The Genuine Advantage
An often overlooked aspect of automotive repair is the quality of the part involved in the maintenance or service. Do you sometimes wonder how one shop can do brakes for $99, and another one charges $270? Is it cut-and-dry that the latter shop is just a bunch of swindlers, trying to take you for a ride? This article will hopefully make you more aware about the role of quality parts. Where other shops compromise, we do not!
Back in the 80s, the "specialty" fluid was Honda's Power Steering fluid. This was pretty much the only bottle you had to get from the dealership, or from a dedicated third party whose manufacturing was identical to Honda's. If you used the wrong fluid in a Honda power steering system, you would cause damage. Well, it's the year 2011, and now every single manufacturer has proprietary specialty fluids that are REQUIRED for their vehicles' systems. Many independent shops are quite simply not equipped to handle working on every type of car that comes through the gate. Due to the need for specialization in both training and parts supply, many shops focus on a short list of makes.
Our shop works on nine (9) different makes, and you should see our specialty fluid wall! Let's go over what's necessary to fill the thirsty cars we work on:
Toyota's WS fluid.
WS fluid is usually more than double the cost of the standard ATF. It's found the Toyota Prius 2004-2009, and 2010-2012 (second and third generation). Toyota also uses WS fluid in their modern transmissions, typically from 2007 and newer, but it can be present in older cars. It CANNOT be used in place of the older T-IV fluid. Toyota typically considers this a "no-service-necessary" fluid. We have found it black under "normal" operating conditions after 30k miles, but without any driveability symptoms. We typically recommend a 15k interval for service. Some transmissions that utilize this fluid are not equipped with a dipstick. As a result, you have to service the fluid with an exchanger (machine flush), or by a similar procedure involving disconnecting cooler lines.
Below is Toyota's Type T4 (T-IV) transmission fluid. It is a modified Dexron blend, as far as we can tell. The only vehicle we use it for is the 2001-2003 Toyota Prius. Toyota is claiming the fluid does not need to be replaced under "normal operating conditions". We strongly disagree. We recommend changing Type T4 fluid every 15K miles, just like regular ATF. Type T4 is not particularly expensive, and the total cost of a transmission drain and fill is only slightly more than a motor oil change.
This is Mazda's Type T4 fluid. Is it the same as Toyota T4? Who knows. Any vehicle that requires T-IV also allows for a Dexron blend, so we have stopped stocking this fluid. Mazda's specialty transmissions use the upgraded M5. See the next entry.
This is Mazda's M5 transmission fluid, which is frequently referred to as MV fluid in the manual. You will find this fluid in many of the newer Mazdas, which are actually Fords. We wonder whether this is the same as what Ford uses in their transmissions? Ultimately, it appears to not be a very resilient fluid and will show significant signs of deterioration / burning by 20k. We have seen 2009+ Mazda 3 with bad fluid by conventional standards. We have found manufacturers no longer recommending preventive service, but rather relying on a periodic inspection recommendation. I suppose when we inspect the fluid, find it bad, and replace it, whatever damage has already occurred. We will continue to recommend a 15k service interval for people who want to keep their cars.
Subaru employs its ATF-HP in all the automatic transmissions of the 1996 and newer Subarus we work on. It is different than the other fluids because there is no bulk option available. Subarus with automatic transmissions have separate front differentials that use 75w90 gear oil, but the manual transmissions have the diff built in. You will see a lot of these ATF-HP bottles in our recycling every week.
Nissan has 5 different automatic transmission fluids, 2 of which have been mercifully merged together. The most basic fluid, Matic-D, is used in the small 4-speed transmissions. We have a bulk ATF that supplants this particular transmission fluid, which is good for the environment, considering how many plastic bottles of waste we save.
This is Nissan's Matic K fluid. It is fairly expensive and is usually used on higher end Nissans. We're recommending 15K intervals. If you can afford a luxury car, you ought to be able to afford the luxury fluid. If not, you definitely won't be able to afford the luxury breakdown. Matic-K is designed for front wheel drive 5-speed automatic transmissions. If the Nissan has a rear wheel drive, they use a different fluid -- see below.
Matic-S and Matic-J have been merged together. This is a high-performance transmission fluid used in Nissan's rear- and all-wheel drive applications. Strangely enough, you may find 3 or 4 different power train lubricants on a Nissan! For example, the AWD Infiniti G35 uses Matic-S for its transmission, 75w90 gear oil for its rear differential, and Matic-D for its transfer case! Does it really need these different lubricants? I'm not about to destroy $7,000 worth of gear boxes to find out...
