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Transmission hell

Took my 2003 Honda civic hybrid to a budget tune and lube. They said that I needed my fluid changed, I agreed, they changed it (did not flush it). It has 95k on it. Later that night the car broke down, I took it to honda they’re telling me that I need a new transmission, there are pieces of a chain in the fluid that they drained. Supposedly the budget tune and lube used a CVT fluid called “Full throttle” honda is telling me that you cannot use anything but honda fluid and the tune and lube is not taking responsibility. Could this have destroyed the transmission?

It’s possible, and it wouldn’t be the first time a “quickie lube” joint ruined someone’s car. Happens all the time.

Honda transmissions are really picky about the fluid used within. A Honda CVT is probably the pickiest of all.

The tune and lube will most likely claim their fluid is “universal,” and that it couldn’t possibly have caused any damage.

I wish you the best of luck, and I advise you to find an independent mechanic to help you care for your car in the future, rather than counting on one of these places. Even the dealer is better than a quick lube shop.

For all we know they left the fluid out of it. When you go to court, I hope you can get the Honda dealer’s tech to go with you. Explain to the dealer that having “budget tune” pay for it is the only way you can afford to buy his transmission rebuild.

Note that there are some things you should never trust to an “iffy lube”.

Presumably your transmission is a CVT? (I don’t know whether all Civic hybrids had them).

I can’t tell you with any certainty that the fluid or the change process wrecked your transmission. I do think that it is unreasonable to presume otherwise.

I can tell you that the spec sheet for Full Throttle’s CVT fluid does not list Honda’s CVT fluid among those fluids whose specs it claims to meet. As mcparadise noted, transmissions are very picky about fluid. This is especially so for Hondas and for CVTs.

I’m attaching Full Throttle’s own flyer. It claims to meet specs for Honda’s ATF-Z1 fluid. But you don’t put the Z1 fluid in a Honda CVT. For that you use Honda’s CVT fluid. But Honda CVT fluid is not listed as among the Full Throttle CVT applications.

I would actually put in a call to Full Throttle. I wouldn’t tell them what happened. I would just ask whether you can use their CVT fluid in a Honda with a CVT. Either way I would chase after the quickie lube place and try to get something from Honda to help me do it.

You’d have to prove that that but for the fluid change the transmission would not have failed. Unfortunately the fluid shop used a CVT fluid, which is what a Honda dealership would have used as well. Unless there is some proven and known problem with the brand Full Throttle, the budget lube shop is off the hook. They used the correct fluid type.

Other than that, it seems that your car has a high incidence of low mileage transmission failure over the years.
Who told you there were chain fragments in the oil? There is no chain in your transmission.

For purposes of explaining this transmission failure, I think chain is a perfectly good description of the mechanism that transfers power between the pulleys as they expand and contract. They appear to be a cross between a chain and a reinforced rubber belt.,r:1,s:0


This was supposed to post under kizwiki’s statement that there is no chain in this transmission.

It is indeed a lot like a chain. And kizwiki’s statement, while I’m sure it was well-intentioned, implies that you can stick any fluid that says CVT on the bottle into this transmission, I’d be surprised if that’s true. Especially since Full Throttle doesn’t specify that its CVT fluid is good for Honda CVT applications.

If your cars specifications say “Use Only Honda Brand CVT Fluid” Then that’s that. Full Throttle is NOT “Honda Brand Fluid”

If you managed to get 95K miles out of ANY CVT that’s pretty good…

The debris in the pan are the remains of the drive belt, similar to a snowmobile drive belt in form and function…It may indeed have chain-like features…

Yes it is a CVT, I went into honda today to get a copy of the cars manual that says ONLY Honda CVT fluid should be used. Doesn’t seem to matter to the lube place. I think it is too coincidental that 40 miles later the transmission went. I am a full time college student putting myself through school and obviously don’t have $3200 for a new transmission. Any thoughts on pursuing this? In the mean time I either need to get it fixed or think about getting a new car.

