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I recently had the transmission replaced in my 2003 at 148k miles. Since transmissions in first gens seem to be a hot topic lately, I thought it might be helpful to share the details and my thought process on investing a relatively large amount in an old Pilot.

Just the facts: Periodic hard shifting started weeks before and deteriorated slowly. $4,500 for a rebuilt 5-speed with 3-year warranty, plus incidentals and sales tax at an independent transmission shop. Cedar Performance Transmission in Cedar City, UT is great.


Background: I got this vehicle with 135k in mid 2018. It needed most of the simple “Greatest Hits” repairs, but was solid overall. I did one 3qt ATF drain/fill with Honda ATF at 145k. Old ATF was slightly dark but clear. There was a light coating of fine black powder on the magnet behind the drain plug.

Its been a daily driver and done one extended (9k miles) road trip without incident. I had a few hard shifts this summer, looked into those symptoms and resolved to replace the solenoids “sometime soon”. I was on the outbound leg of another road trip when I began experiencing more frequent hard shifts.

Symptoms: On an easy uphill, transmission would attempt to downshift (4th to 3rd), rev to 5k RPM or so, then engage with a hard jolt, like it was low on ATF. Fluid was clear on the dipstick, but a pint low. It happened 3 or 4 times in 300 miles before I got somewhere big enough to have an auto parts store. I topped it off with generic ATF, drove gently, and had no further episodes that day. There were no warning lights, no blinking “D”, no odor of hot ATF.

I drove it for two weeks, including some mild off-pavement segments, with the same symptoms every 3 days or so. Finally, on a steep uphill, one of these episodes produced the blinking “D” / check engine light combo. Worse, after parking the car at my destination, it would not engage in reverse. When I started the car several hours later, reverse was still missing. By revving the engine to 3k RPM or so, I was able to get a hard shift into reverse, back out of the parking spot, and get moving.

Diagnosis: Being 1,100 miles from home, 250 miles from the nearest Honda dealer, and 100 miles from anywhere with a transmission shop complicated matters. I found a shop with good online reviews, put it in drive, took it easy, and hoped for the best.

I made it to Cedar City, Utah without incident, and showed up at Cedar Performance Transmission when they opened the next day. I asked if they thought it might be the solenoids. They smiled and said that it was possible, but unlikely; my description was fairly classic for a dying Honda five-speed.

Their inspection found significant metal flakes in the solenoid screens. They recommended replacement with a rebuilt transmission, and estimated the job would cost about $4,500 and take 4 days, including shipping time. My alternatives were to try to limp it home through hundreds of miles of open range, or to sell it as-is locally.

Key Takeaway #1: If your daily driver is an old vehicle, make contingency plans in advance for what you’ll do in the event of major failure. It is very difficult to make a good decision under pressure, especially if you’re dealing with strangers away from home.

My contingency plan was to fix anything that was limited in scope and under $6k or so if it had a very good chance of being a complete solution. I rolled the dice, hoping to get 75k more from the vehicle.

Key Takeaway #2: Have a clear sense of your personal calculus of what’s “worth it”. Some will think I should have put the money into something new. Others might congratulate me for keeping the old iron rolling. Its all a personal decision. For me, this vehicle is pure utility - it does a job for the lowest total cost per mile in dollars and aggravation. If I get another 75k from my $4,500, I’ll consider it a win.

The Outcome: The folks at Cedar Performance Transmission were great. The job was finished a day early, on budget, and with clear, complete communication around all of the details. There were no surprises or unexpected anything. Five stars. Even if found I could have gotten the job done $500 cheaper for a “normal” experience, I would still be happy I paid them.

Key Takeaway #3: I was lucky to land in a good shop. I had a good feeling about these guys from the beginning, and every interaction I had with them reinforced this. Online reviews were very helpful in making the choice. I suggest using a shop that sells a mainstream rebuilder’s product, like H&A.

Other Details: Beyond just having a Pilot that would get me home, the new transmission has several benefits:

- H&A rebuilt Honda 5-speeds come with a warranty. Mine is 3 years, unlimited mileage, serviceable at any of their dealer shops. Its not perfect, but its enough for me.

- My highway gas mileage has improved 10% or so.

- H&A requires an external transmission cooler for their warranty. Its mounted in front of the main radiator. While ’03 radiators are less likely to fail and mix ATF with coolant than the ’05, its nice to have the risk of the combined radiator / ATF cooler entirely eliminated.

