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Acura MDX Transmission Problems



  • ejatejat Posts: 5
    I have felt for the last few weeks as though the car was hesitating and not getting enought oxygen and have been hearing metalic pinging noise. Suddenly Sun. warning lights came on and emissions warning came up. I was close to a mechanic I use for my kids car so I left it with them afraid to drive the MDX. I was told that the spark plug had either melted or imploded, fell apart and was stuck in the chamber. He had to soak it overnight to get it out but still feels a piece is missing and that is what the noise I had been hearing probably was. After working on it a few days he felt I should take it to Acura as all signs point to my needing a new engine. I am waiting for the call from Acura. Has this happened to any one else? How should I handle this as car only has 97k miles and I need an suv for another 3 years until my kids graduate from college. Help!
  • It is incredible that some Acura service departments pretend they don't know anything about the noise in the MDX transmission and continue to take clients out on a test drive to duplicate it....usually with no success!! It is even more incredible that they pretend not to know about this discussion thread about problems with MDX transmissions. Once I heard the sound in my 2003 MDX I Googled the problem description which led to this discussion thread and others and a link to Acura Service descriptions about this very problem. I followed the directives of others on this list and contacted Honda USA which was polite but gave me no satisfaction. I contacted the service manager of my Acura dealer and told him about the service bulletins about this problem and asked to have the out of warranty transmission replaced. I directed him to call his regional service manager, as others on this list suggested. After a week, he returned my call and offered to pay for half of the cost of a new transmission. I then called Acura USA again, citing the registered defect in their service bullletins as reason to replace the transmission without cost to me. The representative was unduly cordial, kept me on the phone for a half hour, then put me on hold to talk to a supervisor and returned with a nasty attitude (a big change from five minutes earlier!) and said they would only pay for half the job. At that point I contacted my insurance company, since I have a mechanical breakdown warranty with them as well as an extended warranty, and they picked up the rest of the cost. I could have contacted them initially and have them pay for the whole job but I wasn't willing to leave Acura off the hook. Like many of my fellow MDX owners, I feel betrayed by a company that I have promoted to my friends and colleagues for years. I no longer feel that they care about their customers and will return to buying Volvos.
  • dc1225dc1225 Posts: 53
    Ejat, your problem does not sound related to the transmission. Did they replace all 4 spark plugs? Also you may have a cylinder misfire. Did you get the codes? You need to get the codes and then google the codes to find out what the problem is. Also, before going to acura, take it to another trusty mechanic you can find and ask them. If you go to acura, they'll just charge you for it.
  • It is the shift cable causing the whine noise.It gets corroded and transfers the trans noise into the cabin of the vehicle.Plus some noise from any Honda vehicle may be normal as they do not use planetary gears.It is basically a manually trans with gears that mesh like a manual trans automatically shifted with clutch packs.
  • Hi All- I'm thinking about buying a 2002 MDX for a station car. Has 140k miles, really good shape. The tranny was replaced at 110k, do you think it's possible that solved the whole transmission issue? Any replies appreciated -thanks!
  • If I were you I would find out where the transmission work was done since the factory installed transmission are under warranty. Also, at 140,000 miles there are tons of other required maintenance items that are called for and you should check and see if the service history shows any of them have been done or not.

    My thinking is that at 140,000 miles, you might be buying a lot of headache unless the car has had one owner, serviced regularly and all the required repairs have been done to it. You could be buying someone else's headache.

    For our own part, we have lost complete confidence in the Acura brand and are planning to sell our 2004 MDX even though I just replaced the timing belt, water pump.....etc for the tune of $900! We are simply not happy with the quality of the brand. Even the reception on the Bose radio is a disaster and I keep hearing there are service bulletins on that which I should research.....etc. Who has time for this crap!?

    Mind you, our expectation of quality and amazing service was set up by Lexus! It's their fault that they have made Acura people look like idiots.
  • They other reply was right. I wouldn't do it. If you buy it, expect to spend $4,500 for a new tranny. If it doesn't break, then you are ahead. The MDX needed a water pump, timing belt, spark plugs and vavle adjustment at 110k miles. Make sure that was done. Change all fluids every 30k miles, use synthetic fluids when possible. Most car owners NEVR do this.

