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Transmission problem after a trip to a quick-lube

I have a 2003 Dodge Caravan with 76,000 miles on it. I’ve never had the first problem with this van at all. Today, I stopped into a quick lube shop that I have been going to for the last 2 years. This place has a very good reputation and has won the local Newspaper’s award for best place to have your vehicle serviced for the last several years in a row.

I wanted an oil change and to have the automatic transmission serviced. This is the first time I’ve had the transmission serviced since I’ve owned the van (I’ve owned it since it brand new).

Before I had the vehicle serviced, the technician said that I would have to sign a waiver on the transmission stating there were no problems with the transmission before it was to be serviced and that they wouldn’t be held liable for any problems after it is serviced. This was my first warning, which I ignored because, as I mentioned, I trusted this place. The technician stated that they’ve had problems in the past with people who have bad transmissions, they bring it in to have it serviced, and then turn around and hold them liable for problems that were pre-existing before they brought it in. I went ahead and signed and told the technician that I have never had a problem at all with the transmission.

When the servicing was finished, I pulled the Van out on the highway, got it up to about 50mph, then started to slow down as I came to a stoplight. When I approached 30mph and the transmission downshifted from 3rd to 2nd gear, it jumped, kind of like a stutter, or a hiccup. I drove another couple of miles down the road and it kept doing the same thing. I had no problems at all except for when I brought the vehicle down to 30mph and it downshifted, it would do this little stutter every time. No problems at all shifting upwards through the gears, and no problems at all downshifting through the gears, except for what I assume is going from 3rd to 2nd gear when the van is decelerating around the 30mph mark.

I drove the van right back to the quick lube place and they all immediately got wide-eyed and defensive saying that there’s nothing they could have done to cause me having a problem like that and that it must have been something pre-existing. They reminded me of the form that I signed and they said that I needed to take it to a dealer and have them look it and there was nothing they could do for me. They did bring the van in and check all the fluid levels again and said they were fine. The technician also appeared to have put some kind of additive in the fluid this time, but he never explained to me what it was. He told me to drive it a day or two and see if it goes away and if it doesn’t, then to call a dealer.

I am absolutely infuriated by this whole scenario and I feel like a schmuck for signing that form. What recourse, if any do I have here?

There are two ways to change the transmission fluid. One is a power flush which can stir up metal shavings that are sitting on the bottom of the tranny pan, and they can get into places where they can cause things to stop working. The other is to drop the pan, remove the fluid, change the filter, replace the pan, put in new fluid.

(I think I got this right, someone will comment if I didn’t)

Appears they did the first version.

I doubt you have any recourse…

No, I didn’t know of the two methods before reading this discussion group.

The fast lube employees are correct in that a certain number of people will try to hold them responsible for pre-existing conditions so in a way I can understand the liability waiver that you had to sign.
I’m also of the opinion that if they’re going to do this then they should quit servicing transmissions entirely.

Also agreed that if they flushed the transmission that it’s at least possible something could have gotten stirred up in there.
What you should do tomorrow is drop by a reputable transmission shop and have them scan the vehicle for any codes.
As to any recourse, I doubt you have any. You can bet that waiver you signed was written up by the company attorneys and is designed word for word to cover their tails no matter what happens.

I dropped my pan over the weekend. I am too scared to get a tranny flush. Hear too many horror stories.

This is prime example as to what I and others have been saying for a long time. First of all NEVER flush a transmission without FIRST dropping the pan and changing the filter and second, STAY AWAY from those fast lube places!!! Take it to a trans shop or dealer for automatic transmission service. Drop the pan, (Note the debris in the pan), change the filter and refill using the proper fluid. Do this every 25-30k miles. I dont recommend flushes unless the fluid is contaminated.
I have 3 fast lube screw ups on my pending shelves and one on my ready shelf right now. Transmissions are way too expensive to neglect.


transman, is there anything to keep in mind or do as preventative maintenance for the 4T80-E transmission? The fluid is a light red, doesn’t smell burnt, but I don’t know when it was last changed. Tranny shifts smooth. I’ve only had the vehicle for about a month (130,000 miles on it).

