Honda dealership fills wrong oil in City’s CVT transmission

Honda dealership fills wrong oil in City’s CVT transmission


These are the words of BHPian s_pphilip.

Quite often we self-program ourselves to reach out for the simpler of the options available so that we have bandwidth reserved for more important things and though these so called simple options are within easy reach, there is no compromise and often offer a rich degree of fulfilment or comfort that is associated with those in higher benchmarks.

Take for instance the Decathlon white Yoga T-shirts (Rs. 200). It’s light and natural, whether raining or sunny, I love them and the best part is, I can buy a bunch when I want or the Goan Fish thali (Rs. 120) from next door Goan Spice, Anjuna, it leaves a lingering taste and a sense of completeness matching exquisite dishes.

The joy derived from engaging in these simple options is both pure and relieving. We all do have plenty such examples in our everyday lives.

An extension of this is our 2005 Honda City CVT Automatic. It’s happy being in the background. A simple automatic, it allows us to pay attention to other things, example our now 3 year old in the back seat, while the ‘City’ took care of the task of moving us from A to B in relative comfort, having the driver’s left hand free for times to flip open the water bottle or pick some toy from the bag.

Though old, this carried most of the virtues intact, a refined engine, robust mechanicals and electricals, acres of space, fuel efficient and friendly to maintain and easy to judge and drive.

Being preowned and primarily picked to assist my wife get a hang of driving, typical of a BHPian, this car was painstakingly brought to a lot better shape than what is was when picked and despite being a few generations behind, it belied its age since it was updated to carry most missing essential features. It had what it required and more – a fresh set of tires, reworked suspension, 2 din Pioneer system offering various settings for crisp music, a reverse cam cum dashcam from Amazon, magnetic curtains offering privacy and comfort and ensuring our son wouldn’t throw stuff out of the window.

I even got it fully repainted and repeatedly touched up at a couple of places to iron out those spots where rust was eating up the metal, complete with an underbody coat too.

Hence, it perfectly aligned with our long term plans, since we didn’t miss anything specific as such. The gear shifts were smooth and seamless, the engine silent, the fuel efficiency on average better than my 2008 manual ZX and our 2013 torque converter City, most of the drives limited under 80 kmph or steady at 70 kmph and often with 1 or occasionally 2 on board, easy to park and easy for a noob driver since the dash isn’t high, nor the bonnet too long.

It is a simple car offering simple tastes, but it ticked the right boxes. My wife loved the car and used it as an extension of herself, an expression of freedom.

While I used my diesel Swift for most of my errands due to parking convenience, my wife would use the City CVT for her Yoga and Zumba classes in pre-Covid days.

In short we were looking at it as a long-term companion as we were in a phase where we weren’t in any hurry at signals nor wanting something flashy that would need a lot of care. We were comfortable with this City and it gave us no reason to look further.

As with all our cars, I prefer visiting a FNG rather than a ASC, since it also allows me to personally supervise the work done, a flexibility I cannot expect at ASCs and hence limit work at ASCs only to the essential or critical periodic maintenance.

Likewise, since the CVT is the central focus of this car, I was clear that anything even remotely relating to the transmission will be taken care of by the ASC and this is where this happy story has a not so happy twist, prompting me to write here seeking suggestions from BHPians who can shed light as to what can be done now.

To continue and be specific, at approximately 81k kms I got the transmission oil replaced with the local ASC in Goa which is Coastal Honda, Karaswada, the same group earlier also ran the VW and Ford dealerships so have had exposure to all types of cars.

I have always clearly conveyed to them this is a CVT since I read an old post by GTO long back, though I am not required to suggest to the guys who have been selling Hondas for long and I’ve been advised by them that the appropriate oil for CVTs be used.

Correct Gear Oil for CVT Transmission

In parallel for engine oil, Honda now fills synthetic oil. Hence it has a 10 k interval. Since the last oil change was done at 89k kms, I visited the ASC at 94k kms for a regular check and it was detected that since there is a leak the crank, the oil seal be changed and accordingly, the parts were procured and an appointment sought.

Since I planned to be home in Kerala for Christmas I handed the car over on 14th Dec 2020 and picked the car after all the work was done on 16th Dec 2020, including oil seal change, spare key and transmission oil top up. The service advisor took feedback at delivery and I rated them 10/10 stating I am fully happy with their service, knowing little about what was to unfold, though I still wish, none of this happened.

I started on 17th Thursday morning with a car packed to its gills with my BIL and a friend who I took along to discuss plans, we covered ground in decent time and post noon were shopping at Dmart, Mangalore. We had a late 4 pm lunch and crossed the Kerala border, since evening is the wrong time to enter Kerala due to the commotion on single carriageways. We parked near Kasargod for about hour and continued after a short nap.