    Personaly, I'd buy a Ford. We're selling our 2003 MDX when the replacement tranny goes out of warranty. I won't even burden my grandaughter by giving it to her. This was our 2nd Acura and I won't buy another because of what I've read on this blog.
  • wwestwwest Posts: 10,706
    Assuming you go forward with the purchase simply remove the fuses that power the rear clutches and you won't encounter any undue driveline wear/stress.

    If you have times of need for the VTM-4 system, sustained periods of driving on a low traction surface, then wire a manual switch in series with the fuses in order to activate the VTM-4 system ONLY at times of need.
  • dc1225dc1225 Posts: 53
    WWEST, with all due respect, what you're saying seems very illogical to a normal everyday person. I understand that you're trying to help but first of all, how do you know that's exactly the problem? How do you know that doesn't mess up anything else? If the fix was that simple, why wouldn't Acura do this?
  • wwestwwest Posts: 10,706
    edited March 2011
    "..why wouldn't Acura do this?.."

    They did, they replaced the VTM-4 system with the SH-AWD system. And who knows, they may have, at any time, provided a firmware revision, factory update or field "reflash" (TSB, there is one) that reduced the overall % of rear drive coupling.

    There are basically 2 categories of F/awd systems, pre-emptive and reactive.

    Reactive: After the Fact. The system "reacts" only once, AFTER, wheelspin/slip is detected.

    These are basically ONE-Wheel drive systems with "virtual" torque proportioning. Virtual LSD and/or "AWD" modes via "after-the-fact" TDC braking of a slipping wheel or wheels. The problem becomes that the engine must also be dethrottled just as INSTANTLY since loss of traction on the front biased front wheels is so life threatening.

    That's why many of these same vehicles now have a TDC (Traction/Directional Control) disable switch.

    Pre-emptive: Since there really is no way, in this case, to predict the future the next best choice is made. Activate the torque re-apportioning system but ONLY at times when wheelspin/slip is most likely to result.

    1. During low speed acceleration, acceleration from a stop, or hard acceleration at "higher", 25MPH, speeds.

    2. During a turn, most especially a TIGHT turn, or with moderate to hard acceleration while turning.

    Note that these techniques do not, CANNOT, allow for actual roadbed conditions, HIGHLY tractive conditions or not. In the case of technique #2 it is inadviseable to have HIGH engine torque applied SOLELY to the front wheels when a significant level of front tire traction co-efficient must/SHOULD be dedicated to lateral G-force, preventing loss of directional control.

    But these compromises can result in highly stressing, even over-stressing, the driveline components if the roadbed happens to be tractive.

    Anyone who has driven a true 4WD on a highly tractive roadbed with 4WD engaged will attest to this. In a true 4WD with 4WD engaged in a tight turn on a tractive surface the resulting wheel scrubbing/hop can be so severe as to break thumbs and/or fingers of an unwary or inexperienced driver.

    Take a look at the past ten years or so of the history of the Ford Escape F/awd system. Virtually continuous tries by Ford to allevaite/bate the PTO/PTU and rear clutch/diff'l failures as a result of the driveline component stress resulting from pre-emptive engagement of rear torque apportioning on tractive surfaces.

    All because the reactive system has been well proven to be unsatisfactory, JUSTIFIABLY so, in the public's "eye".

    It seems to me that a good, STELLAR, compromise might be to have these F/awd systems remain in, default into, "reactive" mode for adverse roadbed conditions for which the driver might be unaware, but with a driver operated switch to convert to the system to pre-emptive mode for KNOWN adverse roadbed conditions.

