By on October 25, 2016

2008 Ford Fusion Automatic Shifter, Image: Ford

Mike writes:

Hi Sajeev,

I bought my 2008 Ford Fusion V6 AWD about two years ago from a Ford dealer. At the time, it had about 65,000 miles. I’m now at 85,000 miles. I also bought the three-year extended warranty (one year left).

Despite my usual aversion to buying extended warranties, it’s proven to be a sound investment. I’ve had a few things (including an oil leak) fixed for free (minus deductible). The warranty has already paid for itself. The dealer I used for the warranty service (not the purchasing dealer) gave me a few free oil changes and some credit on an account, so I’ve been going there for routine oil changes/tire rotations.

At the last oil change/tire rotation, I noticed they didn’t check the transmission fluid. I asked them to do so. The technician checked the fluid: it was at the correct level, but getting dirty. I asked if I should change it and he mumbled, “If you don’t do it now, don’t ever do it. Transmissions get used to the fluid and replacing it might ruin the transmission.”

He then asked if the fluid was ever changed. I shrugged. I never did it and I have no idea if the selling dealership or any of the prior owners changed it either.

The service writer printed out a maintenance schedule that said fluid should be changed at 60,000 miles. Both the service writer and the tech said I wasn’t too far over the 60,000 miles and if I wanted to change the fluid everything would be okay. I’ve searched forums and the rest of the web for any hard advice and come up empty.

What do you think? I intend to keep the car for several more years. Should I leave the fluid alone or change it? If the transmission goes in the next year, I’m covered by the warranty, but after that I’m outta luck.

Sajeev answers:

Several more years of ownership?  You’ll be well-served getting a transmission fluid service.

I’d have reservations if the odometer crossed 100,000 miles, but maybe not: your detailed explanation of your service contract implies you’re a caring owner that ensures your vehicle is healthy from every angle, so change the fluid. But how? The old-school filter swap route, or the transmission flush route?

We get a flurry of comments from both sides every time we talk about tranny servicing. I don’t know the best move … in this case, any service is better than none. The mileage is low enough for me to wager that a new filter and then performing the flush would be ideal — you know, a fusion of both procedures.

No matter what we think, I know the Best and Brightest will agree with this: the next owner of this Fusion will be very, very lucky to do business with you.

[Image: Ford]

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

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58 Comments on “Piston Slap: A Fusion of Transmission Fluid Services?...”


  • avatar
    gtemnykh

    Definitely get the fluid changed, and maybe the filter replaced as well. Just make sure it’s the correct fluid and Motorcraft filter. It’s most definitely not too late! The Aisin TF-80 is a sturdy unit.

    Now I’d be more interested whether you have been servicing the PTU and rear diff.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    Transverse transaxles should have the fluid/filter changed every 50K or less depending on who you talk to and your level of maintenance (I have it changed every 25K). The trick is, DO NOT FLUSH THE TRANSAXLE. Repeat, DO NOT FLUSH THE TRANSAXLE. Change the fluid in the pan and filter, that’s it. Since you have the additional hardware for Voodoo AWD™, there may also be other differential fluids which need attention, I can’t be sure and don’t have time for a lengthy Church sermon on the virtues of choosing FWD.

    • 0 avatar
      Frylock350

      Is torque steer a virtue? Cuz that’s how you get torque steer.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        Right, because you *need* 450bhp in your mom and pop commuter.

        Seriously though GM and Ford worked out torque steer many moons ago in the later K-body and wide D186 (32v Conti) up to 295bhp. I’m not up on the “how” but this isn’t the issue it once was. If one really wants AWD, they can have it in longitudinal form. These transverse platforms were not designed for it.

        • 0 avatar
          jhefner

          I think they got the torque steer out by using equal length half-shafts. It was the geometry changing as the engine rotated under torque that caused torque steering; IIRC.

    • 0 avatar
      gtemnykh

      28 cars, it’s worth noting that only getting the fluid in the pan, you are missing out sometimes on more than half of the total fluid in the transmission. The torque converter holds a surprising amount. Now what you can do is by simply doing that partial change, you’re still introducing a lot of fresh fluid, and doing this partial changes will eventually cycle out the old stuff. Another option is to disconnect a transmission cooler hose and run the car in Park, and let the transmission pump do the work for you. Drain old fluid out, introduce new fluid as you do so. You need to be careful to monitor how much is coming out and not let the level run too low.