- I had the front motor mount replaced while it was opened up. Extra labor charge was insignificant.

- I asked about Honda ATF vs. third party, since this is a question that generates lots of discussion. They strongly recommended Honda-branded ATF only, with a drain / refill every 10k miles. They said they would recommend running a little low until you could refill with Honda, vs adding “foreign” ATF.
 

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Awesome write up! I enjoyed reading it.

Did you just grab a hotel while you were there waiting? What did you do to pass the time? Awesome to find a solid transmission shop. I think those are unicorns.
 

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I recently had the transmission replaced in my 2003 at 148k miles. Since transmissions in first gens seem to be a hot topic lately, I thought it might be helpful to share the details and my thought process on investing a relatively large amount in an old Pilot.

Just the facts: Periodic hard shifting started weeks before and deteriorated slowly. $4,500 for a rebuilt 5-speed with 3-year warranty, plus incidentals and sales tax at an independent transmission shop. Cedar Performance Transmission in Cedar City, UT is great.


Background: I got this vehicle with 135k in mid 2018. It needed most of the simple “Greatest Hits” repairs, but was solid overall. I did one 3qt ATF drain/fill with Honda ATF at 145k. Old ATF was slightly dark but clear. There was a light coating of fine black powder on the magnet behind the drain plug.

Its been a daily driver and done one extended (9k miles) road trip without incident. I had a few hard shifts this summer, looked into those symptoms and resolved to replace the solenoids “sometime soon”. I was on the outbound leg of another road trip when I began experiencing more frequent hard shifts.

Symptoms: On an easy uphill, transmission would attempt to downshift (4th to 3rd), rev to 5k RPM or so, then engage with a hard jolt, like it was low on ATF. Fluid was clear on the dipstick, but a pint low. It happened 3 or 4 times in 300 miles before I got somewhere big enough to have an auto parts store. I topped it off with generic ATF, drove gently, and had no further episodes that day. There were no warning lights, no blinking “D”, no odor of hot ATF.

I drove it for two weeks, including some mild off-pavement segments, with the same symptoms every 3 days or so. Finally, on a steep uphill, one of these episodes produced the blinking “D” / check engine light combo. Worse, after parking the car at my destination, it would not engage in reverse. When I started the car several hours later, reverse was still missing. By revving the engine to 3k RPM or so, I was able to get a hard shift into reverse, back out of the parking spot, and get moving.

Diagnosis: Being 1,100 miles from home, 250 miles from the nearest Honda dealer, and 100 miles from anywhere with a transmission shop complicated matters. I found a shop with good online reviews, put it in drive, took it easy, and hoped for the best.

I made it to Cedar City, Utah without incident, and showed up at Cedar Performance Transmission when they opened the next day. I asked if they thought it might be the solenoids. They smiled and said that it was possible, but unlikely; my description was fairly classic for a dying Honda five-speed.

Their inspection found significant metal flakes in the solenoid screens. They recommended replacement with a rebuilt transmission, and estimated the job would cost about $4,500 and take 4 days, including shipping time. My alternatives were to try to limp it home through hundreds of miles of open range, or to sell it as-is locally.

Key Takeaway #1: If your daily driver is an old vehicle, make contingency plans in advance for what you’ll do in the event of major failure. It is very difficult to make a good decision under pressure, especially if you’re dealing with strangers away from home.

My contingency plan was to fix anything that was limited in scope and under $6k or so if it had a very good chance of being a complete solution. I rolled the dice, hoping to get 75k more from the vehicle.

Key Takeaway #2: Have a clear sense of your personal calculus of what’s “worth it”. Some will think I should have put the money into something new. Others might congratulate me for keeping the old iron rolling. Its all a personal decision. For me, this vehicle is pure utility - it does a job for the lowest total cost per mile in dollars and aggravation. If I get another 75k from my $4,500, I’ll consider it a win.

The Outcome: The folks at Cedar Performance Transmission were great. The job was finished a day early, on budget, and with clear, complete communication around all of the details. There were no surprises or unexpected anything. Five stars. Even if found I could have gotten the job done $500 cheaper for a “normal” experience, I would still be happy I paid them.

Key Takeaway #3: I was lucky to land in a good shop. I had a good feeling about these guys from the beginning, and every interaction I had with them reinforced this. Online reviews were very helpful in making the choice. I suggest using a shop that sells a mainstream rebuilder’s product, like H&A.

