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Transmission Fluid Suspicion Inhibition

[Long Sentence Alert] - It occurred to me that nowadays with most cars being produced without dipsticks for transmission fluid, and since the average person doesn’t know how to check the fluid without one or would never want to go to the trouble, when people bring their cars in to have the transmission fluid changed, an unscrupulous mechanic could do nothing and say he changed it and nobody would be the wiser.

Just a paranoid thought I had…

“unscrupulous” = “quicky lube”…

Cars are now another disposable item. Switched to easing and a llifetime of payments, but 3 years, we put on 8k a year average, no repairs ie warranty, no tires no brakes, no surprises, and saving $28 a month over 11 year ownership of similarly priced vehicle for the wife, but need a boat towing vehice so maintaining and repairing 03 trailblazer up to 170k now, just did new struts, $660, I think currently we loose either way.

Yeah, the Subi dealer that just overfilled my oil level, I believe did not rotate the tires also. Can’t prove it, but 80% certain.

“I believe did not rotate the tires also. Can’t prove it, but 80% certain.”

As Ronnie Reagan said, “Trust, but verify”…
Periodically, I have put a subtle chalk mark on a couple of my tires in order to see if they have–indeed–been rotated. The placement of the marked tires has always changed when I picked the car up from the dealership.

Similarly, one of my friends recently pointed to a nicked-up alloy wheel on his Rav-4, and said that he never before saw that mark on that wheel. Then, I pointed out to him that he had nicked a wheel last year when he hit a curb, and subsequent to that hit, his tires were rotated. Like my Subaru dealer, his Toyota dealer really did rotate the tires.

However, if you have any doubts, a simple chalk mark–or two–will reveal the truth of the matter.

Here’s an observation . . .

Many of the factory service checksheets say something to the effect of “rotate the tires, as needed” or 'rotate the tires, if necessary"

A lot of mechanics will look at them and say “All 4 tires are wearing evenly. I won’t rotate them.”

That said, customers that verbally instruct the service writer to have the tires rotated, got the results they wanted. Because there would be an extra notation on the repair order.

Not to mention the customers who had those silly . . . IMO . . . McGard wheel locks, but didn’t bother to tell us where they put the tool. It was almost never in the trunk, along with the factory tools or the jack. Some customers put them in the glove box or center console. Some admitted they lost them and/or couldn’t account for them. Some actually kept them at home, as if that’s going to do anybody any good. One guy even put the tool in the factory first aid kit. That’s about the last place anybody would think to look.

Anyways, if the mechanic spent a reasonable amount of time looking for the tool . . . reasonable being 5 - 10 minutes, IMO . . . then the service writer was asked to call the customer. If the customer didn’t pick up or call back within 10 minutes, forget it. No tire rotation. But even if the customer picked up or called back, it was often a waste of time, because they didn’t know where the tool was, or that there even was one.

Another obvious problem was that it wasn’t always easy to inspect brake pad lining thickness if you couldn’t remove the rims from the car. Even with a mirror, on some cars, it was almost impossible. Measuring rotor thickness was also not easy.

As for that ATF in the car without a dipstick . . . the most obvious thing is to look on the invoice to check if the fluid was actually charged out. Beyond that, you’re going to have to decide if you want to go to the trouble of checking for yourself whether the fluid looks fresh or old

You don’t need special tools to merely check the level, but adding fluid won’t be easy. But the fluid is checked at a specific temperature, and that’s where the scan tool would come in. And the knowledge of what that specific temperature is. Sure, my scan tool will probably show me the flluid temperature on the most common transmissions, but I can’t guarantee it’ll tell me what the temperature for checking should be.

You’re going to have to spend time and/or money to prove that a shop did not change the atf.

an unscrupulous mechanic could do nothing and say he changed it and nobody would be the wiser.

My sense is that this kind of thing is rare. At least with shops that have been in business for some time and have a lot of repeat customers. That’s the reason it is recommended here to use personal references when selecting a new shop.

If something like that did happen, I’d guess the reason was most likely the mechanic actually thought he did the job, but got sidetracked, and lost track of what he had finished and hadn’t finished. We diyer’s wouldn’t do that b/c we work on our cars, what, a couple hours a month. And we are certain what car we are working on b/c it belongs to us. But pro mechanics work on cars 40-50 hours a week and work on dozens of different cars.

I did have an experience years ago with a shop where they said they didn’t replace something when in fact I was 100% certain they did replace it, b/c I had prior marked the old part. I don’t think whoever did this, did it on purpose; they just had lost track of what they had done.

Happens all the time. I even had a car become involved in a state Attorney General’s Office investigation. Unbeknown to me, a major new car dealership was charging people for work they weren’t doing… and I was apparently one of those people. The dealership closed not long after.

My sense is that this kind of thing is rare. At least with shops that have been in business for some time and have a lot of repeat customers.

Unfortunately that’s not always true. I know two businesses that have been in business for decades…and I wouldn’t let them as washer fluid to any of our vehicles. They’ve been taken to court and LOST several times that I know of…but are still in business. They are extremely good at spin.

I once brought a vehicle in for an alignment and wedged a small stone under each tire. I went back, was told the work was done, and was handed the bill. Before paying it, I told the service guy what I’d done and went out and checked… the vehicle was in the same spot with the stones still wedged under the tires. The service guy had a hard time explaining how they could do an alignment in the parking lot without ever moving the vehicle. Needless to say, the charges were waived.