    With the advent of the use of this "pre-emptive" F/awd system on the new Ford Explorer (and yes, I intended to use F/awd and Ford Explorer in the same sentence), Ford has adopted a method of using engine coolant to provide continuous cooling of the PTO/PTU assembly. It appeared to me that this may be also true of the rear clutch/diff'l assembly but I have not been able to get a direct answer from Ford on this question.
  • ejatejat Posts: 5
    Service manager says they used a camera to look "inside" (not sure inside what) and saw scorched sides, problem worse then they first told me. Every day I get a new call with a new problem. Repairs starting at $2,000 now up to $6,000+ and counting. That includes new water pump and timing chain. I called a few trusted mechanics and was told they could do that job for around $600 AND that the belt most likely had to be removed to make the repairs I need. Acura offered to do belt and pump for $700 instead of $1,200 as they were "working in the area". I told them the price quotes I got and that I did not expect to be billed twice for a service they had to preform anyways. As the for other problem I need to replace the "seals and head" and I am not sure what else. My hands are tied, I need to repair this car but any suggestions on how to handle anytning including what they want to charge me would be greatly appreciated!
  • wwestwwest Posts: 10,706
    edited March 2011
    "..saw scorched sides.."

    Are you certain he didn't say "scored sides"

    I once had a Ford Pinto 4 cylinder engine ingest a screw through the carburator...MY FAULT, but didn't immediately know the screw had went down the carb.

    The engine ran fine for a few days, maybe a few unexpected sounds that I don't now remember, but it finally quit running, PERIOD. When I tore the engine down I found that an entire side of a piston has disintegrated, a sparkplug was "smashed" to smithereens. Strange as it may seem I was able to restore the engine to operation and it gave me good service for a number of years.

    You may be looking at some serious expenses IMO.

    In your case it sounds to me as if the spark plug tip came off and then bounced around in the cylinder until some serious damage resulted. The spark plug tip, "ground' tip, is welded into place during manufacture and that may have been a poor or marginal weld from the get-go.

    I trusted no one re-gapped the plugs fairly recently....??

    Otherwise you may have a claim against the spark plug manufacturer for a manufacturing defect.
  • jensadjensad Posts: 388
    I have always have enjoyed your posts here and on other boards.

    Good luck to all and stay safe.

  • wwestwwest Posts: 10,706
  • duke39duke39 Posts: 6
    I would never buy an Acura TL or MDX, new or used, again.

    If you check past postings, there are numerous people who are on the 2nd or 3rd transmissions. The new generation of TLs are now showing many transmissions issues and the MDX's transmissions have been a nightmare for years.

    The vehicle you are considering has over 100,000 miles. The Acura people at their headquarters are uncaring and arrogant. They may offer you $500 or $1,000 off of the price of an inflated price of $5,000 for a rebuilt transmission.

    Stay clear of any used vehicle like this.
  • For what it's worth, I signed up for this forum just to post on this topic. I have an '03 MDX with 100k. And, I am a total gear head. I've rebuilt the classic cars that are in my garage ('67 Mustang, '65 MG, '71 LandCruiser) and do my own work on the MDX and my '07 BMW. My point is, although I'm sure there are other gear heads on here talking about this, I'd say 75% of the information on this topic is biased or misinformation from people that really don't understand cars. Be careful about who you take advice from on the internet. I know the same holds true for me but rather than being accusatory, I'll explain my experience and use my love/understanding of cars to help a few others that may find this useful (and not just with the MDX, but all cars).

    I use my MDX for a lot of towing which is killer on transmissions and other components. I bought it with 24k and now have 100k. My MDX did not include a towing package so I had to add it. Instead of the factory towing package option that includes a larger albeit passive transmission cooler and power steering cooler, I went aftermarket and bought those components with their own cooling fan (active). The fan automatically turns on when the transmission fluid hits 190 degrees (anytime, not just while towing).

