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Cleaner not always better
A $100 power-flush for your automatic transmission could end up costing you a couple thousand dollars.
But if done right and under the proper circumstances, the flush can help keep your transmission running clean and smooth for a long time to come, say transmission experts.
Power-flushing, which ranges in price from about $50 to more than $100, is a preventative maintenance procedure for automatic transmissions that calls for pumping about 15 quarts of clean transmission fluid and conditioners in and out of the transmission.
The procedure is meant to flush out old fluid and contaminants, which revitalizes the transmission's seals and O-rings, according to a pamphlet for Wynn's, a manufacturer of transmission flushing products. The pamphlet also states that flushing removes more than 95 percent of old fluid from the transmission, while standard servicing replaces less than 40 percent.
But 30-year mechanic Flash Sharrar, owner of the transmission shop Team Ramco in Yuma, said if a transmission has not been maintained every 20,000 to 25,000 miles, the flush could do just the opposite and ruin the transmission.
He said the new transmission fluid, citric acid and chemicals used in a flush will actually break down the old fluid chemicals in a transmission that has not been properly maintained, and will cause the clutch brake - a vital component of a transmission - to break off.
Sharrar said power-flushing a transmission that has been properly maintained - that is, has regular oil and filter changes and other servicing specified by the owner's manual - does not damage the transmission. He said his shop had a motor home transmission flushed recently where there were no problems.
Darren Donais, service manager for Aamco Transmissions at 1699 S. 1st Avenue, said a transmission must qualify by mileage and must pass Aamco's free driving test before he will power-flush the transmission.
***image2:left***He said if a car has 70,000 miles, the chances are slim that he will power-flush the transmission because it could damage it. He added if the transmission fluid is black or burnt, there are problems inside the transmission and power-flushing will not solve those problems.
Sharrar said he has seen some transmissions get ruined on the vehicle rack before the car even drives out of the shop. And, there are other instances where a transmission can go a few thousand miles before a whining noise is heard from the transmission and it is too late, he said.
The day The Sun visited Sharrar's shop, located at 4701 E. Gila Ridge Road, Sharrar had two transmissions on his work table that he said were going to cost his customers at least $2,000 to fix because the transmissions were power-flushed.
One of the customers, who declined to give his name, said the transmission on his 117,000-mile Toyota motor home blew out a seal about 2,500 miles after it was power-flushed by an unidentified shop in the Foothills.
He said he took the Toyota to the shop to get an oil, lube and filter change for the engine. But employees at the shop told him the transmission fluid looked bad and he needed to get a power-flush done, he said. He agreed to the $75 flush, and after the transmission broke down, he said, he was going to have to pay more than $2,000 to fix it at Team Ramco.
Since December, Sharrar said he has received probably 50 calls about transmissions that have been power-flushed, resulting in problems.
"Money doesn't come easy," Sharrar said. "Why waste it on a flush?"
Sharrar said he wants people to know about this problem so they do not have to ruin their transmissions.
He added it is not the local shop's fault, but it is the flushing manufacturers that are telling customers it is OK to flush the transmissions.
Wynn's - the transmission flushing manufacturer - claims in its pamphlet that the procedure extends the life of the transmission.
"Wynn's Transmission Flush Service safely powers away virtually all life-robbing dirty fluid and contaminants," states the pamphlet, "extending the life of your transmission and helping you avoid costly repairs and replacement."
Wynn's, which could not be reached at the telephone number or through the Web site listed on its pamphlet, does not state anywhere in the brochure that a transmission must qualify for this service. It does state, though, that the service "is approved by major car manufacturers."
Paul O'Brien, owner and operator of Midas, 1522 S. 4th Ave., which uses Wynn's, said if his shop detects that the transmission fluid looks bad or that the transmission is not well-maintained, he advises the customers that they "may not want to do a flush."
"I don't want to waste the customer's time and money," O'Brien said, "and in that case, we send them to the transmission shop."
O'Brien added that Midas has put out a bulletin saying that some Midas shops have performed power-flushes on vehicles that have caused problems with some transmissions, but he told The Sun that his shop does not do that.
Nyles Dusenbery, owner of the Auto Stop, 2401 S. Pacific Ave., said there have been a few instances where customers have brought their vehicles back to his shop after their transmissions were power-flushed at his shop.
But he said in these cases, the transmissions broke down because they already had problems prior to the power-flush procedure, and the customers were hoping that power-flushing them would fix the problem.
"If someone abuses a transmission - or does not service it when the car needs it (as required) by the manufacturer - then yes, it's going to fail whether you power-flush it or not," Dusenbery said.
Sharrar said it is best to avoid servicing or flushing an improperly maintained or bad transmission because the new fluids create a chemical reaction with the old fluid, causing problems such as a faulty clutch brake. He said when a transmission reaches this point, the customer would be best to leave it alone or have it looked at by a transmission shop.
Jacob Lopez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 539-6872.