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Discussion Starter #1 (Edited)
Ok, contained here are the full instructions on changing the fluid in an Element’s automatic transmission.

Way back when in this thread (which has some good info not covered here) I said I would do this....so here it is....I hope it helps!

This first section answers some FAQs and gives some background to the fluid and replacement procedures, the second covers tools and materials, the third & fourth involves the trans fluid, and the fifth filter replacement.

General Info & Details:

how do I check the fluid level? Check the level with the fluid hot. Not just "drive around the block warm," you want to drive at least 5-10miles/15 minutes or so. The vehicle should be parked in a level spot. With the motor still running, slowly run the gear selector up and down thru all the gear positions. Return it it park and shut the motor off. Pull the dipstick immediatly, wipe it off and reinsert it. Pull it out and look at the level. It should be near the top of the range. Check the fluid for "condition" also....you want it to be a nice bright red color and not smell burnt. When reinstalling the dipstick be sure to position the handle facing towards the breather pipe next to the dipstick hole.

when should the fluid be changed? According to my owners manual, every 120k miles or so. I think it may have been reduced to 90k on some newer model. It is rather vague about changing it based on “condition.” Either way, this is not often enough IMHO. I suggest every 60k, or even sooner if you tow often or the vehicle gets used hard. I’ve been doing mine about every 20k miles since it reached 30k.

If your fluid looks dirty, isn’t a nice red/dark red color, or smells burnt, it needs to be changed.

When the fluid is drained, about 60% of it stays in the trans/torque converter. More frequent changes ensure there is plenty of good fluid in your transmission.

what about “flushing” the transmission? Be careful, the term often means that a “power flush” is performed and may include chemicals not normally found in Honda trans fluid. Honda says do not do this. I agree, and so do many others.
If by “flushing” you/they mean draining the fluid, refilling, operating the car a bit, and then repeating the drain & fill process several times, then it is a perfectly acceptable way of replacing the fluid.

where is the filter? The dealer says it doesn’t have one? It has an inline filter located low and just in front of the radiator. Honda says replacement is only necessary if the transmission is rebuilt or replaced. I like to replace it every other fluid change, but I’m sure every 60k miles is plenty.

what kind of fluid do I need? Can I use synthetic? Honda recommends replacement with Honda ATF-Z1 only. I personally don’t recommend anything else, but some claim good results (or bad results!) with aftermarket fluids. Use the search feature and your best judgments and please don’t clog this DIY thread up with fluid, Amsoil, etc discussion.

The official Honda specified fluid capacities are:
4wd - 3.3 quarts at change, and holds 7.6qt overall
2wd - 3.4qt at change, and holds 7.2qt overall

what about drain plug torque specifications? The drain plug is M18x1.5 pitch and should be torqued to 36lb-ft (49N-m). It uses a special crush washer.

I overheated the trans and now the fluid smells bad, what should I do? Change it. Do a full “flush,” drain & fill and repeat 3 times. It may save it, or at least prolong replacement.

What about a transmission cooler? The Element has one built into the radiator. It should be flushed (or replaced) whenever the trans is replaced or rebuilt to avoid contaminating the new trans. An auxilary tran cooler is a good idea for anyone that does serious towing. Do a search and/or check the towing section of the EOC for more information. Most install "inline," much like the filter.
 

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Discussion Starter #2 (Edited)
Before Getting Your Hands Dirty

Disclamers:
I have an ’04, and things may vary slightly for 5speed auto models, but not much. I’m not a professional, nor do I play one on TV….I didn’t even stay in a Holiday Inn Expess last night. This is just my experience with changing the fluid & filter in my Element. If it doesn’t work out well for you “woops, I tried.” Don’t complain to me if your car blows up. Be sure to work safely with jacks, ramps, and tools. Wear eye protection, sun block, and if necessary, use proper birth control.


Tools & Materials:

Tools: You won’t need anything fancy.

Ramps are not required for fluid replacement; instead it is recommended that the fluid be drained from a level vehicle. They would however be very handy for replacing the filter. I like to slide around under the car on an old piece of cardboard.


Note cardboard for sliding easily on gravel & concrete.

Cars are heavy, try not to let it fall on you.


3/8” drive ratchet wrench. Used for removing the drain plug.

A drain pan. Check with your local recycling place/auto parts store, the may allow mixing with engine oil, or they might not.

Funnel. A nice long one or an extension tube too so you can refill w/o making a mess.


Sorry, the crush washer is shown here. :twisted:

For filter replacement you’ll need a flat blade screw driver, 10mm wrench, and pliers.





A big hammer….just because.

If you’d like to be all official, you’ll need a torque wrench for tightening the drain plug.

Materials:

Crush Washer: you’ll need 1, they ensure a proper seal when reinstalling the plug. Spend the $1 and keep your life simple.

