My baby is my car, not a girl or a child. It all started with new brake fluid when I did the master cylinder. Before that, I did an oil change. Full synth is how I roll since I do towing. Yesterday was the power steering and transmission fluid. Lastly, today was the antifreeze. And you know what? There’s a sense of accomplishment since I did it all by myself. Saved some time in most cases. Saved a shitload of money, that’s for damn sure. And as I always say, I learned some new skills. Knowledge is power.
Another reason for doing things yourself? Specifically when it comes to car repair and maintenance? You know the quality of the work and you know what parts are being installed. That’s invaluable. Yesterday was a huge task because I was gonna be messing around with one of the most important and expensive parts of a car: the transmission. You fuck that up, you’re pretty much fucked because replacing one is a bitch in the money and decision department. If it’s worth it, you do it if the car has enough personal value. If the price is higher than the cost of buying another A and B car, then fuck it.
My plan for the day was to exchange the power steering and transmission fluid and replace the tranny filter and gasket. You notice I’m using the word ‘exchange’ instead of ‘flush.’ They’re two completely different things and we’ll discuss them as this article goes on. The main thing I needed for these tasks was transmission fluid. Lots of it. Not just for the tranny but also for the power steering. That’s right, depending on your car, you add tranny fluid to the power steering, not power steering fluid. It’s a common mistake. Doing my research, I found out that my owner’s manual tells me exactly what fluids to use and in what capacities. Don’t deviate from that no matter what anyone tells you and you’ll hear and read a lot of absolute bullshit from many sources. Stick with what the people who built the car in the first place are telling you and you can’t go wrong in this department. It’s like people who put premium unleaded gas in a car that takes regular and they think it makes a positive difference when it actually does nothing or does worse for the car. Fucking idiots. Don’t be an idiot.
My car uses Mercon V. Not Dex/Merc. Not Mercon VI. Not Type F. Mercon fucking V and that’s it! I cleaned out two Walmarts of 20 quarts worth of Super Tech. In case you’re wondering about Super Tech quality, it’s the exact same shit as the brand names but a lot cheaper. It’s like buying TG Lee milk at Walmart. The brand name is expensive. Store brand is far cheaper and it’s the same exact product. All you’re paying extra for is a name and a marketing gimmick when it comes to the bottle. Going off topic, I buy my milk at Aldi and Sav-A-Lot now. For a while, a gallon of skim was less than 3 bucks. With milk prices on the rise, at either store it’s still a buck less than the big name grocery stores. Same shit, much lower price.
I bought 20 quarts because I knew I was gonna need excess for the exchange. Whatever I didn’t use, I could take it back for a refund. Online videos and forums have misinformation when it comes to fluid flushing and exchanging. Some procedures aren’t universal. Searching for info in regards to my specific car didn’t yield much of anything useful and a service manual wasn’t much help either. When you flush, you only remove fluids from the lines using gravity. There’ll still be old fluid left in the system when you reconnect everything to add new fluid. That wasn’t an option for me because it doesn’t make logical sense to do that. Why mix old with new when you can go all new? That’s like building a 2014 house using 1914 construction material. I needed all new because my power steering fluid color was black. Since I’ve owned my car, I’ve never replaced that fluid before so this was long overdue. When you exchange fluid, you replace everything. You flush out the old using gravity and force out the rest using the car when you start the engine.
Forums will mention the turkey baster method but that’s a complete waste of time and effort. A power steering fluid exchange is fairly simple. For my car, I had to follow the hoses to figure out which one to disconnect. Nowhere online or in a manual does it state the direction of flow for the fluid. Going back even further, not all Ford Tauruses in my model generation are the same. On some, the thinner or top hose in front of the radiator is the power steering return line (That’s what one service manual states). On my 2004, it’s the larger and bottom one and you disconnect it on the driver’s side. When I removed it, fluid leaked out but not much. Not nearly enough. It’s advised not to start the engine because you could damage the pump. I call bullshit because the only way to get all that old fluid out is to do just that: start the engine with the hose disconnected and turn the steering wheel all the way side to side until nothing is left. You’ll feel the difference in the wheel because it’ll turn without you needing to apply much force.
