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Thread: Transmission flushing at home: Really easy, really effective

  1. #1
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    Default Transmission flushing at home: Really easy, really effective

    Knowing that I blabber too often here, I don't post a lot of stuff that I personally find interesting. However, I will toss this one out there for consideration. There are 7.5 liters of ATF in the transmission. Some people think it's good for life, which it is, technically. Good right up until the life of the transmission is cut short from dirty ATF. Volvo designed a counter in the TCM (transmission control module) to monitor hours vs load. After a given amount of use, a service message will pop up. I like to error on the safe side, so I just changed mine at 15K miles to get out the "break-in" junk and other generally oxidized fluid.

    There are two schools of thought on what to do, easy and hard. Easy is to dump what is in the bottom of the transmission, and replace it. That will leave over half of the old ATF remaining, but diluted with new ATF (better than doing nothing). The hard way is to fork out $300+ to have the dealer "power flush" it to remove all the old. I read in Volvo documentation a way to flush it without the machine, but it looked like a plumbing monster involving magic proprietary wrenches to fit in impossibly tight areas. So I came up with this trick using a $4 vinyl tube, which does essentially the same thing.




    1. This is the outlet fitting at the top of the transmission cooler. The line off to the side with the o-rings is no-pressure return line back to the transmission. I pulled the line out, and put in a piece of 9/16" vinyl tube with teflon tape wrapped around the end (for a great seal) in the hole. It fits comfortably tight when pushed in, and didn't leak a drop. I put the other end of the tube in a container.

    2. Pull the plug in the bottom of the transmission. about 3.1 liters of ATF will come out. Put the plug back in, and put in 3.1 liters of new ATF (through the dipstick hole) to replace what just drained out.

    3. Start the engine. The ATF hiding in the rest of the transmission, cooler lines, and cooler will start to pump out though the vinyl tube into the container, while sucking the fresh fluid into those components. About 2.2 liters will come out before bubbles start coming out, stop the engine then. Measure it with a graduated vessel (pyrex cooking thingy I thugged from my wife), and put that much new ATF back in the trasmission. You need a helper to start and stop the engine, while you carefully monitor the flow. It takes about 1 minute.

    4. Repeat the engine start/stop cycle again, pumping out another 2.2 liters.

    5. At this point, the bad stuff will be gone and new ATF will be running clear and clean. Measure what you just pumped out, and replace that amount with new. You will be darn close to what you had in before you started, minus maybe a few CC that was left in the tube and on the container side walls. Remove tube and put real line back in cooler.

    6. Run engine until hot, and check the fluid level. Adjust to marks on the dip stick. That's it!

    Some general notes on this procedure:
    - If you can change your own oil, you can do this.
    - The ATF I pumped out at 15K miles was a dark mahogany color. In a pint canning jar, it was completely opaque, even holding it up to look at the sun through it. It is supposed to be translucent. It smelled OK. I think my trans has been working fine, my guess is that it was full of break-in particles, which are abrasive and that's why I like to get initial lubes out.
    - The drain plug has a magnet in it. Mine had a small amount (if you compiled it, it might be like a grain of rice) of black "paste" on it, that's the metalic sludge from wear. When I do my truck service, I get a table spoon of the stuff. The XC plug had no "glitter" or chunks on the magnet, like I usually expect to see coming out of a geared mechanism. That's nice.
    - I ordered 8 liters of real Volvo ATF from Borton for $90, locally it was $22 per liter. I saved enough to buy the PA-300 75w/ch stereo amp, which, by the way, is really cool.
    - These transmissions are just too complex to hope that a technician could ever re-build one correctly. Sorry, but that's how I see it. A "new" one (factory rebuilt) is $3200. The number one cause of transmission failure is dirty ATF. I think this is pretty cheap insurance. My next one will be at 50K, and 50K's after that.
    Last edited by gibbons; 08-11-2008 at 07:01 AM.
    '04 XC70, Ice White, Taupe, Premium, Touring, HID, Rear Bash Plate, Subwoofer+PA300, Nokian Hakka 2 235/60-16 + Michelin Primacy 235/55-17.
    Original owner.

  2. #2
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    Quote Originally Posted by gibbons
    Knowing that I blabber too often here, so I don't post a lot of stuff that I personally find interesting. However, I will toss this one out there for consideration. There are 7.5 liters of ATF in the transmission. Some people think it's good for life, which it is, technically. Good right up until the life of the transmission is cut short from dirty ATF. Volvo designed a counter in the TCM (transmission control module) to monitor hours vs load. After a given amount of use, a service message will pop up. I like to error on the safe side, so I just changed mine at 15K miles to get out the "break-in" junk and other generally oxidized fluid.

