AMClaussen wrote: "I kindly invite you to get your hands dirty and do a transmission service yourself. Independently of what says the ATF bottle sticker, the shop manual or the owner's manual, what you will see is more or less the same picture of the image I'm attaching: the magnet inside the pan will have a "Sea Orchid" appearance."
AM, I have done this several time. In fact. my son had the same Pontiac referred to in the original post, with a side plug and no dipstick or filler tube, and I helped him with that.
I sold the 1969 Dodge Custom Sportvan at 21 years, in 1990. The transmission never needed service. I got rid of the Chevy Lumina APV with 185,000 miles. The transmission never needed service. I have had a couple of other high mileage cars but they were manual transmission units.
I don't see how to access the image you referred to.
Pardon me, but I respectfully disagree with the idea of "lifetime", "everlasting", "long duration", or "permanent" fluids. A given car "designer" can of course, decide a newer fluid could have an "extended" life... but another one with higher worries about warranty claims will include some kind of exceptions to the owner's manual... that usually take the form of: "In severe conditions..." or "in fleet service...", or "In hot and dusty conditions..." or anything similar phrase to cover himself and conserve his employment.
I kindly invite you to get your hands dirty and do a transmission service yourself. Independently of what says the ATF bottle sticker, the shop manual or the owner's manual, what you will see is more or less the same picture of the image I'm attaching: the magnet inside the pan will have a "Sea Orchid" appearance. Those 'spines'are metallic dust or very fine "shavings" suspended in thick mud, aligned like spines by the magnetic field. This photo was taken after 50,000 miles of driving, well before any transmission symtoms appear, and the metallic contents (3/4 teaspoon) are considered "normal" for a properly working transmission with this much use. Wear particles come from clutch packs, sliding bands and a very little part, from actual gear wear. Now, NO known transmission filter has a 100% efficiency in filtering small size particles, as size and pressure loss constraints product of the limited available space effectively limit the area/volume of the replaceable filter inside the pan. After such mileage, ATF appearance has changed from light Cherry-Red transparent looks, to very dark reddish brown opaque color. Smell is quite different. Now, viscosity is appreciably changed, but Viscosity Index is way down, surface tension is up, solid contents are way-way up. The ATF has lost its "light ends", and has much more heavier hydrocarbons, hard carbon and long chain residues. It simply DOES NOT lubricate as well as new fluid, its heat transfer properties limit this task and the fluid is no longer able to remove and transfer the heat load anymore, so that the operating temperature goes up in a vicious cycle. If you believe that "modern" ATF's can take the abuse and still perform like new after 40,000 miles or so, be forewarned your transmission is prone to fail and needing a complete rebuild. Fine if you want to trash the vehycle after 4-5 years or so. It only takes one severe overheating episode to start the degradation, and it wouldn't need to be when hauling a heavy trailer, as a very hot day in stalled traffic for longer than a couple of hours will get the ATF very hot, owing to ever reducing frontal air intake openings, heavier cars that still have a transmission designed years ago for lighter vehicles. I very much prefer the tried and true dipstick than any optimistic claim that the new marvelous fluid is permanent. (I just remembered the thousands of damaged engines because of too optimistic "DEXCOOL" claimed advantages!). AND while newer "synthetic formulations" of ATF's can have better hi-temp properties, they have their limits too, and cannot perform well after an additional 20-30% more miles, because they will become contaminated by metallic wear products (clutch pack wear IS an unavoidable fact of life, independently of what overly confident product advertisers wish to convey). I have two old MOPAR vehicles that are the envy of the local dealer (where I only go to buy the original ATF and/or Coolant, as I have done some tests at my workplace and found them to be high-quality when compared to commercial aftermarket offerings). I believe that the statements in several places on typical Owner's Manuals are deliberately written to prevent overly worried novice owners from becoming too concerned and taking too much time from dealers with over exaggerated concerns. In reality, ATF color and smell is still very valuable and a practical means to quickly distinguish if an ATF is too degraded without having to run expensive specialized laboratory tests. The fast rule is: New ATF shoud be transparent, light Cherry Red color, and has a characteristic odor (you can open a bottle to get an idea). Still good but used ATF will appear as brick-red to light brown or reddish brown color whennot accompanied by a foul strong-burnt odor. Overheated and degraded ATF will not have any of the reddish tinge, being totally dark brown to black color. Amclaussen.