The Continually Variant Transmission (CVT) uses a completely different fluid called NS-2. It's not the same as Honda's formulation, which is good because somewhere between Honda's fluid and CVT design there is a flaw! Nissan CVTs have started hitting the market harder in 2008, and while their transmissions have no official recommendation for service, it's bound to happen. The Murano was released with Nissan's CVT design in 2003, and since then we've seen a number of malfunctions and performed a number of services. The NS-2 runs nearly $20 a quart... For a typical service, you flush about 4qt through the cooler lines, which is nearly a $125 service including labor! Yikes.
This is Honda's ATF-Z1 automatic transmission fluid. The Z1 fluid has been a main-stay in our arsenal, going through about 12 quarts a day for services. We have found a quality bulk fluid to supplant the Z1 in order to reduce the environmental impact, and comply with our Green Business Ideas. We always have Z1 on hand, so if you prefer the Honda fluid for your car, just let us know.
Honda's 2011 transmissions now require ATF-DW1. This fluid can be used in all transmissions that call for Z1, but not the other way around. You cannot use bulk or Z1 in the new vehicles. Why not a new fluid, right?
CVT fluid was introduced around 1996 for the Civic HX with the Continuously Variable Transmission. It is also used in Honda's Insight Hybrid, and the 2003 and newer Civic Hybrids. Servicing this fluid is crucial to the operation of the transmission, and it appears the condition will have a direct effect on start-up judder (shaking on initial acceleration). This is a known issue with Honda CVTs, and your first order of business as an owner should be to contact your Honda dealership to determine whether you're eligible for warranty coverage. They should be able to confirm this over the phone, so you don't risk wasting money. Due to the finnickey nature of this fluid, we strongly recommend fluid service every 15k, AND whenever necessary during the oil changes.
This is Toyota's Super Long Life Coolant. It's factory-filled, pre-mixed 50/50 antifreeze and distilled water. It's a pink color, and is backward compatible with all Toyotas. We like the premixed coolants, even though they are usually full price for 1/2 strength and create a lot more plastic bottles for us to recycle. We recommend replacing coolant every 3 years or 30K, even with with Super Long Life Coolant. We think it's better to be safe than sorry. Maybe we'll sing a different tune when Toyota releases their Super-Duper Long Life Coolant :)
This is Honda Type 2 Coolant. It was originally green, but apparently Honda decided that the green wasn't standing out well enough in the crowd of different coolants, so they switched to Vulcan Blood Blue. As far as I can tell, it's pretty much the same as the Toyota Red coolant; it's low silicate, ethylene glycol based. We like the premixed coolants because there is no chance for mixing error and even though the bay area's water is very soft, distilled water is even better. Honda recommends the first coolant change at 120K. We think this is foolish unless you drive 40,000 miles a year. We recommend changing Type 2 coolant every 2-3 years or 30K.
Mazda has 3 different colored coolants: Green, Orange and Gold. It seems that the Ford products take the Orange coolant, the traditional Mazdas take Green, and the large SUVs take Gold. What's the difference between them all? Food coloring, as far as I can tell. Oh, and the Gold coolant has a bittering agent to keep your pets from drinking it. I would think the orange should have that, because it looks so tasty!
Subaru's coolant has two different flavors as well: standard full-strength, and the new "Super" pre-mixed required in 2010 and newer machines. Either coolant still requires the addition of the cooling system conditioner because Subaru products have chronic problems with their head gaskets. Yes, even their newer cars will have internal coolant leaks past the head gaskets. The premixed is not officially supported for use in legacy vehicles, but our local dealership has mentioned they "use it in everything." The full-strength is a deep green, but the premixed looks blue like Honda.
Subaru cooling system conditioner. This is a "stop leak" additive introduced to stop head gaskets from leaking on the 2000-2003+ 2.5L SOHC motors. Owners received a recall notice, the cooling system conditioner was added, and owners were advised that they needed to add the cooling system conditioner with every coolant change, forever. We keep a couple cases in stock, and frequently use it on the 1996-1999 2.5 DOHC motor, since it seems to have even worse head gasket problems. It is required for use in every single Subaru.
Nissan, despite is myriad of ATF choices, uses a mundane full-strength, green Coolant. Not much to say other than it seems to be formulated with the typical Japanese vehicle lubricants for anti-corrosion and water pump longevity.