    There are two schools of thought on what to do, easy and hard. Easy is to dump what is in the bottom of the transmission, and replace it. That will leave over half of the old ATF remaining, but diluted with new ATF (better than doing nothing). The hard way is to fork out $300+ to have the dealer "power flush" it to remove all the old. I read in Volvo documentation a way to flush it without the machine, but it looked like a plumbing monster involving magic proprietary wrenches to fit in impossibly tight areas. So I came up with this trick using a $4 vinyl tube, which does essentially the same thing.




    1. This is the outlet fitting at the top of the transmission cooler. The line off to the side with the o-rings is no-pressure return line back to the transmission. I pulled the line out, and put in a piece of 9/16" vinyl tube with teflon tape wrapped around the end (for a great seal) in the hole. It fits comfortably tight when pushed in, and didn't leak a drop. I put the other end of the tube in a container.

    2. Pull the plug in the bottom of the transmission. about 3.1 liters of ATF will come out. Put the plug back in, and put in 3.1 liters of new ATF (through the dipstick hole) to replace what just drained out.

    3. Start the engine. The ATF hiding in the rest of the transmission, cooler lines, and cooler will start to pump out though the vinyl tube into the container. About 2.2 liters will come out before bubbles start coming out, stop the engine then. Measure it with a graduated vessel (pyrex cooking thingy I thugged from my wife), and put that much new ATF back in the trasmission. You need a helper to start and stop the engine, while you carefully monitor the flow. It takes about 1 minute.

    4. Repeat the engine start/stop cycle again, pumping out another 2.2 liters.

    5. At this point, the bad stuff will be gone and new ATF will be running clear and clean. Measure what you just pumped out, and replace that amount with new. You will be darn close to what you had in before you started, minus maybe a few CC that was left in the tube and on the container side walls. Remove tube and put real line back in cooler.

    6. Run engine until hot, and check the fluid level. Adjust to marks on the dip stick. That's it!

    Some general notes on this procedure:
    - If you can change your own oil, you can do this.
    - The ATF I pumped out at 15K miles was a dark mahogany color. In a pint canning jar, it was completely opaque, even holding it up to look at the sun through it. It is supposed to be translucent. It smelled OK. I think my trans has been working fine, my guess is that it was full of break-in particles, which are abrasive and that's why I like to get initial lubes out.
    - The drain plug has a magnet in it. Mine had a small amount (if you compiled it, it might be like a grain of rice) of black "paste" on it, that's the metalic sludge from wear. When I do my truck service, I get a table spoon of the stuff. The XC plug had no "glitter" or chunks on the magnet, like I usually expect to see coming out of a geared mechanism. That's nice.
    - I ordered 8 liters of real Volvo ATF from Borton for $90, locally it was $22 per liter. I saved enough to buy the PA-300 75w/ch stereo amp, which, by the way, is really cool.
    - These transmissions are just too complex to hope that a technician could ever re-build one correctly. Sorry, but that's how I see it. A "new" one (factory rebuilt) is $3200. The number one cause of transmission failure is dirty ATF. I think this is pretty cheap insurance. My next one will be at 50K, and 50K's after that.
    Gibbons,

    This is very helpful. Your discription sounds like something I could do in my garage and save myself $200. Thank you so much for taking time to describe your process. When a month ago I paid $280 for a flush, I did hear the same flush going on in my wallet. How many miles did you have on your original fluid?

    Thank you so much. I will save this file for future reference.

    Ta-ta, janusz
    Last edited by philosophicaldreamer; 02-06-2005 at 08:36 PM.
    Second gen., Nautical Blue XC70Volvo: "Anything else just isn't up to it" and Wife's Volvo S70: "In manual Transmission She Trusts"

  3. #3
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    Quote Originally Posted by philosophicaldreamer
    Gibbons,

    Your discription sounds like something I could do in my garage and save myself $200.
    It *is* easy and I would actually call it gratifying since everyone acts like it's black magic or something. The worst part is measuring what you pump out so you know exactly how much to put back in. I only did the measurement thing because I hate trial-and-erroring the fill level on transmissions. Having done it once, I think I could do it again in about an hour.

    I should confess, and this is embarrassing, but it took me about a half hour to figure out that silly green clip. I thought it stayed in the radiator, and was trying everything I could to release the little barbs by that flare on the steel tube part. Man, it's easy, just squeeze the little external wings, push the tube inward, and then pull it out.

    by the way, your "wallet flush" comment killed me
    '04 XC70, Ice White, Taupe, Premium, Touring, HID, Rear Bash Plate, Subwoofer+PA300, Nokian Hakka 2 235/60-16 + Michelin Primacy 235/55-17.
    Original owner.