To Am... I was told by an engineer from Caterpillar that the plug was removed from the transmission because too many DYI got confused and were draining the transmission when they wanted to change the oil.
As far as the dipstick, I will add that to my things to look for when purchasing a different vehicle. I was totally unaware that such a vehicle was produced and for me that would be a reason not to buy.
AM, These days there's really no reason to check transmission fluid any more frequently than the differential. A reasonable interval corresponds to each oil change. Seals are better. Fluid is designated for the life of the car. Owner's manuals even tell you that you can ignore the darkening which takes place over time. (Quickie oil-change places are notorious for preying on owners who don't read their manuals.)
I have the impression that design for straigtforward maintenance was slowly but more or less constantly improving from the 50's (I was born in 54, so I never knew the older designs), to the 90's, with many examples either better or worse. But, later-on, it has been a Monkeyish nightmare! I'll leave on you to explain how have things go so bad!!! ( I don't want to loose my temper right now!). Amclaussen.
Larry: There is a difference... Checking differential oil level is done at quite long intervals, since, unless the vehycle is leaving a puddle of thick oil on the floor, it should be OK and usually is. On the other side, even when automatic transmissions do perform aparently fine, a too-degraded ATF will damage the transmission badly and soon. Having the dipstick at a convenient place and height eases the task of replacing the ATF and performing a complete flush. But needing to go under the (usually) low vehycle to perform that task either requires a) lifting the entire vehycle, b) having a pit built at home, or c) having to depend on a transmission shop... those being inconvenient or too expensive. I'll take sides with Elizabeth. Additionally, the viscosity of differential gear oil makes it much more easy to seal properly than the thin ATF. A hole with a theaded plug will require an extra O-ring... that was the reason for eliminating the hole in the transmission pan, now you have to remove the entire pan to drain or change the ATF. Amclaussen.
In our economy, in some cases, a just-ten-year-old car could be still a desirable one. Personally, I learned from my late father how to conserve a car for many years. He gave my his 1967 model car to become my second one in 1977, and I kept it as a daily driver for another 27 years... of almost daily use. He had an older Ford ('58 Fairlane) for nine years when he bought new the '67 Falcon-GT that I discarded around 2004. I now have two turbocharged Dodges R/T (1991 and 2002) and plan to keep them alive and running fast for as long as I can. With some improvement on emissions system, the older one still meets local limits with easy. My father always said that it was foolish to change a car every year or two, just to have a "recent model car", and in this way of thinking, I was able to learn automechanics by myself, and now do perform almost 99% of repair and maintenance at home.
Don't even start me on opining on later models design please! (I'll just tell you that the same maintenance or repair task on my 1991, takes usually less than 25% of the time than my 2002 requires, and gives me proportionately less knukle-skinning or flesh burning than my older model, but compared to later model designs, at least I don't have to drop the entire engine-transaxle assembly to change some sparkplugs, as some of the later, "very advanced" designs require! (Do anyone still believe that Monkey auto designers don't exist? Amclaussen, Mexico City.
You have it right lcormier! I fully agree with you.
Let's now theorize on WHY this happens.
A large part of the problem could well lie in the design of the transmissions, since too many times the vehicle manufacturer pretends to use tha same transmission model in too many car models (they elegantly mention the word "commonality"...) but the fact is that a given transmission that was originally meant for a 2,800 pound car, ends up being used in a later model car or minivan, that weights 25 or 30% more... destroying whatever durability it had in the original application.
