Transmission fluid and power steering fluid exchange?

I just took my automatic 2001 Honda Civic LX in to a Japanese car repair place for an oil change and general check-up. It has only 43,600 miles on it so is in-between major services. However, since I do primarily short city drives I know it still can need frequent attention. I was told that both my transmission and power steering fluids were “dirty” and dark and was advised they needed to be exchanged. The price for the transmission fluid exchange alone was $200 and for the power steering fluid exchange $111. Since this sounded like a lot of money, and I remembered hearing something on CarTalk about fluid flushes being rip-offs, I declined to have the fluids “exchanged.” But is this something I DO need to have done? And if so do these prices sound appropriate? I believe the mechanic mentioned it being expensive because they needed to use “special” Honda products. I looked back in my records to see if I’d had this done before and it looks like maybe the transmission fluid was done at the 30,000 mile service but it wasn’t real clear. I would appreciate any help anyone can provide! Thanks.

Both of these fluids need to be changed periodicly. Tranny fluid is past due. Not sure of the interval on the PS fluid. Check your owners manual.

The owner’s manual should tell you the frequency for fluid replacement. I’m sure there’s a recommendation for the transmission fluid. There may or may not be an interval for the PS fluid.

I recommend Honda transmission fluid for Honda vehicles.

First place to find information on needed maintenance is in your owner’s manual. It should list needed maintenance items. Most will list miles and/or TIME. When it list both, you use whichever comes first. With only 43,000 miles on a 2001 car I would expect for some of the fluids, you will need to change based on time not distance. One often missed is brake fluid. Fluids may look fine and still need replacement.

That said, I will add one that may not be listed in the manual. I recommend that automatic transmission fluid be changed at about 40,000 miles. Some cars apparently don’t have a transmission fluid change listed or list it far longer than 40,000 miles.

Generally any service with the name flush should be considered suspect. Any Service provider with the word Quick or Fast etc, as part of its name should be totally avoided. They seem to create far more problems than they solve.

In general it is better to have a transmission fluid drained, the pan removed and cleaned and filer (if there is one) replaced.

Yes, it is a standard rip-off. Everyone is doing it. Many shops will automatically recommend these fluid changes to every customer who walks in the door. I was once offered the transmission service – the fool did not even notice my car had manual tranmission!

But occassionally some car NEEDS to have such work. As others have said, check your owner’s manual. And if you decide you need normal transmission service, avoid the “fluid exchange” racket. Have the pan dropped and the filter replaced, assuming your car still has that type of AT. Some newer models don’t.

Power steering fluid usually does NOT need to be replaced. It is not subjected to that much heat. The Power Steering fluid in a Honda is the color of honey, but slightly darker.

The transmission fluid should be drained and refilled every 30k miles. It does require Honda ATF, that only costs about $5 at a dealer and you only need 2.5 quarts. You don’t get all the ATF out on a drain, but if you do a drain and refill every 30k, you keep the fluid fresh enough to last 300k or so.

You need to find a trustworthy mechanic and take ALL of your business there. You also need to verify that the transmission fluid was changed at the 30k service. A mechanic does not have to specialize in Japanese cars or Honda’s. There isn’t that much difference between one car and another as far as maintenance is concerned. You might try the Mechanics files on this web site to start looking for a recommended mechanic in your area. There should be a link on the home page.

Hello and thank you for your feedback. The mechanic I went to WAS listed in the Mechanics files. It was my first time there, however, as the exterior of my car was damaged at the shop of the previous mechanic I’d been using (also recommended on the Mechanics files). Since it was very difficult and unpleasant to get him to agree to pay for the necessary body work I didn’t want to return there…
All that aside, I followed everyone’s advice and checked my owner’s manual. For “severe” driving conditions as I seem to fall into with my mostly short, traffic-heavy trips, my manual recommends that the AT fluid be replaced at 36, 60 and 72 months. (I am nowhere near the mileage parameters). In my records this was only done 4 years ago at 30,000 miles. So it would sound like I need to have that replaced again. However, I am not sure I understand the difference between the “drain and refill” you recommended, having the “pan dropped and the filter replaced” others recommended, and whatever the mechanic here described to me. He did mention that most times only 3 quarts are exchanged, ie not the full quantity, and that what he was recommending would replace the entire 12 quarts with fresh new fluid. On my old records it does look like only 3 quarts were involved when it was done in 2004… And also, I didn’t get a clear answer on the question of could he tell just by looking that my AT fluid was “dirty” and therefore in need of replacing? Finally, per your advice and the fact that my owner’s manual didn’t mention exchanging the power steering fluid, I don’t plan to do that one…
Thanks again everyone!

Honda transmissions don’t have a pan to be dropped like most other automatic transmissions. The filter inside is not accessible unless the transmission is disassembled. The transmission only holds 6 quarts, of which 2.5 are exchanged during a normal drain and refill. You cannot get the rest out without disassembling the transmission.

There are flush machines that claim to replace all the fluid, but the reality is that they don’t. They suck the oil from one end of the pan and put it in at the other via the transmission cooler lines. They continuously dilute the old oil with new until after about 12 quarts, there is very little of the old oil left. These flush machines can damage a Honda transmission because the filter is not cleaned or replaced. They can knock debris captured by the filter loose where it can get into the rest of the transmission. Considering the age and miles on your transmission, there probably isn’t any significant debris in you filter so you would be safe, but it would also be completely unnecessary as you oil is not that contaminated.

The normal drain and refill should be about the same price as a regular oil change. A flush can cost between $75 and $150 because it uses a lot more transmission fluid and the mechanic needs/wants to recover the cost of this machine.

Whether you flush (I don’t recommend) or just drain and refill every 30k, your transmission will probably last as long as you want to own the car. Most likely, it will outlast not only your desire to own the car, but the next owner and the one after that, unless your like me and keep a car until someone wrecks it

Thank you Keith for all your help! I think I will just wait until I have the oil changed next (ie about 6 months from now), try another mechanic, and ask to have the transmission fluid drained and refilled at that time. Does that sound reasonable?

Keith, thanks for this advice. My 2007 Honda Odyssey just hit 30K and they want to do a transmission flush. I was shocked by the price ($185), especially after learning that they will run about 16qts of fluid through and that will be it. They indicated that there was no filter to change, which I found odd, but you have clarified that. Since it is still under warranty, and the fluid is still very clean, I will go through with this, as I too probably will not own this van much over 60-80K. It has been a very good vehicle.

Honda Odysseys from 2002 on did have transmission filters. They sit externally right on top of the transmisssion, driver’s side. I don’t know why all the dealers are so ignorant. If they’d examine their schematics, they’d see the filter, or they may be labeled a screeen. You learn more from than you can learn from the Honda dealer. I changed mine and it wasn’t too hard. Same with my transmission fluid. I also added an in-line Magnefine transmission fluid filter for added insurance.