Honda wanted to change the fluid to make sure that they didnt just put in the wrong fluid when they started to drain it he called to tell me that there were chain like pieces coming out and that I would indeed need a new transmission. Thank you for the attachments as well. Oh and one more thing I can’t find any contact info for full throttle, looks like they’re in Germany. Any ideas?

One relevant point to keep in mind was mentioned by Caddyman - in general, CVTs have been problematic and pretty much no one repairs/rebuilds them. Killing transmissions with the wrong fluid absolutely happens. I’m struggling with how - if the issue is the wrong fluid - it has pieces of your drive belt/chain in the bottom of the pan after all of 40 miles.

Can you describe exactly how the car drove for those 40 miles? And exactly how it failed?

There is a transmission expert (transman618) who comes through these boards from time to time. He would be in the best position to give actual expert judgment. Hopefully he will stop by.

The only Honda spec it meets is “Honda ATF Z-1”. But that, unfortunately, is not what Honda uses in their CVT’s…

OK, here’s Honda’s regular ATF-Z1 transmission fluid which Full throttle’s website says their fluid meets.

At one point the Honda company dropped the CVTT fluid and said to use the ATF-Z1. Then they brought the CVTT fluid back. I can’t argue with Honda’s engneers, but it looks to me as though the ATF-Z1 may have caused problems for their CVTTs.

Check this out:

Perhaps the OP should join the Civic forum and ask his question there.

I run an auto repair shop. Under no circumstances will we ever put anything other than Honda CVT fluid in a Honda CVT car, Nissan CVT fluid in a Nissan CVT car, etc. You can infer for yourself why.

The wrong fluid killed the trans. This is problem with trans services from quickie lube shops, they use “generic” fluids. Stocking all the different fluids required by the various auto trans manufacters would require too much space, and money for inventory so they just use a few generic fluids to keep it simple. The result is poor performing and in some cases destroyed transmissions.

You are going to have to play “hard ball” with the quickie lube shop, meaning you are going to sue them for damages in court. Gather all the evidence you can to present to a small claims court judge. Since the trans in the car was “used” you might get the quick lube place to pay for 1/2 of the repair costs. Go for the whole repair bill but you might have to settle on a lessor amount.

Ask your Honda Dealer to put in writing exactly how the transmission failed, and what the cause of the failure was. This needs to be on their Honda dealer letterhead. You can then use this as Exhibit A when you take the Lube Shop to small claims court.

And you are going to have to take them to small claims court, as this will be the only way to get your money back from them for the transmission service, and for the repair of your ruined transmission.

And don’t ever put a non-OEM fluid into a CVT transmission ever again.
You’re just asking for trouble anytime you do.


Is this the first time the transmission fluid has been changed in this car? The CVT in the 1st generation Civic Hybrid is known to have problems. Honda originally recommended changing the fluid every 30,000 miles, because of transmission issues I know many owners started changing more frequently (between 10,000-15,000 miles).

Honda Hybrid Thing Of Beauty.


THEY ARE 100% RESPONSIBLE…what on earth is their answer to you? Tell them that you have a certified note from Honda stating that no other fluid is acceptable to use in this transmission…They have no excuse…and they told you what they used…RIDICULOUS…they ruined your tranny…simple as that… Tell them you have something from Honda stating this and you should call the headquarters of this luby Duby shop…talk to upper management and tell them what took place…They have no out here… They owe you a transmission and INSTALLATION…they caused it…

Yes, using the wrong transmission fluid can damage an automatic. Honda’s are very picky about the fluid, especially the CVT’s. Like I tell everyone. DONT EVER let anyone but a certified transmission tech work on or even service your automatic transmission. Stay away from those fast lube places. Its bad enough that they can mess up a motor, but trust them with an automatic transmission? Especially a CVT?? NO WAY…