By on May 29, 2014

BMW_ATSK_2_28TopLeft

Some cars out there are as rough as a wore out mop.

It always pains me to see them because there are so many folks in this world who are all too happy to own a car. Even one that may seem to be worth more dead than alive by the present idiot driving it.

My father was a food importer for 60 years. I got to see a lot of this world and, to be frank, our society is a bit spoiled by the inherent affluence within it.

What some destroy, others would cherish.

However, there is one screw-up that always ticks me off to no end in the car business because it’s based on false information. The one where the manufacturer plays a game with the future reliability of their vehicle in exchange for a potential accolade known as low ownership costs.

The lifetime fluid. To me it’s a false promise that has cost too many people, too much money, to no fault of their own. Let’s start with that simple word, lifetime, and weigh in the full effect of that word.

Lifetime is a pretty simple word where I grew up. Two syllables. One unmistakable connotation.

Lifetime means the duration of a person’s or thing’s existence. From beginning to end. There is no intermission. No limit to the lifespan. What starts must be finished. No matter how long or short it may be.

Yet certain fluids get a complete pass on this concept. Thanks to a nice meeting of the minds between the manufacturer’s legal team and the marketeers who go about promoting what is in essence, a lie.

Audi, BMW, Mercedes, Volvo, Toyota, GM, Ford, Mazda, Chrysler. The list of manufacturers that have signed onto the lifetime fluid line is now as long, as the number of affordable replacements for their older defective parts is short.

For example, I have a lot of trouble finding a good transmission for many older vehicles these days that were sealed with lifetime fluids. Even those components whose production runs number well into the six-digits.

Why? Because these transmissions were given maintenance schedules that had no remote connection with reality. In the end, tens of thousands of owners got screwed because they took faith in the automaker’s lifetime fluid and the maintenance schedule that removed the need to service it.

The manufacturer walked away with the profits, and a guarantee that is inherently deceptive and insincere. There is no other way of putting it.

When you say the word “lifetime” to someone, they don’t think about five years or, in the case of a car, 100,000 miles.

They think, “Oh. I will never have to worry about this. Great!” The owner gets to rave about the minimal service required over the first five years and the manufacturer may even find an extra industry award or two to advertise due to their supposed low ownership costs.

A warranty is most definitely a warranty, with limits and specifics. A deal is a deal. However when you use the word “lifetime” to describe the durability of a product, that word has a strong and obvious guarantee within it.

You are stating, in a brutally blunt manner, that the fluid will remain useful and defect free for the entire life of the vehicle.

What would be a reasonable solution to the idea of a lifetime fluid? Pretty simple really. Just have it walk the walk.

Approximately .01% of trade-ins these days will last 500,000 miles. If your vehicle’s component can last that long, and you are willing to warranty that guarantee, then bless you for truly changing the economics of ownership.

Please step up to the microphone of American advertising, shout out that sacred word known as lifetime, and put your amazing product on a durability level with other true lifetime products such as the Ginsu knife and the Garden Weasel.

If it can’t, then don’t. Just let folks know the truth about the useful life of your products. If this concept is too hard to contemplate for the unethical and amoral, then maybe we need to put forth new laws that will protect consumers from this bastardization of the English language.

In today’s courts, the right for individuals to sue is but a pittance compared to the right of large corporations and governments to screw them into a financial corner well before a court can put the case before a grand jury. Life may not be perfect or fair. But there is a completeness to that word lifetime and it should be honored.

Lifetime should mean the lifetime of it’s use. You say it as a seller and the product breaks, you pay for it along with everything else that got broke because of it.

Should manufacturers be held liable for lifetime fluids? I’ve already pounded my personal opinion into a fine red mist. So what’s yours?

Author’s Note: I can be reached at steve.lang@thetruthaboutcars.com

 

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106 Comments on “Question Of The Day: Should Manufacturers Be Held Liable For Lifetime Fluids?...”


  • avatar

    The companies ensure fluids on leases are taken care of.

    I think they should take care of fluids till 100,000 miles.

    I hate having to change rear-differential fluid at 60,000 miles or transmission fluid. I think if the car manufacturers did this it would help their reliability stats.

    • 0 avatar
      CapVandal

      I don’t really get the economics of it. A dealer getting a car on a lift for any reason is an opportunity to sell service on all wear parts. My dealer has “one hour” oil changes, and they always politely give me a sheet with the current status of wear/non warranty parts. Remaining tread life, how the brakes are looking, shocks — always OK with the caveat that they are an item I might want to think about if I am going to be keeping the car for a long time. Same with the battery. Unlike some of the private places, never any pressure to fix anything ‘today’. Unless they find something broken — which isn’t often with some Japanese makes. They also sell tires at a price that are competitive with Discount Tire — within a few dollars. Plus an alignment.

      It is also an opportunity to strengthen the customer experience. Even on leases, don’t they want to get back cars that are fully adequate to CPO? I don’t know much on todays cars. I used to be able to replace a water pump, do a basic tuneup — which isn’t much needed with the lack of points and better plugs. Thank god because the plugs are inaccessible. Even if I spend a little more, I like dealer service because at least mine does a good job, uses genuine parts, seem to know what goes wrong before they look at it — “this symptom @ this milage is likely this”. Haven’t screwed up any repair to my knowledge. And in a couple of cases, fixed expensive parts (transmissions) that had extended warranties due to defects, before I noticed symptoms.

      If there is a good case, it seems like the FTC will step in, or someone will have a failure that caused an accident, or some class action will succeed in Mississippi or jurisdiction known to heavily favor plaintiffs.

