By on June 23, 2009

Adam writes:

Hi Sajeev, I own a 2002 Honda Civic Si Coupe 5spd. It has almost 140,000KM on it and I am trying to keep it in good health out of warranty. Recently I decided to go through all my service receipts to see what has been done so far to the car. I noticed (shockingly) that the manual transmission fluid has not yet been changed. There is a side note in the service guide to do this every 96,000KM or 36 months. But this service isn’t part of their regular A,B,C,D and E type service packages. Nobody in the service department EVER reminded me about this while owning the car. Furthermore, when I called my Honda dealer to ask about its importance, the service advisor put me on hold for several minutes to get second opinions.

What is the deal? Is this an important part of vehicle maintenance or what? I would imagine that I am not the only one who overlooks the manual gearbox when maintaining a vehicle. But I just want to know that my $88.00+TAX is being well spent, and not too soon.

Sajeev answers:

Aside from (rear axle) differential fluid, which usually outlasts the vehicle, changing fluids on a regular basis is a good idea. In this case, you’ll get smoother shifting and less wear because fluid changes removes sludge and/or metal particles.  Which can also lead to less noise and better fuel economy.  Maybe.

Most importantly, it will keep the transmission alive for more years or even decades to come. I have no clue why this cheap and simple form of automotive maintenance goes overlooked by so many places designed to make a profit off of you and your car.

I suggest you get all Maury Finkle on this: “Hey, do me a favor. Change your gearbox oil. No, seriously, come on, do it. Do it.”

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41 Comments on “Piston Slap: Just Do It Edition...”


  • avatar

    I thought the Civic Si was only available as a hatchback during this generation?

    /ends anal rant.

    I surprised the dealership didn’t bring this up at like 15,000 miles they are notorious for this kind of stuff. Change all your fluids six months after you bought the car only $500.

  • avatar
    rpn453

    I do manual tranny fluid every 100k km. Differential fluid too, where applicable. I once bought a Pathfinder with 150k km that had never had a tranny fluid change and it came out black and nasty. It shifted much better after.

  • avatar
    turbosaab

    Not familiar with the Honda transmission, but many manufacturers don’t recommend changing the MT oil ever, at all, so I’m guessing it’s not that critical.

  • avatar
    kurtamaxxguy

    Oils (synthetics or other) break down over time even if the vehicle is lightly used.

    It makes sense to change the fluids at least as often as the Mfr. recommends it. This definitely applies to turbos or other high performance vehicles.

  • avatar
    Areitu

    turbosaab :
    June 23rd, 2009 at 3:21 pm

    Not familiar with the Honda transmission, but many manufacturers don’t recommend changing the MT oil ever, at all, so I’m guessing it’s not that critical.

    “Lifetime fluid” doesn’t exist, there’s no harm in changing it as long as you use the right gear oil. Unless you have a very old automatic.

  • avatar
    dolo54

    It’s super easy to do yourself, just google it. Also look around and see what people recommend as far as oil goes. Not all oils are equal by a long shot, see what people like in their civics. Even if you take it to a shop you can bring the oil you want to put in. When a car gets older there’s metal shavings and dirt in the mix, changing your oil will most likely make your shifting much smoother and keep your gears from wearing as quick. High mileage manuals are safe to do an oil change on, automatic that’s never had a change? Don’t do it.

  • avatar
    davekatz

    SAAB 9000 traditionally sketchy gearboxes definitely benefit from very regular oil changes. Hey, the plug’s right there, it’s 2.2 quarts of 5W-30 motor oil, and cheapo insurance. Or placebo. Whatever.

  • avatar

    Manual transmissions don’t have as many complex parts, and don’t “wear out” the fluid as badly as an automatic does. But it still wouldn’t hurt to change it.

  • avatar
    Selektaa

    I’ve been using Amsoil Synthetic MTF in my 06 Civic Si and I’ve been very happy with it. I run it about 30-40k miles and change it out to keep my notchy 3rd gear at bay, but you could run it much longer than that.

    And sorry, that’s not an Si, the 7th gen was hatchback only. Still a nice car, though, take care of it!

    EDIT: Well I’ll be damned. Thanks TEXN, I had no idea. There are definitely some quirky differences between the US and Canadian markets. For instance, when the 8th gen debuted, Canda got heated mirrors that we didn’t get, which is nice, but they didn’t get the color white or a remote trunk release! Guess they were worried about Canadians losing their cars in snow drifts :)

  • avatar

    What about that GM Synchromesh transmission fluid for a Honda. My Accord 5-speed probably has never had a change, at 160k. Or are there other recommendations for a Honda?