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      NEVER FLUSH A TRANSMISSION.

      I always say this because it’s just flushing money from your wallet, and potentially doing damage blasting metal bits around your transmission. Filter and fluid change is the correct way.

  • avatar
    Land Ark

    ATF has always been fairly low on my priorities for changing. I very briefly and unsuccessfully worked at an indie transmission shop in the late ’90s. I would do fluid exchanges and for the most part, the 10 year old cars back then had pretty clean fluid come out so I would hope modern trans would perform as well or better.

    I don’t really believe that old “don’t replace old trans fluid” advice though. It seems like an old wives tale that might have been true 75 years ago, but no longer applies today.

    One thing I DO know though, if you don’t know for sure the selling dealer replaced the fluid, they did not. Never assume the selling dealer did any of the required routine maintenance prior to selling you a car.

    • 0 avatar
      Higheriq

      Your last sentence makes a very good point, but I would carry that one step further. When buying a used car from a dealer, NEVER assume that ANY routine maintenance has been done either by the dealer or the previous owner(s). Any purchase offer/price should reflect this. Then after purchase, get ALL of the routine scheduled maintenance performed.

      • 0 avatar
        gtemnykh

        Yep, I always assume I will need to do a full baseline of all fluids, filters, belts, etc. Unless the dealer has an actual invoice for all of those things having been done. When I was looking at GX470s, there’s a ton for sale with about 85-110k miles, none of which have had the t-belt+waterpump service done, because it’s a $2k-ish deal at a Lexus or Toyota dealer. People would drive them until the dealer let them know that the service was coming up, then they’d rather take it up the rear with thousands in depreciation and money lost on the trade-in value rather than just doing the service.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        Very little work is done on anything which comes off the block, typically only work needed for inspection. I have never saw a fluid changed performed on any front line vehicle, including an oil change.

  • avatar
    mikey

    Check your owners manual. The 2008 Mustang V6 I had, called for a change at 60,0000 KLM.

  • avatar
    ajla

    “Transmissions get used to the fluid and replacing it might ruin the transmission.”

    Im not an engineer, but anecdotally I’ve never seen this to be true.

    What generally happens is:
    1. The trans is terminally f*cked already, the fluid is changed in attempt for a “fix” which doesn’t work but the fluid exchange is blamed.
    2. The wrong fluid or refill process is used.

    • 0 avatar
      TR4

      ^^^^This^^^^

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      The way it was explained to me (this may be wrong?) the new fluid is like a detergent in there, and cleans up/breaks down any bits that might be hanging on. It hastens the eventual death of the transmission.

    • 0 avatar
      JimZ

      yeah, this. it’s nonsense. with rare exception if the trans crapped the bed shortly after a fluid change, it was on its last legs anyway.

      the rare exception (which helped re-inforce the myth) was the early days of the Chrysler A604 “Ultradrive” transaxle. It was supposed to use ATF+4, but people/shops were accustomed to every car using Dexron III/Mercon, and would change the fluid with that. A short while later, the transaxle would start freaking out over the fluid’s different friction properties and go into limp-home mode.

      • 0 avatar
        yamahog

        Is it just me or does Chrysler seem to flip a coin every time they spec a transmission? Half the time they get a great transmission (A-833, A727, their ZF 8 speed) and the other half of the time it’s not so great (the 9 speed ZF, the junk they put in their midsize sedans circa 1999, ect.)

        I can’t think of a company that’s been so hit or miss with their automatics except maybe Honda and even then, Honda’s manuals have been sweet.

        You’re an engineer in Detroit, right? do you have any insight into that?

    • 0 avatar

      Yep.. when I bought my 77 Chevelle, it probably had never had the fluid changed since Carter was running for President, was black as engine oil, and it only had 1st and second. no reverse and no 3rd. I figured what the hell, I’ll change it and see what that does. I got out most of what I could, and it turned from black to a murky red, and then attempting to actually work properly. before the forward clutch went out, 5,000 miles later, it would randomly get stuck in two gears and lock up, lose 1st and only have 3rd. Turns out the govenor was sticking, and caused the failure. Had I realized it, and cleaned the govenor up, it’d probably lasted a long time.

