By on January 4, 2010


TTAC commentator Kericf writes:

First, an update: I submitted a question on my Rodeo ABS and brakes before. It was just a bad sensor (probably from driving in high water). And I chose not to replace the brake lines yet after inspecting them.

Now, my new question comes way of a transmission fluid change on my wife’s 2005 Pathfinder. As usual the manual calls for only using official Nissan Matic J at almost $13 per quart. The local auto parts store sells Castrol Tranny fluid that says on the label it is a replacement for Matic J. I do not have any warranty left so I’m not so much worried about fighting over what was used, I just don’t want to have to replace the tranny because the fluid wasn’t the right spec? Am I worrying too much about it? Should I just dive right in and go?

I would also like to get some suggestions by the B&B on the best way to flush more fluid out than the standard drain 5qt out of the pan method. Is there a way to really get it all out on your own? I saw the product review on the oil extractor and was contemplating trying one out for the tranny fluid as it seems a lot easier and cleaner.

Sajeev replies:

Congrats on the easy fix on the Rodeo! On the Pathfinder, use any fluid that meets the manufacturer’s specifications, and I suspect the Magnuson Moss Warranty Act agrees with me too. So yes, dive right in and go.

I seriously doubt the engine oil extractor (per TTAC review) has the balls to vacuum through the guts of a torque convertor; only the pressurized flushing systems can pull that off. If you’re lucky, you can pull the pan (and whatever trim covers the torque converter) and spin the converter 360 degrees and hope that Nissan gave you a drain plug. If not, I suspect the flushing machine is your best bet.

As previously mentioned on Piston Slap, your best bet is to do both a filter change and a flush of all the old fluid. Try to find a shop that can do both, unless your Pathfinder has well over 100,000 miles with original fluid, you might want to reconsider flushing the varnished fluid (filled with clutch material) with new slippery stuff, as that could wear out the transmission much faster. Fluid changes on old automatic transmissions are a tough personal choice, so think before you act.

Off to you, Best and Brightest.

(Send your queries to [email protected])

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26 Comments on “Piston Slap: Nissan Matic J Worth The Trouble?...”

  • avatar

    Flush & fill if you want to get all the fluid out, but be sure to replace the filter, also.  The standard flush & fill does not touch the filter.  This is akin to giving a heart attack patient a blood transfusion without re-opening their arteries.
    And use the OEM fluid, not some aftermarket stuff.  The $70 savings (or whatever) is not worth risking a transmission over.

    • 0 avatar

      Agree with gslippy – use the OEM fluid; you’re not going to be changing the fluid that often anyway.

    • 0 avatar

      What he said.  If you’re following the premium maintenance schedule in the Nissan Service and Maintenance Guide for your Pathfinder you only doing this every 30k miles at minimum.  Just pay up and have the job done right.

    • 0 avatar

      x3 on OEM -> at least with my last vehicle (a Honda), OEM ended up being cheaper (went through mail order even!) and they’re very Draconian about the use of their own fluids.

    • 0 avatar

      Use any fluid that meets the Nissan spec. The spec meens that it has the correct viscosity and additives that you need in the fluid for your car. You very well could be buying the Castrol in the Nissan bottle. It’s not like Nissan has it’s own oil refinery where it makes it’s own special ATF. They buy the fluid from oil companies and put their label on it.

  • avatar

    I just had a shop flush and refill the auto tranny fluid at 65k on my wife’s Mercury Mountaineer (04). The very next day, the O/D OFF light came on and the transmission grenaded.  $2100 for a rebuild. The tranny was shifting rough prior to the change, so I suspect the old fluid was all there was holding things together.  I don’t know that I will ever elect to change auto transmission fluid again in the future.  I’m not sure it does much good on actually prolonging the device versus hastening it’s demise.

    • 0 avatar

      What was the maintenance interval on the Mercury?
      Was it ever used for towing?
      If the car wasn’t abused, the change was on-time and done right, then you owe FoMoCo a detailed letter and a request for explanation . . . in return they owe you an explanation.