The day was hot earlier and we were glad we entered Kerala without much hassle and hoped the remaining journey too would be comfortable and uneventful such that we reach home in Pathanamthita by the wee hours next day, it takes about 20 to 24 hours and the plan was to drive over night as I have done in the past.

The journey from Kasargod to Kannur is usually hectic with too much traffic and since we had the whole night ahead to run this marathon, were in no particular rush allowing others to overtake us. We were lazily moving ahead at about 50 kmph to 60 kmph. We were bouncing a bunch of interesting ideas and discussing details when suddenly I noticed the engine was revving with no corresponding input or change in topography, for no particular reason.

It was random but cyclic and then back to normal. Within a couple of hours, the rate increased to an easily noticeable level, which is when the others felt it too. Also what started in the range of 200 rpms were now fluctuating in the range of about 500 rpms.

So for instance if I held the car steady at 60 kmph which corresponds to about 1,500 rpms, the engine was fluctuating back and forth between 1,300 to 1,800 rpms with no difference in the speed. It felt almost like someone was riding the clutch to avoid down shifting, only that here there is no clutch. However, the car had that typical associated jump each cycle like releasing the clutch. At one point I smelt rubber burning and stopped.

Though perplexed and petrified, our decision was to move as close home since we had about 400 kms and too much stuff in the car. Moreover, my friend had his IELTS exam scheduled on Saturday Dec 19th, so we had to reach Cochin at least.

My first thought was the oil seal wasn’t fixed well and it leaked from the chamber thereby maybe heating the belt and cones. I pulled over to look under and though there was fresh traces of oil on the underbelly it wasn’t dripping or too wet. Nor was there an oil trail. Post Kozhikode, traffic thinned and by the time we were crossing Thrissur, this eccentric behavior was occurring at an exaggerated, annoying degree and pace, but I drove ahead on hope and a prayer.

We continued through the night but added long halts every 2 hours assuming it would allow the transmission to cool and after getting home late morning and sleeping through the day, booked an appointment for the 19th at Vision Honda, Kottayam.

During the test drive I was able to show what was happening and the service advisor said I need not look at the RPM meter and drive, I explained I felt the RPM is a truer indicator than speed and moreover there is a corresponding push in your back each of those cycles. I also explained the work done and showed him the bill when he exclaimed with a startle that the oil used is wrong.

This shocked me, almost getting me cold sweat. Oil wrong, pardon me. He said what I know in theory, the CVT oil should carry the description mentioning CVT on the bill rather than ATF. Now this got me further confused since I was told by ASC, Mapusa that technically the oil they used in the car is the Honda CVT recommended oil and everything is referred to as ATF as per Honda standards.

After getting off, he fetched a CVT oil can and showed that the CVT oil is transparent yellow and the ATF used is wine red. I didn’t have to think hard. I asked him to change the oil immediately, having to pay for new oil though for no fault of mine. My immediate worry was about the long term damage caused and he mentioned that though he does not have much exposure to CVT maintenance, they are indeed very sensitive to oil used and softly admitted that Goa Honda guys did a massive goof up.

This oil change did nothing to reduce my worry as the problem persists though I perceive it to have slightly reduced and though I now have the correct oil I am not sure what is the probable damage caused by the ATF oil filled twice at 81k kms and at 95k kms. Of course, no one can say with certainty since the service advisor said the damage could be anything from 30% to 50% or more.

I missed an opportunity to once cross check the transmission oil with fellow BHPian Nachiket from Manic Mechanic, Panjim, but the reason I reached him was a vibration I thought was due to the transmission. However, it was later identified to be from a support member under the radiator that was bent and hence, vibrating. It was fixed by my FNG and the car ran butter smooth and hence, never had to visit Nachiket. Maybe we would have identified the oil issue earlier had I meet him, but due to Covid, I deemed it unnecessary.

What surprises me is Honda being a company with plenty business philosophies in place and famed for its reliability and engineering – how can they design processes with scope for such simple but expensive errors? Aren’t there system alerts? Moreover, when Honda has CVTs in almost every car, how is it that the folks on the floor aren’t updated or are not taught the correct correlation? As a customer with 10 other things running in the mind, after cross questioning and ensuring I get an affirmative reply, I assumed we deal with knowledgeable folks.

I messaged my service advisor in Goa and he wants me to drive back so they can check. That’s about 1000 kms back, 2 days of exhaustion and about 10k in travel expenses. I am not certain which way to turn. Is there someone who can advise me on CVTs with certainty? I am not sure whether the guys who aren’t sure of the oil can repair a CVT now.

Please suggest what I could do to rescue my car. I wouldn’t be happy to let it go like this. If I find some reliable CVT expert from MH, KA, GA or KL who can cross check and logically explain, it will give me some comfort. Looking forward to a lot of helpful suggestions. Thanks in anticipation.

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