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Change ATF or Drive it to the ground

dsantiagodsantiago Member Posts: 13
edited March 2014 in Toyota
I have a 91 Toyota Camry with 140,000 miles on it, the last time the ATF was changed was around 60k..I bought it from the previous owner a month ago.

Anyway I figured that I would just change the fluid and call it a day. However I have been informed by a few mechanics that since the fluid is brown and I have experienced some problems (occasional hard shifts, one day when it was freezing out it took a while before I could shift into a higher gear) that I shouldn't change the fluid since the sludge is holding it together.

I have also read that this is a myth...Please help!!! I want to know if this is a myth being perpetuated by both good and bad machanics...the life of my trans( and possibly my own) hangs in the balance...


  • vidtechvidtech Member Posts: 212
    i would change the fluid and filter.with the added additives in the new fluid and the new filter,the tranny may perform better than you were experiencing.sludge does nothing but gum up the valve body and all those little parts don't seal and move the way they should.
  • swschradswschrad Member Posts: 2,171
    and so the way I'd look at this... is to change fluid and filter now. have the pan kicked loose and replace the fluid again in a couple thousand miles (1000-2000 miles.) this will replace a third of it, give or take, each time... there will be a lot of goo scrubbed out by the new fluid, and you can dump it while it's still suspended in the new fluid's detergent mix. on the second replacement, change the filter if there is any discoloration, and be darn sure they drain the torque converter at this time, as well.

    if stickiness and nonsense continues, at that point you may have to have a rebuild done. but at least you will have given it a try.

    some folks refer to a full change as "shocking the transmission"... because of all the crud that is in little baffles, corners, and the end of shifting tunnels in the valve body that will be kicked loose in gobs when all that high-detergent fresh fluid gets in there. sorta like throwing the dogs in a full tub of cold water after they roll in something nasty. if you cuddle 'em up and use a gently flowing hose to clean 'em in stages, it goes better.
  • 0patience0patience Oregon CoastMember Posts: 1,712
    You're at 140K, recommended intervals, off hand, I think is 60K. Giving a margin for error, I would say you are within an area that is iffy.
    Personally, I would go ahead and drop the pan, change the filter and add new fluid.
    You are basically only changing the filter and replenishing the old fluid anyway.
    Stay away from the flush machines. At 140K, they will kill your trans.
  • dsantiagodsantiago Member Posts: 13
    Thanks for far the consencus seems to lean toward me changing the brown ATF in stages. I have to admit it makes me nervous.

    I have another question to add: does the type of atf matter, could that be the reason why so many neglected trannies get shocked and crap out when new fluid is introduced?
  • swschradswschrad Member Posts: 2,171
    you have to use the manufacturer's recommended ATF, period, end of discussion.

    to be more precise, you have to use an ATF that meets the appropriate manufacturer's specification. there can be full synthetics that also add the appropriate antifoamers, detergents, friction modifiers (chemical, particle, or both) and so on.

    because of the precision nature of the tranny and its expense, I don't believe in any of this transmission additive stuff. all you should need is in a bottle of new ATF. if that doesn't do it, along with a new filter, it's teardown time.
  • q45manq45man Member Posts: 416
    The manufacturers recommendation are designed to get it thru warranty or 100,000 shift cyles period. They could care less beyond say 100k [the point on which they might be sued unsuccessfully.
    Beyond that you must chose Honest experience and recommendations by rebuilders who are familiar with the EXACT MODEL AND YEAR. A personal friend who owns a tranny shop for example beyond this no one has much interest in seeing a tranny last as too many people make their living repairing/replacing them.

    If you flush change the filter/screen, clean the pan and magnet, and flush again till the ATF looks brand new: then check it again 30 days later [paper towel comparison test with new ATF]if discolored flush it again.

    A single flush on a tranny that has not been maintained for 80,000 miles is iffy depending on the exact coloration of the, amber, brown, black, black with chunks?

    Once the flush machine is hooked to system easy and cheaper to double flush [ask them to cut you a half priced deal on the 2nd flush].
  • gslevegsleve Member Posts: 183
    At I had a gentlemen at work owning a 93 Chevy conversion van had'nt changed the atf in over 70,000 miles I directed him to the sight recommended he follow the directions, prior to doing so he could not get into reverse nor could he climb slight hills because the tranny would not shift into 2nd gear upon climbing hills. Since administering the auto-rx, he has'nt experienced any of these problems the tranny switches very very smooth. It's been three months now.
  • scottc8scottc8 Member Posts: 617
    What is it about the flushing process that will "kill" a high mileage transmission? And are you only referring to a trans that hasn't had it done regularly?
  • 0patience0patience Oregon CoastMember Posts: 1,712
    Over time, the trans oil varnishes or creates a layer in the transmission (and kind of holds things together). Under normal driving and all, regular trans fluid changes are usually adequate to keep the "sludge" and varnish to a minimum. If the trans hasn't been serviced over a large amount of time, these flushing machines can flush the garbage into the valve body or "thru" o-rings and seals. When I say through them, I mean not around, but actually through the o-ring or seal, especially if the have hardened. If the failures I have seen in the last 3 years on pickups that I have seen trans failures on, 70% of the failures have been within 500 miles of a trans flush. To me, that is more than a coincidence. 25% of those failures were directly related to stuck valves. Another third of them, had o-rings that had failed and came apart into the system.
    I can't say that the o-rings wouldn't have failed and gone thru the system without the flush.