    • 0 avatar
      John Horner

      Do you know for sure that the shop used the correct fluid?

      Did they use a “flush machine” with a dose of detergent? I do not trust those detergents many shops run through their machines.

    • 0 avatar

      This is why an auto trans flush is one of the few things I will have done at a dealer for any vehicle that takes anything other than the basic Mercon/Dextron fluid.  Indenpendent shops will usually use a universal fluid in their flush machines which may not play nice if the transmission was designed for a newer more specific fluid.  Also, the dealer techs will be more likely to follow all the steps that the manufacturer details for properly flushing the transmission for that particular vehicle.
      Neglecting the transmission doesn’t help either.  With the newer electronically controlled units a rough shift may not be due to a mechanical problem.  It is often a bad valve solenoid, which can often be fixed without removing the transmission.  However, neglecting that will cause more wear and tear on the transmission which will eventually lead to a mechanical failure.  Solenoid issues can usually be found be canning the vehicle computer for diagnostic codes even if the check engine light is off.  In some makes a rough shift will cause codes to be logged, but not trip the dash light.

    • 0 avatar

      Maintenance interval I believe said 50k, so we were admittedly behind, but the car is driven easily and has only towed a small trailer and boat (neither more than 2k pounds).  The shop did use a flush machine and just normal Dextron/Mercon fluid, which is all that is specified for this car.  The 02-06 Explorer’s/Mountaineers are apparently prone to early transmission failure.  It does indeed start at the bad shift solenoid usually but quickly goes downhill from there.  That is what seemingly happened to us.

    • 0 avatar

      I’m guessing you didn’t find out that they’re prone to failure until after this experience? (lest you would have done it sooner?)
      I’ve heard of all sorts of weird “early” failure stories from co-workers but they’re all anecdotal garbage that came from poor maintenance.
      I try to stick to maintenance (severe if I have any suspicion that it may be a fragile system) of the manufacturer and bring things in the second they seem not right.  Even if it’s OOW, there’s a lot of dealer discretion for post-warranty compensation that I’ve found, providing you did your part.
      Beyond that, if I did my part and they tell me to go pound sand, I tell everyone who will listen (or those who can’t help but) :D

    • 0 avatar

      The owners manual for the 2004 Explorer/Mountaineer calls for Mercon V, not Dextron/Mercon.

  • avatar
    John Horner

    This topic gets discussed to death over at
    People are either in the “OEM or death” camp or in the “use anything which says it should work” camp. That argument will never end.
    Lots of people have written up the procedure for a DIY cooler line flush. One can be seen over at the site:
    On vehicles which have a removable pan and serviceable filter (fewer and fewer do these days, BTW) I drop the pan, change the filter, install the pan and refill. Then, I do the cooler line flush technique.
    Personally I used to be in the OEM specified fluids only camp, but lately I’ve had good luck using Mobil-1 synthetic multi-vehicle in our daughter’s Hyundai and Castrol Import multi-vehicle ATF in our Honda.
    Finally, service the transmission fluid regularly. I do it every 30k miles which is Honda’s recommendation for severe service conditions. I will never believe the “100k mile” or “lifetime fill” recommendation some car makers are advertising. Transmissions are as costly as engines these days.

    • 0 avatar

      I agree with you on the frequent changes.  I’ve tried to stick with 25-30k miles as well.  The 100k change technique is a good bet for the dealer, not the consumer.
      As a shadetree mechanic, I’d much rather see the engine blow than the transmission.
      And I will never subscribe to the “it’s better to leave the crud in there” theory promoted by some folks.  In my opinion, it’s never too late to change the fluid in a well-functioning transmission, even if it’s for the first time.  But a simple fluid change will rarely fix a transmission that is already failing.

  • avatar

    Wow, only $13/qt? Sounds like a deal to me…

    -German car owner

    (yes, use the OE stuff. Most paid-off cars still cost 30-50 cents per mile to drive, total, so saving a few bucks here and there isn’t generally worth it.)