    I'm not going to throw out exact numbers that I can't qualify, but most car nuts will agree that excessive heat is the #1 cause of all automatic transmission problems. In fact, excessive heat is the cause of a lot of other part failures, including engines, home electronics, etc, but I digress. Automatic transmissions depend a LOT on their fluid. Everyone knows oil is important to an engine but at the end of the day, it's only job is providing lubrication to the engine. Automatic trans fluid not only provides lubrication for the transmission, but it also helps propel the car. I won't go into detail but it's essentially centrifugal force of the fluid. Guess what happens to overheated transmission fluid? It becomes burned and decomposes. Now the blood of your transmission is trying to squeeze through tiny holes that are getting reduced in size due to bad fluid building up in them (like arteries getting clogged with cholesterol). Over time this will kill your transmission. And my understanding is that the MDX transmission has abnormally small passageways which is why failure is so common. I haven't taken apart an MDX transmission myself so I can't say for sure but this does line up to be accurate.

    So what does all this mean to you? A few things. It's too late for those that already killed their transmissions. Shops really don't service much on transmissions anymore because they're too complicated so they just replace the whole thing. But if your transmission is good and isn't on it's way out... FLUSH YOUR FLUID REGULARLY! Again this gets complicated but the MDX holds around 12 quarts of fluid (I don't have the exact number in front of me but it's about that). When you "drain" or "change" the fluid, only about 3 quarts come out. So that's 75% old fluid left in there! The problem is a bulk of the fluid is inside the torque converter and there's no way to drain it. So flushing it means that you (or have a shop) drain it, fill it, take it for short ride, drain it, fill it, etc. You do this 3 times which mathematically changes over 80% of the fluid during a flush. Most shops don't do this as normal maintenance and it's not cheap. I do it myself every 30k and it costs about $100 in fluid alone. The Acura maintenance schedule calls for a "change" which means you have original fluid in there for 120k or so.

    If you've read this far, you'll be interested to know another very strange point. Leaving your A/C on (by default with the climate control at all times even in winter unless you turn it off) will actually help extend the transmission life. Here's how I know and why. Back to the fan I installed, it runs anytime the fluid gets too hot. Well the fan barely runs at all unless I am towing or driving a lot of stop and go traffic on 90+ degree days. But I found that if I turn the A/C off, the transmission fan will run in just normal driving even in 40 degree weather. Reason being, the A/C turns on its own fan in front of the radiator. If you pay attention most people hear that running. That fan actually plays double duty and not only cools the A/C refrigerant but also helps cool the transmission fluid even if you only have the factory Acura setup (towing package and not towing package, both come with a cooler, just one is bigger than the other). I personally don't think that's Acura's intended purpose, but it is true.

    So moral of my story, I feel bad for a lot of the people posting here and I feel bad for Acura. You can't blame them if you or a previous owner didn't maintain the car properly. I love how people are going to sue Acura because they have a bad transmission. Obviously there are lemons out there but there's a lot more people that drive terribly and neglect maintenance that cause the problems they're having. I totally agree that the things I do to save the life of my transmission shouldn't really have to be done and maybe Acura should have realized that? But I do think if you maintain it properly from the beginning, the transmission will last the life of the car. Rebuilt transmissions are a whole other story and are MUCH more likely to have a problem than the original. But there's not many options if it's already too late.

    Well, I don't have time to proofread this so sorry if something didn't make sense. Hope it's helpful to someone!
  • Thank you for the thoughtful replay and while some of the issues may be simple maintenance issues, if the problem of shuttering is significant enough and common enough for Acura to issue not 1 but 2 ECU reflashes, quietly begin to replace failed transmissions and see the same problem in multiple applications of the same drivetrain, I have to disagree with your conclusion.

    FYI, I am in the industry and work with other manufacturers on a national and international level. I know the tricks and I know how they try to hide the tuna fish behind the fridge. This smells bad and people are getting hurt by Honda's persistent avoidance of addressing the issue.

    FYI. My car has, since it's initial day off the lot, had EVERY service done at an Acura/ Honda dealer and on time or ahead of time.
  • dc1225dc1225 Posts: 53
    Did you guys see that Mazda recall for spiders? Well the Honda Accords have the same spider problems. Mazda RECALLED IT, Honda just sent a TSB on it for same exact problem. in-honda-20110309,0,5881925.story

    Fact: $hitball of vehicle maker Mazda stands behind their product.
    Fact: Honda/Acura looooooooooooves to hide behind their stupid TSB's.
  • dmortazdmortaz Posts: 26
    Thanks for sharing your experience and I am happy to at least found ONE person happy w their MDX transmission. However, most of us who bought an Acura, were not planning on becoming part-time mechanics on weekends!