  • avatar

    That out of the way, I too had an 02 Si and used GM Synchromesh per some good reviews on EPHatch. I would recommend it.

  • avatar
    TEXN3

    @carguy and Selektaa: The person (Adam) asking the question is most likely from Canada… The Civic Si in Canada is the equivalant of a Civic EX in the States. The Civic Si up north is labeled as an SiR. This has been a tradition for quite some time, why? No clue.

    EDIT: I’m surprised even a Honda fanboy didn’t realize this!

  • avatar
    JMII

    Aside from (rear axle) differential fluid, which usually outlasts the vehicle

    What if your towing? I have the guys at my local oil change place switch out the rear diff fluid on my V8 Dakota every time I do the automatic tranny fluid… which is about once a year.

    Is this overkill or a good plan? For reference I put 9K worth of highway towing miles on my ride each year since 2002.

  • avatar

    JMII : What if your towing? I have the guys at my local oil change place switch out the rear diff fluid on my V8 Dakota every time I do the automatic tranny fluid… which is about once a year.

    Once a year is good for automatics in tow vehicles, but I don’t think the rear diff needs it that frequently. What does the owner’s manual say?

    Just guessing, but once every 4-5 years sound better.

  • avatar
    Juniper

    davekatz
    5W-30 engine oil? really?
    I thought gear oils had different additives to deal with the shearing of gear loads.I’ve heard of 90 and 70W gear lubes and using ATF in a manual but never engine oil.

  • avatar
    Lokkii

    Unless the mechanic managed to strip the threads on the drain plug, I don’t believe that it’s possible to hurt anything by changing the transmission fluid….\\

    Alternately, I doubt if your transmission was damaged significantly by the failure to change the fluid 50K K ago.

    Anyhow, there’s really nothing practical you CAN do at this point to change things… except to change the fluid now.

    Shrug your shoulders, and do it and go on with life.

    Maybe make the next change after 20K K or so, just in case the fresh stuff desludged any sediment that built up from not changing it the first time.

  • avatar
    no_slushbox

    If I was being really anal about a keeper I would change the manual transmission fluid after break in, but don’t freak out that the transmission fluid hasn’t been changed.

    Change it when you change the clutch, which probably should be done soon as a preemptive measure, if it hasn’t been done.

    Have you changed the timing belt? I’m pretty sure that Hondas have interference valves, so if the timing belt snaps that could be painful.

  • avatar

    I’ve heard good things about GM Syncromesh fluid also. IIRC, it was the only one that was supposed to actually “fix” the sticky 2nd gear/syncro issue in some MTs.


    One of my cars was nice enough to blow its box not too soon after I changed the fluid to Redline MT90.

    -Not a comment on fluid changes or Redline, just venting some boggy transmission angst. Damn you, Khan!

  • avatar
    rodster205

    Juniper, et al…

    Hondas have always run engine oil in the MTs, my 83 Civic, 86 Civic, and 88 Civics (had 2) all used standard engine oil in the manual transmissions.

    And my current Saturn POS runs ATF in the manual… go figure.

  • avatar
    Juniper

    Rodster205
    Thanks for the information, I did not know that.
    Just the same I would run engine oil in the engine and gear oil in the transmission.

  • avatar
    Jimal

    Areitu :
    “Lifetime fluid” doesn’t exist, there’s no harm in changing it as long as you use the right gear oil. Unless you have a very old automatic.

    You might want to tell someone at Volkswagen about this. The ’03 Golf I owned (and the ’03 Jetta my wife still drives) the drain and fill plugs are tamper proof Torx bits. The manual also says that adding/changing fluid is not necessary. I’m not saying I agree with them, but…

  • avatar
    Stingray

    My Isuzu Impulse FWD transmission uses motor oil. So far I have used 20W-50 (hard shifts) and like 10W-30 (hard shifts only after long highway drives). I’m going to put synthetic this time to see results 5W-40.

    I try to change it once a year, manual says every 25K miles. And when I change it, it’s usually black as hell.

    Mom’s Fiat tranny also recommends change, but at about 90K kms. So far, I have changed it twice. It uses normal manual gearbox 80W-90

    To those whining about ATF in manual trans… Ford’s M5OD (which is a Mazda tranny by the way) uses ATF. Don’t see the big deal.

  • avatar
    akitadog

    I too thought that the 02 Si was hatchback only. Did they sell Si coupes in Canada that year?

  • avatar
    PeregrineFalcon

    @akitadog – see TEXN3’s comment above ( https://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/piston-slap-just-do-it-edition/#comment-1502588 )

    The Canadian “Si” is the American “EX” – our “SiR” is your “Si”

    Confusing, but hey, our milk comes in bags too.

