7/5/2006 - Wednesday 

7/5/2006 - Wednesday

Why donít automatic transmissions have drain bolts for the fluid like engines do for their oil? This is a serious question, as in, Iím not joking. If any of the three people that actually read this blog have a good answer, please let me know. I really want to know why changing the ATF in my car is such a mess by design. There is no apparent reason for the current arrangement, the car could be much simpler to work on. Seriously, can a drain bolt really be that expensive? What other reason could there be?

Ok, let me explain (Read: here comes a long-winded story). As you probably know, I drive a 2000 Camaro, V6, automatic. I got it new in 2000 (I know, lucky me:), it is the only car I have ever had, and it just recently reached 60,000 miles. (While its probably not the car I would choose to buy for myself now, its been a pretty good car for me, Iíve been getting over 25 mpg, and I plan to keep this car for as long as possible (*crosses fingers*)). I havenít done any major work on the car in that time, just expected maintenance: Regular oil changes, two new air filters, two new sets of wiper blades, one serpentine belt, and a new set of tires a few months ago. My only real complaint is that the power windows donít work. I refuse to have them fixed because I already did that once while it was under warranty, and they promptly quit working again two weeks later. This problem plagues all Camaro and Firebird owners. Thanks GM for not doing anything about it (yes, even though the power windows were a known problem, GM continued to produce the car that way without making any changes to address it). There is no hope.

Anyway, Iíve recently felt compelled to perform some maintenance tasks that Iíve previously ignored. Last month it became apparent to me that I needed to have the brakes done on my car. Ok, after 60,000 miles thatís not exactly a surprise, the pads have to get replaced eventually. So I took it to a local shop in town that always has the best prices. When all was said and done, I paid roughly $270 to replace the pads, front and rear, have all four rotors turned, and have the car inspected (thank you state of NC Ė that is one advantage about FL, no vehicle inspections BS). This really is a good price for a brake job on a car with four-wheel disc brakes, although if Iíd done the job myself, I could have saved the $70 (roughly) that I paid in labor.

So, in keeping with trying to save money and keep my expenses down, I bought the Haynes manual for my car, with the intent of doing more maintenance myself (err, likely with a LOT of Kevinís help :).


Thus, (and here comes that actual point of this entry), Kevin and I found ourselves underneath my car yesterday, changing the fluid in my transmission. I decided this bit of maintenance ought to get done because I know that itís the responsible thing to do, and I understand the importance of regular maintenance on mechanical systems. Plus, the ownerís manual says its time. Also, I commute 84 miles round trip five days a week, and I really need to keep my car in working order. Also, the warning light in the dash came on telling me to service my engine soon.

Even though Iíve never done this particular bit of maintenance before, I was not deterred. In concept, changing the ATF is not difficult. 1) There is a pan under the transmission that can be unbolted to drain out all the old fluid. 2) Once the fluid is done draining, clean out the pan, 3) replace the old filter with a new one (the old one just pops right out, and the new one snaps easily into place), 4) replace the gasket that seals the pan to the bottom of the transmission with a new one, 5) bolt the clean pan with the new gasket back on. 6) Refill the transmission with the appropriate ATF as specified by the ownerís manual, to the proper level. I learned yesterday that the tranny fluid level should be measured after the car has been running, so everything is nice and hot.

Sounds simple, right? In practice, the actual job is not so much difficult (physically or mentally) as it is aggravating. You see, when you change the oil, draining the old oil is as simple as removing the drain plug. The oil drains in a nice, predictable stream into the plastic pan that I set beneath it. The worst that happens is that I get some oil on the hand I use to remove the drain plug. Not so much with the transmission. THERE IS NO DRAIN PLUG. Lord knows why, Ďcause I sure donít. As it happens, the size (in area, not volume) of the transmission fluid pan on my car is larger than the pan I own and use to drain oil into. So, what happens is this: There are approximately 18000 bolts (not all of them are the same either, so keep track) that clamp the pan to the bottom of the transmission. The idea is to loosen them all a little bit at a time until you can remove most of them and then separate the pan from the transmission. Then the old oil can be dumped from the tranny pan into the waste oil pan I got from Wal-mart for probably $2. However, since the fluid level in the transmission is higher than the depth of the pan, ATF starts spilling out everywhere around the edges of the pan as you loosen the bolts. The ATF drips everywhere except into the waste oil pan, which is sitting nicely in the middle underneath the fluid draining all around it, catching almost no ATF. However, while the ATF is not so great at draining into the oil pan, it has an amazing ability to drain all over Kevinís hands, my hands, my arms, my head, and the garage floor, creating an incredible mess:) Why isnít there a drain plug again?



Believe it or not, I knew it would be this way. But what are you gonna do? We donít have a car lift, (which presumably would make this job easier), just those plastic ramps you drive the front wheels on so there is some room under the car (not a lot mind you, just enough to lay under there and sort of move around). Such is life when you do your own maintenance:) We put some newspapers down, and filled a whole trash bag with the paper towels we used to clean up. All faux drama aside, the whole job didnít really take that long, and honestly was not that difficult. Especially since that same shop would have charged me $90 for the job Kevin and I were able to do for less than $30. (Granted, $90 is a fair price, and I am sure they would have done a fine job.) However, saving the money was worth it to me. I am very happy that my car now has new brakes, and clean ATF. With any luck, and likely more help from my in-house mechanic in the coming months, Iíll be driving this car trouble-free for many years to come.

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Comment Wow...heh,...that sounds a lot easier:) (what gives haynes?) (presuming I can find the cooler return line..hehe...) I'd still have to take the pan off though. The little magnet was totally covered in metal shavings, and there was a lot of other solid material that really needed to get removed from the pan. Dirty Dirty.Thx Anonymous. (But if the job was quick and easy, what the heck would I write about???:)

Wed Jul 5, 2006 4:47 pm MST by Amy

Comment ATF CHANGE... Disconnect Cooler Return Line & put it in a empty clear milk jug... Idle engine for about 1/2 of a minute until about a gallon of old ATF comes out... Pour about a gallon of New ATF into Transmission.... REPEAT until ATF Fluid comes out looking like New ATF... Reconnect ATF Cooler Return Line.... :-)

Wed Jul 5, 2006 3:04 pm MST by Anonymous


Wed Jul 5, 2006 2:51 pm MST by Anonymous

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