    By your own admission you are performing transmission service ABOVE-and-BEYOND the manufacturer recommendations to be able to keep your car on the road. That's an absurd requirement from an owner in this day & age; specially for a car that's marketed as a luxury brand!

    Thanks again for sharing good info on AC. I am thinking of installing a ice cooler inside the engine compartment to keep the transmission cooler. I just have to stop every few miles at 7-11 and fill up on ice.

    What do you think?!
  • madmommy3madmommy3 Posts: 28
    great for you on your car knowledge. here is what I know. My well maintained MDX's transmission failed at 72K miles, on a $40K car. And, it was the second car. We treated it like royalty. Lots of others have the same issues. We are regular people saving our money to try and buy something nice that will last. We are burned and really don't care much about the science behind the failure. Japenese cars have changed in quality or cannot keep up with the fancy electronics they include at a premium cost. Remember, most of us are regular guys and gals and although we are not car savvy, we do have brains!!! That's pretty much all we non gear heads need to know: $40K in and then another several thousand on repairs before the car grows cob webs. "nuf said.
  • wwestwwest Posts: 10,706
    edited March 2011
    "...but it's essentially centrifugal force of the fluid..."

    No, the MAJOR source of ATF heating is/WAS the gear type oil pump and pressure relief/bypass valve. This is/was virtually the equivalent of the "old" hydraulic power stearing pump. Pump up the fluid (2000-3000RPM, LOTS of fluid flow) pressure to 3000PSI and then simply bypass the pressure back into the sump with NO no stearing effort required.

    Talk about HEAT..!!

    Up until more recently that was THE major source of ATF HEATING.

    Beginning at about the turn of the century the industry began the abolition of the old system in favor of a "real-time" ATF line pressure control system. The pressure holding/sustaining accumulator and the fixed pressure relief spring was eliminated. While the ATF pressure pump still runs at engine RPM speed it no longer does so against a CONSTANT/FIXED head of pressure unless the ECU commands such due to pressure demands of shifting, etc.


    The heating due to the "centrifugal" force of the torque converter has also been mostly eliminated due to the lockup clutch now being made robust enough that it can be engaged 65% or more of the time. 90% seems to be the target for future, 2015, systems.

    So why the high failure rate...?

    The lockup clutch is not robust enough to overcome the additional driveline stress, tire scrubbing, etc, of having a "pre-emptive F/awd system. In effect, a center diff'l that locks up for any low speed acceleration or turning event regardless of roadbed traction conditions.

    Any experienced 4WD owner will advise you that having both front and rear drives engaged, often engaged, on a tractive surface will soon result in failure of the weakest link in the driveline.

    In the MDX case that turns out to be the lockup clutch, considered a component of the torque converter.
  • wwestwwest Posts: 10,706
    When did the MDX switch to DBW, E-throttle...?

    If the MDX adopted the new real-time ATF line pressure control system PRIOR to adopting DBW as did Toyota (early RX300's) I would expect a goodly number of premature transaxle failures as happened with the RX300's, especially the 99-00.

    With the advent of the RX330 Lexus had adopted DBW to help prevent these failures. DBW allowed them to delay the onset of engine rising torque regardless of accelerator pedal position, to prevent damage to the drive train resulting from the lack of INSTANT availability of ATF line pressure.

    This resulted in a great number of complaints of a 1-2 second "re-acceleration" DOWNSHIFT delay/hesitation, complaints which continue to this day, justifiably so, it seems.
  • wwestwwest Posts: 10,706
    "...leaving the A/C on..."

    Most modern day HVAC control systems will automatically disable the A/C compressor if/should the engine coolant temperature begin to rise, seriously rise, as a result of A/C operation.