    • 0 avatar
      Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

      Well, that’s not necessarily the ‘lifetime’ then, is it? False advertising, and IMO, actionable.

      “Lifetime”, to me, and to any reasonable jury that isn’t filled with complete retards, means the lifetime of the vehicle barring an incident that makes it unfit for use on public roads (totaling, salvage). The only legit way to weasel out of that is to go bankrupt and assign the liability to the OldCo.

    • 0 avatar

      This is the real story. It isn’t lifetime changes, because the fluids will last for the first owner in most cases, and that is ALL the OE care about.

      Most high end cars have a dual sale. There is the lease and the the CPO sale. FREE MAINTENANCE (Actually, Included) means the Lease car will see a dealer probably twice in its youth, and get an oil change. The Dealer/Manufacturer/Captive Finance arm is just protecting their investment.

      While I don’t have any stats, I’m sure a significant percentage of leases got zero oil changes, as “I don’t own it, aren’t buying it, don’t care, not spending the money”.

      In a worst case, when CPO buys the car, and gets a sludgy engine, everyone has a headache.

      Over at any BMW forum, this discussion is done to death. For the record, brake fluid every two years, diff oil every 60k, trans oil every 100k. BMW took the drain (but not the fill) plugs out of differentials so now you need to pump it out-but they don’t care if it craps at 120k….most new buyers are two cars out at that point.

      If I leased the car and it was going back, yes, I’d do the free oil changes….and that would be it.

  • avatar
    Battles

    This trend is just a reflection of the number of cars that are sold to fleets, businesses, governments or whatever – all groups of buyers who don’t need the fluid to last more than three to five years.
    By that time it’s not their car anymore and they’ve had the benefit of a small decrease in TCO multiplied by however many units they had.

    It’s probably broadly the same for private buyers who are the first owner, they might change cars every few years so they get the first few years of the fluid’s life and they’re not feeling any pain.

    • 0 avatar
      redliner

      This.

      New car buyers are happy with their experience and will buy another car from the same manufacturer.

      Used car buyers spend thousands on overpriced parts. It’s genius!

      I have never kept a car more than 100k miles, so sadly, it doesn’t really matter to me, although I agree that the marketing is deceptive. …buyer beware

      • 0 avatar
        highdesertcat

        I helped my best friend change the transmission fluid in his ’93 S-10 last year and IMO it still looked good after 115K miles and 21 years.

        Now we’re hoping that the new fluid doesn’t dissolve all the built-up gum and varnish inside the tranny and cause internal seals to leak, or cause valve body obstructions resulting in clutch slippage when the actuators fail to fully extend or retract.

        That would be the pits!

        • 0 avatar
          Jacob

          The problem with many old transmission fluids is not the degradation of the fluid itself but the fact that inside the fluid that are many microscopic metal particles from trany’s worn out parts. The more of those particles, the more abrasive the fluid becomes.

  • avatar
    IHateCars

    “In today’s courts, the right for individuals to sue is but a pittance compared to the right of large corporations and governments to screw them into a financial corner well before a court can put the case before a grand jury.”

    Tell that to those who scream for Tort reform. In their mind it’s far better for the dispute to go to “mandatory arbitration”, (with the arbitrator hired by the offending corporation)to rule on it…forget about a court of law. And guess who typically wins?

    More and more consumer rights are being stripped away without us even knowing it. Next time you read your cell phone contract or credit card agreement, look for the arbitration clause in there….it’s kinda scary how little recourse the consumer now has.

  • avatar
    niky

    I think the word “Lifetime” when used to describe fluids should be banned.

    It pains me to see “Lifetime” sealed transmissions that fail well within the warranty period… as you just know that for each one of those, there are dozens that will fail right outside of it, leaving customers high and dry, with no choice but to buy a full replacement transmission at retail cost.

    • 0 avatar
      Battles

      The use of lifetime in a lot of cases is spin over substance, it’s a promise that is never checked on or called in by the consumer.
      We may have brought this on ourselves by not calling BS on some of these claims in the past.

  • avatar
    Omnifan

    Depends on how you define “lifetime.” It’s lifetime until it breaks, and then it’s at the end of it’s “life.”

    • 0 avatar
      Rod Panhard

      ‘zackly my thoughts.

    • 0 avatar
      FormerFF

      I suspect the carmakers definition of a car’s lifetime is different than Steven’s. The carmakers are interested in their customer’s experience, that customer being the new car buyer. They’re also taken interest in the market for late model used cars, if for no other reason than to have a ready market for their off lease cars.

      The last couple of cars I’ve had, I’ve kept 10 and 12 years and drove them around 125,000 miles. From my standpoint, the lifespan of a car is 15 years or about 220,000 miles. I have no interest in driving a car older than that, the small amount of money saved isn’t worth the hassle of dealing with an older car and the experience of driving those older cars isn’t as pleasant. From my standpoint, the car will almost certainly last for the time I have it without a transmission fluid change. (Ford recommends it be changed at 150,000 miles). For the vast majority of new car buyers, the transmission fluid will indeed last the lifetime of the car.

      Are the carmakers concerned about someone trying to keep an old car going? No, because that person is most likely not their customer. Why should they feel like they have a responsibility to people who aren’t their customers?

    • 0 avatar

      The big difference is the cars can effectively be re-animated. Should we call the barn find car that has been fully restored in life number 2? From a biologic perspective I would say so. Now if down the road we can bring people back the dead, their legal department may have to figure some things out. Lifetime typically refers to the component, not the whole. If I buy an alternator from the parts store with a lifetime warranty, they don’t ask me how many cars it has been in. Replace is often cheaper than rebuild for shops, its hard to even find brake lathes anymore, and you the consumer will typically always pick brand new rotors for $5 more than to have your old ones resurfaced when given the choice.