Like I said, all cars are different. This is what I had to do since I did it alone. With a partner, one person can turn the wheels while the other adds fluid and keeps an eye on the color of the fluid draining out. When it’s new, oh no, you’re not done yet. I reconnected the line and then came the bleeding process which also has bad info online. Videos I saw don’t mention at all to top off the power steering reservoir. They don’t even mention keeping the car started. They just say keep the car off and turn the wheel until no more air bubbles are coming out. That’s only half right. If you don’t top off the fluid, air just comes right back in when you start the car. You have to keep just enough fluid in the reservoir so that it’s circulating above the lines. Below the lines means more air is getting in. I did it the wrong way (car on and off while turning the wheels and not topping off the fluid) but logic kicked in. Applying smarts, I got the job done quicker and the right way.
It should’ve taken about 30 minutes but because of the bad info I was using, it took about an hour. Really simple job. Didn’t need to go buy any extra tools either. Since the car was already jacked up off the ground and I was in a Mercon V mood, I took on the task of replacing the transmission filter, gasket, and fluid. It also seemed simple enough but it was very messy and I ran into a completely unexpected roadblock: one of the pan bolt heads was rounded off and I didn’t have anything at my disposal that could remove it. I was fucking pissed off because what was an easy ass day of auto repair turned into yet another time-waster. I went online for solutions but none of them were worth much of shit. Lube, spray, torch, heat…all that is mostly bullshit. What you need is a tool and I know one had to exist because this wasn’t a new problem that suddenly came into being.
My research once again took me to Harbor Freight. How’d I get there? I rode my bike. Wouldn’t you know it, it was windy as hell at the time but that’s okay. I bought a nut and bolt extractor set from them. I could only hope it would get the job done. I wasn’t about to add old fluid to new and jack the car down just to drive over there. Fuck that shit. If I was gonna do it, I was gonna do it right. No half-assing. No bullshit. Yet it was total bullshit that the last shop mechanic overtorqued the bolt head and created that fucking problem. Remember when I said earlier that you know the quality of the work when you do it yourself? This is exactly what I’m referring to.
The moment of truth arrived. I had used up over an hour to go get the new tools. Hell, I used up about that amount of time using everything at my disposal to get that bolt off before that. I used the new tool and…IT FUCKING WORKED! Dark skies became clear at that moment and I could continue right where I left off. My car doesn’t have a tranny drain plug. I don’t know why that’s not mandatory on every fucking car because it would make life so much easier for everyone. Siphoning out the fluid from the top didn’t do much because a hose can’t really get in deep enough. Removing the pan is a huge mess. A fucking HUGE mess. No way around it. And it was worse in my case because of the stripped bolt.
Once I got the pan off, I was surprised at how clean it was. The magnet didn’t really have much of any particles on it. The fluid color was definitely ready for a change but it wasn’t anything like the power steering fluid. Everything was relatively clean and that’s a good sign of a healthy transmission. My car has a reusable gasket so I just left that on there since it was still in good shape. I had already bought a new filter and gasket from Advance Auto Parts (AAP) online. I guess the new gasket will be sitting around because I won’t need to pop open that tranny pan again for a long time. I hadn’t done anything to the transmission in several years and I based that on the fluid color and car performance.
You’d think taking off the old filter and putting on the new one would be a breeze. It’s not. There’s a light green plastic ring seal around where it connects to the car. It stayed on the car when I took off the old filter. I thought I could just take it off the new one and pop the new filter in with the old seal still attached but it wouldn’t budge from the new filter. I had to use a small screwdriver to pry out the old seal. You wanna do that delicately so you don’t scrape up any of the metal parts inside the transmission but you don’t have much choice because of the design flaw. With the new filter on, it was just a matter of reversing the process. Easy peasy even with the stripped bolt. You don’t wanna overtighten the bolts. It doesn’t take much to strip the threads. Mine had several bolts that way and I’ve since ordered some new OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) bolts to swap out the stripped ones with new ones at a later time. Car doesn’t leak so it’s not a huge sense of urgency but you don’t wanna ignore that if you come across that problem. Don’t bother going to a hardware store trying to match things up. Just get the OEM part when it comes to something like a tranny bolt. It’s too important of a part to go the cheap route.
With everything back together and fluid added, it was time for the fluid exchange. It was really easy. The power steering direction of flow is from driver’s side to passenger and I thought it’d be the same for the tranny. Boy was I wrong. When I removed the hose from the wrong side, shit squirted everywhere when I started the car. It added to the puddle of fluid I already had. The tranny direction of flow is from passenger side to driver and the return line is just above the power steering line. A service manual overcomplicates the process by making you use a special tool to remove a metal return line from the tranny and then attaching a hose to direct the flow. All that shit ain’t necessary. Once you remove the line, some old fluid will come out but not tons of it. After starting your car to force more out, all you have to do is keep filling up the tranny with fluid until you see new fluid come out. You wanna stop your car when the outgoing fluid starts sputtering out and refill as necessary.
