Switch to synthetic automatic transmission fluid? - Escape Trailer Owners Community

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Old 04-10-2014, 11:26 PM   #1
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Switch to synthetic automatic transmission fluid?

Most tow vehicles have an original equipment or aftermarket automatic transmission fluid cooler, and presumably most of them do an adequate job of cooling.

As is often stated on this forum, the first protections are to not use overdrive while towing, and to avoid any situation where the AT makes excessive, heat-producing shifts while "searching" for the right gear.

Is it possible to gain more protection against overheated AT fluid and excess transmission wear when towing, especially in summer heat, by replacing a tow vehicle's conventional automatic transmission fluid with synthetic fluid?

Amsoil, for one brand, has a highly informative website about (of course) the advantages of synthetic lubricants for engines, transmissions, and all other geared components.

The site includes a feature ("I need products for") that allows you to enter your specific vehicle and get a thorough summary of the type and volume of synthetic lubricants you would need should you decide to change over.
AMSOIL - Synthetic Oil, Motor and Engine Oil, Lubricants, Air Filters, Oil Filters and Greases

Is anyone using synthetic AT fluid for towing? If so, are any advantages apparent?
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Old 04-10-2014, 11:48 PM   #2
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I'm inclined to believe that whatever transmission fluid Toyota puts in my vehicle is adequate for the job.
I did cause the transmission warning light to come on once ( being stupid ), but when it came time to replace the fluid, the Toyota shop made no comment on the condition of the old fluid.
I tend to believe that they would have brought it to my attention, given their attention to detail, which generally translates into more dollars for them.
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Old 04-11-2014, 02:06 AM   #3
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Synthetic fluids are superior in lubricating. They do cost more, but you do make up some of the cost with improved economy. Once you switch to synthetic, you should stay with it, as switching back can cause issues.
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Old 04-11-2014, 08:44 AM   #4
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When our Tacoma hit 30K, the manual recommended changing all the transmission and gear lube if the vehicle had been used extensively for towing. I usually have my routine service done at the dealer, but when I added up their charges for the 30K service I went into shock. Instead, I had it all replaced with synthetic by my non-dealer mechanic. Even using the synthetic he charged me about 1/2 of the amount Toyota wanted using non-synthetic.

BTW my non Toyota mechanic and the dealer shop said that they thought it was overkill to do the replacement that soon, but I considered it to be relatively cheap insurance.
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Old 04-11-2014, 09:41 AM   #5
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transmission fluid

I may tend to overdo a number of things, maybe due to my aircraft back ground, mechanic as well as a pilot. I took my jeep in to the dealer at 8000 miles and let them do the 2nd oil change and a transmission flush. The mechanic thought the service writer was trying to rip me off. My thought was that if the manufacturing and assembly process left anything, I wanted it out of the trans since that is one expensive item to fix and the oil is relatively cheap. At 30,000 miles I again did the full service including the trans and this past month I had a full 60,000 mile service which included change ALL LIQUIDS except radiator. The bill was $1300 and I hope to see 90,000 miles and then sell for top dollar because of condition and care even if half of the mileage is towing close to 4000#. Also I hope I never use my good sam towing service. I do bring my own Mobil 1 oil to the dealer if I let them change the engine oil, but I let them use their own liquids for everything else.
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Old 04-11-2014, 11:22 AM   #6
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I use synthetic oil & transmission fluids in my RAV4, changing the oil at around 4,000 miles & the transmission fluid every 30,000 miles. I figure the RAV4 is working pretty hard towing the 17, and have seen transmission temperatures as high as 245F on a long uphill tow, so I figure it is worth the early changes.
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Old 04-11-2014, 11:38 AM   #7
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Check your owners manual as your 2011 4R should have Toyota's WS ATF fluid which supposedly is a synthetic fluid. Lots of chatter regarding this fluid on the internet. I tow with a 08 Sienna and do a drain and fill once a year with the WS fluid.
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Old 04-11-2014, 02:35 PM   #8
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My '07 Tacoma doesn't even have a dipstick for the transmission fluid. They recommend 100,000 miles before fluid change. I couldn't wait that long. I change mine at 80,000 miles.
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Old 04-11-2014, 03:09 PM   #9
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I generally prefer synthetic lubricants, but as A&B pointed out, factory-original fluids are now commonly synthetic already. Also, in automatic transmissions (more so than in engine oil) having the very specific right fluid is more important than whether or not it is synthetic. I would certainly check carefully before changing just to get a different fluid type.