    But even absent reaching that point if the A/C is actually doing "work", actively cooling the system evaporator airflow, then the additional heat load on the radiator might well yield a negative result.
  • wwestwwest Posts: 10,706
    "...excessive heat is the #1 cause of all automatic transmission problems.."

    I wouldn't be so certain of that were I you..

    Maybe yesteryear, prior to 2000, say.

    Modern day automatic transmissions make use, ~65%, of the torque converter's lockup clutch in much the same way as you would make use of the clutch in a manual transmission.

    And yet another point...

    External cooling capability can keep the AVERAGE temperature of the ATF within reason, but what about the ATF having been over-heated only at some "localized" point, say the ATF gear type pump and pressure bypass/relief valve...?
  • jslivonjslivon Posts: 57
    I followed the maintenance schedule and changed trans fluid every 30k miles using Mobile 1 ATF. My trans. failed at 106k miles.
  • wwestwwest Posts: 10,706
    Now that most automatic transmissions have a fairly ROBUST wet clutch, torque converter lockup clutch, it might be adviseable to use only and strickly the manufacturer's recommended ATF.

    In any case 106k miles probably isn't all that bad for a 1st generation MDX.
  • rkubs68rkubs68 Posts: 2
    I have an appointment tomorrow with my Acura dealer for a "software update". I brought my 2006 Acura MDX in for the same rumblestrip sound described by many others on this site. When I finally brought it in at 57000 miles and 81000 mi., the dealer claimed they couldn't replicate the sound. At 90K, the technician identified the issue within 100 yards of test driving it. There certainly is an effort in my opinion to cover this one up. Too many people describe the dealer's inability to replicate the sound. I'll be seeking legal counsel if I am stuck with a $2300 bill for a replaced torque converter. ( Which they claim is all that needs replacing)
  • dc1225dc1225 Posts: 53
    Same story over and over...if I were you, I'd demand that they also look inside the transmission and the radiator and to check the transmission. The fix is not complete w/o the complete transmission overhaul which they try to get out of. Remind them that you brought it in earlier with the complaints and that their mechanics were incompetent.

    I really hope that you sue them and win!
  • Yes, I do agree that I do go above and beyond and you're probably right that it should not be required. It would be great if something as simple as a fan and coils (the cooler) that cost me retail under $200 would be installed from the factory if it helps the longevity/reliability of a vehicle. Such a simple thing that saves the manufacturer maybe $80 per vehicle at their cost?

    For the record, I have not been overly impressed with the build quality of the MDX. I do think it's a decent vehicle but I notice a lot of areas where corners were cut. I'm still happy with it but I think it rivals the quality of the Explorer I had previously which is either good for Ford or bad for Acura. I was expecting more from Acura to be honest.

    Caveat is, I don't know of any manufacturer that offers a good quality transmission cooler from the factory except for some heavy duty trucks (yes, maybe they exist as I have not inspected every auto trans setup from each brand, but it's definitely would be unusual at best). Why don't they include them? I guess it's the few $'s. To me its the same reason I wonder why manufacturers use $20 speakers even in their "upgraded" sound systems when I can buy an excellent aftermarket speaker for $80. I guess this is the stuff that keeps the price down for consumers.
  • To wwest... First, I posted to try to help a few people who care to understand what might be happening to their vehicles and subsequently their money. You seem to be attempting to undermine my observations/explanation by getting into more advanced technical detail.

    Certainly you may know more about mechanics than me. After all, it is just my hobby. However, I do think you have a few points of misinformation. First, the lockup torque converter on the MDX doesn't come into play until highway speeds. Heat is rarely building up at these speeds anyway. As you know, its the low stop/go speeds that cause heat and stress.

    Additionally, the 4WD system really has nothing to do with transmission failure other than maybe making it work a little harder (more heat). There is a separate transfer case for the 4WD components.

    And yes, I agree there's a lot more than just the torque converter that cause heat. But regardless, heat is the problem here however it's caused and I was simply trying to help people who may be researching this to understand that.
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