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Old 05-01-2008, 10:21 PM   #1
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Transmission problems...

We got our Sportsmobile back from Ford yesterday (it was there for 3 weeks) after having the transmission replaced with a rebuilt transmission...I'm certainly glad that we bought the extended warranty. We only had 70,000 miles on our van.

The problem started when I got a Check Engine Light while headed up to the town of Sutter Creek in the California Gold Country three weeks ago last Sunday. Based on previous times the light was on, it should not have been an emergency. Then, a 100 miles later, the Overdrive light started flashing on and off. My wife finally found something in the Owner's Manual about it and it said we should get the van to the dealer. Once home, I checked the computer diagnostics codes on our Scan Gauge and one was something like "Torque Converter Clutch Circuit Malfunction".

I took the van into the local Ford dealer the next day (Tuesday, 3 weeks ago) and they took a day to diagnose it. The Service Advisor then called back to inform us that, because of the after-market (SMB/Quigley) conversion, the transmission wasn't covered under our extended warranty. I argued to no avail with the Service Advisor and spent a somewhat sleepless night plotting a new approach.

The following day, I called Jay Minto, the Ford fleet dealer who sells SMB Fresno their vans (he has been at the last couple of SMB Rallys) and he called the Service Manager at our local Ford dealer and convinced him that the transmission was covered by our extended warranty, especially since he was the one who sold the extended warranty to us (unfortunately, Ford no longer sells extended warranties.) Since it was a costly warranty item, a Ford corporate service engineer had to look at it and he was out on Friday of the following week (our van had thus been at Ford for 11 calendar days or 9 work days at this point). I’ve been through this scenario before and the service engineer has 24 hours to make his report to the local dealer on such issues. I didn't hear anything back from Ford on either the following Monday or Tuesday and finally called the Service Manager on Wednesday...it turns out that the Service Advisor was fired! Maybe because he was providing such poor service to us! The Service Manager was meanwhile spending time arguing with corporate about the extent of the repairs and finally won the right to replace the transmission with a rebuilt transmission rather than have his mechanics rebuild it. The transmission came in last Thursday but it didn't look like the one in the van (we have the Quigley 4WD conversion) so they called Quigley late Friday but Quigley was already closed for the day. On Monday, Quigley confirmed that all they had done was added an adapter, etc. The Service Manager called me early Tuesday and said that they should have our van ready for us late the same day...but no phone call. He called back Wednesday and said that one of the special bolts used by Quigley broke as they were reinstalling the transmission….we finally picked up our van yesterday, 3 weeks plus one day from when we dropped it off at the dealer.

(Maybe warranty repairs are a low priority although I have no proof. About 18 months ago, I realized that the limited slip pack was failing and Ford confirmed that and replaced it but only after a long discussion on whether the differential was an original Ford part or not. Then about 6 months ago, we were backing into a campsite in Utah and heard a clicking noise from the rear differential. Once home, we took the van back to Ford and it finally turned out that something had come loose inside the differential which was what was causing the problem. It seemed to me that what every had come loose was a Ford installation problem…Ford finally covered it under the warranty but it took 3 weeks to get our van back and meanwhile the starter battery died.)

The mechanic's report from Ford for the current transmission problem indicates that the problem was the Torque Converter Clutch System (my Scan Gauge gave me the same diagnostics trouble codes). The mechanic went on to report that the fluid level was okay but the transmission fluid smelled "slightly burnt" (the transmission was flushed and the fluid replaced 5,000 miles earlier). He found some metal in the transmission pan and worn bushings in the "...INT BRAKE DRUM", wear at "...NTER CLUTCH PISTON SPRING". He also found brittle seals and contamination (I would assume metal) elsewhere. (I don’t know what the abbreviations stand for.)

The Ford Owner's Manual says that you don't need to do anything on the automatic transmission until 60,000 miles at which time the fluid is to be replaced (which we did). So...I'm wondering why the transmission went out so early and what caused the problem. Downshifting? Weight?