Other Details: Beyond just having a Pilot that would get me home, the new transmission has several benefits:

- H&A rebuilt Honda 5-speeds come with a warranty. Mine is 3 years, unlimited mileage, serviceable at any of their dealer shops. Its not perfect, but its enough for me.

- My highway gas mileage has improved 10% or so.

- H&A requires an external transmission cooler for their warranty. Its mounted in front of the main radiator. While ’03 radiators are less likely to fail and mix ATF with coolant than the ’05, its nice to have the risk of the combined radiator / ATF cooler entirely eliminated.

- I had the front motor mount replaced while it was opened up. Extra labor charge was insignificant.

- I asked about Honda ATF vs. third party, since this is a question that generates lots of discussion. They strongly recommended Honda-branded ATF only, with a drain / refill every 10k miles. They said they would recommend running a little low until you could refill with Honda, vs adding “foreign” ATF.
$4,500 to save it? Ya, I would have done it too.
I really have mixed feelings about external transmission cooler versus going through the radiator. Sometimes transmissions are too cool and do not operate at at least 175° In colder climates. But ya, I understand that no one wants the strawberry milkshake coming out of their radiator = death to the transmission. My solution would be to install a brand new radiator as designed before hand. They are very inexpensive.
My only other opinion is the use of Honda DW-1 transmission fluid. I understand if required for a waranty, if Honda or the shop is paying the tab if it breaks. For me, with a transmission out of waranty, my money is on Valvoline Maxlife ATF. I've got a 5 speed 2012 Crosstour that has been on MaxLife since 102k miles. It Now has 225k miles and still going strong. We drain and fill every 30k.
Great write up! TY!
 

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When I had a major tranny fluid leak on my 05 Pilot (140k miles) while on the road this summer, I almost fainted! There we were, stuck at the light, unable to budge my car with the dreaded engine light and a few others blinking like xmas lights!! I remember feeling shaky not because we're stuck in the middle of the road, I felt shaky (dreadful) because of what's my next decision once I got the Pilot home! Also not because of my transmission being gone (I was certain my tranny was kaput after I came out and found the big puddle of red fluid under the engine!), but because I had just several major expenses done on my Pilot the previous month. New tires, new shocks, new brakes ( I thought I'll make even if I can get two more years out of my Pilot). Furthermore, two years before, I had also replaced the AC compressor, alternator and starter (I thought that I'll make even If I can get two more years...). These cost me a total of about $4k. My attention was momentarily redirected after what seems to be an eternity while sitting at the stop light (thinking of all the new expensive items I invested into the Pilot) when my wife finally grabbed my arm and asked if I can still move the car because the line was getting longer and people were angrily honking their horns! Long story short, I was lucky to be able to still save my tranny! But my decision for sure was to donate my Pilot if tranny was unsalvageable. Thanks!
 

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When I had a major tranny fluid leak on my 05 Pilot (140k miles) while on the road this summer, I almost fainted! Not because of my transmission being gone (I thought my tranny was kaput!), but because I had just several major expenses done on it the previous month. New tires, new shocks, new brakes. Furthermore, two years before, I had also replaced the AC compressor, alternator and starter. These cost me a total of about $5k. My attention was momentarily redirected after what seems to be an eternity while sitting at the stop light (thinking of all the new expensive items I invested into the Pilot) when my wife finally grabbed my arm and asked if I can still move the car because the line was getting longer and people are angrily honking their horns! Long story short, I was lucky to be able to still save my tranny! But my initial reaction was to donate my Pilot if tranny was unsalvageable. Thanks!
Where was the leak and how did you handle the repair? Please, ty
 

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I found out that the source of leakage was where the transmission cooler and the radiator met. Luckily, the cooler had broken just before it entered the radiator. But initially, I had to be sure that there was no mixing of coolant and tranny fluid that had taken place inside the radiator and/or transmission. First, I carefully examined the radiator--opened the rad cap and looked for mixing (strawberry milkshake color--it would have been very conspicuous). Then I drained the coolant and further determined that no mixing took place. Next, I drained the remaining tranny fluid (less than a quart left). This, too revealed no hint of mixing. I then made a decision (over several days) to get it towed to a local shop to have the radiator replaced. I had the radiator shipped to me online. Radiator cost me $130, 2 gal tranny fluids, 2 gallons coolant. I spent around $600 total ($400 labor). Thanks.
 