    • 0 avatar
      MBella

      That was the response I got from a Ford engineer when talking about ball joints that aren’t greaseable. He said that the grease will last the lifetime of the joint. When asked what the lifetime is, he responded with until the grease runs out. I’m sure he would have a similar response with trans fluid.

  • avatar
    Hillman

    Sorry but today’s cars should not have any issues before 60,000 and the major components should last atleast 10 years 150.000 miles. Anything less is really not acceptable IMHO at this point in history.

  • avatar
    Meathead

    Absofreakinglutely! ‘Nuff said.

  • avatar
    troyohchatter

    In reading about the “all new” Duratec I4 in my 2002 Ranger, one of the statements stated that the valvetrain was designed to go without any adjustments for the life of the vehicle and then they stated (150,000 miles).

    I found that statement pretty funny since most cars make it to 200K without too much trouble.

    The fluid changes, as recommended by the manufacturer, should be taken with a grain of salt. Find a knowledgeable mechanic and ask them what they think. For example, on most Hondas, the automatic transmission should have one change every 30K rather than the 3x at 110K.

  • avatar
    Ubermensch

    A perfect example of this is the fluid for my old B5 Passat’s ZF tiptronic transmission. It was filled with magical “lifetime” fluid according to the manual. However, the bottles of factory fill replacement fluid from Esso have an expiration date on them. Needless to say, I had the fluid replaced with a quality sythetic at 60k miles without any issues.

  • avatar
    spreadsheet monkey

    Good article. Interesting that you include Audi on your list of manufacturers relying on “lifetime” fluids.

    Here in the UK, Audi recommends that transmission fluid is changed at 40,000 mile intervals.

    http://www.audi.co.uk/owners-area/servicing-maintenance-mot/regular-maintenance.html

    • 0 avatar
      Battles

      That must be a fairly recent development, maybe in the last ten years or so. They used to trumpet the sealed for life nature of the ‘boxes along with VW in the UK.
      I know a few guys who did very well out of the not-entirely-useful servicing advice given to owners of cars supplied with the 1.8T with the manual ‘box. Lots of crappy gearchanges fixed by a very cheap and quick service.
      We had an ’04 Seat Arosa (VW Lupo clone) with a sealed for life automatic gearbox.
      We did a fluid change but it was time consuming to get the ‘box out.

      Vauxhall did this in about 2001 with the Vectra B, they swapped the maintenance in 1998 to 100k intervals to make it more attractive to fleets but experienced a high failure rate so they reintroduced the 60k services in 2001 I think. The next gen Vectra got 100k intervals by design and suffered no issues.

    • 0 avatar
      Brian P

      In North America – Depends on the transmission. If said automatic transmission is actually a VW DSG transmission, it does have a specified fluid change interval. The traditional (non-DSG) automatics and manuals do not have a specified fluid change interval, at least in North America.

      My previous car was a 2006 VW Jetta TDI with manual transmission which had no specified oil change interval. Sold the car with 430,000 km on it – and no, it did not have the original transmission oil in it, I changed it a couple of times, every 150,000 km or so.

  • avatar
    Toad

    Changing the “lifetime” automatic transmission fluid would be a lot easier (and cheaper) if the fluid filter was an external canister filter instead of an internal filter. Having to drop the oil pan to remove the internal filter usually requires a lift, significant time, a proprietary filter that can be a pain to install, and a new pan gasket. Bonus points if there is a frame crossmember under the transmission pan making the job ever harder.

    A spin on filter (like the one used for engine oil) would make the job a lot simpler and easier; it would be a job anybody could do in their driveway. Somebody with an engineering background probably has an answer, but I can’t figure it out.

    • 0 avatar
      Land Ark

      My Subaru has a spin-on trans filter located behind the headlight which is supposed to be a lifetime part – only to be replaced if it leaks or starts to rust.
      The filter for sure is easier to get to, but where it’s located will make it a messy proposition if I ever decide to replace it.

    • 0 avatar
      challenger2012

      Mr. Toad The solution to the issues you state is to kill all the bean counters. Being an engineer, I want to do things right. Bean counters want to do it cheap. Thus, the internal struggle between facts and ideology. For example: I worked at a refinery. There were 2 pumps seals that were available. A $25 seal and a $75 seal. The $25 seal lasted about 3 months. The $75 seal lasted about 6 months. We requested many times for the $75 seal. What we got was the $25 seal. On cost and run time, the bean counter thought the better deal was the $25 seal, not realizing the labor time needed to write a Work Permit, block in the pump, drain the lines, Electrical LOTO, and time needed for an Electrician, Operator and Mechanic. But the bean counter could show on his spreadsheet he saved the company money. This is what transpires in business today. Let engineers make the calls.

      • 0 avatar
        BigOlds

        I get to straddle between the engineers and the counters. I agree that the counters need to be reined in, but I can assure you that the engineers will be no better. They just make their errors in the other direction.

        Balance is the key to most things.

        (AND, if the bean counters were any good, they would have a complete cost associated with the job, including labor, tool allocation, etc)

    • 0 avatar
      danio3834

      My only real b1tch is transmissions/pans without drain plugs, messy. Otherwise, I don’t mind taking the pan off and cleaning it out. Most gaskets transmission pan gaskets are reusable.

      • 0 avatar
        Battles

        I’ve always found if the ‘box is well enough designed to have a decent drain plug then it’ll be reasonably good for working on.
        Apart from the fluid that always finds it’s way up your sleeve and down the back of your neck.

