Transmission Service Woes (And Lessons Learned)
So I admit it’s been a stressful week. Most of the time our RV life is pretty darn fabulous, but like everything there are ups and downs. Glamour? Freedom? Well sometimes you sit in a shop for multiple days, several of which were definitely not planned. Yes, it happens…even to plan-everything-and-read-every-review Nina. This post is a bit of a saga, but there are lessons to be learned so perhaps my mistakes will become your gain. Here it goes…
I’m a detailed planner, as you might already know, and I plan our service with the same depth that I plan our travels. We are careful to maintain our rig to the standards she requires not only for our own peace of mind, but in order to maintain warranty on all our major parts. This month was transmission filter change time. It’s a simple job which we can’t do mostly because we’re just not that handy. But, being a planner we decided to buy the filters ourselves (High Capacity Allison Filters -> procured from THIS site) so there would be no mistakes and chose a reputable shop to do the change.
Our route took us through Grants Pass, OR the home of Henderson’s Line-Up which is an excellent shop with a very good reputation that we’d visited before. They specialize in motorhome alignment & suspension, but they also advertise service. We wanted some suspension work done anyway so it made sense to stop there. I called to make sure they did Allison transmissions…they did and so the service was set.
Easy peasy, should be a breeze!
We arrived Sunday night and stayed in their handy hookup section ready for an early Monday AM service. All was going swimmingly until I decided, just for good measure, to check on the mechanic. The first indication that something was wrong was the big drum of Amsoil attached to our transmission fill.
“Please tell me you didn’t just put that oil into our transmission?!” I gasped, horrified “that’s not what we have in there!.
Sadly the answer was “yes” which, in turn, uncovered a cascade of additional issues -> turns out the mechanic had accidentally drained our entire transmission (?), could not find the transmission dipstick (I caught him tearing up the bedroom before I stopped him) and under-filled the transmission so it wouldn’t shift during the test drive….OMG!!
What had we gotten ourselves into?
After 3 hours of this we were at our wits end and got the owner involved with a rather serious talking to. He apologized for the problem, personally oversaw the rest of our service, assured us the Amsoil was fine for our transmission and even, very generously I thought, waived the service charge. Disaster averted and a free transmission service to boot…or so we thought. After 5 hours in the shop we drove to Reno, NV with relief to be outta there. Phew!
But this was not the end of the problems…
While at the shop I had taken their word for it that the Amsoil was usable in our transmission, but something was nagging at my conscience. So, the following day I started my own investigation by calling Allison Engineering, posting on the RV forums and discussing the issue with an Allison fluid engineer who had worked in the business for 20 years. The results were not good. You see Amsoil, no matter what they claim, should not have been used in our rig:
- Amsoil is *not* on the Allison approved fluids list
- Amsoil has *not* been TES-295 and TES-398 certified (both of which are required for Allison transmission use)
- Worst of all….using it would VOID our transmission warranty!!
Think positive thoughts…think positive thoughts…ARGH!!
No matter how fine that oil might be, that last point was beyond disastrous and there was no way around it. We needed to re-flush our entire transmission, re-change the filters and get the proper fluid back in there. So, we scrambled to find the nearest Allison-Certified center in Reno, NV and drove over to spend yet another day and $600 more to get the problem fixed. For the latter I can say that Smith Power Products did a fabulous job and treated us wonderfully. When it comes to transmissions they know what they’re doing.
What should have taken 1/2 hour turned into a multi-day odyssey with quite a bit of stress involved. Aside from sharing & venting our woes with you, what did this experience actually teach us?
Not Every Shop Can Do Every Service – In trying to keep our service simple I wanted to use Henderson’s not only to do some suspension work (we got a Safe-T bar installed), but also to do our transmission service. Their work on the Safe-T bar was efficient & excellent, and I would not hesitate to recommend them for that purpose. It’s what they do, after all!! But the mechanic working on their general service was clearly not experienced enough. My mistake was assuming that one 5-star service area would automatically extend to another. It did not.
It’s Worth The Extra Time To Seek Out Specialists – In the past we’ve always gone to specialists for our service -> Cummins for our engine, Elite Repair & Remodel for our general rig repairs and Les Schwab for our tires. Henderson’s for our suspension work! Motorhomes are complicated machines and it pays to go to the people who know the specifics. Why did I do it differently this time? Mostly because I assumed it would be easier & faster to get everything done in one place, plus I also assumed the filter change was so simple we didn’t need a specialist. This experience has taught me differently. Go to a specialist even if it means an extra stop.
So, will we ever go back to Henderson’s again? For suspension work absolutely “yes”, but for general service probably not. I don’t believe the shop misled us, but I do believe they were miss (or under) informed and most definitely under-experienced on the service side. Their suspension work is well-known in the RV industry as being top-notch, plus the owner is approachable and honest. He worked with us on the initial problem and has since offered to pay for the extra oil change here in Reno. That’s the mark of a reputable shop! Where they went wrong was using a (clearly) inexperienced mechanic and relying on a (clearly) non-certified oil for our transmission service. And on my side, my mistake was using them for something they are not known to do.
Lessons learned…may my mistakes be your gain….:)
Coming up next -> We decompress in view of the Sierra Nevada mountains with a blogger missed, a blogger met and several more at large…..SPONSORED LINK:
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