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PostPosted: Mon Mar 16, 2009 10:27 am 
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Retired Gearhead
Retired Gearhead
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Joined: Mon May 19, 2008 12:35 pm
Posts: 3989
Location: Ames, Iowa
Year and Trim: 98 Caravan is the daily driver 215K
Drop and Clean Transmission Pan / Change Filter (Partial change of trans fluid) Co-author: Slug

Photos, field test, and text revision by slug; draft text and final editing by bill buttermore. Thanks to agrazela, Bugsi, Archon, 2000Silverbullet, other gearheads and staff for selected photos, detailed review and helpful comments.

The procedure described was performed on a 1994 Bonneville SLE, other years and models similar.

Skill level required to perform this procedure = 6 where:
1 = I can’t raise my car because I don’t know anyone named “jack.”
2 = I can pump my own gas
3 = I can change a burned out brake light bulb
4 = I can change my own oil and filter
5 = I can change my valve cover gaskets
6 = I can drop my transmission pan without losing any parts or damaging anything
7 = I can change my water pump and nothing will leak when I am done
8 = I can change my upper intake manifold and lower intake manifold gaskets
9 = I can replace the crankshaft in my engine
10= I can rebuild my own transmission

Time required to perform this procedure is about three hours the first time you do it.

This is the least expensive, yet very effective method for removing debris, and (partially) changing transmission fluid. You will only be able to change about half of the fluid with this method; the remainder will be retained in the torque converter and parts of the trans that will not drain to the pan when the engine is not running. The image below shows the condition of the transmission fluid before and after two pan drops and partial fluid changes.

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Disclaimer: Read all of these instructions before beginning to work. If you decide to perform the described work on your own car, realize that you do so at your own risk. The authors will not be held responsible if you injure or kill yourself, or ruin your tranny or anything else as a result of following these instructions. If you have any doubts that you can perform this work safely, take your car to a qualified shop and pay to have this work done.

Stuff you will need: First of all, you need a clean area, free from blowing dust and debris before you even consider opening the transmission. Then you need a jack, jack stands, wheel chocks, very wide drain pan, smaller plastic cleaning pan, cleaning brush, some kerosene or other cleaning solvent, 10mm socket wrench (preferably a six-point), creeper or old carpet, piece of styrofoam or cardboard to lie on, funnel for adding transmission fluid (must fit dipstick tube), goggles, old clothes, nitrile gloves, rags, gasket scraper, wire brush, a couple of plastic gallon jugs, lint-free paper towels (coffee filters work nicely), a couple of gallons of Dexron III transmission fluid, a new trans filter from your local auto parts house, some newspaper, and a fluid transfer pump if you over-fill the transmission.

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Check and make note of the level of transmission fluid when the car is warmed up, sitting level, and idling in park. The level should be within the hatch-marked area of the dipstick. Replace the dipstick in the tube when you are done. First, it keeps dirt out, and second, it prevents the loss of the dipstick. You may be surprised how easy it is to lose one, and how hard it can be to find a proper replacement!

Don't attempt to drop the pan on a hot transmission or with the car at operating temperature. The fluid gets hot enough to cause serious burns. Feel the bottom of the pan with your hand. If you can stand to leave your palm against the bottom of the pan, place the inside of your forearm against the pan. If you can stand that, it is probably cool enough to drain.

Gearhead Dick says if you have a transfer pump, it makes the job a lot easier (and less messy) if you pump as much fluid out of the pan as you are able before dropping it. He also bought this really neat pan to catch all the drips.

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Whether you pumped out some fluid or not, the next step is to raise the car on a level, hard surface and support it with jack stands under the front sub-frame. Set the parking brake and chock the rear wheels. Open the hood. Place newspapers under the transmission pan. Scrape and wipe any accumulated dirt or crud from around the transmission pan and gasket. If the bolts are dirty, clean up the heads with a wire brush. Wrap up and discard the newspaper and the crud.

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Place a large drain pan under the transmission pan. We want to lower one corner of the pan without bending the sealing surface (the edge of the pan) on the opposite side. If we were to remove all the bolts except, say, three in one corner, the weight of the transmission pan and fluid would bend the pan near the corner that was still attached. We want to avoid that. Here is one way to do it.