    • 0 avatar
      Slow_Joe_Crow

      Oddly enough the Saturn S series cars had just that. The automatic transmission filter is a spin on unit on the underside of the transaxle right next to the easily reached drain plug. This is a very good thing because Saturns tend to develop “reverse slam” which is cured by replacing the transmission fluid and filter and idling in reverse for a while.

    • 0 avatar
      MBella

      I worked on a Hyundai that had a spin on trans filter. It was like an oil change.

    • 0 avatar
      CobraJet

      Unfortunately there are too many unqualified service techs out there that can and do screw things up. I witnessed someone perform an oil change on a Mitsu SUV of some sort. The person mistakenly opened the transmission plug instead of the oil pan plug. He then proceeded to refill the engine oil. This resulted in way to much engine oil and no transmission fluid. This was discovered when the vehicle would not move out of the service bay when placed in reverse. There is a reason that transmission pans don’t have plugs. Same is true of spin on transmission filters. They would get removed mistakenly also.

  • avatar
    mechimike

    Change your oil.
    Change your transmission/ gearbox fluid.
    Change your brake fluid.
    Change your coolant.
    Change your differential/ final drive unit oil.
    Change your power steering fluid.

    And quit whining about it. You have a magical box that can convey you thousands of miles at speeds 20 times faster than you could travel without it, in comfort, listening to music, and for a few dimes per mile in cost. Now every few thousand miles this magical box needs some of its magical fluids drained and replaced. Is this such a big deal? Who thinks so?

    In the transit industry many authorities are looking at oil-less air compressors. I can’t understand why. They’re more expensive, don’t last as long, are louder, and aren’t as reliable. All for, what? So they don’t have to drain and replace a few gallons of oil every 6 months?

    We’re stupid and lazy.

    • 0 avatar
      kuponoodles

      You and your common sense.

    • 0 avatar
      jkross22

      I agree. So why do carmakers say something is ‘lifetime’ when it’s really not?

      Follow the money.

    • 0 avatar
      TrailerTrash

      But that isn’t the point. Most folks would do the above if told it was required.
      But the implied is the rule that quides.
      If you are told lifetime…it gets filed away.
      Nothing wrog with being lazy…and if you shop lazy guy stuff…it should be as marketed.
      If foods and meds have to follow their shelf life…so should car specs.

  • avatar
    cbrworm

    It goes beyond that. I asked my BMW dealer to change the ATF in our ZF 6 Speed auto around the 5yr/60K mark. The service writer went and talked to a tech, they both came out and said that changing the ATF would most likely result in the destruction of the transmission. They said that they would do it (for just over $1,000), but that they would expect an out of warranty failure shortly thereafter. They then reiterated that a transmission failure after a fluid change, done by them, would not be covered under warranty.

    So not only are the manufacturers spreading misinformation, the dealer network has no clue other than to follow the MFG’s orders.

    • 0 avatar
      jkross22

      Did they explain why they believed the trans. would be destroyed with a fluid change? I’d be interested in hearing their explanation for this.

      I’ve yet to hear one that passes any common sense test.

      • 0 avatar
        niky

        Pretty much. And what do you do when you have a clutch failure on a “Lifetime” dual clutch gearbox? You have to move hell and highwater for the dealer to even begin to acknowledge the slimmest sliver of a possibility of a hope at replacing the worn clutch packs instead of ripping out the entire unit and installing a new one for a few thousand dollars.

  • avatar
    Land Ark

    Lots of questions come to mind with all this. My first reaction is that if a company advertises lifetime fluid, the company must honor any parts damaged as a result of fluid failure. But then would they ever admit the fluid failed? No, the problem wasn’t the fluid but the small metal particles getting lodged in the moving components that caused the issue. Clearly the fluid had nothing to do with that.
    What was the first instance of Lifetime fluid?
    Do car makers actually sell the cars as having lifetime fluids as a feature or does that happen on the dealer level? The only time I really hear about a car having it are when someone complains about it. I sort of remember hearing it mentioned in a commercial but I don’t recall who or when.
    Are car makers really just rolling the dice that the majority of their cars will be off the road for different reasons and any issues arising from the lifetime fluids will be a small enough percentage that it will be statistically insignificant?
    Do any car makers actually guarantee their lifetime fluids right now?
    Does anyone know what came of the class action lawsuit filed last year against Mini (BMW) for this?

    • 0 avatar
      danio3834

      “Do car makers actually sell the cars as having lifetime fluids as a feature or does that happen on the dealer level?”

      Definitely not at the dealer level. They’d love to sell you a transmission flush at every other service interval.

  • avatar
    gtemnykh

    On a related note, I absolutely adore older automatics that have drain plugs built into the pans. It’s like the polar opposite of the lifetime fluid. The manufacturer recognized the need for fluid replacement, and made it extra easy, even for the DIY mechanic, to replace.

    My 3rd gen 4Runner has quite a few fluids to keep track of and replace periodically: Driveline zerk fittings need to be greased (8 of them) every other oil change, front and rear diffs and transfer case every 30k, partial ATF change every 15k (my own number I came up with), and of course oil every 5k. Coolant is on a 3 year schedule, and I think I’ll do brake fluid and power steering every 5. I fully expect this truck to last to 400k and beyond on the original engine/transmission, I certainly won’t be the first to do so.

    • 0 avatar
      danio3834

      “On a related note, I absolutely adore older automatics that have drain plugs built into the pans.”

      This right here. No matter how careful you are undoing the bolts on a pan with no plug, fluid always gets spilled.