      I’m not blaming the changes, just shitty PO.

    • 0 avatar
      AlexL78552

      Amen.

  • avatar
    JimC2

    I wouldn’t have any reservations about changing it for the first time at 85k, 185k, or 500k. Just change it and make sure you put the right kind and the right amount back in.

    Pan drain and refill is fine. Filter change is fine but so is no filter change. Power flush is unnecessary and probably bad; it loosens up pieces of crud that weren’t doing any harm.

  • avatar
    don1967

    According to those who seem to know what they’re talking about in the Volvo forums, the S80 (which uses the same Aisin transmission as the Fusion) uses an algorithm to change shifting behaviour as the fluid ages. It’s fine to go ahead and change the fluid, providing the software is reset to indicate that this was done.

    No idea if this logic applies to Ford vehicles, so take it for what it’s worth.

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      ” It’s fine to go ahead and change the fluid, providing the software is reset to indicate that this was done.”

      How do you do that? Is a mechanic going to know to reset it?

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      “It’s fine to go ahead and change the fluid, providing the software is reset to indicate that this was done.”

      Wow.

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        Volvo, making it easy and practical to maintain a car since 1994.

        • 0 avatar
          JimC2

          Actually, 1994 was about when they stopped making cars easy and practical to maintain. The RWD cars were easy to work on (except for the infamous 240 heater core around which the entire car was built) and the FWD cars seemed to have been built with the opposite philosophy.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            (At some point you’ll be able to note my sarcasms!)

          • 0 avatar
            JimC2

            “(At some point you’ll be able to note my sarcasms!)”

            The little light bulb above my head went on but it went “bzzz bzzzz pop!” and shattered. Looks like I need more coffee this morning.

          • 0 avatar
            blizzardNW

            Having daily driven post-1994 turbo Volvos for the past several years, I would tend to disagree.

            The P80 (i.e. the 850 and S/V70 that followed) cars were especially easy to wrench on; the engine bay is far from crowded (regardless of turbo or NA applications) and the suspension/chassis bits are very standard. My current daily, a later P1 V50 isn’t much different.

          • 0 avatar
            JimC2

            @BlizzardNW, did you ever wrench on any RWD Volvos? Perhaps you just don’t know what you missed out on…

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      There is no need to reset the software though it doesn’t hurt. The adaptive shift technology is always checking its strategy. Not only is it adapting to the changes in the fluid it is adapting to the wear in the elements.

      However disconnecting the battery or plugging in the scan tool and implementing a what is essentially a restore default settings can hasten the adaptations. If the computer wakes up and sees that it has no stored values in a given table it goes into a strategy of repopulating that table rather than just checking the rationality of what is in the table.

      • 0 avatar
        blizzardNW

        @JimC2 You have a valid point. I’ve not yet owned a RWD, redblock-powered car, but a close friend has had two 240s over the last few years so I’ve had the chance to wrench on them on occasion. They are indeed much simpler (reminiscent of my W123 Benz in some ways), but that’s not entirely surprising. By the time the 1990s rolled around, the 240 was simply a modernized and updated version of a car that was new in the mid-1960s, and the 700 and 900 series cars were very similar.

        For what they are, the FWD and AWD cars aren’t really all that complicated or difficult to work on.

  • avatar
    zip94513

    Although I used to let it go myself, often up to over 200,000 miles on some vehicles, I say change the fluid. Having smelled too much burnt fluid over the years, too often is better than not enough in my opinion. On that note, my brother had a dealer change the fluid on his Chrysler 300 and a week later the transmission blew. It was deemed coincidence according to the non-dealer transmission shop that replaced the transmission.

  • avatar
    Adam Tonge

    Change the transmission fluid. Change the fluid in the PTU. Have the upgraded PTU seals added to the PTU/diff.

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      So this was a common transfer case issue fixed after xx model year?

      • 0 avatar
        Adam Tonge

        The Ford AWD system for transversely mounted FWD based vehicles is still voodoo magic. The the PTU/diff got better around the 2013 model year. The seal replacement kit came out a little bit earlier.