Gradually loosen all, but do not remove, the pan bolts in a criss-cross pattern. Loosen the bolts in one corner toward the rear of the car more than the other bolts until fluid begins to drain from that corner or anywhere in the rear. You may find that the fluid will begin to drain with just a half-turn of the bolts. Further loosen the bolts from the corner or rear where the fluid is draining and work your way forward, loosening the bolts from the rear (or rear corner) toward the sides. You should get a gentle, controllable flow of up to three our four solid streams of fluid.

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After 5 or 10 minutes, about five quarts of fluid from the transmission will have been drained leaving a little over a quart in the pan. After the dripping stops, remove all of the bolts except for any three of the corner bolts. Lift up, and support the center of the pan with one hand, and remove the last three corner bolts with the other. Lower one corner of the pan in an attempt to keep the fluid flowing into the pan on the ground. Empty the remaining fluid from the pan. This part goes quite nicely. Overall, if you have kept all the fluid in the drain pan and got none on yourself, you are a better mechanic than most.

Inspect the bottom of the pan. Note the position of the magnet. Normal wear will produce a layer of fine dark particles of clutch material, although you may find the pan much cleaner than that, if your transmission happened to have had service work before you bought the vehicle. Fine ferrous metal particles will be clinging to the magnet. You may find a piece of plastic in the pan - not to worry. If you find a lot of larger, sparkly metal, or a big chunk of metal, that is not a good thing and may be a warning that your trans will not last much longer. The first image below (Thanks Joe!) shows how dark and dirty the fluid can get. This can happen when the trans gets really hot and/or is used for heavy service like towing. The second image (Thanks Dick!) is from a transmission whose fluid smelled burned, was shifting rough, and showed clutch material on the dipstick.

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Above image courtesy of Archon

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Check the gasket. If you have an original rubber and metal gasket, carefully remove it from the trans or the pan for re-use. It will seal better than a replacement cork gasket. If you find a cork gasket, completely remove it from the transmission being careful not to scratch the soft aluminum as you do. Be very careful not to get any dirt, hair, leaves, lint, etc. inside the transmission. If you have a rubber and metal gasket, clean it carefully and examine it for damage. It must be very clean before you re-install it. If you find damage, buy a new gasket. Check the sealing surfaces of the pan to make sure they are flat. If, in spite of your best efforts, the pan bent, straighten it or replace it with a pan from a salvage yard. Clean the pan and magnet so that it looks like new. Clean the bolts in solvent. Clean the outside of the pan. Use coffee filters or brake parts cleaner and compressed air to remove any lint from the inside of the pan. Replace the magnet where it was. Remember, transmissions need to be kept meticulously clean. If you introduce lint or dirt, it would have been better if you had not touched the trans.

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Let the transmission drip into the drain pan for about 15 minutes. It might take you that long to clean the pan and gasket. Then get back underneath the car. Remember to keep the trans clean. Don't rub your filthy old jacket up against the trans. Look up to find the filter. There are no bolts or clips to hold it in the 4T60-e transmission. Only the friction fit of the plastic tube of the filter holds the filter in place in the upper seal in the transmission casing.

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Try wiggling the filter left and right in order to loosen it. Then pull the filter straight down in the area around the tube as you continue to wiggle.

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If the filter will not come out, locate or fabricate a clean piece of plastic or soft wood approximately 1/2" x 3/4" x about a foot long to use as a lever. A slice from a stiff, plastic cutting board removed with a hacksaw and carefully cleaned of loose bits works nicely, (preferably from one that has not been recently stolen from the kitchen :roll: )

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Place the lever as shown in the photo below. Carefully pry straight down near the tube as you wiggle. The adjacent gasket flange makes a convenient fulcrum. Don't use a screwdriver or any other metal tool to pry down on the filter or you could damage the gasket sealing surface causing a leak. Do not pull or pry on the filter on the corners away from the plastic tube -- this will almost certainly break the plastic tube off in the transmission . When you have pried the filter down far enough, turn the lever to the wider dimension to pry the filter the rest of the way out. Make sure your drain pan is still in place. When the filter comes out, a good bit more trans fluid will come out with it. Also, the filter holds a good bit of fluid that you will want to drain and measure.