    • 0 avatar
      Battles

      RE your 15k figure for a partial flush, is that to get around any issues with fluid being ‘trapped’ in the TC?
      I’ve heard of guys who say that a fluid change without releasing the TC isn’t a full change. Not really sure why they say that, it goes against my understanding of the TC.
      Someone recommended for my W203 Benz (7g ‘box) doing two ‘in place’ changes a couple of thousand miles apart every 60k to make sure that you lose enough of the fluid in the TC when you drop the pan.

      • 0 avatar
        gtemnykh

        Yes the logic behind the partial drains is that you’ll never get all of it out, so I just do these small incremental replacements to keep the ATF ‘freshness’ in some sort of equilibrium.

  • avatar
    bball40dtw

    Anyone with a Ford AWD vehicle, do yourself a favor and change the PTU oil every 30K-75K miles, depending on how much you tow or how hard you are on the vehicle. The biggest problem is that their is no drain, since it is supposed to be sealed for life. However, the gear oil doesn’t usually make it the life of the vehicle. What should be a cheap fix, ends up being a PITA.

    • 0 avatar
      danio3834

      The big problem with the Ford D and CD PTUs were the seals between the transmission and PTU. They’d leak and cause cross contamination, often venting out the PTU. Different fluids made for bad mojo and noisy PTUs.

      • 0 avatar
        bball40dtw

        Yes, they barf. It smells something foul. There is a TSB for the seals, but you can still cook that 12-14 oz of oil in the PTU. Especially if you have a Flex/Explorer/MKT that you tow with. The seals are better starting with the 2011 models, but I imagine its still an issue. Transmission voodoo at its finest.

      • 0 avatar
        TrailerTrash

        wait! You might have solved my problem. My MKS AWD ecoboost has developed this maddening clunking at coast tip ins. They checked everything but the PTU might be making it. The fluid is fine…clear, anyway.
        started at around 45K and has 60K now.
        I was thinking of replacing the PTU…and as you write, maybe the connection between the trans and the PTU might have allowed the PTU to become noisy.

        • 0 avatar
          bball40dtw

          I would guess that it’s the transmission range sensor and separator plate. There are TSBs for both. If the PTU fluid is light brown, it should be fine. Do you lose power? Does it feel like the transmission is almost disengaging? If the clunk happens when lightly accelerating from a stop, it’s the range sensor and separator plate.

          • 0 avatar
            TrailerTrash

            well…feel it most when costing between 20 and 30, the on and off of the gas in heavy traffic stop n go…then a slight tip in of the gas causes the clunk. Also when coasting into my driveway…a clunk as the trans shifts to lower gear.
            It even clunks when you coast onto an off ramp doing higher speeds like 45 or more. It just clunks when it finds a lower gear or I touch the gas to speed up a littl once into the ramp.
            madness.

  • avatar
    raph

    I take “lifetime” to mean until the end of the vehicle’s warranty period.

    If say a manufacturer offers 10 yr/100,000 mile warranty then I’m reasonably confident that the fluids will last that length of time under normal service unless something is called out in the owners manual (like say oil and brake fluid changes).

    I know this is pretty variable as Ford offers a 3 yr/60,000 mile warranty but it is what it is.

  • avatar
    Hummer

    This is a problem with consumers, manufacturers just follow the money. Want to see an end to lifetime fluids in cars? Get people to stop buying them. Would also be nice if magazines and other publications added the cost of a new transmission into true cost of ownership if the vehicle has a lifetime fluid. That would also put a cease to the lifetime fluids.

  • avatar
    raresleeper

    ’03 Silverado here.

    Extended cab, Vortec v8, power nothin’, 2wd.

    175k miles. Never touched auto tranny fluid. EVER. From 50k onto where its at now.

    Eyyyyyyy! (In best Fonzi voice)

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    Ok OEMs, lifetime fluid from now on is going to also include lifetime replacement parts.

    Your move.

  • avatar
    skor

    This “lifetime fluid” thing is an example of good intentions gone bad that ultimately hurt the consumer.

    Auto fluids are major sources of pollution….have been since automobiles have been on the roads. People in gov are mindful of how badly environmental damage affects the country….well maybe not the GOP….so they press the auto companies to reduce harmful waste products emanating from cars. It’s a noble cause. At first the car companies resist the latest form of government “meddling” but eventually they realize that they can turn the new mandates to their advantage.

    Instead of developing new systems that are longer lasting, use less fluids, or no fluid at all, the car companies “seal” the systems in question, knowing full well said system will grenade by 100K miles. Voila! Planned obsolesce they can blame on the government.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      One of the reasons the systems were sealed was to prevent tampering with the systems during the warranty period. Planned obsolescence was also probably part of the equation.

  • avatar
    OneAlpha

    To me, this “lifetime fluid” business is false advertising specifically aimed at the LEASE customer, or the buyer who knows (as do the car company and dealership) that they’re going to keep the vehicle for only about five years anyway.

    When they say “lifetime,” they mean “for the life of the lease or the initial buyer’s period of ownership.”

    It also strikes me as pandering to the mindset of the average car owner who would rather sweep all the dirty, inconvenient and expensive aspects of vehicle ownership under the rug and forget about them.

    These days, people balk at the fact that you actually have to put gas in the car. As proof, I offer the current practice of selling cars on fuel economy.

    That necessary act being nerve-racking on some level to the average driver, the deeper, more involved aspects of ownership are gladly hushed up and stuffed into the closet by a manufacturer concerned only with making as many sales as possible TODAY.

    My car has no transaxle filter and no maintenance interval for the fluid specified by the manufacturer. I don’t care what the manufacturer says, the car is now on an owner-prescribed, 30,000 mile interval.

