Friday, September 24, 2010

Eurovan's Transmission Woes

It has been called the Achilles heel of the euro van; the 01p 4 speed automatic transmission. Our EuroVan Camper is on its second transmission. The first one failed at approximately 35,000 miles. It was replaced by VW under warranty with a remanufactured unit. So far the transmission is still chugging along, but care must be taken beyond what VW recommends, to insure that the transmission continues to do so.

The typical failure mode of the 01P transmission is due to overheating of the Automatic Transmission Fluid. The EVC comes equipped with a unique ATF cooler. Rather than being a fluid to air heat exchanger, it is a fluid to fluid unit. The cooler uses the engines cooling fluid and primary radiator to provide cooling to the ATF. Though a fluid to fluid cooler is typically more efficient, this particular unit does not provide enough of a temperature drop to prevent the ATF from over heating. The engine's coolant runs at a consistent 190 degree Ferlinghetti, and the small cooler certainly does not remove enough heat. As the AFT is over heated, it breaks down and oxidizes and loses its properties. An article from Go Westy suggest that transmission failures are hit or miss, based on build quality. This might be a contributing factor, but overheating, in my opinion, is still the primary reason. VW recommends the ATF be changed every 40,000 miles, however Go Westy suggest it to be changed every 15,000.

The first time tranny failed it would show signs of it by getting stuck in a low gear, and fail to upshift until the AFT had a chance to cool down. The situation would go like so: Drive the van for a few hours towards the mountains. Begin to climb a long steep grade and the transmission would downshift into 3rd or 2nd gear. At the top of the grade when one would expect the transmission to upshift, it does not, and it stays in whatever gear you climbed the hill in. Pull the van over and attempt to start off from 1st gear. The EV then does not upshift out of 1st gear. Pull over again, and kill the engine. Wait 5 minutes, start the van and drive off like nothing happened. This scenario would happen more and more often, until one day the transmission makes a loud clunk upshifting and EV comes to a lurching halt. Oil pouring out the bottom of the van and smoke bellowing out from underneath. The Death of a Transmission.

This most recent time I took possession of the EVC, I had a similar experience. After 5 hours of driving I make my way up the hill from Bishop to Mammoth. From 4th gear to 3rd gear. Climb the hill, and at the top it would not shift back to 4th. Ohh Shit, this is the start of a 3000 mile trip I have planned with my family, I do not want to worry about an exploding transmission.

I did not have the time or supplies to change out the ATF at the time, but I did start to look into the problem. Based on two separate write ups, Garreett and Baldy's , I knew that I needed some tranny specific parts to do the ATF change, and that I would not be able to get them before I departed for the long leg of my trip. However in my reading, it mentioned that the fluid level of the transmission was very important. I decided that I had to at least check this.

In order to check the fluid level one must first drop the belly pan. Though having a belly pan makes working on the van harder, it is a great item to protect vital engine parts from road debris and damage. The belly pan however is made of light gauge steel and should not be expected to act as a skid plate. Anyways the oil pan itself is not protected by the belly pan. The pan itself is well designed for serviceability. After removing the four 13mm hex head bolts, and the 10mm safety nut, the pan is still held in place by a release clip and and the pivoting hangers. This makes unassisted one man removal and installation easy. Once the pan is off you can see the engine and the transmission. The transmission fluid pan does not have a drain plug. The 5mm allen wrench bolt you see is actually a fluid overflow drain. The allen bolt is attached to a tube inside the oil pan that drains fluid which is excessive to the proper level. (drain picture not mine) The proper level is also dependant on three key points. One-the vehicle should be parked on a level surface. Two- the engine needs to be running, and Three-the AFT should be at the proper temperature.

Leveling the van is a bit tricky. Since the van sits with the nose lower than the tail, even if the van is parked on a level surface the floor is not level. Is this considered level? I used a four foot level that I set on the floor o the van, and based the level on that. However I do not think that it is super critical to get the the van perfectly level; close enough is good enough.

It doesn't seems logical that the ATF level requires the engine to be running when checking the fluid level. After all any other fluid: engine oil, coolant, manual transmission fluid, is all checked with the engine stopped. However checking the ATF when the engine is running is standard operating procedure. The torque converter and pumps needs the engine to be spinning in order to be filled and thus yeilding the proper fill amount.

The proper fluid temperature is the third key point when checking the fluid level. According to Baldy's write up, the AFT should be 130 degrees F. This is not the steady state operating temperature of the ATF. Per the factory service manual, the vehicle should be attached to a VW computer scan tool to read the temperature. However most shop mechanics just wait till the transmission pan is warm to the the touch.

Paying attention to these three key points I check the level of the ATF, and guess what: the fluid level is almost a pint overfilled. Draining this extra fluid seemed to make the transmission run smoother, however over heating symptoms would still persist on our long journey. When I returned home, I purchased the supplies required for the ATF change: fluid, filter, gasket, locking cap. I decided to go with VW approved Pentosin however I think any synthetic Dex II III, ATF would have been fine. The filter is a must, the gasket I am not sure. I think one can reuse the old gasket. And my filler was missing the red locking cap.

I will not go into detail of the actual fluid change since it is covered in great detail by the two previously linked write ups. I will, just touch up on a few finer points. The first is a series of pictures of the ATF. From top to bottom, this first picture is old AFT with 25,000 miles on it. The second brand new fluid. And the third overflow fluid, which is new fluid that has been mixed with old. You can barely tell that it is "cleaner".