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I found out that the source of leakage was where the transmission cooler and the radiator met. Luckily, the cooler had broken just before it entered the radiator. But initially, I had to be sure that there was no mixing of coolant and tranny fluid that had taken place inside the radiator and/or transmission. First, I carefully examined the radiator--opened the rad cap and looked for mixing (strawberry milkshake color--it would have been very conspicuous). Then I drained the coolant and further determined that no mixing took place. Next, I drained the remaining tranny fluid (less than a quart left). This, too revealed no hint of mixing. I then made a decision (over several days) to get it towed to a local shop to have the radiator replaced. I had the radiator shipped to me online. Radiator cost me $130, 2 gal tranny fluids, 2 gallons coolant. I spent around $600 total ($400 labor). Thanks.
Wow, that was almost a disaster. Thankfully not.
[Note to self on a new radiator as a preventive measure]
 

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Discussion Starter #8
Did you just grab a hotel while you were there waiting? What did you do to pass the time? Awesome to find a solid transmission shop. I think those are unicorns.
You get to be a tourist for a few days in a town you didn't expect to visit. If you're lucky and get a nice town and you're not on a tight schedule, its fun.
 

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Discussion Starter #9
My solution would be to install a brand new radiator as designed before hand. They are very inexpensive.

My only other opinion is the use of Honda DW-1 transmission fluid.
I agree that without the motivation of the new transmission, a new radiator is the cleanest solution.

In this case, it was "we'll only do it if we can put the warranty on it, and you only get the warranty with the external cooler". I'm not noticing different behavior, but I live in a mild climate.

I'm on the fence on the ATF. These guys do a lot of Honda transmissions, and this question comes up regularly on the forum, so I asked. I'll probably follow their advice, but I don't have any data to back that up.
 

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I agree that without the motivation of the new transmission, a new radiator is the cleanest solution.

In this case, it was "we'll only do it if we can put the warranty on it, and you only get the warranty with the external cooler". I'm not noticing different behavior, but I live in a mild climate.
Going through an external transmission fluid cooler does not necessarily mean you don't go through the radiator anymore, does it? Can you not go through both... and have benefits of warming the fluid to the radiator temp, but also cooling it when in motion? I have external coolers on every vehicle I have ever had (Jeep grand cherokee, Dodge Pickup, Ford F150) and I believe they go through both. The external cooler is an add on and the last in the line before returning to the transmission.

Furthermore, my F150 has an external thermostatic bypass valve that is temp controlled, and does not send fluid to the cooler lines until a certain temperature is reached. Some later transmission have this internal to the transmission and do not circulate fluid until a specific fluid temp is reached. I don't know if that's part of the Pilot design or not. I cannot even imagine how an external cooler could be "bad" for a transmission.

133956
 

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[/QUOTE] I cannot even imagine how an external cooler could be "bad" for a transmission.

For the same reason Ford uses a thermostatic bypass valve. They recognize the need to maintain a minimum operating temperature. Ya, it's splitting hairs.
 

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Optimum temp! The best temp under a given condition for the engine to operate--neither too hot nor too cold for a given amount of time. It's the temp that is most conducive to the engine to avoid major breakdown!
 

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Optimum temp! The best temp under a given condition for the engine to operate--neither too hot nor too cold for a given amount of time. It's the temp that is most conducive to the engine to avoid major breakdown!
Yes, and transmission.
 

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I’m glad to hear you found a reputable shop to perform the transmission replacement and that your Pilot is back on the road.

You raised a lot of good points of things to think about before being faced with a rush decision on a high expense repair.

I hope that you get many more enjoyable years out of your Pilot.
 

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As long as you are changing (drain and fill) your fluids regularly, you are basically extending the life of the fluid--repleneshing its properties (lubricant and detergent). The towing package also helps to extend the life of the fluid by preventing it from overheating that causes burning and varnishing of the parts of your tranny. This in turn, extends the life of your tranny parts, Changing the fluids ensures the fluids are always fresh and doing their jobs--any fluids, be it--tranny, transaxle, coolant, engine oil, steering, VTM4 and brakes. If you keep up with these, then you can say--Well, I've done my part of it". Thanks.
 

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I recently had the transmission replaced in my 2003 at 148k miles. Since transmissions in first gens seem to be a hot topic lately, I thought it might be helpful to share the details and my thought process on investing a relatively large amount in an old Pilot.

Just the facts: Periodic hard shifting started weeks before and deteriorated slowly. $4,500 for a rebuilt 5-speed with 3-year warranty, plus incidentals and sales tax at an independent transmission shop. Cedar Performance Transmission in Cedar City, UT is great.


