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2009 Subaru Impreza - Trans

I brought my car in for manual transmission service. The clutch was working fine with no slipping prior to service. Within 20 miles of driving I noticed issues with the clutch slipping and it failed catastrophically at 200 miles. I checked the transmission fluid and it was bone dry. I brought it back to the dealership and they inspected it (after I left it overnight) and miraculously it was full. They are claiming that if there was no transmission fluid it would not cause the clutch to go. Is this true? I would think if the transmission ceases this would put stress on the clutch.

There is the problem. You should have returned at the first sign of slipping. Now you are in a I said they said situation . Unless you can have a calm discussion with the shop manager you might lose this battle.

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A transmission trying to seize up could certainly cause the clutch to go. It’s been my experience that when a Subaru manual trans is out of or run very low on gear oil the large bearing on the tail end of the mainshaft will seize up or try to seize.
Since the mainshaft is splined into the clutch disc this means the engine is trying to force the issue.

I also agree with Volvo_V70. You should have returned at the first sign of trouble. Now you’ve stepped in it by allowing the car to remain at the dealer overnight and quite likely someone has added gear oil to cover their tracks.

The only way of knowing if the mainshaft bearing is the cause is to tear down the transmission. The bearing running sans gear oil generally turns the bearing blue in color. And on a 10 year car that should mean a total rebuild.
I can’t offer advice on what to do. Short of the service manager’s benevolence I think you may be up the creek.

What was the objective for doing that? Was the car just due for routine transmission maintenance? Or were there transmission related symptoms to diagnose & correct? What did the shop do exactly? Check the transmission fluid level? Change the transmission fluid? etc …

Low transmission fluid wouldn’t normally affect the clutch, unless it was really low and the transmission totally locked up and failed. That would normally be preceded by symptoms, like grinding noises, hard to shift, etc. The clutch operates outside the transmission. It’s connected to the transmission input shaft of course, but externally. The transmission fluid and the clutch wouldn’t normally ever meet.

There were no problems with the clutch or the transmission prior to service. The dealer recommended changing the transmission fluid because it had been over 3 years. The dealer noted that there were no issues with the clutch at time of initial service. I do have a written confirmation from the tow technician saying that the transmission had no fluid.

Even if the transmission was dragging due to lack of lubricant the clutch shouldn’t slip. My clutch doesn’t slip at full throttle and yours shouldn’t either and if there was that much drag you probably would have stopped the vehicle.

I would trust your observations as far as the transmission fluid level over the truck driver who delivered your vehicle back to the dealer, he may have the credentials of a back yard mechanic, maybe not. Did you show the dry dipstick to the service writer when you returned to the dealer’s service department?

dealer serviced trans. it failed. dipstick shows empty when you drop it off. next day it is full. you have witness/tow driver who says it was empty. tell service manager this story. you could say a judge might like your story better than dealers story. see what he says

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The dealer’s going to fight this tooth and nail

They’ll take their technician’s word over the tow truck driver’s word

May want to get legal advice

Replacing and/or rebuilding a transmission will likely cost thousands

Why would a tow truck driver check anything , that is not their job . DB is correct , what the tow driver said means nothing.

yep, you are right.
the dealer changed fluid.
you misread that it was empty
the tow truck driver misread it was empty
dealer says it is now full. low fluid was not why your trans failed.

I checked the fluid with the tow truck driver. It was empty. I did the same thing to check it at the dealer and it was full. I just wanted to have a second pair of eyes to confirm. I am deciding how to proceed. I will likely go to small claims court.

IMO clutches don’t go from perfect to not functional in 200 miles for no reason. The dealer is claiming that with no trans fluid the clutch would not be what failed. I disagree.

I’m inclined to agree w/the dealership on that point. You should well-document this incident however, in case the transmission starts to act up later. One way to do this is write a letter to the dealership outlining what happened and a summary of the discussions you’ve had w/them, and mail it certified w/return receipt. If they disagree, they can write you back. At that point both side’s claims will be in writing, so you’ll have something to go on if the transmission fails.

It’s possible the clutch failed b/c the tech took a test drive after changing the trans oil, and drove aggressively. But that’s going to be nearly impossible to prove. And it’s possible the clutch failure was a freak coincidence. Clutches can fail in numerous ways, not just the disc material wears out. Broken clutch spring for example.

One thing I expect you already know: the advice here is whenever getting a fluid change job, before leaving the shop the owner should visually check the fluid level (presuming such a thing is possible to do, which I believe it is b/c it is mentioned above your car has a dipstick for the manual transmission fluid), again after that return drive, and again the next morning.

If this transmission was very low or out of gear oil there is one thing that is certain.

There should have been a significant whine from the front differential as it has a ring and pinion gear. Out of oil means it should be very noticeable.

I’ve been into many of these and the common complaint before they bought the farm was a whine that was quite often ignored. So was there a whine or is it possible there was one but you did not notice it?

What happened many times is that the ring/pinion would give up and actually grenade the transmission case. I do have a hard time seeing this going 200 miles with no gear oil present.
I’ve seen a few that blew up within 75 miles of being deprived of gear oil.

I’m going to back up a bit here due to overthinking the problem. An automatic was on my mind. The autos are the ones that develop a whine.

With the manual there’s usually enough residual oil in the differential hump in the transaxle case to keep the ring and pinion lubed.
The rear mainshaft bearing is the one that gives up the ghost with no or little gear oil in the box.

Mly bad… :blush: