your issue a fluid change may help but it sounds like a torque converter issue. The metal spring noise you hear points to the torque converter.

  • avatar
    George B

    Honda automatic transmissions don’t have a pan, but they do have a drain plug. If the transmission fluid has any red color left and doesn’t smell like burnt toast, do a drain and fill with Honda ATF-DW1 fluid and drive the car a short distance. Drain and fill again, looking at the fluid that came out. Hopefully it doesn’t shimmer with flakes of metal like metallic paint. After draining and filling twice I’d assess if the changing the fluid helped. If it’s running ok I’d do a 3rd drain and fill and be happy that a fluid change worked.

    If the transmission fluid is black and smells burnt, I’d be tempted to flush the transmission fluid using the procedure shown in this YouTube video.

    (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MsdPAadc9fY)

    Discovered the hard way that I can’t pour transmission fluid fast enough to keep up with fast idle so warm up the engine and transmission before trying to let the transmission pump the old fluid out. Easier with two people. I used $12/gallon Walmart Supertech Dextron III transmission fluid to force the dirty fluid out. Dextron III will damage a Honda automatic transmission if you leave it in there for thousands of miles, but it’s probably safe for 10s to low 100s of miles. Repeat the flush procedure using the correct Honda ATF-DW1 fluid.

    I suspect that you have damage that will require rebuilding the transmission to fix. I’d probably drive it with a light foot until it fails. Wouldn’t have a dealer fix it unless Honda is paying for the work.

  • avatar
    Cabriolet

    I can not accept what i am reading here. Honda automobiles are said to run for 300,000 miles without any repairs.

  • avatar
    2fast4u

    Hey guys, thanks for the suggestions. The car featured here is mine. It used to be my dad’s and he gave it to me 4 months ago when he got a new car.

    I did get my mechanic to try changing the atf fluid and the problem is better. It’s still there but not as bad. My mechanic also said there was no metal on the magnet. It’s been almost 2 months(3000ish km or 1864miles) and I’ve been checking the fluid and its not as red as it used to be so I’m probably gonna keep changing the fluid whenever it starts getting brown and drive it till it dies. Then rebuild or replace the whole thing as most people suggested.

    I will go through everyones comments more thoroughly once my exams are done next week


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