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Too much transmission fluid in Buick Lesabre 2003?

We have had trouble with our buick lesabre 2003. Transmission problems. Was father in laws car. Car would run but was giving problems with gear shifting… as if it was stuck at lower gear… sometimes would change up to 3rd… other times it would not change at all from park … Was told it needed a new tranny at around $2000 to replace and install I am unemployed and cannot afford that. .Had a idea that it may be a stuck solenoid valve in tranny as Fluid had never been changed for years, because when I looked at the dipstick the fluid was jet black. I bought dextron III and a new filter … Got a local mechanic to do the fluid change. He loosen pan and said it was the worst fluid he had seen in 20 years…He said you know this might work as all that crud would probably be affecting one or more solenoids… gumming them up etc. so drained it … wiped all pan etc… there were shavings of on the magnet etc,. sludge in pan bottom
then fitted new filter. and tightened pan gasket etc up. … The fluid for a buck 2003 is 7.4 qts… so he filled it with dextron III … but did not change through all the gears as I now understand should have to circulate the fluid properly to check the level correctly. Also added a lube cleaner at 1 oz per qrt of dextron…to try clear any sticking solenoids Took the car for drive… took around 20 minutes for the lube to start working and the car seemed to be doing fine… changing gears ok etc. Well My wife drove the car around he next day on short trips… and siad it seemed to be ok… She had jsut started work last week at a Dollar General Store 50 miles away (only opening they had in this rural area) and the 3rd day started off for work. Now before she left, I checked the tire pressures, gas , collant etc all ok… but I noticed the transmission dipstik level (cold … had not started the engine), was in between two hatched marks with two holes at top and bottom of these marks… about 1/2 inch apart on the dipstick… The dipstick does not say “hot” or “cold” on these marks. Are these hatch marks for the cold level safety zone?.. or should the fluid cold be a the bottom hath mark hole? or are these hatchmarks for the level when it is hot?
I ask as when my wife started off for her 50 mile trip to work… she called me some 15 minutes later saying the car was acting funny …not shifting properly up the the next gear in drive etc… I thought it would resolve itself… and said just drive at a safe speed of around 30-40 to try get her to work… she called again 10 minutes later to say the car had lost power to the drive and would not change gear… … I told her to pull over to a safe place and stop the engine. After 5 minutes or so… to Turn it back on … and shift from park to 1 then 2 then 3 to see the fluid would circulate… then into drive …It started up… went into drive and she was back on the road… but the car began acting up again and she was telling me it was not changing gears again. and had to pull over once more.
Is this a temperature issue ?.. or is there too much fluid in the tranny?.. Would that effect the gear changing in drive etc? I’m not very good wth cars… so please excuse this long description… We live 10 miles in isolated rural area countryside and we are in a bad way for transport now as we had to get a two truck to get the car back home. Once the car was back about 2 hours later I started the car again to see how it was and it engaged drive and other gears … but cannot afford to take the chance that my wife would break down again on way to work. She is worried she will now lose her job so we are desperate to try get this car fixed or at least running for now. If you need other info please let me know
Thank you hope someone can help

The fluid level must be in the cross hatch area of the dip stick when the transmission is at operating temperature. A shop should never do any service on an automatic transmission and let it leave the shop without making certain that the fluid level is correct. When over filled the transmission will overheat and it will not shift correctly. At this point your best option is to have the service repeated correctly.

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Transmission fluid has to be checked with the engine running in park. To get an accurate reading the dipstick should be read when hot (driven at least 7 miles) and on level ground. Do not be surprised if the fluid is black again because dropping the pan does not change the fluid in the torque converter which mixes with the new fluid in the transmission as soon as the car is driven.

“there were shavings of on the magnet etc,. sludge in pan bottom”

I don’t like the sound of that

Depending on how many miles this vehicle has . . . and I assume the transmission had never been serviced before this recent service . . . it might have been almost hopeless from the start

This is one of those instances where a flush might be appropriate, as I suspect the transmission is gummed up, best case scenario. Worst case scenario, the transmission needs a complete overhaul

And if an overhaul is in order, might as well flush the lines, trans cooler, and rebuild the converter

Sorry if that’s not being optimistic

It has been my experience that an automatic transmission dipstick will show overfull if checked cold & not running . If you just went out & popped the hood & pulled the dipstick out & the fluid was between the low & high marks I think there’s not enough fluid in it .
As others have said it should be checked hot & idling . Someone correct me if I’m wrong .

