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Low Transmission Oil

Took my car in for oil/filter change and in some odd circumstance, the young mechanic managed to drain 1 liter of transmission oil out of my car (which I didn’t know at the time). After driving for 10 minutes (~5 km), I noticed my reverse gear wasn’t shifting properly. After ~30 minutes of driving, my car was smoking from the exhaust pipe (turns out he had overfilled my engine oil too!!).

Took the car back in to complain the mechanic supervisor claims my transmission is still fine and all I need to do is refill the lost fluid. Another independent mechanic later tells me my transmission line is likely fried if I had experienced what I did, and those guys should be responsible to replace everything.

Since fluids have been topped up, I have no proof of who is right. So my question is, if I only drove for maximum 50 km after my transmission fluid was drained and engine oil overfilled, would that be enough to cause serious damage to the car?

I think you should sue everyone you ever met.

It’s hard to say what, if any damage occurred from this. It may be damage that doesn’t show up for a long time. The transmission could have some extra clutch wear from being underfilled; the engine could have suffered oil starvation from the oil being whipped into foam from being overfilled. Or the catalytic converter may have been damaged from trying to digest the motor oil coming out of the exhaust.

I would see if you could get some kind of guarantee or at least a statement in writing from the oil change place, stating what happened, in case you have trouble later. A call from your lawyer might facilitate this if they are reluctant to provide it.

Was this a quick oil change place?

Thanks for replying everyone.

Yes, this was a “Pit Stop” place; it’s a new section that’s connected to the proper big-chain mechanics section. Well, I did manage to get them to put in writing that the oil was overfilled by them, and the low transmission fluid was connected to their handiwork. They cldn’t deny the oil overfill, and would only admit the fluid level was low and had to be topped up, but I forced them to put in writing that their staff did it. So it’s in the work order sheet in very summarized format.

The trouble is, the foreman – who claims over 40 yrs of experience – denies that any short/long-term damage has been caused by this incident, so I wldn’t know what to do if my car has problems 1 or 2 months down the line because they will deny cause-and-effect. I’ll probably only be able to cause a stink by calling up the media.

My car is running fine now and no white smoke billowing out from the exhaust, and reverse gear is fine too. I had stopped the car immediately as soon as I saw the smoke and didn’t drive it again – I got it towed to the place – so I’m hoping that managed to keep any damage to a minimum. But as I’d smelled burning when the smoking started, I’m worried the transmission line or something else has already been damaged.

The independent guy is correct and it only takes 1 km to damage an automatic transmission with low fluid much less 50 of them.

The foreman is just trying to brush you off (standard operating procedure) and sometimes you have to push the issue. Don’t be surprised if down the road at some point the transmission starts to act up.

The foreman claims 40 years of experience. Forty years of experience at what; operating a fast lube facility?

I’m thinking 40 years experience at being an incompetent @$$#073 personally.

What would be the process to check if the transmission is damaged now? Does it involve draining the transmission line first and then taking out the gear box? Trouble is, they are refusing to even do any of that because they insist there’s nothing wrong and doing this is taking up labor hours that they don’t want to pay for.

You didn’t say much so far about what, exactly the car was doing other than the smoke and something mysterious about reverse. I can’t even tell if we’re talking about a manual or automatic. If its an automatic driving with the fluid low for a while isn’t certain death. The big question is whether or not it did any slipping. Slipping would be where you step on the gas, the engine revs up, but the power doesn’t seem to make it to the wheels. The loss of reverse is certainly a big deal but also doesn’t mean certain death.

Your biggest problem is that you probably did lose some “life” from the transmission - but if it is all working normally now then you don’t really have much to stand on. Even if the transmission decides to give it up a year from now there won’t be any way to say whether this was part of the reason.

Anyway, there is no way to figure out what, if anything, this episode did to the transmission. You could take it to a transmission shop, tell them the story & ask for an evaluation.

Thanks for the feedback cigroller.

My car is a Mazda3, automatic transmission. It’s about 8 yrs old but I hardly drive it so it’s only 79,300 km on the odometer.

Well, the situation didn’t end there. I spotted an oil spot under my car the next day. Took the car back today and this time, the foreman worked personally on my car (he had his staff doing the repairs the last time). He said it was just residual oil dripping from the oil pan, probably from the engine oil overfill. He cleaned it up and checked for leaks and found none.

I insisted he recheck the transmission oil level, and lo & behold, it was still low (I’m at least grateful he recognized that and admitted it and didn’t try to BS me), so he ends up pouring yet another liter in to top up properly.

All told, the Mazda3 is supposed to have ~7.3 L of transmission fluid and they had to top up about 3 L (they claim it was 2 L only but my husband saw them pour in at least two 2 L jugs of oil the first time 'round), so I calculate I was running around with ~40% less oil.

To answer your query cigroller, the car not shifting smoothly into reverse was my first sign something was wrong (would lurched forward before going backward). Later, when I took the car out again, at about 10 km, the car felt like it was dragging, and that’s when I saw all the white smoke in my rearview mirror.

Any slipping or erratic shifting and even being only 1L down can easily damage the transmission much less 2 or 3 Liters.

They’ve botched this not once, but twice, so now the aggravation will begin. If your transmission goes completely belly-up in 6 months, a year, or whatever this incident will be the cause of it and you can fully expect in the above mentioned time frames the excuses will begin about why if they were at fault it would have died from the start, yada, yada, yada.

Thanks everyone for your replies. The story didn’t end there – turns out there was still a leak, discovered the next day at the bottom of the car at the bolt area. Thee bolt, gasket & O-ring had to be replaced. I figure the O-ring was fried from the incident; they of course insisted it was rust & age.

Have already taken this matter to the head office, and the media. They botched it 3 times in total; at the very least, I’m ensuring the general public gets to know abt their “abilities”