    When I had to replace the rear main seal, the powertrain came out and I ended up dumping ALL the 180,000-mile-old fluid for a fresh load.

    25,000 miles later, it still runs great.

    There’s no such thing as lifetime fluid for a mechanism that thermally cycles through a range of several hundred degrees and can run for 500,000 miles if it’s cared for and not abused.

    If the company deliberately said “lifetime transmission fluid,” they’re guilty of false advertising and should be financially responsible for any transmission services and repairs while the car exists in this world as a functional automobile.

    • 0 avatar
      davefromcalgary

      “It also strikes me as pandering to the mindset of the average car owner who would rather sweep all the dirty, inconvenient and expensive aspects of vehicle ownership under the rug and forget about them.”

      You hit it right on the head 1α. Cars are more and more becoming black boxes, and the average consumer will gladly accept the notion of “no service required”. We on this and like blogs know better, but we on this and like blogs also scream for brown wagons and midsize trucks. So we will always be in the minority in knowing that fluid change intervals are good, and willing to do the work as mechimike and many others have advocated, because we understand the cost/benefit to long term ownership.

  • avatar
    danio3834

    Next up: Filled for life engine oil.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      BMW was really getting up there. Initially the e9X cars had an “up to” 18K OCI with no time limit. They have backed down to adding a time limit of “or 1 year”. But the engines do hold almost 8 liters, and only synthetic is approved. And they have both an oil quality sensor and an oil life algorithm. So not QUITE as crazy as it sounds.

      They have also backed down from the “lifetime fills” somewhat – BMW now defines lifetime as 100K.

      My car gets maintained by the “old school maintenance schedule”. I.e., the one my Mom’s old 528e came with (and current M cars). Initial break-in fluid change for engine, gearbox, and diff at 2500 miles. Gearbox and diff every 30K. Brake fluid every other year, though I do it annually when I take the snow tires off. Why not? Only takes 5 mins extra when the wheels are off anyway, I have a power bleeder. And I grease the caliper slides and clean them up. Power steering fluid suctioned and refilled every other year, coolant every 4 years. I DIY, so it costs very little. I’m just about to turn 30K, so will be doing the gearbox and diff again shortly. Gearbox is easy, but diff has no drain plug, so have to use a vacuum can to suck it out. Sigh. A couple plastic panels to remove for the gearbox, but that is no big deal.

      BMW’s (manual) gearbox oil IS expensive – $150/5 liters, which is two changes. Once the warranty is up, it will get Redline. But while under warranty, OEM only. No sense giving them ammunition in the event of an issue.

  • avatar
    mic

    LOL I have Ginsu knives that I pounded through a quarter like on the commercial in 1992 and they still work great! I do change my tranny fluyid though…

  • avatar
    Flipper35

    When we bought our new car at the local Dodge dealer we were told they recommend changing the transmission fluid at 60k miles and again at the end of the factory 100k mile powertrain warranty. This dealer has a lifetime warranty on the powertrain for all new cars and any used cars with less than 90k miles with the caveat that all maintenance is done through them. $29 oil change and $19 tire rotation but on our new car the first 5 years is free. Given they want to do the first change at 60k it sounds like they are covering their butt for the extended warranty and not treating it like a “lifetime” fluid.

    • 0 avatar
      danio3834

      Depending on the car, they’re probably following Chrysler’s published maintenance guide with those intervals.

      • 0 avatar
        Flipper35

        The manual says fleet use is 60k, normal use is 120k miles but it doesn’t say it is lifetime fluid in the manual, nor did they mention that at the dealer.

        • 0 avatar
          28-Cars-Later

          Sounds like they are erring on the side of caution, I like it. $20 worth of fluid is much cheaper than a new or reman transaxel/transmission.

          • 0 avatar
            Flipper35

            I would rather they err on the side of caution as well. Not that I would be out of pocket for the repairs, but the logistics of it would be a pain.

            We tend to keep vehicles for a while. Our 2000 Durango has 180k miles.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    I rather suspect that in any false advertising case brought on the basis of the descriptive “lifetime,” the word will be found to be puffery, like “lowest prices in town,” etc.

    They key indicator is the duration of the powertrain warranty and what the manufacturer requires in the way of maintenance to keep that warranty in effect. So, if the manufacturer warrants the powertrain for 100,000 miles and does not require an ATF change, then that’s what “lifetime” is.

    Obviously, for people who want to keep their cars beyond the warranty period/mileage, the question remains: what are reasonable intervals for fluid changes? In the absence of any guidance from the manufacturer, that leaves the customer at the mercy of the repair shop, who may or may not oversell fluid changes.

    And it certainly doesn’t help when certain units are designed to make fluid changes difficult, or impossible without dis-assembly.

    • 0 avatar
      kmoney

      On many cars I have seen with lifetime fluids, they still provide a “severe service” schedule in the owners manuals and in the dealer service literature. All the schedules I have seen look suspiciously like the pre-lifetime service schedules; however, they can provide a good guide for more realistic service intervals.

      + 1 on manufacturers making it more difficult to service. The Europeans seem to be worst for this. Mercedes doesn’t provide dipsticks for the transmissions in their modern cars (you have to buy a universal one from a dealer, or find a shop to lend you one). And I don’t believe BMW even provides a way to refill without proprietary tools.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        I ask seriously, where is NHTSA, EPA, or USDOT on this? They sure know how to mandate background cameras, airbag standards for unbelted passengers, emissions, and ever increasing mileage targets but not ensuring models comply with a basic maint or servicing standard?

        • 0 avatar
          bball40dtw

          They are busy working on a way to break up your Church of the 3800. No tax exempt status for you.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            Blasphemer!

