06HHR (Forum Supporter)
06HHR (Forum Supporter) Dork
9/27/22 4:59 p.m.

My Niece has a 2013 Toyota Highlander with 150K miles.  She's been experiencing some slip and shudder from the transmission lately, so since she has had the thing serviced at the local Toyota dealer since she bought it, I told her to ask when they serviced the transmission last.  Well, turns out it's one of those transmissions with the "lifetime" fluid and since it doesn't have a dipstick, they never serviced it.   Now they want $150 to do a diagnostic.  I'm about to send her to a local transmission shop for a service (or at least a drain and fill), but odds are this thing is hosed since she's been complaining about this for a couple weeks.  I'm pretty sure the dealer diagnostic will lead to a quote for transmission replacement at this point.   She's kind of itching for another vehicle and any sort of expensive repair bill will more than likely push her over the edge.  Any suggestions on next steps? 

Duke MegaDork
9/27/22 5:07 p.m.

No suggestions, but:  The Law Of Unintended Consequences strikes again.

Sorry for your troubles.


AngryCorvair (Forum Supporter)
AngryCorvair (Forum Supporter) GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
9/27/22 5:07 p.m.

you can't hurt an automatic by changing the fluid and filter.

Driven5 UberDork
9/27/22 5:13 p.m.

In reply to Duke :

You're assuming the consequences are actually unintended.

Datsun310Guy MegaDork
9/27/22 5:20 p.m.

My son had a used '09 Nissan Sentra for 11 years and it had a sealed CVT that got whiney on a hot day with inclines then one day it's sold.  

I'd gamble with the $200 filter/fluid change or is there no such thing?

wae PowerDork
9/27/22 5:25 p.m.

Friend of a friend had a Chrysler 200 that was shifting funny and going in to limp.  I thought that maybe the tranny fluid was low or dirty so I had them bring the car over.  No dipstick, but a very complicated procedure that involves a code reader I don't have just to check the level.  Couldn't really even do a dump and fill on it because I wouldn't know how much fluid to add.

That said, if you either have a tech stream or if there is a way to check the fluid level, it wouldn't hurt to swap out the fluid.

Honsch Reader
9/27/22 5:27 p.m.

You need to understand that "lifetime" is defined as the lifetime of the trans, not the car.

Slippery GRM+ Memberand PowerDork
9/27/22 5:30 p.m.

I would drain it in a measuring cup and refill with the same amount. I would do it three times with a couple of miles of driving in between in order to get all the fluid out. 

I use one of these from HD that has a bunch of measurements. 

06HHR (Forum Supporter)
06HHR (Forum Supporter) Dork
9/27/22 7:01 p.m.

Found a procedure on the u-tubes for a  drain and fill.  Pretty straightforward and the guy actually used one of those measuring buckets from Home Depot.  I'll see if my scan tool can read the transmission temp. If not I have an IR gun.  She's going to see if the dealer will do it since she's been a good customer. But if not (and i doubt he will do anything, it's not a great dealership) something I could tackle without a lot of effort.

Run_Away Dork
9/27/22 7:23 p.m.
Datsun310Guy said:

My son had a used '09 Nissan Sentra for 11 years and it had a sealed CVT that got whiney on a hot day with inclines then one day it's sold.  

I'd gamble with the $200 filter/fluid change or is there no such thing?

'09 Sentra CVT had a dipstick, not sealed.


I'd for sure do a drain and fill for the Highlander, if there are no visible leaks then I'd capture the old fluid and replace with the same volume of new. No need to bring the trans to a specific temp to allow excess fluid out the fill plug. Hopefully it's got a drain plug and you're not dropping the pan.

06HHR (Forum Supporter)
06HHR (Forum Supporter) Dork
9/27/22 7:33 p.m.

In reply to Run_Away :

It looks like a pretty simple procedure. I'm gobsmacked the dealer didn't upsell her on it during one of her "service" visits.  I'll get to take a look at it once cousin Ian leaves town..

Aaron_King GRM+ Memberand PowerDork
9/28/22 9:47 a.m.

Our R class has one of those "lifetime" fluid transmissions with no dipstick.  Not long after we bought it I had it into a well known MB indy shop and the guy said he recommends fluid changes every 60K miles.  The shop has a machine that sucks the fluid out and then pumps new stuff back in.  The labor for it was not bad but the MB fluid must be made out of Unicorn tears or something pricey.  I would say that it was worth the cost though, we have had it done twice so far and with just over 180K miles the trans still shifts the same as when we bought it at 75K miles.

Gearheadotaku (Forum Supporter)
Gearheadotaku (Forum Supporter) GRM+ Memberand UltimaDork
9/28/22 4:17 p.m.

In my opinion:

Lifetime fluid is good for the life of the trans. Assuming no leaks or abuse, thats about 130-150k miles if never changed.

Change the fluid (and filter if possible) with proper stuff every 40-50k and the trans should last 200k.

This does not apply to CVT units.

nlevine (Forum Supporter)
nlevine (Forum Supporter) GRM+ Memberand Reader
9/28/22 9:58 p.m.

Audi did the "lifetime" auto transmission fluid. Learned a $6,000 lesson about deferred maintenance when the ring and pinion spewed shrapnel through the whole shared case in my S6 Avant...

chandler UltimaDork
9/29/22 7:04 a.m.

The Chryslers with the "sealed" unit actually just have a plug in the dipstick opening. I bought the special dipstick then scribed the marks from it on my oil dipstick so I could check it. There is a cold level and levels all through the heat range. After I changed the fluid I've just checked it at the cold level since and it's been great. Also; the dealer tech said they did this because people (and shops) OVERFILL their trans more than letting them low and this is the way to get more accurate amounts of fluid in. 

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