The second (probably more important) reason, is that the average owner believes that automatic transmissions or transaxles "don't need any service ever". This complete neglect is of little consequence when the vehicle is not used heavily, as most owners respect legal speed limits and never put the pedal-to-the-metal. But any one can see/smell the difference between new and heavily abused transmission fluid. It is a fact that ATF does suffer degradation in the form of oxidation, light ends evaporation, some polymerization and additive depletion. IT is commonly (and wrongly) defined as "burning". But for those adventurous DIY's, a complete ATF change with flush is the way to go. To perform this task, you need to get about 133% of new ATF of the proper brand and type, a new ATF filter that goes inside the trans pan, sometimes a couple of o-rings, depending on the transmission model, ATF-resistant silicon sealer or pan gasket, some cans of brake parts cleaner in spray cans, funnels, two yards of transparent vinyl hose and clamps. To perform the complete flush, you start removing the transmission pan, this will ONLY remove about 40-50% of the total of circulating ATF, because the rest will stay inside the Torque-Converter, which seldom has any means to empty it... therefore, you replace the filter inside the transmission, clean the pan and the magnet (it should have less than one teaspoon of metallic mudlike residue), reinstall the pan and seal it (which requires a perfect cleaning of the sealing surfaces -use plenty of brake cleaner!- and once sealed, put back just enough ATF to reach the proper level (you need to know where it should be when trans is not warm), and install a transparent vinyl hose from the ATF outlet that goes to the ATF cooler in the radiator or cooler itself, and use it to discharge the used ATF into a large container (about 10 quarts or more), previously marked in quarts numbered, in order to see how fast you'll need to add the rest of the new ATF. With everything ready (you'll need to place a small table at hand, to put all the remaining ATF bottles open and ready to go, visibly numbered), you start the engine in either PARK or NEUTRAL. As soon as the transmission input shaft is turned by the engine, it will immediately start to pump out the old ATF inside the Torque converter and valve body, so you will need to REPLACE the pumped out ATF with new one, WITHOUT altering the proper level of the transmission fluid (plus or minus one quart, no more); a helper comes in handy, as he/she can tell you how fast is the trans filling the large container saying "six quarts out, six ans a half, seven...etc. The reason for this is that you need to maintain the proper level: too much and the transmission will start churning out the excess, too little and the ATF will become aereated and foamed all over; but with the precaution of adding the quarts at the same approximate speed the trans is pumping out the old fluid, (which can be easily seen because you previously marked the receiving container), it won't be too difficult to do. There is some new-old ATF intermixing, that is the reason to buy about 33% more than the trans capacity, to FLUSH it out. Placing the transparent discharge hose against a brightly lit white cardboard piece will tell you perfectly when the old fluid will be completely removed fron the vehicle. You could place a 4" lenght of transparent hose filled with new ATF next to the illuminated discharge hose, which will give an instant color comparison. In my case, the Trans holds about 9.5 quarts, and I started seeing a very notable color change at quart number 7 after replacing the 4 quarts held by the pan; three additional quarts later, the color didn't change anymore. Too see/smell how degraded is yout ATF, you can use a white paper napkin; it will quickly show any discoloration, and your nose can easily tell you how different is the odor of worn and too used vs new ATF. I do this service routinely to my three cars every 30,000 miles or so. Good luck, it is not really difficult to do, and will reward you with a lot more miles of trouble free transmission performance and a lot more money saved in repair/rebuild costs. Amclaussen.
While the "it keeps warranty costs down by preventing less than knowledgeable owners from installing incorrect fluids" explanation has some truth, it is much more likely that it is done simply because it lowers the manufacturing costs a few pennies, which, by auto industry standards, "has to be the way"...
This made me remember that on a pair of Dodge models, the REQUIRED ATF fluid is their own "ATF+3" and "ATF+4" MOPAR brand one, because their transmissions need a slightly different fluid characteristic (related to slip-stick friction) that causes those transmissions to misbehave if any other fluid (like the ever present Dexron or Mercon) is put onto them (a couple of quarts will do that). But interestingly enough, in one of them the dipstick is wrongly marked saying those improper fluids! Only the Owner's manual and the fluid sticker specified the correct fluid...
Fortunately, the dipstick is well located and far enough from rotating or hot parts that cheking level is very straightforward, even for a novice. Add that one to "another one thing Dodge got right", which is much welcomed when you decide to change and flush the old fluid out, because you will have to add about 55% of the fluid volume with the engine running in Neutral or Park in order to completely flush out any old fluid. (Pls see my comment on "the proper way to service an Auto Trans above). Amclaussen.
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