By on November 8, 2017

Acura has a tough job ahead of it. As the brand tries to grow volume and retain some of the clout it lost in past years, it finds itself with too many cars and two few SUVs in a market that demands more of the latter, not the former. Meanwhile, the impressive reborn NSX, now a hybrid, hasn’t captured the imagination of sports car fans in the same way as its long-lived predecessor.

Keeping up with — and in some cases, getting in front of — technological trends is part of Acura’s comeback plan. Naturally, in the interest of technological advancement and environmental appeasement, it was necessary to bring a multi-cog automatic transmission on board. However, a series of manufacturer service bulletin point to two potential weak points in the company’s nine-speed.

Late last month, Acura issued two service bulletins to dealers — one covering the 2015-2016 TLX sedan, the other dealing with the 2016 MDX. In it, Acura warns that some transmission warmers were “improperly manufactured,” allowing engine coolant and automatic transmission fluid to mix.

Should this occur, “the engine and transmission may be permanently damaged and require replacement.” In the case of the TLX, the vehicles’ transmissions were already replaced once before to remedy a leaking transmission warmer.

“In rare cases, these vehicles may have also overheated but because the issue was under investigation, a standard repair procedure hadn’t been developed,” the bulletin reads. “Further action is needed before the vehicle is completely repaired.”

The same issue afflicts 2016 Honda Pilots. Owners will be notified by the manufacturer to take their vehicles back for a checkup. If the component falls outside the affected manufacturing date, there’s no problem. However, if it does prove suspect, the vehicle will receive a bevy of new parts — among them, a transmission, transmission warmer, radiator, thermostat, coolant hoses, coolant reserve tank, and ECT sensor O-rings.

It’s possible owners will also find themselves driving away with a new short block and cylinder head, plus the transmission and coolant trappings.

This isn’t the only issue to strike nine-speed Honda and Acura models. In a series of service bulletins issued in September, the automaker warns of transmission end cover leaks on the 2015-2017 TLX, 2016-2017 MDX, 2016-2017 Pilot, and 2018 Honda Odyssey.

“During assembly, the transmission end cover sealing gasket gets torn,” the automaker states in its bulletin. To remedy the issue, the manufacturer will replace the dodgy gasket.

After reaching a U.S. post-recession sales high in 2015, Acura’s annual sales tally has dropped considerably. October 2017 sales dropped 1.3 percent, year-over-year. Until the brand fields more utility vehicles, it’s difficult to see the MDX and RDX offsetting losses in the declining passenger car segment.

[Image: Acura]

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38 Comments on “Nine Speeds and Another Problem for Honda’s Gear-iest Transmission...”


  • avatar
    JohnTaurus

    “…the company’s nine-speed.”

    It isn’t the company’s trans, its ZF’s hated 9 speed that the company (among others) uses. Surprised this wasn’t mentioned in the article.

  • avatar
    JohnTaurus

    Also, doesn’t Honda now have a 10 speed trans? I’m not sure if a 9 speed is more or less “gearier” than a 10 speed, but I’d think it would be less so.

    • 0 avatar
      conundrum

      Yes, correct on both counts.

      No doubt we’ll soon get another bright and breezy account of the new Mazda engine again, when from the bottomless well of automotive knowledge around here, it’ll be dubbed a sparkplug-less engine. Surprise! Without Spark Plug Controlled Compression Ignition or SPCCI, it wouldn’t work.

  • avatar
    Lightspeed

    Was recently looking for a used car for my wife and a V6 was a requirement. I saw enough ads for V6 Hondas stating the transmission had ben replaced or that the car was being sold cheap due to a bad transmission. That eliminated Honda/Acura from the running. Had also looked at 2005-7 Pathfinders, but they have the same coolant/transmission fluid mixing issue as these new Acuras. Hard to believe this issue is still occurring after all these years. Acura’s biggest problem is KIAs and Hyundais are more attractive now.

    • 0 avatar
      johnds

      I don’t know where all the hate comes from. My 99 Accord V6 traded at 253k with no transmission issues. Our 2003 Accord V6 went 261,000 miles on the original transmission, and we have a 2006 Accord V6 with 150k no issues. My sister has a 2003 Pilot and its doing just fine at 150k miles. We do change our fluids, etc.

      I do run into all these 3800 GM fans/family who scream Merica all day long but also don’t disclose they’ve replaced all 4 power window motors, transmission issues, lower intake manifolds, etc. Some spend 1000s on repairs. Also in my area, a lot of rust issues that make them look and sound like hooptie rides. I won’t say its a bad engine, but the car as a whole, typical GM.

