VW Eurovan downshifting on steep grades

I have a 2003 VW Eurovan that had it’s transmission rebuilt in 2011. In 2012, we were going up a steep mountain road approx. 25 mph and the van downshifted into first gear. We tried everything from speeding up to pulling over and letting it cool down to turning the engine off and on. It would only upshift into the correct gear when we reached the crest of the hill and started going downhill. As I live in San Diego, there are no hills high enough to reproduce this with city driving and so it never happened again until we went back to the same place this year and at almost the exact same spot on the road. We took a trip later in the year to Oregon where we encountered many uphill grades and each time we hit a steep part and going around 20-30 mph, the van would downshift again either into first or second gear, and each time upshifting when we started going downhill. At the end of this last trip, a new whining noise appeared and is present everyday we drive and gets louder and higher pitched the faster we go. We have taken the van numerous times to the dealership who says there are no engine codes to suggest a problem and their last assessment was the downshifting may be an overheating problem and the whining noise was definitely from the transmission indicating a bearing problem and they suggested getting the transmission rebuilt again. The transmission shop states that the transmission is fine by the fact that the fluid is in good shape, the transmission is basically “dumb” and only does what the computer tells it to and therefore it is a computer problem and the whining noise, although new, is just a normal noise that all transmissions make. Each place points me in the direction of the other but neither has solved my problem. Can anyone help me with this dilemma? Is this a safety issue for future long trips? Can anyone recommend a good VW Eurovan mechanic in the San Diego area?

It doesn’t surprise me it shifts into first on a steep hill. Do you visit VWVortex and TheSamba? LOTS of VW owners on those two sites, somebody might be able to help you. As might somebody here. It has the 2.8l V6 with front-wheel drive, right? It’s still pretty heavy (4300 lbs) for that engine. How heavily loaded were you? People/cargo?

“The transmission shop states that the transmission is fine by the fact that the fluid is in good shape”

Bwahahahahaha. Did someone say that to you with a straight face? It’s true that fluid condition can give you some clues to what kind of shape it is in. But that’s mostly if the fluid is really nasty, black and burned up. Other than that, having the fluid look ok tells you nothing. (It does cast a hint of doubt on the overtemp problem, though I admit to having had the same thought).

Basically, it sounds like neither place has really bothered to try to sort it out. The key, however, may be that they have to be able to reproduce the shifting condition. As for the whining, if that’s always there for them to hear then you should be getting better responses than that. Does it only whine while you are moving? Or can you still hear it even while sitting still and in gear?

What kind of transmission shop is this? The kind that might have multiple locations all over the country? They should be more serious about getting you a diagnosis and you might need to find a different transmission shop.

Roadhaus.com would also have reviews for your area. Vcarshops and Roadhaus are recommended by Gowesty who rebuild these vans as well as the Vanagon’s. My uncle in Oregon has owned one of these since new and wouldn’t consider any other van. Since buying a new (or possibly remanufactured) transmission from a VW dealership in Oak Harbor Washington while we gathered for a family reunion he as purchased a new Honda CRV and uses the eurovan for local hauling needs. Even with the discount from the dealer it was over $5,000

Downshifting on steep grades is normal. Most all cars will do this. I just returned from a trip in a loaded-up Rav 4 hauling 2 adults, 2 kids, 2 dogs, and all our luggage in the truck and on the roof. The transmission downshifted on just above every moderate uphill slope toaintain speed. Downshifting is a sign of a transmission working harder, and it will heat up. Overheating is a concern here.

Now, the whining is a different story. If a bearing is starting to make noise, it will only get worse. If the transmission is still under warranty, the trans shop should fix this on their dime. Since the fluid looks good and not burnt, I don’t think you severely overheated the transmission on the uphill trip. The fluid usually tells the story.