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Greetings all,

At issue is a 2003 EX AWD AT, with 150K miles on it. Driving my daughter home from college (thanks, Covid-19) we experienced a weird phenomena. Straight, flat highway, about 72 mph, when it suddenly downshifted -- twice. I watched the tach shoot up twice in the space of 3 seconds. My daughter says, "yeah, it does that." For the remaining 40 miles, it wouldn't downshift while at a steady speed, but every 5 or 10 minutes it would slow with a shudder to about 60 mph. The accelerator had no effect while this was happening. After it got down to around 60 mph, it regained its bearings and I was able to accelerate back to 70, until it happened again.

ATF is fresh and at the proper level, rear dif fluid replaced 10K miles ago, TPS replaced two years ago. Some sensor malfunction? Computer malfunction? Other than above, it drives and shifts normally at all speeds. Thanks!
 

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I dunno. I know what I'd do but you probably don't have the equipment.
I'd stick a scanner on it and look for codes that didn't show up on the dash. Some codes don't - some codes aren't supposed to. For example, when the airbag recall is done, it sets a code that most scanners don't show and the techs never bother to reset it so most Elements are running around with a code stored for airbag failure.
If nothing shows up during the check, I'd stick a scanner on and drive until the problem happens again, then go back and look at the data to see what happened. Short of doing that, my only hazy suspicion even is that you're losing electrical power somewhere for a moment and it's making everything wobble. Look under the battery tray for a big ground cable and see if it's corroded away at the end. That's a common problem but a long shot for this issue. Sorry!
 

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Forgot to mention. If anyone is interested, Harbor Freight sells a decent OBD scanner (ZR-13) for between $160-200 that works with Honda extended and hidden codes nicely. Most capable equipment costs a LOT more.
 

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Discussion Starter #6
Forgot to mention. If anyone is interested, Harbor Freight sells a decent OBD scanner (ZR-13) for between $160-200 that works with Honda extended and hidden codes nicely. Most capable equipment costs a LOT more.
Thanks, I have a cheapo scanner I'll try. I replaced both positive and negative cable last year, so that's probably not it, but I'll make sure the connections are tight.
 

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You don't need a multi-hundred $$$ code scanner to get the codes!
Get an greentooth enabled ELM327 on fleabay for under $10 from china, if you can wait, or under $20 from Jeff's Joint (Amazon). Get an smartphone app from the appstore, or wherever, and pull the codes. Most apps get access to way more data than most people can deal with but if it throws common codes it should show up on your phone. The hardest part is getting gluetooth connectivity and that shouldn't be a strain for any but the most technologically-hampered corporate CEO - the lowest form of sentient life currently identified. The apps can even give engine temp, RPM, and all other known, important engine data. The biggest problem with the codes is that sometimes interpretation is difficult since even if it says something about a sensor readout issue, that doesn't mean it's that sensor, e.g., Ox sensor reading. It is somewhere between an art and a science interpreting the codes. The dealers and their techs get to see all the reasons a code is there by experience and manufacturer bulletins that are more specific than the state/federal mandated code can be. IIRC, all emissions-related codes must be available using the protocols that the govs approve. I think there are currently 5 protocols but new stuff is introduced constantly.
Be wary of the advice of internet geniuses many of whom have severe Dunning-Kruger syndrome. Trying to wade through the bovine excrement that is spewed out by them can be exhausting and tries my patience. I liken it to mining gold in that you have to go through a lot of worthless dirt to find the good stuf. (Sorry for the metaphor shift but I couldn't think of any reason to wade through the BS so I had to make the shift.)
I only recently got a eLement and have yet to achieve a state of oneness with them so my knowledge of their specific idiosyncrasies and temperaments is still limited. (As a retired rocket-scientist/chemist I typically go to beer to achieve that exalted state of mind but others get there... however.)
Might be a sensor in the tranny thinking it's time to downshift.That used to be done by hydraulic pressure sensors (think spring-loaded balls in a machined passage) in the AT valve body but they've replaced most of those by electronic sensors (piezo, electro-mechanical, etc.) that control a solenoid. It is more precise and involves the engine computer which is why they are called PCMs not just FI computers. Shift points are big emissions drivers, so, they are closely monitored. I can even imagine a scenario in which a bad coil (like a COP) could trigger a blip that would force a downshift. I'm not saying that's what this is but the chain of events on these failures often seem inscrutable, almost to the point of being devious. (Murphy is alive and well and he might be living near to you.)
Go to a tranny specialist if you have an aversion the dealerships. Some are fairly good and might save a ton of $$$.
 