        The PTU/diff sends power to the rear wheels when needed. Early units had a leak problem. It’s the design and the sh!tty seals. The problem is that once you have a leak, the gears on the instead of the PTU/diff could be all jacked up. The PTU only holds a 20 oz bottle worth of fluid. Once it is fried, you have to get a whole new unit, which runs at least $1500 installed.

        • 0 avatar
          CoreyDL

          Crikey, that’s not enough fluid in there! I remember you mentioning before now how it’s easy to overheat the unit, and cook the fluid in there.

          This does not bode well down the road for the new AWD Continental using the same system!

          Also – if it’s only being used back there on an as-needed basis, I would theorize many people will rarely engage it, and the fluid will turn to goop before it ever gets warmed up and used, causing leaks/premature wear?

          • 0 avatar
            Scoutdude

            The fluid in the PTU and rear diff are getting warmed up every time the vehicle is driven. There are no wheel end disconnects on the rear axle so it spins any time the vehicle is in motion. The PTU’s input shaft spins with vehicle movement as does its output shaft because the rear diff is spinning the output shaft.

          • 0 avatar
            Adam Tonge

            It should be fine now.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    I change transmission fluid every 25k miles, even on used cars – no matter how high the mileage is. The shear properties of the new fluid are better than the old stuff.

  • avatar
    RS

    Just had the fluid/filter changed in our T&C with 140k on it when they replaced a tranny cooler line. I don’t think it was ever changed by the previous owner. They said that the fluid was a little dirty. We didn’t have an issue with it before, and it doesn’t seem to work any different afterwards.

    There is no way to check the fluid level on that transmission unless you buy a dipstick tool. I wonder how many of these ‘sealed for life’ transmission fail because they have a slow leak and there is no easy way for an owner to check the fluid level.

  • avatar
    jhefner

    I knew Dad never changed the transmission fluid in any of his cars, so I did not either. The AXON transmission in the Taurus was shifting hard, so at 150K I decided to have the fluid changed.

    That first hot summer was really bad. It started losing fluid like crazy; I drove it 120 miles a day, and every week, I would have to add a quart of transmission fluid to it.

    It finally began to settle down after that. A quart of Pennzoil High Mileage transmission fluid stopped the remaining leaking. It has made it for six more years and up to 210K; though thankfully I don’t have to DD it anymore; it mostly sits under a cover on the driveway now.

  • avatar
    Verbal

    This transmission fluid change is going to be a game changer.

  • avatar
    Scoutdude

    Yes have the pan dropped, cleaned out, filter replaced and refilled with the proper Motorcraft fluid.

    If any shop ever tells you that you should “flush” your transmission or that they will use their fluid exchange machine and it will do a better job than a drain and fill run as fast and far away from that shop as possible and never ever go back there again.

    There are many reasons to not let them near your car with a fluid exchange machine.

    #1 they may make good on that “flush” claim by overfilling your transmission with a solvent based flush product and then letting the car run for a while with it in it. That can damage seals and it may not be apparent for a while.

    #2 most shops use a universal fluid and then add a bottle of fluid converter. That wouldn’t be so bad if there was a precise amount added so that it truly replicated the OE fluid. Instead they just dump in a bottle and call it good no matter what the actual amount of new fluid is in the transmission. Even if the machine is filled with the proper fluid before the procedure is started some of what ever was in there last remains.

    #3 the lube path of a torque converter automatic is not a simple starts at one end and goes to the other. When the fluid comes out of the path it goes multiple directions. Some goes to the lube circuit to keep the bushings and bearings happy. Some goes to the control circuit to provide the ability to operate the various elements. This fluid drips back into the pan at the particular point of use. The rest of the fluid goes into the torque converter and then on to the cooler before going back to the pan. Now that torque converter and to a lesser extent the pan is contains fluid that is constantly moving around. So any new fluid added to either is quickly mixed up with the old fluid. So while they may pump say 10 qts of new fluid into the the trans because it is instantly mixed with the old fluid you end up pumping out new fluid with some of the old and leaving some of that old fluid in the trans. If they have added that solvent based flush guess what some of that is left in the transmission to further break down the seals and fluid over time. If the are using a universal fluid and converter and they add that converter after the fact the dosing is almost certainly off because they added enough for that 10qts when there are only 5 new quarts in the trans. So it is over dosed. If their normal procedure is to add the converter with the fresh fluid then again you have remnants of the converter for the last transmission that may or may not be the same as what is used in your vehicle.

