Saving $$ & Monitoring Your RV Transmission With $27 Oil Analysis

Wait...didn't we already do this? Waiting again at Smith Power Products
Waiting around during our transmission service last year

We come at last to the last of my semi-serious blog posts for our by-time here in Benson and it illustrates, yet again, my most varied and titillating interests (yes, my wit is endless). This is a topic that actually became rather important for us when we had our botched transmission service in October of last year. During that timeframe I not only learned about approved transmission fluids for our Allison MH-3000 transmission (they key, in case you missed that post, is to make sure you’re using TES-295 approved fluids), but I also learned about how to monitor what is actually happening to your transmission oil….aaaaand….potentially save money, stress and avert future problems in the process.

Enter the magic of the $27 oil analysis….

Now, as a materials scientist this stuff is not only cool, but makes total sense for me. The oil that lubricates and protects your transmission needs to be functioning properly in order for everything to work. If it loses viscosity (thickness), you get excessive wear…if it becomes too thick you lose the ability to properly lubricate and cool…if it’s oxidation state (=amount of heat absorbed by the oil) changes, the oil may have gotten contaminated with water, solid debris, fuel and/or coolant…if it becomes acidic it can clog filters and erode and/or corrode softer parts. All this is not good and it can start to happen waaaay before your transmission actually dies or knocks out any kind of error code.

On the other hand if the oil is good, functioning within it’s specifications and contaminant-free, you can be pretty certain your transmission is a happy camper (or a happy “beast” depending on your size). Given how important and expensive your transmission is, this is pretty major stuff.

An example of an abnormal oil analysis from a real customer. Viscosity in this case has gone too low and transmission is showing wear (copper) probably from bushings and thrust washers.
An example of an abnormal oil analysis from a real customer. Viscosity in this case has gone far too low and the transmission is showing wear (copper) probably from bushings and thrust washers.

But there are other reasons to consider oil analysis too.

The oil analysis kit & pump from JG Lubricants
The oil analysis kit & pump from JG Lubricants
And the kit assembled & ready to use
And the kit assembled & ready to use

The oil we have in our motorhome transmission is a synthetic called TranSynd™. This stuff is darn expensive, but also pretty darn indestructible. The specs say it can run up to 300,000 miles at moderate loads before you need to replace it. Given we drive around 3,000 miles per year that means I’ll be just over 140 years old before we need to drain the stuff…in other words I’m more likely to be worm food before we technically need to change our transmission oil!

But we can’t be quite so blasé!

Just because the oil specs say it can last that long, doesn’t mean we should just forget about it. In order to maintain warranty our transmission service manual says we need to change our oil every 75,000 miles or 36 months…..OR we can do an oil analysis. The latter actually accomplishes three things in one. We get to verify the real state of our oil, we get information on the state of our transmission (including problems that may be developing without our knowledge), plus we can chose if we want to extend the time between oil changes (think many $$ saved) and still stay within warranty.

All this for only 10 mins of “work” (to siphon out a sample) and ~$27 in cost (to get the stuff analyzed)…can you say no-brainer?

Luckily I had heard about oil analysis before we did our transmission service last year, and was smart enough to send in a sample to JG Lubricant Services before we changed our filters. When our service was botched I started a correspondence with Tom Johnson, the President of the company (and coincidentally a regular contributor on  the forums) who graciously walked me through the issue, offered to talk to the shop and was able to verify we’d not done any damage to our transmission by helping me decipher a second oil analysis after our transmission was re-serviced. I was so impressed by the whole deal I immediately became a fan and an oil analysis convert.

We plan to take a sample every year on our RV transmission so we can continue to monitor how things are going. Our filters still have to be changed on schedule, but our oil will be analyzed and only changed when needed. It’s super easy to do, it’s $$ saved and it’s info gained. I like it!

Have YOU used oil analysis? What do you think about it?

Good links:

NOTE/ I have NO affiliation at all with JG Lubricant Services. Just passing on stuff I’ve found useful & helpful to our RV life.

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We LOooVE Comments, So Please Do

  1. Pat H. says

    I love that picture of Paul. I sat in that very same chair while having my transmission serviced at Smith Power in Sparks, NV. It affords the best view of the TV which, of course, had nothing entertaining to watch. My experience with them was just as good as yours. They went above and beyond in imparting their knowledge to a newbie like me.

    • libertatemamo says

      So glad you had a good experience there too. I’d be happy to recommend them to anyone. They sure saved our bacon after our botch-up in Grants Pass.