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Greetings all,

At issue is a 2003 EX AWD AT, with 150K miles on it. Driving my daughter home from college (thanks, Covid-19) we experienced a weird phenomena. Straight, flat highway, about 72 mph, when it suddenly downshifted -- twice. I watched the tach shoot up twice in the space of 3 seconds. My daughter says, "yeah, it does that." For the remaining 40 miles, it wouldn't downshift while at a steady speed, but every 5 or 10 minutes it would slow with a shudder to about 60 mph. The accelerator had no effect while this was happening. After it got down to around 60 mph, it regained its bearings and I was able to accelerate back to 70, until it happened again.

ATF is fresh and at the proper level, rear dif fluid replaced 10K miles ago, TPS replaced two years ago. Some sensor malfunction? Computer malfunction? Other than above, it drives and shifts normally at all speeds. Thanks!
 

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If the symptoms were solely "won't go above 3,000-ish RPM," this could be the VTEC valve assembly. I mention it because I have a Honda E with the same mileage, and my valve just started leaking.

Here's a video.

And the OEM part. You can get it under 50 bucks if you go non-OEM, but the original part lasted 150K miles, & I read some horror stories about the Dorman part, so I will go original.

Genuine Honda 15810-RAA-A03 Spool Valve Assembly
 

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I had the same problem a few times, it’s VTEC Buttttt Can easily be just the screen in the solenoid. Very very easy to replace. Can access it easily. Top of engine, left side when facing it. Go back almost to firewall.
3 bolts remove front of solenoid to remove part with screen/filter. See if clogged, spray to ‘clean’ it. There is a youtube showing you these parts. Search this EXACT Title
2003 Honda Element 2.4I All wheel drive. No Vtec P2646 ?
 

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I believe you can get it scanned for free at Auto Zone. It sounds like its going into "Safe Mode" which it will do if there is a problem with the drive train. When in Safe Mode you loose the overdrive and the engine won't go over like 3000 RPM's.
 

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Discussion Starter #12
I love it when a plan comes together. Safe Mode seems likely, I experienced that once before in a Chrysler LHS. Time to pop some parts, then report back.
 

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One suggestion: keep downshifting pre-turn, but quit the downshifting as you approach red lights.

The former makes sense as it allows you to accelerate through and out of the turn.

The latter isn’t really necessary in most circumstances. Rather, keep it in whatever gear you are in until you are starting to really drop down in RPMs (ie before you start bogging out), then put it into neutral and coast the rest of the way.

To me, this would be a good compromise in terms of preserving your clutch/gearbox and still having some fun on the bendies.
 

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Discussion Starter #15
VTEC it was! Bought a new non-OEM assembly and, due to its location, I brought it to a non-Honda dealer that I trusted who had a couple of elves on his staff. Acceleration, such as it is, is back and no problems on the highway above 3000 rpm. Thank you, Owners Club!
 

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You don't need a multi-hundred $$$ code scanner to get the codes!
I waited until this thread reached a conclusion to answer this but i wanted to clarify something that 2sheds posted about engine and trouble codes. 2sheds post was partially correct in as far as any inexpensive scan tool will show the basic trouble codes. I'm not sure what the rest of that post was about but methinks as a former rocket scientist, he's been a bit too stressed to work in today's fields. o_O In this particular case, the OP already said that the check engine light wasn't on and that's why I made a point of talking about the Honda ENHANCED codes which his greentooth attachment probably won't access.

There are more than one level of diagnostic engine codes available in the Element. The enhanced codes don't turn on the "check engine" light but they're there - mainly for a professional mechanic to access and magically come up with a solution. In this particular case, there are several codes pointing to VTEC problems that a low priced scan tool won't show. I haven't had to deal with a VTEC issue myself but I have to assume that enhanced codes were available in the OP's vehicle before they ever noticed the mysterious problem.

Would I advise anyone paying a fortune for a scan tool capable of reading the enhanced code set? No, but I thought it worth mentioning that you CAN get one now for a price level many owners would find do-able AND it probably drives Honda out of their gourds. Frankly, I think the basic scanner function should be included in every vehicle straight from the factory.
 
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