    Here is an experiment you can try at home to compare the effectiveness of a fluid exchange vs dropping the pan and changing half of the fluid. You’ll need the following items.

    3 drinking glasses, they should be a tall glass say 12 oz, bonus if they are the traditional Coke glass shape.

    Food coloring, red would be preferred but any color will do.

    Large container to mix up enough water and food coloring to fill 2 of the 3 glasses.

    Fill the large container with water and a healthy does of food coloring, you want a nice dark color when it is all thoroughly mixed up.

    Place 2 glasses in the sink and fill them to the rim. Note that they should be the same color.

    Take your 3rd glass and fill it with plain water.

    Slowly pour that glass of clear water into one of the glasses with the colored water allowing it to flow over.

    Next take the other glass of colored water and dump half of it out. Then refill it to the brim with clear water.

    Now compare the color of the water in both glasses. I guarantee that the first glass that you “flushed” by dumping in clear water will still have a lot of color in it and it probably won’t be any lighter than the glass where you dumped 1/2 out and put 1/2 a glass of clear water in.

  • avatar
    NeilM

    The overriding principle here is that there’s no such thing as a lifetime fluid, no matter what the car company claims.

    Unless of course you’re a company lawyer, in which case you point out that the factory fluid fill lasted right until the transmission failed (for lack of fluid service), so by definition it lasted for the transmission’s lifetime — QED.

    • 0 avatar
      PandaBear

      Consider many seals only last about 10-15 years, and if the ATF doesn’t wear out before then it is considered lifetime.

      Many transmissions are programmed to slip a little to make the shift smooth, and many uses PWM solenoid to slow the shift down so it is smooth as well. In the end the ATF life has a lot to do with how the transmission is programmed and what kind of friction material is used.

      If you are lucky and the OEM didn’t screw up, your fluid can last a lifetime. If the OEM screw up, the transmission can die before it is due for the first service.

  • avatar
    LambourneNL

    I’ve done fluid & filter on every used car I bought in the last few years (6 cars so far), mileages ranging from from 60k to 200k+.

    All of them shifted nicer afterwards and not one has blown up or gone wrong in any way.

    I do always make sure to get the correct fluid and not some universal stuff though.

  • avatar
    delow48

    I for one just started performing a drain and fill on my Hondas about every other oil change starting at about the 30,000 mil mark. This has worked well for the older one, and the CRV has about 55k on it now so we will see what happens when it gets older.

    What frustrates me is that my wife’s Highlander however no good way to do the same service at home (lifetime fluid…yeah right). The only recourse for me is to pull the pan and replace at a mechanic which sucks because it was about $150 that I could have done on my own if they had just installed a drain plug and a dipstick. I hate Toyotas.

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      What I see is that the Toyotas with the overflow method of checking the level do have a drain plug. They were even so nice as to have a method to have the shift indicator light show when the trans has reached the proper temp range for checking the level.

      http://www.agcoauto.com/content/news/p2_articleid/345

      So you just need a way to lift the vehicle high enough to access all three plugs and either a suction gun or a bottle pump that you can get at your local auto parts store.

      The jack stands can come in handy for other projects and for the special tool you can make that with a little ~18 ga wire. Or you can just spend a few dollars for a Bluetooth ELM and app for your phone and read the temp directly as well as have all the other benefits of having your own scan tool. You should be able to recover the cost of the tools the first or second time you DIY it.

  • avatar
    MWolf

    I would do the change. Hear me out: You aren’t that far over the scheduled maintenance that it would cause an issue, even the tech said so. Changing the fluid will ensure that you don’t end up damaging the transmission by neglecting the fluid. You still have a warrenty. I promise you, if your fluid change causes a problem, you’ll know well before a year’s passing.

    Ford’s transmissions, through my observations, do not tolerate neglect well. They do ok (in most cases) if you take care of them, so definitely do the maintenance. Not that any transmission should be neglected.

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