They were smart to have you sign a waiver for their responsibility. Now you want legal advice from a real attorney. I have my doubts that you will get it here. Maybe there is some responsibility that they have to take. From my vast experience watching the people’s court, the law carefully defines the level of proof that you will need. I will bet that the warning you were given helps them quite a bit because it has to count for something. That something is that they paid for the other transmissions because the customer wasn’t warned of the risk.

If this is the first service in 5 years+ and 70k IMHO its a neglected tranny. However the maintenance schedule will dictate the service intervals if any.

After a fluid and filter change, these transmissions need to go through a brief period of relearning due to the change in the friction characteristics of the new vs old fluid. What you are experiencing may be perfectly normal.

However, I would be very concerned about what type of fluid they used. If it was ANYTHING other than ATF+4, it needs to be removed, and quickly.

You probably have the chrysler 4 speed ultradrive transmission. These transmissions MUST get the correct chrysler fluid (probably ATF+4). Nothing else will work.

Many shops will claim that dexron with an additive is OK. I suspect that’s what happened here.

For economic reasons, many shops only stock one fluid in bulk like Dexron III. They then add a bottle of magic stuff to make it the same…It doesn’t. I have changed fluid on many high mileage transmissions via pan drop and driven them for another 100K with no problems.

The “Ultradrive” moniker was discontinued circa 1990 due to the problems with the first few years of production. A big killer was the use of, you guessed it, Dexron (a.k.a. Deathron). The current designation for this transmission is 41TE, but it did start out as the Ultradrve.

Unfortunately, you probably have no recourse after signing that document.

But, everything in life has the potential to be a learning experience, and how you have learned (the hard way) to NEVER patronize fast-lube places if you value your engine/transmission/differential/power steering/brake hydraulic system. Their poorly trained teenaged employees usually lack any significant automotive knowledge, the management imposes intense pressure for the employees to move very quickly, they utilize very poor quality oil filters, and as you found out, they frequently don’t stock the proper fluid for a specific vehicle. Their action, as in your case, is of the “this fluid is good enough” variety, and unfortunately, that type of action has ruined many a transmission.

If you spend some time on this site, you will see horror stories like yours fairly frequently, which is why the veterans of this site recommend that you avoid these places like the plague. One of our veterans, Mr. Meehan, says “Don’t go to a quick lube place–even for directions”, and I agree with him.


if you are still reading these answers.

get the van to a TRANSMISSION SHOP. ASAP.

this could turn from a 200 buck oops, to a 1500 dollar disaster in short order. stop driving it, and get it fixed.

and… stay away form diffy lube they don’t know the difference between a flush, and a full house!

if you want to gamble go to Vegas. (at least there you have a chance at winning.)

Yes, I read through all the answers.

Thanks for the replies.

I have an appointment to take it to a local AAMCO Transmission shop tomorrow morning.

AAMCO does have that good a reputation here, although better than quick lube! Go to the top of the page, click on “search” and enter AAMCO.

woops, should be does not have that good a reputation. typo.

NO! STAY AWAY FROM AAMCO! It stands for All Automatics Must Come Out!

Seriously, many of those shops also go the Dexron+additive route, leaving destroyed clutches in their wake. Call the original place and ask them what type of fluid they used.

Seriously, how do these places stay in business, if they botch every job? I guess a few must come out ok.

And a large legal staff.

Absolutely, stay away from AAMCO, and Lee Myles, and Cottman and any other chain transmission shop. Ask friends, neighbors and co-workers for recommendations on an independent tranny shop that has been in business for at least 3 years. If you go to AAMCO, you will be charged for unnecessary repairs, possibly for the replacement of the transmission, and their work is usually of poor quality.

You have had enough bad experiences with sleazy, inept automotive people! Do yourself a favor and go to an independent shop.

Their rebuilds tend to last just long enough to make it past the warranty period. Many people will have ditched the vehicle by then, or will attribute the return of problems to the “poor design” by the manufacturer rather than the crummy rebuild or improper fluid.