The worse I ever saw was a Ford dealer in upstate NY. My father-in-law owned a Ford station wagon that he also used to tow his camper. It was only serviced at the dealer…no other place. He had air shocks installed (at the dealer) at a cost of almost $1000. The following summer when he was about to go camping…he to the gas station to add air…It sounded funny when putting the air in…and the car wasn’t rising. Thinking something is wrong…he went back to the dealer to have it checked out…Something was wrong alright…the air shocks were missing. Someone removed them and replaced them with standard shocks…The ONLY place that could have done that was the dealer…PERIOD. Of course they wouldn’t admit to it.


Did your father-in-law take the dealer to small claims court or sue them?

I’m guessing that was awhile ago, and that $1000 would be several thousand in today’s dollars

That sounds like the kind of money that’s worth fighting for

I’m guessing it was awhile ago, because the only Ford station wagon I can think of that would be suitable for towing a camper is one of the body on frame cars that have been out of production for awhile now

Is it more likely the dealer never installed the air shocks . . . or is it more likely they were removed during one of his visits to the dealer?

@“Joe Guy” aren’t you the one who recently purchased a new Honda Fit? From your posting, does this mean the Fit doesn’t have a transmission dipstick? (Yeah, I realize I should already know the answer to this question, but I don’t.) And how are you liking that Fit? Would you recommend it for purchase by someone else?

Also, yeah, I’m the same way. You’re never really 100% sure the mechanic changed the fluid or did everything they charged you for. I’ve been known to put a scratch on my oil filter with a paper clip or a key, just to make sure they really changed the filter.

Yes, Ed, there is no transmission fluid dipstick on the 2016 Honda Fit. It’s the first car I’ve had like that, so that’s what got me thinking about it.

I don’t think any of the CVT’s have a dipstick, the manufacturer would not want anybody to mess with that transmission.

Our Hyundai Sonata is my first car without a dipstick and a direct injection engine (I have given up on trying to buy cars with basic design, I guess). Anyway, there is a way to work around the transmission fluid change. There is a fill hole on top, a drain plug on the bottom and a level hole on the side. The only trick is getting the fluid up to temp and fill it until it is dripping from the side level check hole. A bit like a manual transmission. I don’t have the scan tool to read the fluid temp, but made it work with an infrared gun and also the cars thermostat (fan turns on around the same temp).

Oh goodness! Let me guess, does the owners manual state that the transmission fluid is “lifetime” i.e. should never need to be changed? IF so, then if you should choose to take it to the dealer for service, one of the drones will probably tell you not to bother changing it. I wonder if it even has a drain plug?

I know the issues of automatic transmissions versus CVT transmissions and if and how often to change the fluid has been discussed ad nauseum here. Most of the respected elders of this forum say change fluid every 30k miles regardless of what the manual says regarding “lifetime” transmission fluid.

My old '93 Festiva with the manual transmission has neither a dipstick nor a drain plug. The fluid level can be checked by removing the speedometer cable and pulling a gear out of the transmission, but its an arduous process, mostly trying to get it back together. The owners manual stated the fluid should never need to be changed (on the manual trans) and I was always uneasy about that, but with no drain plug I went along with it until I started reading these forums. My mechanic claims he has a machine with which he could suck out the old fluid through the speedometer cable opening and refill it, that’s what I had done at 160,000 miles. BUT, like you stated in your original post, I can’t even be 100% sure he really did that.

The manual on my Sonata calls for 60K mile change for the severe schedule. And that is a drain and refill. As we know, pretty much most of us fit in the severe schedule. The car has a 100K warranty. I drained once at 32K (bought the car with 22K on the ODO) and the fluid was pretty dark, so repeated the drain in a few hundred miles and now probably at 40K miles and would be back to 20K drain and fills.

I had a Lancia with a manual transmission with a dipstick, it was pretty neat.

Did your father-in-law take the dealer to small claims court or sue them?

It was around 40 years ago…and he talked to a lawyer (his wifes brother)…and the lawyer said he had no proof the dealer/mechanic stole it. Said it would be impossible to prove.

That dealer is still around today…in fact one of the biggest Ford dealers in the area.

“the vehicle was in the same spot with the stones still wedged under the tires.”

My uncle bought a beautiful new Chrysler New Yorker convertible in 1960, and while the car was incredibly powerful as well as being really nice-looking, it had some…issues…that needed to be attended to. He brought the car to the dealership, and picked it up at the end of the day with the assurance that the problem(s) had been rectified.

However, the problems remained, and he brought it back again. This time, he placed a pebble on top of one of the front tires because he had suspicions that the car hadn’t even been moved on the first visit to the service department. At the end of the day–same scenario–an assurance that the problem(s) had been fixed. Because the car was parked in the same spot where it had been placed that morning, he checked the tire, and–sure enough–the same pebble was sitting in the same place.

The result–after he gave the service manager a reaming-out–was that he began taking his car to a different Chrysler dealership for service, and was very pleased with the second dealership. His term for the service at the first dealership was “curb service”, because they simply left the car parked at the curb, instead of actually working on it.

There have been a few investigations by TV news shows about shops not doing the work. Specifically a Canadian quickie-lube place called Economy Lube.

And one of our favorites here in the US. Specifically California. A 3 part investigation

Obviously not all places are like this but the incentives they place on employees drives this behavior.