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Did the seal around the tube come out with the old filter? If it did, shine a bright light up into the hole to make sure it is nice and clean. If it's clean, install the new seal into the trans using an appropriately sized socket and extension. Be careful that your tools are perfectly clean and be careful not to scratch the bore as you tap the new seal into place up against the flange. The seal is pretty tight, it does take some solid tapping to get the new seal in place. If the seal stayed in place in the trans, shine a light into the hole and inspect the seal. If it looks okay, install the new filter into the old seal. If the old seal is cracked, brittle, or gives any indication that it might not seal properly, you may want to replace it with the new seal. To remove the old seal, very carefully use a small screwdriver to bend the edge of the old seal inwards at one point, far enough to allow you to grasp the old seal with a pair of long-nose pliers to pull it out. Be very careful not to scratch the bore. Wipe the bore clean with some fresh transmission fluid and install the new seal as described above.

Did the plastic tube on the old filter break leaving pieces stuck in the transmission? If so, gently break the remaining bits of plastic tube out by tapping the broken edges inwards with a small screwdriver and pulling the shards out with a pair of long-nose pliers. Be sure to inspect the casing hole with a strong flashlight. Use a bit of coffee filter wrapped around a small screw driver and sweep any debris or dirt out in a downwards motion. Then use another piece of filter paper lightly wetted with clean transmission fluid around your little finger and clean the hole thoroughly. Make sure you leave no small bits in the transmission.

Did a small, bent strip of spring steel fall out when you removed the filter? This is a thermostatic element that controls the flow of fluid when the transmission gets hot.

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This is where the strip came from:
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Make sure the strip is clean, then simply re-install it between the two posts near the hole for the filter tube. It goes in with the point of the “V” pointing upwards as shown in the image below. Place the shorter end of the strip under the head of the post nearest to the filter tube, then bend the strip enough to hook the other notched end under the other post.

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Prepare the new filter by applying a coating of fresh transmission fluid to the outside end of the tube. Then wiggle and push the tube up into the seal by hand as far as it will go. The filter only needs to go in far enough so that the bottom of the filter clears the inside bottom of the pan. When the filter is in place, carefully wipe it clean with a coffee filter.

Clean the gasket sealing surface on the transmission. Look carefully to make sure everything is nice and clean. If you see any debris, carefully remove it. Replace the gasket and the pan. Install the bolts and tighten them finger-tight in a criss-cross pattern. Then tighten all the bolts to about 10 foot-pounds (120 in-lbs) of torque if you have the factory rubber and steel gasket. If you are using a cork gasket, tighten the bolts to about 7 foot-pounds (84 in-lbs). If you don't have a torque wrench, use a 1/4"-drive handle and an extension that passes through your two middle fingers. Tighten by just twisting your fist. It will be difficult to over-tighten that way.

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Using a funnel, pour the fluid you drained from the transmission into the gallon jugs for disposal. Make note of how much fluid you removed. Replace the same amount of fresh fluid (less one quart) through the dipstick tube using a narrow funnel. Did you spill it all, or otherwise lose the measurement? The trans holds about 21-22 pints of fluid total. You might drain about a gallon and a half (12 pints). Sometimes the torque converter partially drains and you get some more. The key is to add less fluid than you removed, then slowly add until you have it topped up. It is easy to add fluid to the transmission if you have not added enough, but really difficult to remove if you have added too much. After you have added a quart or so less than you removed, start the engine and check the pan for leaks. If the pan looks okay, turn the car off and take it off the stands so that it is sitting level on the ground. Start it back up and check the transmission fluid level. Add a little at a time until the level is correct on the dipstick. If, in spite of your best efforts, you overfill the trans, buy a transfer pump with a hose small enough to fit down the dipstick tube, to remove the excess fluid. You can buy one at Harbor Freight for less than $10 that will work fine.

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Look underneath and check for leaks. Check again in a week, then again in a month. You may need to snug up the bolts to stop the trans from seeping, especially if you used a cork gasket.

_________________
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1998 3.8 Dodge Caravan 214K
2000 3.3 Dodge Caravan 175K
1949 Plymouth Special Deluxe 4-dr sedan 25K (needs some work!)


Last edited by bill buttermore on Thu Aug 05, 2010 10:48 am, edited 3 times in total.

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