While extended Ford warranties are no longer available, if you have a problem under your own warranty, Jay Minto is a fantastic asset if you bought your van from Fresno; I’m sure that the other factories can refer you to their sales persons. Jay was originally with S&C Ford but now works for Towne Ford in Redwood City, CA. He understands Sportsmobiles and was extremely helpful. If you have a warranty problem on a Fresno SMB and are running into a roadblock because of the conversion, give him a call.
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Old 05-01-2008, 10:52 PM   #2
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The Diesel Stop in Tucson is great- the guy's been doing it his whole life and I was really impressed with how they took care of my F250. Right before moving I took both the truck and the SMB there for oil, lube and fuel filters. When I picked the SMB up he told me to have the transmission serviced as soon as I got to Denver- I've got right at 50K.
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Old 05-03-2008, 12:13 AM   #3
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Wait a minute, this guy Jay works at the Ford in Redwood City? I'm in Redwood City... and I'm due in for some basic service. For basic stuff (checking filters, lubing joints to include the non-Ford SMB 4x4, etc), would you think that taking it to the Redwood City Ford is the best choice, or should I lean towards some non-Ford local mechanic shop?
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Old 05-03-2008, 02:24 PM   #4
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I haven't had any problems generally with having Ford service our van. We initially were using an independent shop but they didn't have a lift which could raise the van (weight, height). The Service Manager where we take our van knows me and looks out for my interests...the mechanics are also impressed by the van which helps. These guys are all "factory trained" and, while a dealer charges more, it is an expensive vehicle and it is not worth it to take it to Jiffy Lube to save a few bucks...
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Old 05-16-2008, 10:20 PM   #5
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Since posting this problem, I e-mailed a friend of mine who was, until going freelance, the Technical Director for Trailer Life and MotorHome magazines. (He has also written several reviews of SMBs.) He kicked my question about what caused my transmission problems to Ken Freund, tech columnist, at these magazines. He will be using my question in the RV Clinic column in Trailer Lifehere is his reply:

"Based on the number of complaints Ive received from readers over the years, these transmissions are fairly trouble prone, especially the converter clutches (the aftermarket makes a lot of H-D replacements) and the overdrive clutch packs. Burnt fluid and brittle seals are indications of slippage and excessive heat. You probably do a lot of mountain driving in the steep Sierra Nevada range. Im thinking that the fluid has gotten quite hot a number of times. I recommend flushing the system and using synthetic fluid, install a fluid temperature gauge and monitor it carefully, keeping temps below 275 degrees on grades. K.F."

My friend continued:

In short, you did nothing wrong, per se, it's more like a problem with the transmission, in our experience. As you observed, the tranny is designed for use in much larger rigs with huge trailers tacked behind, resulting in much higher GCWRs, so overloading isn't a problem.

One thing to consider: As soon as you hit the uphill grades and start prowling in the mountains, shift out of overdrive. Frequent hunting back and forth between OD and DIR gears will heat up and damage transmission parts as fast as overloading it. OD isn't made for the hills. The little extra fuel you burn is still, at today's rates, cheaper than another rebuild. I seem to recall that you have somewhat taller than stock tires [true, we are running 285-75-R16 tires], and that effectively reduces your final drive ratio, and that's also contrary to OD use in hills. If you install the trans temperature gauge and keep an eye on it in the mountains, you can probably see temp differences based on what gear you select. It's a good diagnostic tool.

Your downshifting and use of the transmission to aid maintaining the vehicle speed on downgrades is fine. Overspeeding the engine is the chief potential problem here, but as you say, you keep the engine rpm within reason so thats not a problem in this case. Move clear down to 3rd or 2nd on some of those really steep Sierra grades and apply gentle braking now and then as needed to help maintain a safe road speed and engine rpm. Your V-10 can also turn a lot faster than you might think, as these new engines are designed to make power, and thus operate, at significantly higher RPMs than the older big blocks of muscle car days.