  • avatar

    If it were my car, I’d run the correct-spec (but not OEM) trans fluid. For a flush procedure, I think this DIY method pumps most of the old fluid out of the transmission and torque converter: just pull the top line off the in-tank (radiator) trans cooler, stick a hose onto the line and run it into a drain pan, start the car (put it in N – most trannies have higher oil flow in N than in P) and pour fresh fluid into the trans at the same rate it’s pumping out of the cooler line. You’ll need to dump about 8 or 9 qts into it before the fluid will start running clear, but it’s still a lot cheaper than having a shop flush. Just to be safe, I add a qt. of Trans-X to the new fluid to keep the internal seals working properly. Never “grenaded” a transmission after following this procedure.

  • avatar

    Never use anything but the OEM. They designed it for a reason.
    You say you’re worried about having to replace the transmission, so you obviously know how much that will cost. You might save $50 dollars if you use the generic trans fluid. Why would you risk a $2000+ transmission replacement over $50? Also, your car most certainly does not call for trans fluid changes more often than ever 60,000 miles, and it is a 2005 at the beginning of 2010, so at most, you’ve changed it once before. Would you really miss the extra $50 spent two years ago? I really don’t understand how companies can manufacture generic trans fluid anymore, sell it to people who are clueless/cheap (bilking them – the company is at fault), who then quickly destroy their transmission due to its use. How is this legal? Why do people who are otherwise intelligent keep falling for this absurd scam? Does Castrol own transmission shops?

  • avatar

    Unless your owner’s manual says otherwise do not waste your time and money on transmission fluid changes.  OEMs have every incentive to recommend maintenance that will keep their products reliable.  If they don’t recommend it you don’t need it.  And worse, you could end up creating headaches for yourself down the road.  The “I must get all the contaminated fluid out down to the last molecule” attitude sounds like a serious mental health issue.  This bizarre “transmission fluid sniffing” fetish has to end before someone gets hurt. 

    • 0 avatar
      John Horner

      Hmmm, hard to tell if you are being serious or ironic.

    • 0 avatar

      It depends on the specific car a lot. There used to be a guy who changed oil in his 1G Neon every 100,000 miles (that’s ONE HUNDRED THOUSAND miles). But he drove a lot, mostly on freeways. He claimed that as long as the engine did not burn the oil (e.g. added abrasive soot into it), you did not have to change it, ever. And he had a very real Neon with 250k miles on it to prove it, that he brought to gatherings in Belvidere. Of course he used some kind of expensive synthetic (cheater ^_^).
      Evidence exists that recommended maintenance intervals are too short. In particular, one TTAC commenters observed how a BMW in a lease (or other company-pays arrangement) is recommended a longer interval than exactly the same car when owner pays.

  • avatar

    This issue of A/T fluid is a great mystery to me, first, how many car manuals specify A/T fluid change intervals? second, is it possible that all these car manuals that does not specify intervals are basically assume that by the time you need a new A/T it will be well after the warranty is over?
    I drive a 2006 Mazda3, 2.3L, 5 speed AT since new, I have 48k so far, the warranty on the car will expire at 50k.
    I did all my oil changes at the dealer, it served me well in one way since they do check the car every time, one time it was a leaking strut, one other time it was an engine mount, both replaced under warranty.
    The minus side was that they did offer me all kind of unnecessary stuff like the “30k  service” that no car company ever heard of, but A/T fluid was never on the list, like it does not exist, needless to say it is not mention in the car manual as well.
    So, how do we know when and if to change it? do we use gut feeling, intuition? and if you read forums on the subject, it’s 30k, 50k, never change if the color is right, do change only part of it, don’t flush and so on.
    I’m lost, sorry….

  • avatar
    Ralph SS

    Some thoughts….

    “Matic J”?  They more than likely buy someone else’s fluid and put their label on it.  Using a store brand that meets the spec might just be the same fluid.  Don’t know how’d you find out.  But…still “Matic J”?  This is the best they could do for a name?