  2. says

    I just got done reading your transmission ordeal. Wow. I’d be steaming! I’m actually looking for places to do the transynd conversion now. Ours is a 99 with 41,000 miles. I’m told only Allison has the flush machine, otherwise you have to fill it and then dump the fresh transynd and fill it again to do a correct service. I’m not doing that 😉

    • libertatemamo says

      My understanding is that a “double flush” is the standard procedure for many places to properly transition to TranSynd. You put in the new oil, then drive for a bit to get it into the system, then dump and flush again. It’s darn expensive, but then you should be completely transitioned and good for the next 150,000 miles or so (with yearly oil analysis). The place we went to in Nevada did it that way.

      I’m not familiar with the flush machine…you can always hop onto the iRV2 forum and ask Tom about it. He will give you the lowdown and any positives or negatives. Sure sounds like the machine would be an easier (and much more efficient) procedure, but there may be some particular benefit to the “double flush” (e.g. The driving part…where you work it through the system?) which I’m not sure about.


  3. Michael Spencer says

    Thanks guys!! I’ve been thinking about using this type of service for some time. I have a Duramax Diesel with an Allison transmission, so I will have both checked out!!

  4. Dave'n'Kim says

    Wow what a cool and fascinating post! I’m almost wishing we had a motorhome so as to take advantage of the education you’ve given us! (…almost, but not quite! Happy with our simple 5th wheel thank you!) PS I’m glad to learn your transmission didn’t suffer after the fiasco last year!

    • libertatemamo says

      I know some of the bigger truck guys use oil analysis for their trucks too. If you have a big transmission and don’t change oil that often, it makes a lot of sense.

      I’m very, very happy our transmission wasn’t harmed either!


  5. says

    Yes we used oil analysis in the 80s on fertilizer and ag spray trucks. They ran hard with huge loads at slow speeds. This created a lot of transmision problems. I imagine it being 30 plus years later that this has become way more intense with the RV industry having grown so much. Great post Nina!

    Bill n Sadie

    • libertatemamo says

      Cool. Many heavy equipment guys use oil analysis on a regular basis. It’s fairly new for RVs, but I think it makes total sense.


  6. Tricia Neuzil says

    Hi. I’ve really enjoyed reading your blog and have learned a lot of useful information. I have what may be a stupid question because my husband and I don’t have our motorhome yet. How do you keep the same oil yet change the filter? When you remove the filter doesn’t all the oil drain out like in a car?

    • libertatemamo says

      For our transmission only a small portion of oil comes out when you change the filters, so it is possible to do that without also having to change all the oil. Can’t give you the exact details since I didn’t do the work myself, but that’s my understanding of the process. Many folks will choose only to change filters and keep the oil going as long as it is good.


  7. says

    Thanks for the information, Nina. Does the company that performs the analysis also interpret the findings? I’d have no idea what level of copper or what viscosity is normal.

  8. says

    Great post Nina. I’m sold!! We use syn oil too and this will save $$ for us – always a good thing. You are a public service for sure.

    • libertatemamo says

      Glad it was helpful. I really like that this method can show you details of what’s going on in your transmission between oil changes. I see it as a cheap insurance :)


  9. Bruce Overbay says

    Thanks for the tip. Do you also use Oil Analysis for your engine, or just the transmission?

    OWV, Our Wandering View

    • libertatemamo says

      We have not used it for the engine…yet. I’m actually interested in learning more about engine oil testing and have also (recently) discovered coolant testing for which I am also interested in learning more. Both appear to have useful information. More to learn!!


  10. says

    Very nice write-up about transmission fluid analysis.
    I’ve never done this on transmissions, but used to take
    oil samples from our truck engine on a regular basis when
    we had our 5th wheel.
    Here’s a very reputable service that does engine oil sample analyses and they’ve been around for some time now.
    (I have no affiliation with them.)

  11. says

    Nina, excellent post as usual. I purchased the analysis kit a few months ago and will have my engine and transmission oils analyzed before our chassis maintenance this year. I’m also thinking about getting the coolant kit. It requires a different pump, but only a one-time cost for it and diesel coolants are also pretty high-tech, as I’m sure you know. Thanks for the great post and happy travels! ~Steve

  12. says

    Great way to do a checkup on the fluids. Will you be testing engine oil or coolant too at recommended intervals? Replacing an engine could cost as much or more than replacing a transmission. We have been lucky so far with both the engine & transmission just following the change recommendations. A periodic test would shed more light on what is actually going on in there. Thanks for the great post!

    • libertatemamo says

      I’m definitely considering both. We change our engine oil every year, but I can see benefit in testing the oil to understand what might be going on between changes. Coolant testing is also something I’m very interested in.


  13. shelled says

    TranSynd is not the only TES-295 oil available for your transmission nor, if you read the fine print, is it required to maintain the Allison warranty — it does, however cost about 3 times what competing products cost. FYI some Walmarts carry TES-295 transmission fluid . . . FWIW


    • libertatemamo says

      Yup, I know. There are around 6-8 approved TES-295 oils out there. We decided to stick with Transynd since that’s what we had in he transmission to begin with.



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