  • avatar
    broccoli

    Not to state the obvious or anything, but if the owner’s manual says motor oil, use motor oil, not gear oil. In a cold climate with gear oil, you won’t be able to shift without a crunch until the engine warms the gearbox up; in a hot climate, gear oil breaks down at much lower temperatures than motor oil. FWD transmissions can absorb a lot of heat from the engine and exhaust.

  • avatar
    Slare

    @JMII and OP:

    Differential fluid changes in regular open differentials can be neglected quite easily, I agree with the general statement it is probably one of the least important fluids to change. But you should still do it to help keep your axle and pinion seals in good shape, and to get in there and clean off the magnet (if there is one). If you have an open diff very infrequent fluid changes (50k) are likely just fine.

    This advice changes greatly if you have a vehicle with a clutch type limited slip differential. That fluid should be serviced regularly and some require a friction modifier additive. This shouldn’t be ignored if you like your pricey LS to work properly and quietly for any amount of time.

    You should also remember to check it. Seeping axle and pinion seals, vent spitting, etc. can cause the level to drop. Lots of people run front diffs low/dry on 4wd vehicles as it is often never checked, and you won’t like the gear whine that can come from overheating or the price of replacing a differential, especially a LS.

  • avatar
    dolorean23

    I too thought that the 02 Si was hatchback only. Did they sell Si coupes in Canada that year?

    No and not in Britain or Europe either according to TopGear.

    Interestingly, according to an old CarandDriver, the ’00-05 Civic was originally designed around a 24 year old blonde female named Jennifer. Jennifer didn’t actually exist, the design team utilized her essence, baking it as you will into the design of the car.

  • avatar
    carlisimo

    Odd that I can’t see the original post if I click on “comments” instead of “more,” and that there’s no button to see the post. I’ll second the photo comment too, that’s not an Si!

    *edit* In Canada they sold a coupe/sedan Si, but it was the same as the USDM EX, i.e. boring. Their equivalent of the Si was the SiR. Hatch only, same as ours except with the “R” and it was available in red.

    I’m a huge fan of Redline MT-90. Use MTL if you’re in a place where it snows a lot, or a mix of the two. Just be sure to look on the forums for advice. Some cars’ transmissions have bolts that should absolutely NOT be loosened, and while the Civic probably isn’t one of them, it’s good to make sure. GM with synchromesh is popular too, and others swear by Royal Purple.

    But you’re best off asking at ephatch.com or clubrsx.com.

  • avatar

    dolorean23: I remember that issue and Jennifer. I also remember them being underwhelmed with the new Civic, and saying that they hoped the new Integra (RSX) would not be designed for Jennifer’s upwardly mobile friend Tiffany.

  • avatar

    Changing the oil in a manual gearbox at some point isn’t a bad idea (provided you observe the manufacturer’s recommendations for oil, which vary widely), but it’s not the critical maintenance item it is for automatics. In an automatic transmission, the oil is the working fluid — the transmission operates by pumping the fluid back and forth under pressure, and it also has a major cooling function, as well. In a manual gearbox, the oil’s main purpose is keeping metal pieces from clashing.

    I no longer have a Honda, but my mechanic (who did the Honda factory-certified training in Japan) responded when I asked him this question about my old Prelude with a shrug and a, “Sure, if you want to, but it’s not a big deal.”

    Many recent Honda manual boxes use a proprietary manual transmission fluid, which is available at most Honda dealers. Some sources say you can substitute motor oil (10W50, usually), but I wouldn’t take the chance — I’d get Honda MTF. The transmission only takes 2-3 quarts, so it’s not like the cost is going to be a big issue.

  • avatar
    John Horner

    Call me crazy, but I don’t let any of the lubricants in our vehicles go past 30k miles. I’ve helped a few friends change out rear diff lubricant when fixing a leaking cover gasket and when fixing a leaking rear main seal. Put over 100k miles on differential fluid and it turns into some very nasty looking stuff.

    Lubricants break down and get contaminated. How often to change them is subject to debate, but there isn’t a single one which lasts forever.

  • avatar
    Bimmer

    Jimal :

    You might want to tell someone at Volkswagen about this. The ‘03 Golf I owned (and the ‘03 Jetta my wife still drives) the drain and fill plugs are tamper proof Torx bits. The manual also says that adding/changing fluid is not necessary. I’m not saying I agree with them, but…

    When your VW dealer/manufacturer will give you lifetime warranty for the transmission, then you don’t have to change it.
    Same goes for other manufacturers who makes ‘sealed for life’ transmissions.