          • 0 avatar
            bball40dtw

            Lately, I’ve been spending too much time dealing with Ford AWD differential voodoo.

            I am driving cross country with my sister in an Alero next week though. It is a pilgrimage of sorts. The Dexcool has been purged, and the intake gaskets have been made whole.

          • 0 avatar
            davefromcalgary

            V6 Aleros are great for gobbling up interstate miles. Have fun!

          • 0 avatar
            bball40dtw

            Its been a very good car for her. She has had it for almost 6 years. She should be able to get a few more years out of it in CA while getting her masters.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            “Lately, I’ve been spending too much time dealing with Ford AWD differential voodoo.”

            You must pray my son, for the 3800 has the power to save you from the differential work of the Devil.

      • 0 avatar
        TR4

        The domestics are on to this too. My wife’s 2005 Chrysler 300 came with a fill/dipstick tube but no dipstick. Aftermarket dipstick = $60. Daughter’s 2006 Chevy HHR has a plug on the side of the transmission case you remove to check level; if fluid comes out you’re OK, if it doesn’t you need to add. No tube to fill; fill plug on top of case is a real PITA since it is buried under hoses/harnesses.

        • 0 avatar
          krhodes1

          Nothing new. The ZF automatic in my ’01 Range Rover has just a drain on the bottom and a fill on the side like a manual gearbox. You just dump in ATF until it runs out again. No dipstick. At least it has a drain! I am thankful for the little things…

  • avatar
    eggsalad

    Where “oils” are strictly used ad lubricants, i.e. manual transmissions and differentials, many manufacturers don’t specify changes.

    My ’05 Scion xB is one such car. There is no maintenance interval in the book.

    At 30k, I drained the factory fluid, and put in the Redline synthetic that was recommended for Toyota transaxles. I now consider it a lifetime fluid.

  • avatar
    onyxtape

    Is the word “lifetime” actually printed anywhere on any manufacturer literature or manual? I suspect it’s the lack or exemption of maintenance requirements rather than straight-out claiming that the fluid will last as long as someone is driving the automobile. Those are two very different claims, legally speaking.

    These are multi-billion-dollar corporations with teams of lawyers larger than some small countries’ populations. They’re not stupid.

    • 0 avatar
      bball40dtw

      Not that I know of. With Ford products, “lifetime” usually means 150K miles. For example, I just got my PTU fluid changed in my MKT. I have under 60k miles. Ford recommends 150K miles.

  • avatar
    JK43123

    If a manufacturer says “lifetime fluid” and then the item fails because it needed new fluid, then yes, the manufacturer should be liable to repair/replacement.

    A mechanic once told me that “lifetime” meant “until it fails because it needed new fluid.”

    John

  • avatar
    jacob_coulter

    I agree the term “lifetime” should not be used, but I’m not so quick to say that the automakers are “lying” about some of these fluids being lifetime purely for marketing purposes. I just don’t buy that any person has ever bought a car because it has lifetime transmission fluid vs 60k miles transmission fluid changes. Have you ever heard anyone say that in their life, that it was a factor in their purchase?

    The automakers could genuinely have data that shows that by “sealing” these systems, they actually have less failures than allowing them to be serviced and something going wrong. Transmission fluid changes and flushes are notorious for causing issues.

    My Lexus LS has the “sealed” transmission, and to change it it requires an expensive dealer scanner and is quite a process. It has 150k miles, and it’s never been changed and shifts perfectly. Two dealerships basically said “no” to changing it, and one said they’ve never had an LS transmission failure ever come into the dealership. I honestly think I would be more likely to cause a failure by changing the fluid. So I’m just taking my chances.

    It’s not inconceivable that a closed system could go a REALLY long time with a synthetic fluid. And let’s be honest, automakers aren’t making cars for people who drive 300k plus miles. That would be a ridiculous standard to hold them to.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      Individuals don’t care, but fleets sure do. And never forget that in the case of the Europeans in particular, a HUGE portion of their sales are to company car fleets. So by showing a little lower TCO, the bean counters will let that less senior manager have a BMW over a loaded Ford. Fleets NEVER keep cars all that long.

      • 0 avatar
        jacob_coulter

        Most of the vehicles that started this trend aren’t the type of cars used in fleets (at least not 99% of the ones I see)

        And most fleet buyers are fairly savvy about real world maintenance vs marketing.

        • 0 avatar
          krhodes1

          Fleets IN EUROPE are not the same thing as fleets in the US. Over there, a majority of the nicer cars are company cars, paid for and maintained by your employer as a perk. As an example, my buddy in Hungary had a BMW 320d station wagon provided by GE when he worked for them. He had an A6 Avant at his next job with IBM. In many countries, everyone from jr. management on up has a company car. And they are turned over every 2-4 years, so relatively short-term TCO is everything. And fluids cost 2-3X what they do here, just like gasoline does. So I understand the pressure, even if I do not agree with the practices as one who potentially keeps his cars a very long time and/or buys them used.

          • 0 avatar
            jacob_coulter

            You’re talking about an incredibly small market when referring to European luxury cars as “fleet” cars.

            European firms providing new $60k BMWs and Audis to certain employees? I honestly don’t believe they care one bit about the fluid change schedules.

            I worked for a company that provided a Mercedes as a company car, and I can tell you no one ever looked at the maintenance schedule when that decision was made.