A flush is simply dropping the pan and/or the return line and letting gravity do the work. That’s good for letting out over a gallon of old fluid but my car’s tranny holds over 3 gallons. See the difference? A proper exchange uses a start/stop method. Disconnect the return line from the radiator. Fill up the tranny with fluid. Start the car. Let the old fluid stream out until it starts spitting. Stop the car. Refill. Repeat until you see new fluid coming out. Reconnect the return line and you’re almost done. It’s important to have a visual on the fluid stream. Same for the power steering and the reservoir because in that case, you wanna be able to see the air bubbles and prevent the fluid from overflowing from the reservoir as you turn the wheels because doing so forces air out of the lines and fluid out of the rack.
All I had left to do was refill the transmission to spec and that was that. I had a big mess to clean but mission accomplished. I felt the difference during the test drive. In my last article, I wrote about replacing a seal on the engine. The old seal was causing rough idle and other related problems from a cold start. Since a coldfront had passed through, I can inform you that the seal was the cure for all of my car’s ailments. I thought I’d have to wait months for another cold morning but I’m glad I did the repair when I did because I got to find out what I needed to find out. As for the test drive, the tranny was shifting noticeably smoother than before. Now, the car overall sounds quieter and feels more gentle than before.
I did have to do some driving to get the tranny fluid circulating in real world conditions. I drove soft at first and kept checking the dipstick and refilling as needed until the fluid level was in the crosshatch when hot and parked. Very aggressive and fast driving felt so good after the exchange. An auto shop will only do a flush unless you specifically request an exchange which will cost you a lot more. You don’t know for sure if they’ll really exchange it even when you ask and pay for that because they can mix old with new either way and you’ll never know the difference when checking the fluid. The only way to know for sure is to either do it yourself or use an honest mechanic. Do it the right way. Don’t flush. Exchange. Why do repair shops promote flushing? The real reason? Because you’ll have to go back to them for another one sooner since you still have old fluid in the car that will degrade at a much faster rate than all new. See how that works? For them, not you.
Today was the day I did a coolant exchange (today being the 17th but it’s after midnight on the 18th as I type this). That has to be done in stages. Repair shops will loosen the petcock (weird ass name for the drain plug) and let the coolant fall from the radiator and refill from there. That’s a general flush. An exchange gets the coolant from the heater core as well. You do the first drain. Refill with water. Drive the car with the heat on full blast with the heat blowing from just the front vents. That’s how you get the rest of the old coolant out. You can repeat that a couple of times like I did. I had errands to run and it was kinda cool out so it worked out well for me. It’d be miserable to do that on a hot day so if you’re gonna do it, make sure the weather is appropriate.
You do the first drain when the car is cold, as in not started at all yet for the day. The remaining ones, it’s recommended to let the car cool off but I have a high tolerance for heat so I didn’t wait. The hot water didn’t bother me in the slightest. It was the type of heat I like to shower in but that’s just me. You always wanna have the radiator cap off when draining. While I was at it, I went ahead and bought a new degas bottle (a screwy ass name for the coolant reservoir) because my old one was done. It wasn’t leaking but it was so discolored that I couldn’t see anything that was going on inside of it. It was past time for a replacement and if it was ever gonna happen, today was the day. I saved some bucks with AAP again using a promo code. Saved even more because my credit card gives me cash back. And I saved even more on top of that using Ebates.com to get some more cash back.
Replacing the bottle was very easy. I had done enough draining and it was time for the final fill. With most of the old stuff out, since the heater core will still have a lot of water in it, it’s recommended to put in a full gallon of antifreeze and then follow it up with a 50/50 mix to top off. I used 50/50 all the way for now because I still have to drive the car to get everything circulating properly and when that happens, the level will drop off during hot and cold cycles. You just refill accordingly until the coolant level stays within spec. My coolant wasn’t in bad shape or anything. No rust or particles. No bad thermostat. And I had heat blowing from the vents. It was just time to put in some new coolant and I got a new degas bottle in the process. I don’t recommend just starting your car and letting it idle to heat up during the process. All that does is primarily waste gas and you could be using that waiting time for other things. The car will heat up quicker in motion and I’m sure you’d rather be putting that gas to use. This is a very simple process best done when the weather is cool and you have errands to run.