    This is only a trend I have seen on vehicles that have not received a regular trans service, although we currently have one trans out that had a flush on it 300 miles ago and has 38,000 miles on the vehicle. I cannot attribute it to the flushing. yet.

    Personally, the only time I would have one of those machines hooked up to any of my vehicles, is if a new trans was going in. And at that, it would be to flush the cooler and lines.

    It is a call a person has to make on their own. The sellers of the flushing would like you to believe they are the greatest thing on earth. Some folks can see the benefits and some can see the problems.
  • fleetwoodsimcafleetwoodsimca Member Posts: 1,518
    Many thanks for that explanation. I'm sure going to take your advice.
  • opera_house_wkopera_house_wk Member Posts: 326
    That many times there is a chemical cleaner added prior to the flush that contains toluene and benzene. Many places perform the flush without dropping the pan and changing the filter. The theory being that all this sediment will just disappear somehow in the pump out. A common flush machine is very similar to a bladder type water well pump expansion tank. When old fluid is pumped in, an equal amount of new is exchanged. That is the 100% fluid exchange. However, in the transmission it is a mixture and not 100% new. I buy high mileage (100K) repo vehicles and the fluid can look pretty bad. I have not had a failure dropping the pan and changing typically 35% of the fluid. A lot of sediment resides in the torque converter and the clutch packs from centrifical force. Any cleaners and a total change of fluid will get this sediment into circulation. Multiple partial fluid changes seem to be safer if the vehicle has a good filter and not just a metal screen. Some transmissions, like the A4LD, have the option of using the newer MicroFelt filters. These can actually remove some of this sediment. I have found these get dirty in a short time after a fluid change. The filters seem to run clean after the third change. Certainly an external transmission filter is good insurance if you only have a screen filter and adding some extra magnets to the pan.
  • scottc8scottc8 Member Posts: 617
    My thanks also. I had a Subaru flushed at around 90k miles, no idea of it's service history. It improved the smoothness of the shifts and had no problems for the next 30k miles I had the car. My current Lincoln LS is getting it at 30k intervals. It's my good fortune to have made the acquaintance of the engineer who headed the team that developed the trans for that car, and he's strongly in favor of the process.

    But I'm grateful for a knowledgeable 2nd opinion. I was so impressed with how that Subaru performed that I've recommended the process to friends with high mileage automatics. Maybe I'll just keep my big mouth shut.:)
  • 0patience0patience Oregon CoastMember Posts: 1,712
    This is one of those subjects that is and probably will be debated for a long time to come.
    Some are in favor of the process, some like myself have reservations in it.
    Like I said, in a vehicle that has been neglected, it is best to change the fluid and go from there.
    Now, that being said. If the process is done by a reputable, qualified shop and is done properly, then it can have some positive affects. Remember that most of the outfits using these machines, the machines are operated by people who really aren't qualified to be messing around with transmissions.
    As with the engine flush machines, there is a right way and a wrong way to do things.
    If they aren't dropping the pan, then it ain't being done right.

    If you have had the flush done and it is showing a performance improvement, then it is likely that a qualified outfit is doing the work?
    If that is the case, there is no reason not to recommend the process to friends, provided you recommend the shop that you go to.
    Remember that any tool is only going to work as well as the person operating it.
    Sorry for the twists and turns. :)
  • fleetwoodsimcafleetwoodsimca Member Posts: 1,518
    ...pumping out tranny fluid. I refer to suction devices, etc., that you can used to pull old tranny fluid up the dipstick tube, and then you replace it with fresh. You get the dilution effect, and you can repeat the process after some miles, and get even more dilution favoring new fluid over old. Even without dropping the pan and changing the filter(s), wouldn't this process be of value?
  • 0patience0patience Oregon CoastMember Posts: 1,712
    Yes. They make a pump style and a suction style.
    It changes all the fluid. But again, as with anything, I would caution that the pan should be dropped and the filter changed.
  • fleetwoodsimcafleetwoodsimca Member Posts: 1,518
    I have a 6 liter Mityvac vacuum pump. This model is just plainly outstanding. I've thought for quite some time that I'd get around using it to improve the freshness of some tranny fluid in one or more of my vehicles. I would not do it thinking it replaced the need to put in new filters now and again, but that freshening the fluid might be worth while in its own right. Would you agree?
  • 0patience0patience Oregon CoastMember Posts: 1,712
    Yes. Agreed.
    That is the best way to change the fluid. Replacing the entire amount. Unfortunatley, not many do.
  • fleetwoodsimcafleetwoodsimca Member Posts: 1,518
    Mercon V seems to be considered a replacement for most all forms of Mercon and Dexron as well, with the noteworthy exception of ATF+3 required for Chrysler transmissions. Would you care to delve into the "substitution" of Mercon V for the other Mercons and Dexrons, thinking it is superior?
  • combustible1combustible1 Member Posts: 264
    I have a '92 Camry, 156K miles, and have changed the fluid almost yearly for most of it's life. I fell down a bit in that I haven't changed it in the last 2.5 years though, about 38K miles.