  • avatar
    RSF

    Imagine that, another troublesome Honda automatic transmission. Some things never change.

  • avatar
    don1967

    Brand loyalty to Honda or Toyota on the basis of reliability is a foolish thing in 2017.

    Our daughter’s Hyundai Elantra has been trouble-free for nearly 7 years and counting. Total repairs amount to one temperature sensor, replaced under warranty in 30 minutes, plus a couple of nuisance recalls relating to the suspension coils. The two other Hyundais we owned for approximately 5 years each had a similar track record.

    • 0 avatar
      brn

      Your Hyundais are more problematic than our Fords.

    • 0 avatar
      ToddAtlasF1

      “Brand loyalty to Honda or Toyota on the basis of reliability is a foolish thing in 2017.”

      Honda dropped the ball when CAFE IMBECILE took effect, but Toyota is more superior to the rest than ever. I manage an all-makes shop, and buying anything else is setting yourself up to pay an idiot tax. If you have the credit to get a good lease rate and don’t really need to get anywhere, drive what you want. Otherwise, Toyota is currently the only game in town.

  • avatar
    S2k Chris

    So why does the article have a picture of the RDX, which has the old 6AT??

  • avatar
    Gardiner Westbound

    So much for Acura’s “Precision crafted performance”

  • avatar
    squelchy451

    Holy frijoles, 9 speeds? Is there any benefit besides meeting EPA regulations to having that many transmission speeds? With the ubiquity of turbo engines and accessible low-end torque, the number of gears above 7, even 6, seems as un-necessary as razor blades with 4-5 blades.

  • avatar
    Caboose

    Honda’s minivan transmission problems are about to drive me right into the arms of a Suburban.

    • 0 avatar
      JohnTaurus

      What’s hilarious is when people on here start boasting about how they’d recommend the Chrysler Pacifica over the Oddyssy because of Honda’s poor transmission, when they use the *same* ZF 9 speed.

      Its not like older Chrysler minivans were any better than Hondas in that regard. Much worse in fact, especially when you consider all the other issues they tend to have aside from their glass trans.

      • 0 avatar
        APaGttH

        I don’t know man. Honda’s transmission issues can be traced all the way to the grenades they used in the ’78 Accord on forward. The hated ZF or not, Honda + reliable automatic transmission have not gone hand-in-hand in a growing list of models for decades now.

        You’ll get no defense of the ZF 9-speed from me, nor Takata airbags, not a growing list of suppliers that Honda has historically shacked up with, and continued to shack up with even long after the evidence pointed to it being a bad idea (or in the case of Takata, airbags, burying the evidence)

        • 0 avatar
          Carrera

          I have both a 2006 Pilot with the 5 speed Honda Auto and a 2007 Ridgeline with same tranny. The Pilot has 162,000 and the Ridgeline had 125,000 when I traded it in. Ive never had a problem with either transmission but I’ve maintain them both as per Honda. No corners cut, no pep boys transmission fluid. Never had a problem.

          • 0 avatar
            30-mile fetch

            Well…my friend gave up on their 5 speed Odyssey after the third transmission failed, and I believe that unit was designed by Honda as well.

          • 0 avatar
            brn

            Carrera, with more than a million miles on my cars over the years, I’ve only had one issue with a transmission, ever. A squirrel chewed it’s way through a transmission line, causing it to dump all over the freeway. Took about 15 miles to notice. Drove it (dry) to the local repair shop the next day. He fixed the line, filled it up, and it was as good as new. Charged me $75.

            Maybe I’m lucky, but I just have never seen a transmission issue. Never even had to replace a clutch on a manual.

            I’ve also never owned a Honda (have considered it a few times). I’m speaking in general.

        • 0 avatar
          JohnTaurus

          The transmissions used in the Caravan, Voyager and Town & Country were terrible. That was my point. I’m certainly not claiming that Honda is without fault, in this area or any, but recomending a Chrysler over a Honda based on nothing but transmission reliability is disingenuous at best. Just considering the fact that they both use the ZF 9 speed, its hard to imagine the case being made. Chrysler minivans, especially with overdrive, were just as notorious for failure in the past.

          There are stories of bad FWD automatics from just about any automaker that has used them. Yes, some are worse than others, but there is no logical reason to assume a Chrysler will be more reliable than a Honda, especially when they source their trans from the same supplier.

          What this has to do with Takata, I don’t know. Was Honda the only manufacturer to use their airbags? No. Perhaps more than any other, but its not like they purposely used what they knew to be unsafe products. However, there are (were?) manufacturers who continued to install defective Takata airbags after the issues became well known last year. Honda was not one of them.