The filler lock cap is released by pushing a pin into the release hole. The filler cap is simply pressed into place, with resistance provided by two o-rings. There is not mechanism to release in order to remove the cap. Just use force, however do not tweak the filler tube.

An finally how to fill the transmission with fresh fluid. The write ups will have you either buying a long tube so that you can fill from the engine bay, or buy the special filler neck with the spout. If you have beeb up to speed on your "Bill in Tahoe" readings you will know that there is a much better gear oil pump .


  1. why not add an atf cooler and filter

  2. I have looked into that. There are a couple of poeple that have done so succesfully. The main issue is space constraints of the location of the tranny. This is on the list of future mods. If you have done this already, please e-mail some pictures and a write up if you would like to be a guest blogger.

  3. Hey,
    I have a 2002 Eurovan and just installed a transmission cooler. Found a video on DIY from a Rialta Camper. It is a 8 part video. Here the link, maybe that helps:

  4. I have put the ATF cooler kit on my 2002 Eurovan and I would say it is not the best solution, because not only is this setup to cool the AT but also warm up the ATF to it's proper working temp asap. After installing the ATF cooler I have a rough shifting the very first minute or so, after that nothing. This due to the nature of these ATs is very scary at first but when you learn it only has to do with the cold ATF you can relax. If I were to do it again I would go with the improved (larger valves I believe) valve body kit that is available and keep the factory ATF cooler, only make sure it does not leak!

  5. Thanks for the info. I will be prepping the van for extended travles and have been looking into this cooler. This is the first "nay" report I have heard. Is it so bad? You still have the cooler installed?

  6. GoWesty reports that half of their EV AT rebuilds show heat damage, so a better cooler is a good thing. Anonymous may not have installed the appropriate thermostat, resulting in the slow warmup. - groupb

  7. Hello, Bill,

    I think your 'overheating' analysis is spot on, but do you have any references I can pass on?

    "....this particular unit does not provide enough of a temperature drop to prevent the ATF from over heating. The engine's coolant runs at a consistent 190 degree Ferlinghetti, and the small cooler certainly does not remove enough heat...."

    Thanks, ----groupb

  8. If the transmission is flushed at a shop, a filter replacement is still necessary? The shop that did mine did not replace the filter and reused the pan gasket. i called them and they said that the flush rather than just allowing the tranny to drip effectively cleans out the dirty fluid. Replaced with 3.5 litres of VW fluid @22K. Am planning for a cooler and dipstick filler tube retrofit. 2001 Rialta QD

  9. I have had the same overheating problem with my EV.
    After replacing the VW trans oil with Amsoil ATF and installing a Deralle powered temp controled oil cooler (their largest one) the trans temps have dropped to between 150-160 F after steady state hwy driving at 70 mph .
    The temp will rise up to 180 on long hard mountain passes but levels out there.I find that dropping down a gear or so will ease the strain and temp.
    So far so good as Ive just returned from a trip through Colorado -New Mexico
    From BC in canada and all was smooth.(235000 Km)

  10. I have a 97 Euro van that I have replace the trans cooler on.
    I threw out the VW cooler and replaced it with Derales largest remote self powered unit.You can buy fittings that go into the original ports
    I mounted it behind the engine compartment behind the drivers seat and the grey water tank . I left about 2-3 inches of clearance from the floor to give it room for ventilation when the cooler fan comes on @ 180*.
    You will need about 12 ft. of good hydraulic hose.
    I also use Amsoil synthetic trans fluid in place of the VW crap.
    Trans runs in the 160 degree range on the HI way and has never gone higher than 190 climbing mountain passes .Been over two years and no problems. Well worth the couple of hundred bucks spent .

    1. Is the Amsoil still working for you on your EV?

  11. I'm looking at this cooler for my 02 EV that although shifting ok at moment has 01192 error recently

    German TransAxle recommends this one at @70 ( apparently they supply GoWesty's Transmissions) but I see these coolers priced almost $100 lower

    anyone know if their is a difference and who is ultimately manufacturing them>

    Price: $270.00
    Product Description:

    This cooler kit is a stand-alone cooler to replace the factory oil-to-water cooler. The Eurovan automatic transmission has known problems of running too hot and producing a torque converter lockup code. This lockup code is a result of the transmission fluid running at too high of a temperature. The Eurovan automatic return cooler flow, dumps right into the lockup valve in the valve body to keep the casting from expanding too much because of heat. When the casting of the valve body gets too hot, it allows fluid to bypass the valve, which, in turn, causes the torque converter to slip, thus producing the torque converter lockup code.

    With this cooler kit installed, transmission temperatures are running 40-50 degrees F. cooler. It also, keeps your engine running cooler because you are eliminating the engine from the transmission. This kit comes with, the adaptors for the transmission, all the necessary hardware and brackets to install it, cold-weather bypass, and the cooler lines. This stand-alone cooler mounts right in front of the AC condenser to receive cool air flow, both cruising and in stop-and-go traffic.

    Product Details

  12. Just curious what you have done to your van, and if it has remedied the transmission problem.
    I'm having the same problem with my 2002 EV.

  13. There are various online sources to provide you informative details on this topic,
    but this is one is very helpful.
    automatic transmission tools

  14. I have a 02 and I have changed the fluid 2 times it shifts slow from 1st gear too 2nd .I was told it needed a transmission.where am I going to get one? Live in Indiana