Piston Slap: The Fuel Hating Tranny

Sajeev Mehta
by Sajeev Mehta
Eric writes:

My question is for Sanjeev Mehta. I purchased a 2010 4 cylinder automatic Toyota Camry LE new and have been using it as my daily driver since. My commute is almost all city driving, so I noticed a quirk about the car right away.

During deceleration, the transmission seems to starve the engine almost to stalling, followed by a downshift and repeated until a stop is reached. This makes for a very jerky process for people like me that like to lightly brake for longer distances before stopping. I asked the dealership about it, they told me it was normal and it will go away after ”learning” my driving habits. Two years later, it still is around. From cruising the web and Edmunds, it seems all of the Camrys with the 6 speed auto suffer from this problem. My question is, why does this happen, why on earth would Toyota put this in their cars, and why has every professional review I’ve read of the car not highlight this problem? Is there anything I can do to alleviate this persistent problem? I had the dealership apply a TSB Toyota released for this issue a year ago, but it has not helped at all.

Sanjeev answers:

Do other TTAC writers have the same common/uncommon name mix up problem too? What say you, Jake Baruth, Stephan Lang and Derrick Kriendler? But, I know, I know…not everything is about me. So let’s do this thang.

After a bit of Googling, perhaps your dealer applied T-SB-0287-10:

“To improve the shifting performance and smoothness during acceleration, the Engine Control Module (ECM, SAE term: Powertrain Control Module/PCM) and Transaxle Control Module (TCM) calibration has been revised.”

But this link points to something more relevant, and interesting. Many (all?) electronically fuel injected vehicles cut fuel to the engine when “extended braking” in this manner. They’ve done it since the dawn of EEC-IV fuel injection on my super-precious Ford Fox bodies, that’s for sure. But ye olde Foxes (5.0V8, 4-speed auto) don’t bog very much at all as they slow down to idle. So what’s the problem?

When you slow down through 6 forward gears, the motor bogs down far more often than older vehicles with only 3 or 4 cogs to swap. When you combine this EFI program with the lack of low-end torque in modern engines (relative to the low revving engines from yesteryear) and the torque converter’s stall speed (and the computer programming added to it) you have a recipe for a boggy, clumsy downshift. In these “extended braking” situations, that is.

Simply(?) put, there are computer programs designed for maximum fuel efficiency, too many downshifting gears, computer controlled spinning fans (torque converter) and a relative lack of balls in rev-happy modern engines to ensure smooth downshifting. You’re gonna have to live with it.

Or change the way you brake. Or get a Lincoln Town Car stick shift.

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

Sajeev Mehta
Sajeev Mehta

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  • Tbone33 Tbone33 on Feb 20, 2013

    The problem with torque converters is that they rob horsepower/MPGs and aren't crisp in their shifts, problems that multi-clutch automatics remedy. The problem with multi-clutch transmissions is that they don't offer the smoothness that torque converters provide. As is often the case with new technology we have gone from one extreme to the other. Mazda presently has the best solution in their SkyActiv transmission, as they have married a multi-clutch tranny with a torque converter that is only used at low speed. Eventually someone will develop a more elegant solution with fewer moving parts. Then we'll have something 90% as good as a manual.

  • Cabriolet Cabriolet on Feb 20, 2013

    Jeff Waingrom Your TDI has a built in electric heater. Just turn the temp dial to full heat and the electric heater will be turned on. Diesel,s take a long time to warm up if possable drive in a lower gear to keep the engine speed up or install an engine heater. Works great on cold days. Have a DSG transmission in my 2011 GTI and i love it. Only way i know it is shifting is to look at the tech. Slowing up for a red light is very smooth. If you have any trouble in up shifting or down shifting contact your VW dealer. They have some TSB's to cover that. I always drove a stick shift all my life but i can not shift as fast as the DSG. And the best part is i get better gas mileage with the DSG then driving a stick. Enjoy

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  • Wolfwagen I dont know how good the Triton is but if they could get it over here around the $25K - $30K They would probably sell like hotcakes. Make a stripped down version for fleet sales would also help
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  • Tassos Here in my overseas summer palace, I filled up my tank twice in May, at 68 and 52 euros (a full 90+ liter tank fillup has taken 130-135 Euros in the past, and I am 23 miles from downtown here, while only 1-2 miles in the US)Still, diesel here is MUCH cheaper than gas. Yesterday, I paid 1,488 a liter while gas was at least 1,899 (regular).Multiply by almost 4 for gallons AND by an additional 1.1 for $.
  • 3SpeedAutomatic IIRC, both China and the EU use a standardized charger connection. About time the US & Canada to follow.Would take some of the anxiety out of an EU purchase and accelerate adoption. 🚗🚗🚗
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