Background: I got this vehicle with 135k in mid 2018. It needed most of the simple “Greatest Hits” repairs, but was solid overall. I did one 3qt ATF drain/fill with Honda ATF at 145k. Old ATF was slightly dark but clear. There was a light coating of fine black powder on the magnet behind the drain plug.

Its been a daily driver and done one extended (9k miles) road trip without incident. I had a few hard shifts this summer, looked into those symptoms and resolved to replace the solenoids “sometime soon”. I was on the outbound leg of another road trip when I began experiencing more frequent hard shifts.

Symptoms: On an easy uphill, transmission would attempt to downshift (4th to 3rd), rev to 5k RPM or so, then engage with a hard jolt, like it was low on ATF. Fluid was clear on the dipstick, but a pint low. It happened 3 or 4 times in 300 miles before I got somewhere big enough to have an auto parts store. I topped it off with generic ATF, drove gently, and had no further episodes that day. There were no warning lights, no blinking “D”, no odor of hot ATF.

I drove it for two weeks, including some mild off-pavement segments, with the same symptoms every 3 days or so. Finally, on a steep uphill, one of these episodes produced the blinking “D” / check engine light combo. Worse, after parking the car at my destination, it would not engage in reverse. When I started the car several hours later, reverse was still missing. By revving the engine to 3k RPM or so, I was able to get a hard shift into reverse, back out of the parking spot, and get moving.

Diagnosis: Being 1,100 miles from home, 250 miles from the nearest Honda dealer, and 100 miles from anywhere with a transmission shop complicated matters. I found a shop with good online reviews, put it in drive, took it easy, and hoped for the best.

I made it to Cedar City, Utah without incident, and showed up at Cedar Performance Transmission when they opened the next day. I asked if they thought it might be the solenoids. They smiled and said that it was possible, but unlikely; my description was fairly classic for a dying Honda five-speed.

Their inspection found significant metal flakes in the solenoid screens. They recommended replacement with a rebuilt transmission, and estimated the job would cost about $4,500 and take 4 days, including shipping time. My alternatives were to try to limp it home through hundreds of miles of open range, or to sell it as-is locally.

Key Takeaway #1: If your daily driver is an old vehicle, make contingency plans in advance for what you’ll do in the event of major failure. It is very difficult to make a good decision under pressure, especially if you’re dealing with strangers away from home.

My contingency plan was to fix anything that was limited in scope and under $6k or so if it had a very good chance of being a complete solution. I rolled the dice, hoping to get 75k more from the vehicle.

Key Takeaway #2: Have a clear sense of your personal calculus of what’s “worth it”. Some will think I should have put the money into something new. Others might congratulate me for keeping the old iron rolling. Its all a personal decision. For me, this vehicle is pure utility - it does a job for the lowest total cost per mile in dollars and aggravation. If I get another 75k from my $4,500, I’ll consider it a win.

The Outcome: The folks at Cedar Performance Transmission were great. The job was finished a day early, on budget, and with clear, complete communication around all of the details. There were no surprises or unexpected anything. Five stars. Even if found I could have gotten the job done $500 cheaper for a “normal” experience, I would still be happy I paid them.

Key Takeaway #3: I was lucky to land in a good shop. I had a good feeling about these guys from the beginning, and every interaction I had with them reinforced this. Online reviews were very helpful in making the choice. I suggest using a shop that sells a mainstream rebuilder’s product, like H&A.

Other Details: Beyond just having a Pilot that would get me home, the new transmission has several benefits:

- H&A rebuilt Honda 5-speeds come with a warranty. Mine is 3 years, unlimited mileage, serviceable at any of their dealer shops. Its not perfect, but its enough for me.

- My highway gas mileage has improved 10% or so.

- H&A requires an external transmission cooler for their warranty. Its mounted in front of the main radiator. While ’03 radiators are less likely to fail and mix ATF with coolant than the ’05, its nice to have the risk of the combined radiator / ATF cooler entirely eliminated.

- I had the front motor mount replaced while it was opened up. Extra labor charge was insignificant.

- I asked about Honda ATF vs. third party, since this is a question that generates lots of discussion. They strongly recommended Honda-branded ATF only, with a drain / refill every 10k miles. They said they would recommend running a little low until you could refill with Honda, vs adding “foreign” ATF.
We've got an '05 with 196K same transmission. Shift's great. The trans and transaxle have been changed every 30K by the dealer. Fluid exchange at 10K sounds premature.
 
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