    Now, about 3 weeks ago, it slipped at highway speeds, not going into the right gear, etc.

    I check the fluid.. on the brown side, but not low.

    Took it to a transmission place to get the fluid changed and the manager said it's shot (based only on a test drive and fluid check, it seemed. He said "It's burnt.. you can smell it", which I agree you can).

    He tells me "don't even bother to change the fluid", that I need to decide whether I want to spend $1000-1200 to get it fixed. Given the fact that I was intending to trade it in soon, and the car only retails now for about $2500, I didn't want to get it repaired.

    I then took it to the local Midas that I trust (granted, they don't specialize in transmissions) and they told me not to bother changing the fluid either.

    My point to both was, would changing the fluid at least ensure that it won't get much worse, as I still need to drive it for a while as I continue my new car search?

    In both cases, they didn't think it was worth bothering. (Btw, the tech at Midas who added a little fluid at my request didn't even recognize a problem.. not that checking the dipstick and adding fluid would necessarily tip someone off, I suppose).

    As I've continued to drive it, the car is getting noticeably worse, slipping at lower speeds now, which it wasn't doing before.

    So, my question is .. should I get a couple fluid changes, and hope for the best? or dump this car ASAP??
  • isellhondasisellhondas Issaquah WashingtonMember Posts: 20,350
    New fluid won't replace worn parts. I wouldn't waste the money on something that won't help the problem.
  • fleetwoodsimcafleetwoodsimca Member Posts: 1,518
    Your Camry is, well, not going to make it. You may want to arrange for space at the salvage yard, or get out the check book for a replacement/overhaul of the transmission.
  • swschradswschrad Member Posts: 2,171
    at the salvage yard, or a tranny rebuild, those are the options.

    the good news is, replacing the tranny means putting new fluid in it, so it's a win-win-win situation! another golden opportunity, as they say at business school.
  • according2meaccording2me Member Posts: 236
    Get a used trans from low mileage(<50K) junked car from junkyard and have it installed.
  • swschradswschrad Member Posts: 2,171
    and the most logical way to go on a car of that age. however, the original poster is wanting to glue this car together to trade it in on something else. no fix, it's down from $2500 book to maybe $125 or thereabouts as a trade. fixed, might legitimately bring anywhere from 1200-2500 depending on where the sales manager's thumb is on the scale elsewhere. if it's 500-600 for a tranny and another 500-600 for installation, the poster may break even on the car's value or may get a thousand bucks net on the deal.

    hard question to answer. if you needed to keep driving it and were short of cash, door #3 is the best answer by far.
  • fleetwoodsimcafleetwoodsimca Member Posts: 1,518
    There ARE places that advertise such deals as "transmissions $250.00" and are reputed to be used tranny people. I saw such a sign painted into the exterior coat of paint on a building down the road a piece from here. I guess this price to be "labor extra."
  • according2meaccording2me Member Posts: 236
    His 95 Altima/5spd still runs and shifts fine at 180K, but we can barely keep gearlube in it. It runs out like a sieve. The axle seals have been replaced, but with the same results. I'm thinking of mixing 75w90 with 75w140 to help slow this leak. Trying to postpone any repairs until after graduation.
  • fleetwoodsimcafleetwoodsimca Member Posts: 1,518
    Doesn't that Altima deserve a spot at the salvage yard, as a resting place? (:o]
  • according2meaccording2me Member Posts: 236
    transportation and gets 30+ mpg. Everything (AC, cruise,pwr windows) still works and we haven't had to dump a lot of parts into it yet.

     I'm a Honda fan, but this Nissan has been great for my son. And it hasn't been pampered either. He delivers Pizza to pay the bills while attending college, and so, does lots of start/stop driving.

     I've included high mileage Altimas on my list of cars for my daughter's first car. She is in college also.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Sonoma, CaliforniaMember Posts: 64,482
    Yeah, but 180K is the time when anything can go at any're getting into the most expensive dollar per mile part of a car's lifetime.
  • according2meaccording2me Member Posts: 236
    until the sky falls, everything is lovely. And with no car payments, there will be funds for parts replacement. Like I said, the trans clock is ticking.
  • fleetwoodsimcafleetwoodsimca Member Posts: 1,518
    Having one daughter that graduated from college last spring, and another getting set to go in the fall, I know where your coming from, and your plan sounds good. I have been moving vehicles around among the several drivers in the family, and it gets challenging at times.
  • gslevegsleve Member Posts: 183
    maxima's yet I think this problem you're encoutering is very similar to the maxiama's 5 speed tranny in that what they found was that over a period of time the bearing within the tranny erode and spall when this happen they contribute to the leakage problem the only fix was to tear down and replace the two bearings then all was well, seal replacement were not effective.
  • according2meaccording2me Member Posts: 236
    I'd like to do a little research. Thanks
  • gslevegsleve Member Posts: 183
    and do a search for manual transmissions or just transmissions you could read about some of the issues and fixes
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