Tom Lohr is an avid home improvement enthusiast. He prefers to spend the money he saves on new tools and gardening supplies.
Transmissions: The Enigma of the Engine
Transmissions are mysterious. There are all sorts of hydraulic magic happening inside of one to keep your CRV shifting smoothly as you cruise down the highway. What isn't mysterious is what will happen to your transmission if you fail to change the fluid. Short of actually running out of fluid, old transmission fluid is the worst at promoting strain and wear on the transmission that will ultimately lead to it being replaced. With many vehicles, a transmission replacement can cost thousands of dollars.
What is even less mysterious is how to change your CRV's transmission fluid to keep it on the road longer and shifting smoothly. While the following procedure is targeted for the 4th generation CRVs, it is very similar for previous years. It is NOT relevant to CRVs from 2015 onwards. In 2015 Honda switched the normal transmission to the troublesome CVT transmission which is a totally different mechanism.
The good news is you can refresh your CRV's transmission fluid with a procedure that is similar to but easier than changing its oil. The big difference between the two is that the transmission is easier to access, and it does not require a new filter.
Prepare the Vehicle
Park on level ground. Your engine should be warm, but not so hot you will not burn your hands when the transmission fluid comes flowing out. Place chocks or some other device under the wheels to keep it from moving while you are working on it.
Locate and Open the Transmission Access Panel
Just under the front bumper, slightly on the driver's side, is a plastic panel that is part of the under-engine protection shroud. It has two Phillips head screws on the front. Remove those screws and the panel will swing down. The back portion is hooked to the plastic engine shroud through two slots. You can easily remove it.
Drain the Oil From the Transmission
Once the access panel is open, you will clearly see the transmission fluid drain plug. You can crack it open using a 3/8 inch ratchet by sticking the square end of the ratchet into the drain plug hole. Once it is cracked open, place an oil drain basin underneath it. I use a 15-quart “suitcase” type oil container that is big enough for any CRV fluid-related maintenance and prevents spills.
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Remove the transmission fluid dipstick under the hood to aid in draining. Unscrew the drain plug with your fingers. Position your hands to keep the fluid from dousing it. The fluid may be very hot.
Clean and Replace Drain Plug
The drain plug has a magnet sticking out of it. It is there to attract any metal shavings that are produced by the gears grinding together. Simply wipe it off with a rag. It is best if you replace the crush washer that was on the drain plug. If you cannot find it, it is probably in the pool of transmission fluid you just drained. If you did not get a new one, you can still use the old one but a new one is highly recommended. Screw the drain plug back in, and tighten it until snug with the ratchet. Do not overtighten.
Refill the Transmission
It is important to note that this procedure is what is known as a “drain and fill.” There are over 10 quarts of transmission fluid in the transmission, and the draining you just performed only removes about 3.5 quarts of that. There are just as many people that will tell you a complete transmission flush is best (which can only be performed by a mechanic with a specific machine) as those that will tell you a complete flush is bad for your transmission. The point of a drain and fill it to keep some new fluid in the transmission at all times. I personally do a drain and fill, drive the car for about a week, and then repeat the process. That makes around 70% of the fluid new. After that, do a drain and fill twice per the maintenance schedule. You do not want to mix brands of fluid, so use genuine Honda Automatic Transmission fluid. Replace the access panel.
A long and narrow funnel is key to putting in the new transmission fluid. Under the hood, the end of the funnel goes in the same hole as the transmission dipstick. Slowly pour two quarts into the funnel and then check the level. Add one-quarter of a quart at a time afterward until the fluid is between the two markings on the dipstick.
New fluid is very hard to see on the dipstick. You will have to check it multiple times, wipe the dipstick off each time, and allow the sunlight to hit it so you can tell which part of the dipstick is wet.
Test and Check Level
After replacing the dipstick for the last time. Remove the oil catch basin and chocks and take your CRV for a spin. You should notice it shifting smoother. After parking, check for leaks. Then check the level of the transmission fluid and top off if necessary.
At this point, you are finished, unless you want to do another drain and fill after driving around for a week or so.
Avoid a Nightmare Repair
Regularly changing your transmission fluid is just as important as changing your engine oil. Both work hard and need quality lubrication to operate properly. A new transmission is only second to getting an entirely new engine in repair cost. It is something you want to avoid or you might be shopping for a new vehicle.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.