This is Hondas Dual Pump fluid. It's an odd name considering it's differential fluid for the limited slip rear differential on some of Honda's AWD vehicles like the CRV. When this fluid degrades, or is replaced with the wrong stuff, the differential will make a horrible noise in tight turns. It sounds similar to a tire rubbing on the fender. If a CRV is making a noise from the rear in turns, replacing the differential oil is always the first thing to try. If that does not cure the problem, Honda has issued a service bulletin with a fix for differential noise.
VTM-4 is currently found in the Honda Pilot and the Acura MDX. The first differential fluid change is due at 7,500 miles, which surprises a lot of owners. After the first fluid change, Honda recommends replacing the fluid on 15K intervals. This is a about twice as frequent as usual. There is a TSB for judder or noise when turning for the MDX and the Pilot. The solution is to change the VTM fluid, drive in a figure 8 pattern for a while, then change the fluid again.
Honda manual transmission fluid is required for all Hondas 1996 and newer, and is backwards compatible for older Hondas. Before 1996 it is acceptable to use 10W30 motor oil for the transmission. We like to use the Honda MTF for all Hondas. We wish it came in 16 gallon drums instead of quart bottles. It's a pain emptying the quarts into our pumping carts and it a waste of plastic.
This is Honda 0W-20 motor oil for use in the Insight and Civic Hybrid. 0W-20 is very thin. Both the Civic and Insight have very tight main bearing clearances (.00095" , just under one thousandth of an inch, about half of what most engines run). Not only will using the wrong oil reduce fuel economy, but may actually ruin the engine. Thicker oil may not be able to squeeze in between the bearing and the journal when cold and cause some serious damage. When Paul wrote this article, Honda was the only manufacturer employing such a light weight oil. Now, with regulations requiring higher fuel economy, many of the makes are now adopting the super efficiency of the 0w20. Of course, 0w20 is a synthetic oil costing nearly $8/qt. This has driven some manufacturers to make absurd oil change intervals like every 10,000 miles! They really do want you to buy a new car after the warranty expires, sheesh! Of all the manufacturers, Honda's synthetic 0w20 blend is still the highest quality, and exceeds the requirements from the others. We use the Honda 0w20 for pretty much everything that calls for it.
This is Honda 5W20 motor oil. 5W20 is pretty thin. In the Late '90s when Honda introduced it, no other cars were using it and the only supplier was Honda. Now 5w20 is required in many of the cars we work on, requiring that we order high quality Castrol GTX 5w20 by the hundred gallons every other week.
This is Honda Ultra Flange II. It's not really a fluid; it's more of a sealing paste. Honda uses it to seal the oil pan on some of the models with aluminum oil pans. There are a lot of different silicone sealers, most of them seem to work very well. Most of them are similarly priced. We figure, why not use the manufacturer's recommended sealer for each application... just in case.
This is Toyota FIPG (Form In Place Gasket) for engine sealing. It works very well and is one of our favorite silicone sealers.
This is Toyota FIPG for transmission sealing. Unlike FIPG for motor oil (which is black), transmission FIPG is orange. Obviously, the dye color of a silicone sealer will have no effect on performance, but many mechanics have a negative association with orange colored sealants, as it was very popular with mechanics who used poor quality aftermarket parts in the '90s. We'd see a car come in with orange silicone peeking at us from the compartment our first thought might be, "Oh no! Who's been hacking on this poor car?" Anyway, Toyota says it's the right stuff to use, so we do, even though it's orange.
Toyota Hybrid air conditioning oil. The high voltage used to drive the AC compressor on Toyota and some Honda compressors is not compatable with any of the conventional AC oils. If you want to turn a potentially profitable AC service into a $3000+ shop expense, just add some ester, PAG, or mineral oil to an HV AC system. It won't just not work, it will cause warning lights and permenant damage to the AC system. ND-OIL does not conduct electricity, which prevents the high-voltage used in the windings within the electric A/C compressor to short to ground, via the fluid. A conventional oil would allow for this path to ground (the compressor housing is grounded via chassis ground), which would set a HV leak detected. Once bad oil cycles through the system, you're looking at total component replacement. Expensive Prius A/C repair! This is the same oil used by Nissan for their hybrid vehicles.
Toyota super Charger oil
Supercharger oil is $37 for 50ml (about 2 oz), making it the most expensive fluid we sell. This is an often overlooked maintenance item for the super charged Previa, and some Trucks with Toyota add on super chargers. If the oil is allowed to run out, the super charger may be damaged, leading to a very expensive repair bill.