Walmart drained transmission fluid during oil change

Yesterday my wife took our Subaru legacy 2019 to local Walmart for oil change. She left and car started shuddering. Took back to Walmart and they claimed too much oil and filter not tightened sufficiently. She left and same problem. I told her to take it to our mechanic (it was a Sunday) and leave it. Turns out upon inspection transmission fluid drained. No damage noted at this stage but could have premature wear and tear. Any advice on how to follow up with Walmart? Thanks!

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You need LegalTalk, not CarTalk. This is a legal problem, not a car problem. Your mechanic will advise you as to the condition of the car. What to do comes from that.

I suggest you have your mechanic do all subsequent oil changes instead of the cheap places that don’t properly train their workers.

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If car wasn’t driven very far, could be the only thing needing doing is return to correct engine oil level & to replace the transmission fluid. Sorry this occurred, but had to chuckle a little 'cause it reminds of of the time my diy’er brother-in-law made this same mistake on my dad’s car. Dad not happy … lol … In that case car wasn’t driven, problem noted when inspecting engine oil level immediately after change.

Note to OP: Suggestion here is for owner to always inspect engine oil level on dipstick before leaving shop after any shop work done, & check under car for leaks dripping onto the ground too. Then do those same things one more time before starting engine the subsequent time. Shop may seem dismayed when they see you double check their work. But the grocery store clerk probably does as well, when you double check your grocery receipt. Goes with the territory.

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Note to Subaru owners, this is a common issue due to the location and appearance of the drain plugs. Dealer or qualified shop suggested. You can ask for a dollar settlement but it has to be based on your loss. Likely they would give you a few free services which you don’t want. Gonna need to start with an assessment of the damages.

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Tester

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Driving a CVT like your Subaru without fluid is very likely to cause wear and maybe damage, hard to tell without a complete tear down. You need to get a letter from that Walmart acknowledging what they did and getting commitment from them to cover any issues for 100,000 miles, minimum. But good luck getting that. As said above, you may need a lawyer.

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I agree that you need a lawyer for this. You need the shop that has your Subaru to provide documentation and pictures backing up the claim that the transmission was drained.

Your transmission is a CVT. Unlike a geared transmission where lack of fluid just stops it from working, the ATF (special ATF BTW) is used to press the variable pulleys against the drive chain. Loss of pressure could cause damage to the chain and the pulleys.

After you get the required documentation, you may want to have the vehicle towed to a Subaru dealer for evaluation and more documentation. The dealer would know more about potential damage than I would.

Like 2x the amount of oil. If they failed to drain the engine oil and then added the required amount…yep, too much oil.

Here’s what I would do. I would ask my mechanic to summarize the problem they found on a repair order. I would leave out any speculation on damage incurred because it is just that, speculation. I would refrain from adding fluid or altering the car in any way until you can talk to Walmart.

Next, you need to decide what you want from Walmart. You have no obvious damage and therefore the only real damages you have right now are the cost of the original service and the cost for your mechanic diagnosis. What I would want additionally from Walmart is for them to cover the costs for a comprehensive diagnostic from the Subaru dealership and then any damage that is found. Perhaps an extended warranty that will cover future transmission failure.

Then I would find out who the automotive dept manager is at Walmart and have a discussion with them using the mechanic observation as evidence of their negligence. A lawyer is only needed if they balk. Lawyers are not cheap and should only be used when you have significant, real damages. Right now, you can’t prove anything was damaged.

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I might be wrong but if it is a cvt I don’t think they repair them but just replace. Too complicated.

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Thanks to all the for the excellent feedback. I thought you would like an update:

This morning I wrote a corporate complaint and asked for reimbursement of the mechanic fee we paid to correct and investigate and for acknowledgement of any future needs to the transmission due to this mistake. Response back that it was forwarded to store manager for resolution.

My wife visited the auto center at the Walmart today to request the reimbursement and statement in writing. They would not sign anything and disagreed that they made a mistake. They said they don’t touch transmission fluid and that it would take too long for them to drain it. Then they said they would know it was not oil because of color difference in the fluids. Then they said it would be impossible for us to drive the car without transmission fluid. So…all that being said, they said they would cover our mechanics cost. They paid us in cash and would not provide us any receipt showing money paid to us. I then followed up to corporate to request a copy of our complaint file and notify them of what happened and the outcome and the process they followed. I asked if this was corporate policy to distribute cash without any documentation.

So for now…I think we have gone as far as we can go. Car running smoothly so we hope no future problems! Thank you all.

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Heh heh. I had a tire repaired at Walmart at 6:00 one night 500 miles from home, so they aren’t all bad but watch yourself. Did buy a new set not long afterward though.

CVT’s are repaired. One transmission place not far from me does. I was in his shop one day and he had 3 Nissan’s on lifts while rebuilding their trannies.

CVT Transmission Rebuild in Less Than 20 Minutes - Nissan NV200 | Nissan Doctor - YouTube

Normally I’d say that by now, you can not pursue this any further, but because the local manage did not issue a receipt or check, then there is no paper trail so you can. Usually they issue a check that has fine print to the effect that you accept this is final payment for any damages.

Now you can get an opinion for a certified Subaru CVT mechanic for internal damage and get a lawyer depending on that opinion and the legal fees. Small claims court would be another option.

Is there an automatic or CVT that can be driven without fluid? I thought CVTs were hydraulically controlled. This issue should be resolved.

They likely drained a fraction (half?) the fluid. Can’t work without fluid, it has a torque converter that requires fluid.

When you drain a transmission the fluid doesn’t drain from the torque converter unless it has a drain plug.

Tester

It sounds like all is well, but I would let the local dealer change that CVT fluid. I’m a fellow Subie owner who just spoke at length to a local dealer’s service expert about CVT fluid this past month. My apologies if I missed a step, but…get that Subie to your local dealer asap. Replacing the CVT fluid in a Subie of your generation requires the car be on, running, and on the lift when it is replaced. It’s a big deal. This is the rare exception to my own rule, and Car Talk unofficial policy, that a trusted local mechanic is always the best person to work on your car. Good luck :frowning:

Thanks for all this advice! Our mechanic put the CVT fluid in. Do you think I need to take it dealer and have them swap the fluid?

Also, it was mentioned to have a CVT mechanic assess for damage. Would this be the dealership? The car seems to be running very well so hopeful all is fine.

Was it CVT fluid from the Subaru dealer? If not, I’d feel better having a full fluid exchange done with Subaru brand CVT fluid.

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The CVT fluid Subaru uses is indeed special. And the method by which it is put in is weird and special. Your mechanic may have done everything perfectly. Worth checking. My memory of the recent chat I had with the service advisor was that the fluid costs hundreds of dollars when sold as a “part.”