    Long ago, in a land not far away (physically at least) a wise man (my dad) told me that with a new car it is a good idea to change the tranny fluid directly after the break-in period.  Theory was that it’s called a break-in period for a reason and that the likely hood of junk breaking loose was high during that period.  I have done that on the two new auto equipped cars I have purchased (both Fords).  I have never “grenaded” a auto tranny.  Both new cars (one I still have) have gone well over 100k without problems.  Agree-disagree?

  • avatar
    Sammy Hagar

    This past summer I had a similar problem with two of my cars;  both were at 100K miles and needed ATF services.   I didn’t really want to do a ATF flush at a dealership or Quickie Lube place, as I’ve read just enough about it to get worried (warranted or not).  So what I ended up doing was buying a case (12) of OEM fluid from the dealer for each vehicle  (Ford=Mercon V, Toyota=T-IV), plus a filter/gasket for each.  Dropped the transmission pan in both, cleaned the magnet and pan, changed out the filter and re-installed.  I also made sure to drill a hole in the Ford transmission pan and installed a $6 drain plug from NAPA (Toyota’s have a drain plug from the factory).  Then I did a 3-4 quart fill on each, per the Chiltons or Haynes manual and topped off as necessary.  The next step in the plan is to pull the drain plugs on each at the next oil change and refill again with 3-4 quarts, repeating once more after that  (for a total of 12 quarts).  I know it’s not the same as forcing out all the ATF at one time, but I figure it’ll be adequate…especially considering most owners don’t ever maintain their A/T (well, until there is a major problem).

    I think the total cost (ATF & filters) was less than $150, for both vehicles;  if you were looking to go cheap, SuperTech (manufactured for Walmart by Warren Performance Products) ATF runs around $3.75/qt;  from the virgin analysis on “that oil” website, it’s considered a good quality product.

  • avatar

    This might a time to err on the side of OEM.  Considering that you have no way of knowing what’s really in that bottle, you have to weigh the risks.  Seems to me the savings don’t justify the risk.  Remember that many of the Chrysler A604 failures were due to incorrect fluid…

  • avatar

    I will never understand why people will religiously change their oil at 3K but neglect their transmission’s fluid updates until the gearbox grenades. As Mr. Horner pointed out above, transmissions are every bit as expensive to repair or replace as an engine.

    Ford has recently (within the past decade, anyway) changed their ATF formulation–it’s Mercon V now, ONLY. Does not play well with older Mercon.

    Hondas, in particular, are known for being sensitive to generic multi-use ATF, and user experience strongly recommends using their proprietary ATF-Z1 formula. Likewise, no flushing ever.

    Don’t believe for a minute that this stuff is just generic fluid being relabeled by the OEMs; likewise, I wouldn’t have much faith the generic stuff is going to work problem-free in your transmission over the long term.

  • avatar

    Hey Sajeev,

    Any proof to back up that old wives tale about over 100k mile tranny flushes? I can’t find anything either way but I am not inclined to agree. Why wouldn’t this old clutch material not be caught by the filter or the magnet? If your clutches and bands are toast, they are going away, fluid change or not.

    As for the fluid in the Nissan, I would say stick with the Nissan stuff, just find the best price, and here’s why: It only took a little Googling around the message boards to discover that Nissan doesn’t publish any “spec” for trans fluid makers to meet, the fluid makers are just claiming they are compatible with the JATCO fluid, which is the equivalnet of saying “it won’t blow up your trans in any way that could be linked to our fluid” sounds like a great guarnatee to me.

    But the Nissan guys are talking about JATCO slip profiles that are different then Dexron (if the fluid you want to buy is Dexron comapatible how could it meet two conflicting “standards”??) and modifiers that need to added, red or black depending on your trans family…clearly more research is needed…

    So do you want to become a part time lubricant researcher and figure out which trans fluid is going to deliver at a lower cost than the Nissan stuff? Or do you want to pony up the few bucks and at least know you are getting some stuff that is supposed to work right.

    This sort of question comes up all the time with car maintenance and sometimes it is worth the time to do the legwork, sometimes not.

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