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2003 Saturn VUE transmission

I took my 2003 Saturn VUE AWD V6 5-speed automatic (72K miles) in to the dealer for service. I provided a written document of the issues. This included the statement:

?Sometimes the automatic shifting slips so the engine revs up before sliding back into the higher gear. This happens very rarely, but is different from when the car was younger. The transmission fluid has never been changed.?

The dealer serviced the transmission ? fluid change & filters. They noted that the fluid was dark with a burnt smell. When I paid the bill and picked up the car, it was apparent in less than 300 yards that the vehicle was undriveable. The transmission would shift from 1st to 2nd but would then slip completely and the engine would flare (i.e., rev up). It would never make it into 3rd gear. Reverse gear worked fine. I returned the car to the dealer for explanation. The next day they tell me I probably need a new transmission at $4K plus labor. I opted to investigate other options such as rebuild or used transmission.

The following week, my VUE was towed to a local transmission shop. At the same time, I was doing some Internet research. My VUE has the Aisin 5-speed automatic transmission ? GM model AF33-5. It is used in a number of other makes including Nissan Maximas and Volvo S60. The Volvo owners’ manual lists the transmission as ?fill for life? with no scheduled fluid changes recommended. I also found references to GM Technical Service Bulletin (TSB) #3251 ?Transaxle slips, no third gear, engine flare during shift after transaxle service? ? which described my symptoms exactly. This issue will occur if the technician mistakenly removes the 3rd gear band anchor bolt instead (or in addition to) the transaxle fill plug. This results in the dislocation of internal components. To repair, the transaxle must be removed, disassembled, and reassembled properly.

After informing the dealer of this explanation of the problem, they offered to pick up the vehicle with a ?charge of $600.00 to tear down the transmission to pinpoint the failure. You will receive a written estimate of what the failure is and if you decide not to repair or replace the transmission you will be responsible for removal of vehicle from our location." In essence, they denied that their technician made this error.

I?ve authorized the transmission shop to tear down the transmission and diagnose the cause of the problem. I am aware of warnings not to change transmission fluid on 80+K mile vehicles that were not regularly maintained. However, the exact nature of this problem pointed to the cause as technician error.

Anybody else had this experience with a VUE or related model?