  • avatar
    PGM-FI

    FWIW – My girlfriends ’96 Integra didn’t have a gearbox fluid change until 145 or so thousand miles. I put the Acura dealer fluid in and to be honest, I didn’t really notice a difference in shifting or performance. It’s now at 185K and it still feels like it did when she bought it. So as far as long term trouble, i’m sure the sooner the better, but your probably ok.

  • avatar
    Giltibo

    According to the Honda Canada website, the MT fluid should be changed every 96 000 km. (For the complete service schedule for a 2002 Can-Spec Civic Si Coupe go to:

    http://honda.ca/HondaCA2006/YourHonda/HondaService/MaintCalcSched.asp?year=2002&modelid=1&minder=False&TrimID=12&L=E

  • avatar
    AdamYYZ

    Thanks for all your feedback! I’m glad my question was answered. I feel now that the 96 000 km factory recommended service is reasonable.

    I think this was an important topic because the internet has shown me that people are divided on the subject. Some say change it with your engine oil, others say follow your service manual, and some say NEVER change it. Some people even go as far as to say that metal particles in the oil make it better.

    And you can say what you want about my car not deserving the Si badge, I didn’t buy it for the logo. Truth is, I wanted the hatchback, but the insurance at the time was an extra $2,000 a year. Ouch!

    I’m on my way to work, I’ll catch up later :)

  • avatar
    vento97

    When your VW dealer/manufacturer will give you lifetime warranty for the transmission, then you don’t have to change it.
    Same goes for other manufacturers who makes ’sealed for life’ transmissions.

    I agree. A friend of mine who’s a Club BMW instructor told me that prior to their “free” maintenance warranty, they recommended transmission fluid/gear oil changes every 30,000 miles – on the customer’s dime.

    Now that it’s on their dime for the first 50,000 miles, BMW all of a sudden says that they use lifetime tranmission fluid.

    Those BASTARDS!!!

  • avatar
    Lokkii

    Now that it’s on their dime for the first 50,000 miles, BMW all of a sudden says that they use lifetime tranmission fluid.

    Those BASTARDS!!!

    Yeah, cause there’s never any improvement in technology…

    The transmission fluid in my 98 328i was lifetime … 10 years ago.

    There are a lot of 10 year old BMW’s out there. If the lifetime fluid was causing a lot of problems, you’d have heard about it by now.

    Having said that, I change mine every 60K miles because it doesn’t cost much to do and it can’t hurt to change it.

  • avatar
    I_Like_Pie

    Let me repeat what several people have mentioned above with respect to Honda manual transmissions…DO NOT (Repeat –NOT!) use transmission fluid in your civic’s manual transmission.

    It calls for regular old motor oil. If you use anything else the viscosity and additives will make shifting very difficult, will make the transmission very temperamental with respect to warm up, and cause excessive wear to the syncros.

    You gear heads should know this. Also…as mentioned the Si is different depending or region. The OP actually seems to know his stuff and asking a pretty good question – all this armchair misinformation is not helping at all.

    Change the lubricant…it won’t hurt a thing in that honda’s manual transmission. Actually very easy to do yourself with $20 worth of tools and a couple quarts of oil. Make sure to use new crush washers.

  • avatar
    AlexD

    “Some people even go as far as to say that metal particles in the oil make it better.”

    Like the flakes in Goldschlager? I think it’s best to change the oil if only for the psychological benefit of not lying there at night wondering if you should change the oil. Spending 80 bucks at the shop every 100K km isn’t too bad. There are good comments above re. doing it yourself – that’s your call and comfort level.

  • avatar
    AdamYYZ

    “There are good comments above re. doing it yourself – that’s your call and comfort level.”

    I have no problem doing work myself… However, I live in a high rise, and they do not allow vehicle maintenance in the parking lot. And, there is the problem of properly disposing of the used materials and oil. It is just too inconvenient.

    I’m a little pissed about the dealer not informing me that my car was not properly serviced. I followed the service menu for 5 years and paid a lot of money for peace of mind. I feel the service advisers owed it to me to look over my service history and make sure I was up to date. In the end, I am responsible for my own car, but I still feel cheated.

  • avatar
    rpn453

    Jimal : The ‘03 Golf I owned (and the ‘03 Jetta my wife still drives) the drain and fill plugs are tamper proof Torx bits.

    They’re only “tamper proof” to someone who doesn’t have $5 and access to a Princess Auto (or whatever the American equivalent is)! I guess it accomplishes the objective of scaring off anyone who doesn’t know that there are many tools out there beyond standard screwdrivers and wrenches.

    Does Honda still recommend Honda MTL? If they do, I’d go with that. It’s cheap and it works well.

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