          • 0 avatar
            APaGttH

            Honda was not the only manufacturer to use their airbags. Honda was the only manufacturer to silence their own engineers over the performance of the airbags all the way back in 2004 when they said, “hey, we’ve got a serious problem.”

            Honda is also the only manufacturer to tell Takata, “hey, change that test data you ran for us to show that they don’t explode quite so much.”

            Despite knowing the airbags were a major problem, Honda continued to use Takata, and never even took steps to approach another manufacturer to step in quietly.

            I will give no defense for the glass transmissions in the Chrysler (pre-FCA-era) minivans – or for any minivan for that matter. As has been written ad nauseum by TTAC staffers, passenger car transmissions in minivans put them to the test as soon as a minivan is used as a — minivan, and not just for carrying mom and the kidlets to soccer practice and back.

            Honda and Chrysler, in particular, have been more fragile than other makers (defunct minivan makes excluded). Right now I couldn’t recommend a minivan from any maker over an equivalent SUV/CUV – they all have glaring issues. That in itself is a shame, having owned 3 minivans in my life because of their extreme practicality. All 3 were problematic (not transmissions)

          • 0 avatar
            johnds

            It’s much more than that. In the salt spreading states, Chrysler Vans have huge issues with A/C lines running underneath the vehicle rusting, taking out the whole system when they fail. Some are just outside of warranty.

  • avatar
    Felix Hoenikker

    The logical next step is that any AT with more than 6 gears needs to be a CVT torque willing. Now discuss among yourselves.

  • avatar
    Carrera

    I’ve met an engineer working for ZF..not the transmission division but knows all about it. He told me that the 9 speed is a terrible transmission and there’s no cure or fix for it. Totally different than the 8 speed ZF which is great. He said, run don’t walk from anything with the 9 speed.

    • 0 avatar
      30-mile fetch

      I’d be curious to know why a car company would commit to putting this transmission in such a large number of vehicles without first examining it in sufficient detail to see that it is a terrible transmission. Perhaps there is some CAFE calculus going on there, but how many Odyssey, Pilot, TLX, MDX owners do they feel they can risk alienating? Those aren’t cheap vehicles, I would be hesitant to chase those owners off.

      • 0 avatar
        APaGttH

        Like Toyota, they will keep coming back – it takes a long time to sully a reputation in the auto industry (look how long GM crapped on their customers before it caught up with them).

        I’m left flummoxed on why anyone would use the ZF9 at this point, especially after the complete disaster it turned out to be for FCA.

  • avatar
    Jerome10

    Does this answer the question as to why the Ridgeline gets only the 6 speed?

    Is that 6 speed good? Honda had some serious auto tranny issues on older 5/6 speed autos right?

    Haven’t driven any car with the ZF 9….but I’m starting to think I don’t really care to.

    Will be interesting to see how the Ford+GM 9 speeds go or if they suffer the same problems.

  • avatar
    arcuri

    The 9 speeds have no fix . You have to deal with it. This is from my neighbor, a recently retired NYstate DOT officer who dealt with auto manufacturer problems. He also informed me that all CVT’s ,regardless of manufacturer must have the recommended service performed.
    As for Honda, they’ve always had problematic auto transmissions since the late 1980’s. But people will always keep
    purchasing them. My sister in law traded in her 07 Fit with only 102,000 miles due to a slipping transmission and poor AC cooling. What did she do ? Bought a new Civic. Smh.

  • avatar

    Glad to see nothing has changed. My 08 MDX had the torque converter replaced at 68k miles, warranty, when the rpms would go up and down when climbing hills. Acura changed over the tranny fluid formula during that time, supposedly to fix the driveablity problems… My radiator split at 80k miles in commuter traffic, squirting the ATF all over the road, so at 166k I’m on my third set of ATF.. I still have a rough shift 2-3 occasionally. The rest of the engine is flawless, the car burns no oil between changes.

    I’m a manual enthusiast, but the last BMW I drove with the 8 speed was perfect…it was always in the right gear, not like my GM that occasionally convenes a committee meeting to select a gear.

    Honda … a great company who can’t make an auto box….

  • avatar
    SuperCarEnthusiast

    Acura’s problem is getting a car design lannguage that look sharp and stylish without looking to extreme and ugly looking like that of the current Lexus models. Acura continues on with their crazy looking new pentagonal front grill and dual low resolution screen infotainment system and bland styling in general. LOL!


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