          • 0 avatar
            krhodes1

            You obviously have not spent much time in Europe. German cars are not necessarily “luxury cars” they are just cars. Most of their production is what we would think of as the “Buick” market over here. Nice cars, but not necessarily luxury cars. Just a step above the bread and butter. They tend to be much smaller (and diesel) engined and less well equipped than here, but BMW 3′s and 5s, MB C’s and E’s and Audi A4′s and A6′s are common everyday cars over there. The 3-series is pretty much the Camry of Europe. Very typical would be a 320d wagon with cloth seats and a manual transmission, with no sunroof or any of the other toys expected in such a car on this side of the pond. That 3-series driver’s boss would get a 520d similarly equipped. His boss gets a nicer 530d. His boss gets a 730d… The chairman gets the full-lux 760Li, all paid for by the company.

            It is a HUGE market, and a HUGE percentage of the new car market above the bare minimum basic transportation market. And it does heavily influence how the Germans do business in many, many ways.

            In fact, TTAC recently had a posting about the squeezing out of the middle class of cars. There are basically things like Dacia Logans on the low end, and the Germans on the upper middle and high end, and the in-between is dying out.

  • avatar
    ravenchris

    I would like to learn Mr. Lang’s opinion on realistic fluid change intervals.

    • 0 avatar
      Steven Lang

      Enthusiast forums for that particular model would have a far better understanding than yours truly.

      I like to do a drain and fill every 30k miles if I can access at least 30% of the overall fluid. The goal should not only be longevity, but to also keeps the shifts as smooth as they were when you first purchased your vehicle.

      If the automatic transmission fluid does not have a drain plug, check to see if there is a transmission fluid dipstick on top. Some models also have hidden dipsticks that are hard to reach. However they are often situated in places where you can get a lot of the fluid out.

      Finally, there are a variety of methods that require you access a line rather than a tube. Volvos of the early to mid-2000′s often required the Gibbons method which was a gradual adding of two quarts, and removing of two quarts through a line until the fluid was red.

      You always want to use the method that puts the least amount of pressure on the system. Power flushes are not a good option. I avoid them like the plague. Before I get some sleep, I will say that a few vehicles do not require transmission fluid changes at all. Old Panthers come to mind. Most cab companies rarely change the fluids because the transmissions have such a low failure rate. Older, rear-wheel-drive V8 cars in particular usually put little strain on a transmission’s components unless the driver is one of those foolish souls that shifts the car from reverse to drive.

  • avatar
    Penguinlord

    This is all really very simple, folks. A “lifetime” fluid has to last as long as the car, i.e. until it dies.

    Bam! The transmission self-destructs… and the car is dead.

    *manufacturer dusts off hands* Welp. That solved that…

  • avatar
    Jacob

    Outside of a relatively small group of automotive geeks, no one bothers to change transmission fluid anyways, even when fluid exchange is recommended. I bet that most used cars you see on the road never had their transmission fluid changed.

  • avatar

    Can’t argue with your reasoning. I’m making an appointment for a tranny fluid change tomorrow!

    I have my own bones to pick with the rat bastards. You gave me a new one. I’m torqued about the clear plastic headlamp covers that cannot be replaced without replacing the entire assembly at HUGE expense, $1300 per side on my car PLUS labor to R&R the front bumper cover. Look at all the cars coming at you at night with dim and yellow headlights. They can’t see! Where is the NHTSB on the issue. All they have to do is make the clear plastic cover replaceable.

    I think we all know how ineffective the polishing kits are. Always on headlamps add extra heat, making the situation worse.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      @Ruggles

      I agree with you 100% on the headlights. The only recall for them I am aware of is for the Peugeot 405, and they don’t go bad nearly as quickly as some others do! There certainly should have been a recall on 2/7/9 Volvos too. Or better yet, you can use plastic as long as they have a lifetime warranty! At least for many cars you can get cheaper aftermarket replacements that are not too terrible.

  • avatar
    LambourneNL

    Unfortunately many forums also propagate the “it’ll free up gunk and destroy everything!!!1!” paranoia. That’s the problem with forums, it can be hard to separate the actual good advice from the mindlessly repeated nonsense.

    Personally, I do a fluid & filter swap on any automatic car I buy and they have always shifted nicer afterwards. Not one has instantly exploded afterwards, despite most of them being well over 100k at the time.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      My opinion is that if you change the fluid and it blows up, it was going to blow up anyway. I too change EVERYTHING on any new to me car. Even the 212K beater Volvo I bought in ’11 – the fluid was BLACK in that one. Never a problem.

  • avatar

    On my Fusion it says change transmission fluid every 150,000 miles so it is not a life time for sure, but sort of it is. Everything is sealed though and dipstick (if it is a dip-stick) difficult to access. Before I change AT fluid every 30,000 miles. By everything sealed I mean even under the car. Life used to be simple. I look at engine and cannot understand what is going on, what all these tubes are for. I start thinking about elegant simplicity of an electric car.

  • avatar
    brandloyalty

    It’s long past time the marketing “profession” had to answer for their universal and deliberate deceit. Why should those who worked as middlemen between the tobacco companies and the public get away scot- free?

  • avatar
    PandaBear

    I suspect one of the major reason for lifetime fluid is lazy engineering, so they don’t have to design components that can be easily serviced. Instead of going back to the drawing board they just call it lifetime and kick the can down.

  • avatar
    SaulTigh

    This article reminded me that I had been planning to have the transmission fluid changed on my 2008 MKZ. This has an Aisin-Warner 6-speed and specifies a very specific kind of fluid so I decided to let my local Ford Dealership do it today. $183 out the door for a full flush with the machine and a fill. Drives like a new car. I bought it with 47k on the clock and it has 81k now, and it’s never shifted as smoothly as it does now.

    The original fluid was supposed to be “lifetime.”


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