Civic Transmission & Fluid Question

I’m no mechanic. I’m what you’d call a “learned idiot” - all I have to fall back on is my own experiences and little real schooling with fixing cars. So stay with me.

1996 Civic. Just over 185k as of this week. She’s been intermittently shifting hard; can’t figure out why some days she drives fine and other days she’s shifting hard (no clunking or noise) or hesitating to shift up a gear (mostly first into second).

Brilliant guy that I am pulled out my old log of repairs and fluid checks this past weekend and see that, surprise!, I’m WAY overdue for a transmission fluid change. I even had a bottle of ATF-Z1 sitting in my trunk that I never used.

Anyway, I had surgery on my arm a month ago and I don’t have full strength in it yet and I’d have to wait to get my pump jack back from my friend anyway. That said…

1.) is it true you shouldn’t “dump and fill” a Honda transmission of its fluid if its far past its date? That seems weird to me.

2.) I’m having a hard time getting a good idea of the fluid level in my transmission (though its a dirty pink color still). Would adding a little extra be okay?

3.) I’m suspecting the previous driver (family, don’t even get me started) went to a third party place (as she always does) and had something like VALVOLINE put in instead of Honda ATF. I have half a mind to dump it, fill it with new fluid, dump that, fill it again with Z1, etc and see if I can’t get it running a little better. Am I risking the transmission it’s self in doing this?

Input is welcomed. I realize this is totally a DUH situation but the most I’ve ever done is replace O2 sensors and brake pads / rotors.

I like your plan in #3, Hondas need the right ATF. Do a couple of drain and fills, see if it help.

The ‘don’t change really old fluid’ thing probably results from people changing the fluid out of desperation on a failing transmission, and it fails anyway. Which it would have done without the last minute desperation act…

The general wisdom is that Honda transmissions should have real Honda fluid. I’d do a drain-and-fill three times, which is usually the procedure in the manual for a Honda. If it dies after the change, it was going to die anyway, as texases says.

Agree with the above except, I would not use that quart of old Z1. Honda has a new ATF that helps the transmission shift better during cold weather. Just doing one drain and fill makes a noticeable difference. The new ATF is compatible with the old Z1 and is recommended with the older transmissions, so doing just one drain and fill is OK.

Honda recommends draining and filling 3 times to do a complete change. Warm up the engine thoroughly and then drain the fluid. Use the bottle of old ATF In the first refill. Then take it around the block a couple of times, drain/fill and repeat the process one more time. Now see if the transmission behaves better. This is one of the few times that you should use the fluid recommended by the manufacturer.

Thanks to all the replies everyone.

Keith, what’s the model or type for the ATF Z1 replacement fluid? And how many bottles should I get?

Your dealer will have it in stock but its DW-1. It should take 2.5 qts per change. while your at the dealer, get a new gasket (aluminum washer) for the drain plug and use it on your last drain and fill, whether you just do one or do 4. It costs around $9/qt, but all ATF is getting expensive today so it isn’t that bad.

I agree with Texases about the failing transmissions. Replace your fluid.

Do you know that you check the fluid level with the trans warmed up, engine off? (level ground of course) If you check it cold it will be about on the bottom of the hash marks. Your trans holds about 6 quarts, so a few drain and fills with Honda factory fluid dilutes out the old fluid. Being overfilled will do nothing good for it. In my experience, even 1 drain and fill, getting it back to Honda fluid, usually improves shift quality.