  4. #4
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    Quote Originally Posted by gibbons

    I should confess, and this is embarrassing, but it took me about a half hour to figure out that silly green clip.
    If I were you I would not be embarassed about that green clip. At least you figured out how to effectively flush the tranny. I didn't even bother to take a peek under the car to see whether I could do it myself, since everyone was talking about changing ATF as though I needed a Voodoo priestess to do this; and bear in mind that I live in the Bible belt and there ain't here any stinckin' Voodoo clergy people. So again thanks for your intelligence and good will.

    Enjoy your evening.
    Ta-ta, janusz
    Second gen., Nautical Blue XC70Volvo: "Anything else just isn't up to it" and Wife's Volvo S70: "In manual Transmission She Trusts"

  5. #5
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    Gibbons, that's really neat and most helpful.

    One small point; I understood that the oil is not "regular" ATF but some special concoction (I did have a spec: for it - somewhere), also the filler and dipstick doesn't seem to exist on my '03 - but it may have been moved to deter me.

    Any comments?
    Mike.

    Mine: XC 70 Sport 2009 D5 Inscription Electric Blue.
    VNS, DSTC and 4C, BLIS, LDW ventilated leather ACC; Yummy.

    All gone now - XC70 MY 13 SE LUX Flamenco red - goes better than the '09 even with its "Polestar plus" upgrade. I justy miss the PCC...


    Hers: V60 Flamenco Red 215HP D5 (like above XC70 spec)

  6. #6
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    Love it Gibbons! Excellent write up. While it is supposedly life-time fluid, Volvo really only cares about the life of the warranty. And once the warranty is over repair work becomes a big profit maker for both Volvo and the dealers, so why encourage preventive maintenance.

    We need as many of these DIY tutorials as possible. Based on what I have seen after a 15 months of ownership the quality of Volvo dealership service is a crap shoot. Some techs are great and some simply are not trustworthy. When I do it myself, while it is still possible to screw things up, at least I know exactly what was done and whether or not it was done the way I want.
    '04 XC70, Ash Gold / Taupe, Premium, Touring, Tinted Rear Glass, Rear Skyddsplåt, Wing Profile Load Bars, USA Spec 11,
    StonGard Light Protection, Yokohama YK740 GTXs, Moog Sway Bar Links, ipd HD TCV, subframe & top brace poly bushing inserts,
    TitaniumTim XC Cup-holder Coasters.

  7. #7
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    Hey Mike, I looked in my documentation for earlier model years (mine is a 2004), and it referenced a dispstick for earlier cars, too. I can't imagine filling the trans without one to use as a gauge. On mine (going from memory of two days ago), there is about a 1" gap between the "hot" mark (80c) and the "cold" mark (60c) on the stick. For the hot and the cold, there is a small range that is supposed to be .2 liters.

    That's one thing I hate about automatic transmissions, reading while the engine is running and it's so temperature dependent. I have a graph showing the upper and lower range across the spectrum of temperatures. I used my laser point infrared thermometer to check the transmission temperature to verify that my "measure and replace" method was accurate.

    Anyway, back to Mike's dilema, how could you accurately fill a temperature dependent device with one a fill hole? Do you do it hot or cold? Engine running or stopped?

    Anyone else missing a dipstick?
    '04 XC70, Ice White, Taupe, Premium, Touring, HID, Rear Bash Plate, Subwoofer+PA300, Nokian Hakka 2 235/60-16 + Michelin Primacy 235/55-17.
    Original owner.

  8. #8
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    Great tip.

    One question.
    Since you already figured out the green clip, could you explain it in type or would it take too many hand gestures to effectivley explain it
    2001 XC Java
    1994 Dodge Dakota 4WD 5 speed 305,000 RIP
    2006 Toyota Tundra SR5 crew cab

  9. #9
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    Thanks for the description of how to flush transmission. Would never know how to do this without this info. I believe that all transmissions and especially turbo and awd must be flushed. No matter what type of fluid is in there. I still believe that the original transmission fluid is crazy at that price. I would like to know dealer cost of this. I bet that there is an eight dollar or more a quart markup. The dealer uses the list price...Any item at list price is high...Look at auto parts stores--list price--10.00--sell for 5.00..Some oil company has to be making this fluid..So I cannot see how special it can be...Thanks

  10. #10
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    Default ATF fluid

    I sent Mobil an e-mail about the Synthetic brand they have and this was the reply when I asked if they had a substitute for the Volvo ATF fluid.

    Mobil does not have a product that will meet your vehicle requirements.

    Looks like $100 for a tranny flush
    2001 XC Java
    1994 Dodge Dakota 4WD 5 speed 305,000 RIP
    2006 Toyota Tundra SR5 crew cab

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