Fried transmission?

Took my 2007 Honda Pilot in on Thursday for an oil change and trip inspection to a very reputable mechanic that specializes in Japanese cars. He said he found a small amount of leakage on the rear cover of the transmission (it is a two wheel drive) so he removed the cover, resealed, and refilled the fluid. The evening after I picked it up, as I was driving up a hill, the car started rolling backwards and no gears would engage. Had it towed back to my house. No fluid in the reservoir and the dipstick smells burnt. Obvious trans fluid on the underside of car. Is the transmission fried? Does he owe me a new transmission? No trans problems in it’s history. It has been a great car and I am anal about the maintenance. I have all records since new. Suggestions? Should I have it towed back to him on Monday morning or towed to a dealer? The car has 89,000 mostly highway miles on it. Thanks.

He didn’t tighten the trans cover bolts. He owes you a transmission rebuild.

So okay, does that mean he can rebuild the current transmission or that he should replace it with a rebuilt transmission? Sorry if it seems like a stupid question but I’m not a mechanic (obviously) : )

Either is OK. He may try to stick you with a used trans (yours did have 89K on it). Resist this, but realize there is a logic to it. You are somewhat at his mercy.

If the mechanic is reputable as you say there is not reason to believe he will not take care of the problem. Have the car towed to the guy who just worked on it.

Thanks so much for your comments

Good posts above. I’ll add he may have got distracted for some reason & forgot to refill it, or didn’t refill it properly. Modern auto transmissions can be difficult to refill w/the correct amount of fluid. But since you mention he’s a specialist in Asian cars, it doesn’t seem likely he’d not know the correct procedure.

It’s also possible this is a coincidence, that a problem was in the waiting, and it just happened to occur after the recent service. Seems unlikely, so my way of thinking if the mechanic claims he has no responsibility, the burden would be on the mechanic to provide evidence this was caused by something beyond his control. Suggest to not entirely discount that this may actually be the case, and that the mechanic isn’t at fault.

You might consider getting another opinion and verify whether the mechanic erred or not. If it lost that much fluid so quickly then any leak should be obvious.
Wipe it off a bit, refill the fluid, and run it for a bit while noting if the leak is coming from the repaired area you were billed for.

If it’s the same place then I’d say the mechanic owes you a transmission.

Just an update…had the car towed back to the mechanic this morning. I followed in another car so was there when it arrived and I went into the bay with them. They noted that the dipstick was showing nothing. I still insisted that it smelled burned to me. He said if it was burned the fluid would be brown or black; so I watched as the trans cover was removed and the little remaining fluid drained out. It did appear to still be red, so I hope that’s a good sign. They’re putting in another new O ring, cleaning, resealing and refilling, then will drive it to see if damage was done. They told me they think the silicone seal that was applied before bolting the cover back on was not completely dry when I picked it up and so fluid leaked out and also caused the system to not be pressurized correctly, causing the problem with the gears. Again, won’t know for sure until later today. Sound plausible?

It’s very plausible that the transmission would shift poorly, gears would engage unevenly, or not at all, if the transmission fluid was low. Hope this latest job fixes it for you and gets you back on the road. Its frustrating when you have car problems.

Red fluid is a good sign. Give it a good test with moderate acceleration. If it shifts normally, it’s probably OK. Look for leaks and check the fluid level often until you’re convinced they did it right this time. Good luck.

Sounds like something was tightened right which means ATF has leaked. Relevant source here:

If you drove while all the ATF was gone then your transmission is probably toast now

I would run the heck out of it when I got it back. that way if its bad I would find out immediately and call the fellow to tow it again so he could re build it right.

GeorgeSanJose “It’s very plausible that the transmission would shift poorly, gears would engage unevenly, or not at all, if the transmission fluid was low.” You reminded me of an incident that was amusing (at least for me). A friend’s older Brother had a very interesting vehicle for sale. It was 1961 Ford Econoline pick-up that had been a wheel stand exhibition vehicle. It currently had a 1965 Corvette stock 327cu in 340hp engine and B&M built 4 speed Oldsmobile hydramatic transmission. The transmission was “broke” so he was dumping it for $700. I called and told him I would like to check it out the next day. He said he had to work and would leave a key in the ash tray. I checked it out while he was at work. It started and ran great but would not move in forward or reverse. The transmission dipstick was completely dry. On my way home I told my old master mechanic friend about this. His answer: Automatics don’t work with no fluid. He told me the Olds hydro held 10 quarts but 8 should get it working. He also cautioned me that these transmissions have no neutral safety switch (will start in gear) or park but parking in reverse was about the same as having a manual in gear. He also drew the shift pattern for me. I’m pretty sure from bottom to top it was: Reverse, neutral, 1,2,3,4. 4 operated like drive in modern automatics. That evening I called the seller and offered $600. He accepted. I said I could pay and pick it up the following day. He still had to work but would sign the title and leave it with his wife who would be home. I arrived (driven by a buddy) armed with $600 and 8 quarts of type A ATF plus a funnel. I traded $600 cash for a signed title plus a bill of sale. I added 6 quarts of ATF and fired the beast up. After a few minutes warm up, that produced a drop on the tip of the dipstick. 2 more quarts brought it to near full. I was able to drive it home plus over 2 years with zero transmission problems! I later learned from my friend that his Brothers “mechanic” buddy (who I wouldn’t trust to check the air in my tires) had serviced the transmission and neglected to replace the fluid. Why no one but me thought to check the fluid level baffles me to this day. 1970 to 2014.

The Pilot’s trans isn’t a CVT, so a complete, fast loss of fluid that causes it to stop working suddenly during a fairly a short run is unlikely to be a huge warning sign that the trans is fried. Once the fluid drops below a certain level, the transmission’s fluid pump can’t maintain pressure, and when that happens over a short distance instead of slowly and gradually, everything critical essentially disengages all at once. Major trans damage due to low fluid levels usually results from the fluid getting down to the “barely enough” point slowly, resulting in the internal bits being not quite fully engaged and not quite well enough lubricated and nowhere near getting enough oil to stay cool. I suspect that yours is probably pretty much the same as it was before the leak. But I’m not real impressed with the fact that it happened, and the “sealer didn’t harden” thing seems more than a trifle peculiar. I suspect that the real answer is “oops, we didn’t do X”, which is something that can happen to even the best of us, particularly when that d**n phone rings right in the middle of the task. If it’s behaving normally when you get it back, and keeps doing so, they caught the goof on the first bounce and no harm done.

sgtrock21s story reminded me of something similiar that happened to a friend of mine in the early 70’s. He was offered a '62 Corvette with a “shot” transmission for next to nothing. I towed it to the transmission shop (with my car). The transmission shop called the next day & said the only thing wrong with it was the fluid was very low. He filled it up and my friend drove it for years with no problems and never had to add fluid. The funny thing was it had a 2 speed Powerglide.

MY 2 CENTS The old Powerglides were no fun to drive but were hell for stout.