Question about 2000 Mazda MPV

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2000 Mazda MPV automatic transmission won't shift into 3rd.

I've got a 2000 Mazda MPV that recently ran dry on ATF fluid due to a leak in the transmission cooler line. The leak has been fixed, and there was never any sounds of gear grinding or metal in the pan after it ran dry. The weather is very cold and the vehicle (even during the repair) has never been in a location above zero. After refilling, the vehicle has been taken on numerous short runs around town but the transmission won't go into 3rd gear. When it hits the point where it shifts from 2nd to 3rd it almost acts the same as if you were (on a manual transmission) to hold in the clutch and not let it go. Eventually it shifts back down to 2nd and continues to run at high RPM (3000 at 50Kph). I'm not looking to take it into a shop, because I've heard horror stories of shops charging way higher than they should, but I'm confused as to what the problem might be. Any ideas?

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The trouble with automatic transmissions, in cases like these, is that you may not have a choice but to have the transmission removed and disassembled to find the problem. If all that happened was a loss of fluid, it is unlikely something as simple as an external sensor or a linkage problem is going to cause your issues. At the very least, the pans would need to be removed and inspected for large amounts of debris. Even without loud noises, it doesn't take long for internal aluminum parts to wear or break when not properly lubricated.
With the pans removed, you can also inspect (and/ or change) the fluid filter. If there are no large pieces of metal found in either or the pans, there is a small chance you may be able to bring the van back to life. I have had moderate success using Lucas Oil Products in the past and use them quite a bit in my shop.
Keep in mind, this is a gamble and could cost as must as $250 for parts and labor (if you're not doing it yourself).
With the pans removed and no large debris found, remove the filter and let all of the fluid drain for at least 15 minutes. Then use spray parts cleaner to completely removed all dirt and old fluid from all the parts you can see.
Then install a new filter and pans with new gaskets. DO NOT use silicone sealer if the pans call for a gasket. This only breaks down with fluid and plugs filters.
At any parts store, find 2 quart bottles of Lucas Transmission Stop Slip. It's a little costly, but I've seen it bring worn transmissions back from the dead. It is also important to use high-quality, name-brand fluid. Most parts stores carry a store-brand, which is made by the same company that makes Valvoline. I use them every day and have never had a problem.
Add 3 quarts of transmission fluid to begin filling. Start the engine and idle for about a minute. This will begin priming the transmission pump and filling the torque converter. Stop the engine and add the 2 quarts of Lucas additive. The additive is very thick and will drain very slowly in cold temperatures. Keep the bottles inside and warm until you are ready for them. Once they are both completely drained into the transmission, start and idle the van for about 10 minutes to get warm. While idling, apply the brake and shift to reverse, then neutral and then to drive several times. If the transmission does not engage right away, check the fluid and continue to top off with fluid until it is at the full COLD range.
Once the transmission is full and the engine is warm, test drive the vehicle. If this procedure is going to help anything, it should start to take effect within 100 miles. If it doesn't happen right away, don't panic. Just drive the van normally without any sudden acceleration or stopping (hard acceleration can cavitate the pump due to the thick additive) until you start to see a change.
I know this seems like a lot of work just to "try" and keep your van going, but I've done this on multiple vehicles in the past. Again, it is a gamble...but it may just pay off. My shop typically charges around $200 for this service, but a replacement transmission could run in the range of $4000.
Good luck!!

Posted on Jan 03, 2014

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Fluid can leak out of the driveshaft seals, the input shaft seal, the transmission pan gasket, the torque converter or the ATF cooler and line connections. If the fluid level gets low, the transmission may be slow to engage when it is shifted into drive. Gear shifts may be sloppy or delayed, or the transmission may slip between shifts. If the fluid level is really low, the transmission may cause the vehicle to not go at all.fluid level should be checked when the fluid is hot with the engine idling, the parking brake set and the transmission in Park. If fluid is needed, add only enough ATF to bring the level up to the full mark. Do not overfill because doing so can cause the fluid to become aerated, which may affect transmission operation. If the dipstick reads low, the transmission is probably leaking. So look underneath to see where the fluid is going. If there are no visible leaks, check the radiator for ATF in the coolant. The ATF cooler inside the radiator may be leaking and cross-contaminating the fluids.
You should also check the condition of the fluid. Some discoloration and darkening is normal as the fluid ages, but if the ATF is brown or has a burnt smell, it is badly oxidized and needs to be changed. Varnish on the dipstick is another indication of worn out fluid.
You can also do a "blotter test" to check for worn fluid. Place a few drops of ATF on a paper towel and wait 30 seconds. If the spot is widely dispersed and red or light brown in color, the fluid is in satisfactory condition. But if the spot does not spread out and is dark in color, the ATF is oxidized and should be changed.
Many transmission experts say most transmission problems can be prevented by changing the ATF and filter regularly for preventive maintenance. How often depends on how the vehicle is driven. For some vehicles, this might be every 30,000 miles or two years.
The harder the transmission works, the hotter the fluid runs. The life of the fluid drops quickly once its temperature gets up above about 200 degres F. Installing an aftermarket auxiliary ATF cooler that is parallel to the OEM ATF cooler is recommended to keep fluid temperatures down on vehicles that are used for towing or are driven hard.
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