Can we burn out an automatic tranny with low fluid?

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InlinePaul
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Can we burn out an automatic tranny with low fluid?

Postby InlinePaul » Sat Sep 16, 2017 9:54 pm

I am sure many can and will, but here is my story of a survivor transmission:

Memorial weekend I took my 2000 Chevy Class C motorhome (cutaway van chassis) at 27 feet long, with a 454 V8 and auto tranny, up from Detroit to Grayling, Michigan, about 200 miles away, only to find the tranny so low it would not take off in drive, but had to put it in first gear to move out from a stop. I put a gallon in and still did not see it on the stick. Put a second gallon in and a few more gallons in the side compartment. So I headed home since I did not see much option at 5 pm on Saturday in Grayling Michigan on Memorial weekend.

Stopped every 40 miles or so and poured a gallon in while watching it run out the bottom and down the pavement. Tranny functioned fine all the way home. There was smoke coming up from under the hood by the time we got near home. Also I found the bottom coated and rubberized onto the exhaust pipes, and up the back of the motorhome was coated too.

A few weeks later I pulled the stick and there was fluid on it (all the torque converter had likely drained down by then), Drove it three miles to my local shop and they pulled the grill. They found the cooler lines rotted because they were inside of that plastic wire protector stuff. They installed new lines and cooler, pulled the pan and changed the filter/screen. They said the drained fluid looked fine and there was no bad stuff in the pan to indicated any damage had been done. Filled it with about 8-9 qts Amsoil synthetic ATF. I think it holds a total of about 12-14 qts, so it was fairly low.

So in August I took it on a 2500 mile round trip to South Dakota (Badlands). The transmission worked absolutely flawlessly and there was not one drop of leakage the whole trip. Hope that is a good sign that the tranny is not seriously damaged. Am planning another trip for next August out east of about 2000 or so miles.
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theholycow wrote:Why in the world would you even want to be as smooth as an automatic? Might as well just drive an automatic...

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Re: Can we burn out an automatic tranny with low fluid?

Postby theholycow » Sat Sep 16, 2017 10:24 pm

I had the same rot in the same spot on my 2002 GMC Sierra. A few times with failed half-ass repairs it leaked down and I limped it home slipping severely before I finally fixed it for good. The 4l60e survived and continues to perform flawlessly to this day, with ~220,000 miles on it including some dragging a 6000 pound camper up mountains and lots of hours plowing my yard. That transmission has a reputation for being weak and failing prematurely but mine has been a tough workhorse.

I struggled with what I thought were seized flare nuts where the line enters the cooler, only later to learn that they are welded on and there is a tiny clip that releases the line from the fitting.
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Re: Can we burn out an automatic tranny with low fluid?

Postby Rope-Pusher » Sun Sep 17, 2017 11:58 am

I'm guessing that the slipping wasn't from the clutch packs, but from the torque converter running low on fluid. If you had slipped the clutches very long, you would have burned them up, the fluid would smell smokey, and fixing the cooler line leak / adding trans fluid wouldn't bring it back to life.
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Re: Can we burn out an automatic tranny with low fluid?

Postby InlinePaul » Sun Sep 17, 2017 1:02 pm

I do remember seeing smoke coming out the dipstick tube. I think that was only on the initial discovery of it being low. At that point it had the remains of the load of Redline AFT that I had put in it when I got it. It may be the Redline helped save the day.

Yeah, that motorhome sits sometimes for months. Then I can start it and throw it in gear and it won't move because apparently the torque converter has drained out. After it runs for a moment, then it will go into gear.

On a different topic, when I was a kid I had a full sized Ford Custom with a 302 V8 (yep that is what they called 'em back then. None of this ricey liters stuff) and 3 speed auto. Anyways, I was going through an intersection and the light had changed so I floored it. Just as the tranny kicked down I hit a bump and after that there was no second gear. It became a 2-speed auto (1 and 3). :lol:
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theholycow wrote:Why in the world would you even want to be as smooth as an automatic? Might as well just drive an automatic...

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Re: Can we burn out an automatic tranny with low fluid?

Postby theholycow » Sun Sep 17, 2017 6:28 pm

FWIW, my GMC only ever got generic Dexron III-rated ATF.
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Re: Can we burn out an automatic tranny with low fluid?

Postby InlinePaul » Sun Sep 17, 2017 11:00 pm

theholycow wrote:FWIW, my GMC only ever got generic Dexron III-rated ATF.



Tough tranny!

Someone on a different site said (my bold),
If any transmission can take that......The 4L80E can, But to think the frictions didn't take a hit would be incorrect. You will lose a clutch pack eventually.....Probably the Directs.


Not sure what tranny I have but it is a 3500 series one ton van so it is a beefy trans for sure.
Stick shiftin since '77
theholycow wrote:Why in the world would you even want to be as smooth as an automatic? Might as well just drive an automatic...


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