As if the stripped tranny bolt wasn’t a big enough problem, I encountered another. The petcock is made of plastic and only needs to be hand tightened. Use a socket to get it off if need be but from there on out, HAND TIGHTEN ONLY! You get so used to using tools that you forget that plastic isn’t metal. The damn petcock head broke off when I was putting it back on with a socket when I was on my last drain. I was getting furious, thinking the coolant would only leak out from now on and I’d have to ride my bike again to a parts store for a replacement and use up even more of my precious time. I was at the end point and then this shit happened. I went online to see if there was a replacement part that I could get right away. There was. I then had to see if I could fill my radiator up with water so I could do one more water-only drain instead of pouring in antifreeze and wasting it with another drain. The radiator didn’t leak so I was good to drive to pick up the part. I was relieved and at the same time it gave me an opportunity to get more coolant out of the system.
I thought getting the broken petcock off would be difficult but I have to assume the OEM part was designed in case this type of emergency ever happened, it could still be removed. The screw portion accepts a hex wrench. The bolt head does too so I was good to go. The replacement doesn’t have that feature but it’s made of harder plastic and there’s no doubt that it’s made only to be tightened by hand. That’s a good feature. The OEM part is in the shape of a bolt and can easily mislead anyone. The hand-tighten-only feature should’ve been combined with the backup hex wrench feature. Just sayin’.
Disposal of all this fluid can be an issue. When you know you’re gonna tackle this job, keep plenty of empty gallon jugs in anticipation. You can take it all to your local hazardous waste recycling dump for free (free here in Orlando at least) or drop off the tranny and power steering fluid at an auto parts store. They won’t take coolant. Some cities allow coolant to be flushed down the toilet or drain. Don’t be a dumb ass and do that stupid shit. In no way is that healthy for anyone or anything. That shit gets into lakes and ponds that we swim in and drink from and gets into the fish that we eat and soil that we grow fruits and veggies from. Use your head and dispose of this shit properly.
You wanna overbuy antifreeze too. What you don’t use, keep your receipt and return it for a refund. Check your owner’s manual to see what type to use and how much your car’s capacity is. I bought 3 gallons of antifreeze and that’s why I bought those 20 quarts of Mercon V. I used them all to get the job done. The most important thing is that the job got done right. A car with fresh fluids is a happy car. Let’s examine the cost of all this minus tools and incidentals like the stripped tranny bolt and broken petcock. We’re talking antifreeze and tranny fluid, filter, and gasket. Altogether for labor and a true fluid exchange, not a flush, I can imagine the price would be more than $500 and that’s not an exaggeration. A lot of that cost is from overly expensive fluids and parts.
One quart of Super Tech Mercon V? $4.27. Brand name or OEM? Between 7 and 8 bucks. And you wouldn’t know for sure if they were using the proper transmission fluid. One gallon of 50/50 antifreeze? With the discounts I use, less than 8 bucks. Brand name (and they wouldn’t use 50/50)? Around 15 smacks. And you still wouldn’t know if they were using the right shit. And like I said before, you wouldn’t even know if they were doing a real exchange or a half-assed flush. The coolant exchange was very simple. The tranny fluid exchange (just the fluid, not the filter and gasket) is simpler than you might think. The power steering would be the hardest and most time-consuming but even it can be simple provided you have proper instructions specific to your car.
My total cost? Around $200. The degas bottle was around $40. It’d cost twice as much or more at a shop. The tranny filter and gasket were $20. We’re talking over 3 times as much at a shop. What could you do with all that extra money? I’ll tell you exactly what you can do: go buy a nut and bolt extractor set. Regular and deep socket. It’s a critical set of tools to have. I never had a need for anything like it until yesterday. I’m letting you know from my experience that you don’t wanna get caught by surprise by a rounded-off bolt head. Be prepared in advance by having that set readily available in your tool box right now! You can thank me later. And definitely check out Harbor Freight for tools and other things. Ever since I started shopping there, I haven’t been disappointed with my purchases. Another piece of advice is to start your repairs as soon as daylight hits or as early as possible in the day because when surprises happen (bad ones, not good ones), you don’t wanna be reinstalling your valance (an unfamiliar term for what you might call a skid plate) in the darkness like I had to. Don’t be intimidated by the valance. It’s very easy to take on and off.