Since we purchased the Ford Tow Package with our SMB (Alan Felds recommendation), I figured that we already had a transmission cooler. I asked my friend about this, to which he commented:

The towing package is a good investment, as you suggest, for the transmission cooler and larger radiator. Depending on where you get the trans temp gauge installed, be sure they put it in the right location. The best spot is in the cooler line "out" from the transmission to the trans cooler up front, since that's the hottest fluid in the transmission as it heads to the cooler. Some places want to install it in the pan, but that's the reservoir and the fluid is somewhat cooler there. It's OK to put it in the pan, but more accurate, and faster responding, in the line "out".
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Old 05-17-2008, 08:41 AM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by yvrr
Since posting this problem, I e-mailed a friend of mine who was, until going freelance, the Technical Director for Trailer Life and MotorHome magazines. (He has also written several reviews of SMBs.) He kicked my question about what caused my transmission problems to Ken Freund, tech columnist, at these magazines. He will be using my question in the RV Clinic column in Trailer Lifehere is his reply:

"Based on the number of complaints Ive received from readers over the years, these transmissions are fairly trouble prone, especially the converter clutches (the aftermarket makes a lot of H-D replacements) and the overdrive clutch packs. Burnt fluid and brittle seals are indications of slippage and excessive heat. You probably do a lot of mountain driving in the steep Sierra Nevada range. Im thinking that the fluid has gotten quite hot a number of times. I recommend flushing the system and using synthetic fluid, install a fluid temperature gauge and monitor it carefully, keeping temps below 275 degrees on grades. K.F."

My friend continued:

In short, you did nothing wrong, per se, it's more like a problem with the transmission, in our experience. As you observed, the tranny is designed for use in much larger rigs with huge trailers tacked behind, resulting in much higher GCWRs, so overloading isn't a problem.

One thing to consider: As soon as you hit the uphill grades and start prowling in the mountains, shift out of overdrive. Frequent hunting back and forth between OD and DIR gears will heat up and damage transmission parts as fast as overloading it. OD isn't made for the hills. The little extra fuel you burn is still, at today's rates, cheaper than another rebuild. I seem to recall that you have somewhat taller than stock tires [true, we are running 285-75-R16 tires], and that effectively reduces your final drive ratio, and that's also contrary to OD use in hills. If you install the trans temperature gauge and keep an eye on it in the mountains, you can probably see temp differences based on what gear you select. It's a good diagnostic tool.

Your downshifting and use of the transmission to aid maintaining the vehicle speed on downgrades is fine. Overspeeding the engine is the chief potential problem here, but as you say, you keep the engine rpm within reason so thats not a problem in this case. Move clear down to 3rd or 2nd on some of those really steep Sierra grades and apply gentle braking now and then as needed to help maintain a safe road speed and engine rpm. Your V-10 can also turn a lot faster than you might think, as these new engines are designed to make power, and thus operate, at significantly higher RPMs than the older big blocks of muscle car days.


Since we purchased the Ford Tow Package with our SMB (Alan Felds recommendation), I figured that we already had a transmission cooler. I asked my friend about this, to which he commented:

The towing package is a good investment, as you suggest, for the transmission cooler and larger radiator. Depending on where you get the trans temp gauge installed, be sure they put it in the right location. The best spot is in the cooler line "out" from the transmission to the trans cooler up front, since that's the hottest fluid in the transmission as it heads to the cooler. Some places want to install it in the pan, but that's the reservoir and the fluid is somewhat cooler there. It's OK to put it in the pan, but more accurate, and faster responding, in the line "out".
Interesting info, thanks.

For PSD owners, the scangauge can now be programmed to monitor transmission fluid temp. I also switched to amsoil syn ATF when I did the first fluid change. The highest tranny fluid temp I've ever seen on our van is about 210deg. That was after climbing a very long (20min of climbing) and steep grade with OD turned off in Utah. Once we crested the hill, it quickly declined. "Normal" operating temp when driving at highway speeds is about 160-170deg.

R
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