Yep, GM transmissions are checked hot, running, and in park. You can’t check them cold. I agree with at least trying the full flush but it may be too late and an overhaul may be in your future.

Many pans have some debris at the bottom

What I might interpret as normal wear, somebody else might interpret as metal shavings

Hard to make a judgement without seeing the shavings in question . . . assuming that’s what they were

Thank you gentleman for your very kind and prompt replies.I am 64 yrs old and not very car savvy … I forgot to mention that when I checked the tranny oil it was indeed almost black again. not jet black like the original but still dirty. (from what I understand) must be from the remaining (old) fluid in the the torque convertor section that the fluid change did not drain out.? It must still be quite filthy in there from all these years of the oil not being changed .

When I read your great advice… I went outside and checked the trans oil level a few minutes ago [ engine off… cold.] . (time now here 12 . 15 am so its pitch black outside.). the oil is about an inch above the hatch marks now … and car is on level ground.

Why would it it increase up the dipstick from the (cold) reading i saw the morning where it was between what I now know are the Hot temp hatch marks … ?
I really didnt think to check the level when it was idling this morning after it got to operating temp …I wish I had…then i could have seen how far up the level was hot…
I know the mechanic put in 6 quarts .plus 1 ounce of the lube liquid per qrt…he is not a transmission expert and he told me that … he is jsut a regular mechanic… so maybe he was not familiar with all this procedure for changing trans fluid… Certainly he did not go through all the gears as you described at operating temp etc to check levels. Never mind he has helped me out in the past when no one else will, as he knows I am unemployed and very low on cash etc so I dont want to confront him on this as he might turn me away next time!. He only charged me $50 for the change although I bought the oil and gaskets etc…
As mentioned car drove fine for the first 2 days… then yesterday started all the problems of not changing gear etc.

What is the easiest way to siphon some of that excess fluid out…?
Is this why the car is not changing gear in drive, other other gears etc? …
Is the oil too hot or too pressurised or something when overfilled? I note it will engage at times from a cold start… seems to have problems when it / the engine gets hot ?.

With regards level checking, I need to get the car up to running temperature?.. is that the point where the radiator fans start up ? I noticed this morning that when I let her idle ( I had a large sheet of paper under the car to see if there were any leaks from the pan etc … there were none ) that the temp gauge I think showed 230-235 degrees Fahreneheit on the dash and then the 2 radiator fans started running … andthe temp went down to 223 or thereabouts /i think

So after I remove some of the fluid will that help in some way to alow the transmission to cahnge gear in drive ? Then I should check the level on flat ground… to make sure the hot fluid is between the two hatch marks?

I think I should also consider your advice to change the oil again and possibly even get it flushed as it must have a load of sediment and filings in it after all these years…

Please advise … and thank you guys once again… its nice to know that people do care and will help and advise us that are not able to afford costs of these things…

One more thing I forgot to mention the dipstick has three marks … on very tiny notch aprox 1/2 at the tip … I presume that is the “cold” mark? So tiny I never notied … (^4 so eyes not sharp as they used to be :slight_smile: The other two hatch marks are approx 1 & 1/2 inch above …

The best way to get the transmission fluid up to proper operating temperature is to drive the car for a few miles

It’s possible that your transmission pan has a drain plug, but I kind of doubt it. If so, that’s the easiest way to drain any excess fluid

If it doesn’t have a drain plug, fluid can be siphoned out, through the dipstick tube

Considering the fluid is still very dark, perhaps another drain and refill is in order. The converter holds a few quarts. So that new fluid you put it got diluted with that nasty fluid that was still in the converter

Hard to say, though, and don’t be too upset if your transmission is too far gone to save

That mechanic you mentioned is very nice, because many won’t let you bring your own parts

There are 2 things that do not sound good.
One is the shavings in the pan. That means hard parts in the transmission (bushings, drums, etc) are failing.
Two is the jet black fluid. That means the fluid is burnt, oxidized, and the clutches are burning up.

The trans is dying and while I hate to sound so pessimistic considering the circumstances it is what it is.

If the transmission had been serviced about every 25-30k miles odds are it would still be shifting fine today. Sorry I can’t provide better news.