Fluid: Honda ATF-Z1 - get 4 quarts, because you’ll use about 3.5qts for a simple drain & fill. Get 11-12qts if you’re "flushing." (drain & refill X3 = 10.5qt approx)

Filter: optional of course, but relatively inexpensive, just a pain in the butt to access.



Oh yeah….you’ll need some shop rags too.
 

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Spaceholder

Trans Fluid Change. (Drain & Fill)

Do this with a nice warm transmission, but be careful not to get burned. It doesn’t need to be “hot,” 5-10 minutes of driving should do it.

You can/should do this w/ the vehicle flat on the ground.

There is a plug w/ a 3/8” square in it located on the bottom right (pass side) or the trans.


(shown w/ plastic skirt removed)

It is slightly hidden behind that plastic skirt. You don’t need to remove the skirt, the rachet will just rub on it a bit. Make sure there isn’t any junk to keep the ratchet handle from fully inserting in the plug recess. It will be tight. If you need to, use an extension pipe or give the end of the handle a smack with a hammer. Be sure everything fits nicely together…don’t strip out the square hole in the plug.


see how it still works with the skirt in place?

Slide the pan under the plug after you’ve loosened it but before you remove it. Remove the plug and let the fluid drain. I start the engine for ½ a minute or so, which gets another ½-3/4 quart or so to pump out of the trans.



Clean off the magnetic end of the plug. Don’t be surprised to see some metallic sludge on the magnet, it is very common.

Reinstall the plug with a new crush washer and torque to 36lb-ft/49N-m. When using a new crush washer you can actually feel the washer "squish" and the plug will be plenty tight.

Refill with fresh fluid thru the dipstick hole. A long funnel helps a lot.



Dump in 3 quarts, and then go easy and add just ¼-1/3 quart more. Run the motor and slowly shift the trans selector thru all of the gear settings and back to park.

Shut the motor off and check the level. Don’t be surprised if it just barely registers on the dipstick. If it isn’t registering at all add another ¼ quart. It doesn’t take much to make it move up the dipstick. I always end up replacing with 3.75 (or so) quarts total, but go slow so you don’t overdo it. Once it is registering on the dipstick near the safe level take the car for a ride. Make it at least 10 minutes or so.

The fluid needs to be checked when it is hot. Park it someplace level and immediately check the level again. You may need to repeat this several times, adding just a bit of fluid each time so you don’t overfill it.
If you overfill, don't panic...you can loosen the plug and let some dribble out, just be carefull when you retighten.

When you’re done, replace the dipstick with handle pointed toward breather pipe next to the dipstick hole. (I don't know why, but Honda says so. :wink:)


Clean up your tools and have a beer for me!
 

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Trans Fluid Change. (Drain & Fill)

Trans Fluid “Flush” (3X Drain & Fill)

If your fluid is really old, or you’d just like to replace all you fluid, follow the above drain and fill, but repeat 2 more times. (3 drains & 3 fills)

After you do the first drain, replace the plug, but you can just make it snug and reuse the original crush washer.

Refill with 3-1/2 quarts (you don’t need to be exact) of fluid. Replace dipstick, run the gear selector slowly thru all the positions, and drive a short distance (around the block is fine). Return home and repeat these drain & fill procedures.

You should drain and refill three times. You'll be adding more than 10qts total to a transmission that holds a bit more than 7, so it should be pretty clean. You can do 4 or 5 times if you've got the fluid and the desire.

After the last drain would be the right time to replace the filter and install a new crush washer.

Follow the instruction above for getting the final fill level just right.
 

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Trans Fluid “Flush” (Drain & Fill X3)

Filter Replacement

It helps if the car is on ramps when changeing the filter, but you want it level for draining the trans. I recomend doing the filter first for a simple drain & fill, or afterwards if you are doing a Drain & Fill X3 "flush."

The filter is a bit of a pain to access. It is just below the radiator and hidden behind the front bumper/frame area. It is a simple inline filter, held in place by a clamp with a single M6 screw.


It is probably best to remove the lower bumper skirt....



...but I get away with loosening it and the lower portion of the front bumper. Pull out about 8 plastic bumper clips and remove the two hex head screws (M6 w/ a 10mm tool size) on the lower front corners. I jam a small wood 2x4 block (about 6” long) between the frame and the plastic to keep the bumper skirt pulled away so my fat fingers & tools fit in there better.





The red circle indicated the screw that clamps the filter tight, the blue circle is a squeeze (hose) clamp.

Remove the screw. (10mm tool size) A ratcheting box end wrench is best, but you can do it in less than 20 minutes with a regular wrench. :roll:


Note: this view is from under the car looking forward, the head of the screw is on the opposite side.

Then wiggle the clamp off the filter and pull the filter and hoses down.