Yes all this could have been avoided if car had been maintained regular. Another thing… I mentioned shavings … should have said minute metal particles on the magnet etc… Still not good news, but not large pieces… just like metal filings really… but they came from the metal parts of course. Thing is when the car drives … it is great… as mentioned when i drove it from the shop… was fine. and my wife drove it next day on short trips… no problems. Then the 3rd day started acting up again… Would this overfill of oil affect the drive engagement much or more serious problems. The lube that was added i was hoping it would clean any solenoids that were sticking etc… seemed to work for 2 days after but /i guess all that old oil and the other problems you mention like bushings etc are all playing a part in the problem. All i can do is try take another oil change more lube to clear up any sticking parts etc… I know its a huge gamble but we desperately need transport as we are so isolated here.


“minute metal particles on the magnet”

Thanks for the update . . . that COULD be normal wear

I think a transmission flush using a machine is in order, because it will flush out ALL of the old fluid. Unlike a drain and refill, which does not get out the fluid in the converter, lines, cooler, etc.

Normally I wouldn’t recommend a flush, but in the case of this severely neglected transmission, it can’t hurt. May as well spend a few bucks trying that, before plunking down money for an overhaul

I’m not a mechanic so forgive me but the trans holds something like a total of 14 quarts. You only drained out 6-7. So you added 7 quarts of new to 7 or 8 quarts of the existing black gunk. Naturally the result is going to still be muddy fluid. Not as bad but still muddy. That’s why a full fluid exchange may be the only thing to try. Just dropping the pan only gets about half of the fluid out which would be ok for a regularly serviced trans, but not at this point.

Also I believe that you cannot check it cold or not running because all of the cavities in the trans are not filled until the engine is running and the pump is running. Also the fluid will expand and contract with temperature. So it has to be checked hot and running. I also doubt it is over-filled with only 6 quarts. You need to get that oily black gunky fluid out of there though but don’t count on that fixing it.

I’ve never fixed one but I have bought my share of transmissions-all of them GM.

Thank you gentleman. Sincerely appreciate all your wonderful advice. I will try see what it costs to get a flush . I cant afford an overhaul of course. barely managing as it is ,. so trying to find a solution to ty keep the car on the road. Would be a great shame if she cannot be saved as rest of the car is in very good condition… and many new parts on her… all in the last year when my finances were in better shape. !:slight_smile: Never mind will try save the old girl if I can… Wow didnt know 14 qts in total in transmission… no wonder if only 7 taken out … that all that other contaminated oil simply mixed with the new! … So all those old particles and dirty oil etc still spinning around in there. …? Do you think the dirt etc is the possible cause of a sticking a solenoid valve(s) causing the intermittent behaviour of the car not going into drive or other gears ?. he dipstick puzzles me as well… as mentioned when I checked it earlier engine off cold on level ground, around 11.30 pm… (Time now 1.22 am ) the oil was way up past the top “hot” hatch mark… so not sure what that means cold… Also if I cant afford the flush service (dont know how muh it would cost ?) What additive if any, would you recommend with oil change to try clean any sticking solenoids etc?

If u have ever gotten under the car to do an oil change u have the skill to get under there and loosen the trans pan bolts. a set of car ramps would work well. get a big drain pan, loosen the bolts 2-3 turns and quite a bit of fluid will leak out pan seam. Easily 1-2 qts. Drain fluid, tighten bolts. Add the amount that drained out. Or less if u feel it’s overfilled.

Guys would a Buick 1996 Park Avenue 3.8L Transmission fit into our Buick Lesabre 2003? There is one going for $300 … not sure how much it would cost to get the unit fitted but the advertiser says it is fully working … no problems. does mention car has done 180,000 miles. I’ll try anything at this point if its worth it as unemployed I just dont have the savings to go any further…

2003 LeSabre 4T65E 3.8 V6 series 2

1996 Park Avenue 4T65E 3.8 V6 series 2

So, according to my source . . . both cars use the “same” engine and transmission

But I don’t know if the donor transmission would have the same gear ratios, solenoids, wiring, etc.

Personally, I think buying that high mileage used transmission is a roll of the dice . . . unless somebody can provide paperwork conclusively proving that it just had a proper overhaul

I still recommend getting the flush first, and hope for the best

If the part numbers are to be believed, the parts house shows 2 separate transmissions for the 96 Park Avenue.
They also show 2 separate transmissions for an 03 LeSabre.

None of the 4 numbers match so there are differences. What those are I do not know. It may be deal killing or easily worked around.

If the part numbers are to be believed, the parts house shows 2 separate transmissions for the 96 Park Avenue.
They also show 2 separate transmissions for an 03 LeSabre.

None of the 4 numbers match so there are differences. What those are I do not know. It may be deal killing or easily worked around.