This view is from front of vehicle, under bumper looking towards motor

Give the clamps a squeeze w/ some wide pliers and slide the hose clamps back about an inch or 2 from the filter. Pull out the filter and replace with the new one, and slide the hose clamps back in place. Note the direction of the filter. It will only go back in the clamp if you face it in the proper direction.






After getting the filter up in place, and the clamp cover oriented properly, you get to enjoy getting the screw started in the hole and tightened down.

Replace the plastic skirt and stuff you removed/moved. You only lose a small amount of fluid when replacing the filter.
 

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The following post repeated here by request of OP. —Moderator

i know Aprilia Guy added a disclaimer to his very awesome and thorough essay on changing the A/T fluid - but he should go back (if possible) and add a couple things in his disclaimer for those who have the newer (2009+) 5 speed A/T and who may not make it here to the 9th page of this thread to read these changes for the newer Elements:

1) my 2009 Service Manual says the drain procedure for the 5 speed 4WD only removes 2.6 qts of the total 7.6 qts (2.7 qts of total 7.2 qts for 5 speed 2WD), not the 3.3 qts that you get from the old 4 speed A/T (my 2009 Owners Manual neglects to give any trans fluid capacity)... so those with 2009+ Elements should NOT add 3.3 qts after a drain (if you only drained 2.6 qts and didn't measure it) as you'll damage your trans if you don't check the level before driving off (the fluid will foam up in the torque converter)... and since you're draining about 10% less fluid from the new 5 speed A/T than the old 4 speed A/T you may want to do it more often... i'm doing a simple trans drain-and-fill every oil change (5,000 miles), but i live in the mountains and tow a trailer occasionally and i'm absolutely anal about my A/T ---> e.g. i have a trans temperature gauge with two toggled sending units (one as the fluid comes out of the trans and one after the stock cooler) and i'm in the process of adding a trans pressure gauge (if i can find out what the approx. line pressure is in the cooler line) with two toggled sending units (one as the fluid comes out of trans and one right before it goes back in the trans) and then after i get the pressure gauge installed i'm adding an extra trans cooler (with an in-line thermostat/bypass) mounted in front of the A/C condenser with another temp sending unit to measure its performance - as i said, ANAL)... i know some may think a drain-and-fill every 5,000 miles is overkill but i read one of the posters here who is an Acura mechanic who does it with an oil change every 2,000 miles (now that's overkill)...

2) checking the A/T fluid level in the 5 speeds is also apparently different now (at least according to my Owners Manual and 2009 Service Manual): after letting it warm up (either idling until the fan comes on or a 10 minute drive) you simply put it in Park (on a level surface of course), turn off the engine and WAIT 60 seconds but not longer than 90 seconds and then check the dipstick... also my 2009 Service Manual and Owners Manual say nothing about shifting it into each gear prior to checking dipstick - although i'm sure that can't hurt...
 

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Thanks

Another great post, you 'da man!

"Clean up your tools and have a beer for me!"

I'm more inclined to have a martini or some wine, if you don't mind...

I think I should change the filter first, then replace the fluid, correct?
 

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Transmission Fluid and Filter Change Interval

ApriliaGuy,

Nice post on the transmission fluid and filter change, plus you have a great sense of humor. Great Job!
 

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Hey Will

Regarding that torque spec, I'm taking my car to an independent mechanic, photocopying the info from manual, where did you find that torque spec for ATF? It lists it in the manual for the oil crush washer.

John
 

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I guess that makes sense, more often if someone is going to do their own work, they'll change the oil (which is why they put that torque spec in the owners manual for the oil crush washer).
 

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Thanks for the great DIY, I just finished the triple transmission change on my '03, it's first @ 120k. Excellent work with the photos, and instructions everything work out perfectly. Having a beer right now.
 

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Awsome instructions

Thanks for the great instructions again. I used your post to change my rear dif fluid that was angry, worked like a charm. Thanks again
 

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Auto trans fluid change

Just some more info..........My 03' DX, auto trans has 278000 miles and I have changed the fluid 3 times with synthetic fluid with no ill effects.
 

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Trans. Filter

I went to the Honda Dealership here in Hot Springs,Arkansas and got 4 quarts of trans fluid and a crush washer,and when I asked about the Trans. Filter the guy behind the counter told me the wasn't any. I told him that there was one and told him the location of it and he told me it must be a filter for something else. 2 other guys behind the counter also said that there is no trans.filter and if there is one they dont stock it or have ever replaced one. Now that I have the part # I will go back down today and have them run the # and see what comes up,if it says trans.filter i will have to say "That it cant be because they dont have one".....hehehehe. Thanks to everyone for making this a fun and fact-filled web site.BTW...changed the fluid with N/P's and also changed out the spark plugs (146,000 miles)
 
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