I had the transmission fluid in our tug (a Toyota Sienna) changed as recommended (once, at something like 100,000 km), replacing it with the correct genuine Toyota fluid. The original fluid condition was fine.
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Old 04-11-2014, 05:29 PM   #10
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It's hard to go wrong with synthetic lubricants, other than the higher cost. I use them whenever I can. I've always preached following manufacturer's recommendations and industry standards.
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Old 04-11-2014, 05:40 PM   #11
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I personally really like to change out the fluids very early, especially the ones that don't have filters, like the differentials, I had to rebuild the front diff on my last truck and changed the oil after a couple hundred k and then again at around 5,000 k , after that I put about 50,000 k on the truck and everytime I checked the oil in that diff it was perfectly clean, so that little experiment proved that once the component is broken in the oil really doesn't get that dirty .
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Old 04-11-2014, 06:10 PM   #12
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The oil change intervals have changed so much in recent years, Used to change my (organic) oil and filter every 3000 miles. Now it's 5,000 for regular oil and 7,500 for synthetic under normal driving conditions. Filters (air, oil, etc) are also very important

BMW vehicles, I have personal experience with includes oil/filter changes for the first 50,000 miles, but their recommended oil and filter changes are every 15,000 miles. They use BMW Castrol synthetic and I've never had any issues related to oil. They also don't have any dipsticks in the engine. Trans is sealed and the oil is checked by computer on the dash. Boy, times have changed.

I think it's a common thread with all vehicles, is that if you use your vehicle as a tow vehicle, or in a dusty/dirty environment you should change your fluids and filters more often. I've been told that is you use your vehicle normally (define normal) that it's not good for the environment to change your fluids early. What's a guy to do? Guess.
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Old 08-29-2014, 01:42 PM   #13
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We pick up our Escape soon, so I just booked a service appointment for our 4Runner with our Toyota dealer.

When I asked about switching to synthetic transmission fluid in preparation for towing, I was informed that as of a month ago all transmission oils that they change are replaced by synthetic fluid. This applies to all Toyota cars, SUVs, and trucks.

I'm not sure if this is a local dealership decision, or if all Toyota dealers now do it.
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Old 08-29-2014, 04:05 PM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Catchlight View Post
... I was informed that as of a month ago all transmission oils that they change are replaced by synthetic fluid. This applies to all Toyota cars, SUVs, and trucks.

I'm not sure if this is a local dealership decision, or if all Toyota dealers now do it.
Interesting. My guess is that all current Toyota ATF is synthetic, so even if your Toyota came with non-synthetic fluid in the transmission, the current equivalent fluid on the shelf at the dealership is synthetic. In other words, they probably don't have anything but synthetic to put in.
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Old 08-29-2014, 06:43 PM   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by MarksAlot View Post
Synthetic fluids are superior in lubricating.
Not sure I totally agree with this statement. Mineral oils are just as effective as synthetics in lubricating moving parts. Actually, lubrication is only one of the functions of motor oil and other automotive fluids. They serve as coolants. Where the synthetics shine is in their ability to get to a higher temperature before they oxidize. Additionally, synthetics "cling" to metal parts better than mineral oils, so there is a probability of less wear at startup due to incomplete drain down. Additive packages have come a long way since the 40s and 50s. Some of today's mineral based oils are exceptionally good.
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Old 08-29-2014, 08:05 PM   #16
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Synthetics also typically vary less in viscosity with temperature change. This helps maintain lubrication at the high temperatures resulting from hot weather and hard use, and helps it flow at low temperatures such as during cold winter starts. I went to synthetics for engine oil and manual transaxle gear oil (in vehicles which did not have synthetic from the factory) many years ago for the cold weather benefit. Inmy current car, both are synthetic as it comes from Mazda.
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Old 08-30-2014, 06:42 AM   #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by C&G in FL View Post
Not sure I totally agree with this statement. Mineral oils are just as effective as synthetics in lubricating moving parts. Actually, lubrication is only one of the functions of motor oil and other automotive fluids. They serve as coolants. Where the synthetics shine is in their ability to get to a higher temperature before they oxidize. Additionally, synthetics "cling" to metal parts better than mineral oils, so there is a probability of less wear at startup due to incomplete drain down. Additive packages have come a long way since the 40s and 50s. Some of today's mineral based oils are exceptionally good.
Many manufacturers are switching to synthetic lubricants and if it comes in new BMW and Mercedes, it certainly is good enough for my engine. BMW service schedule is every 15,000 miles. Many manufacturers now 7,500 mile service with synthetic.


Don't get me wrong. Today's conventional oils are very good and protect your car's vital moving parts. This isn't your daddy's oil any more. Today's cars are built better and need better lubricants. The oil industry is advancing with the rest of the industry.
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Old 08-30-2014, 10:33 AM   #18
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"As is often stated on this forum, the first protections are to not use overdrive while towing, and to avoid any situation where the AT makes excessive, heat-producing shifts while "searching" for the right gear."

My Honda Ridgeline manual recommends not using 3rd gear while towing on level ground under normal driving conditions due to excessive heat generation. Since both 4th and 5th gears are overdrive, it leaves me no choice but to drive in overdrive. I asked Honda through their tech line about this, and they said to place it in drive and let the computer do its job. They do however suggest using 3rd, and in very steep situations 2nd gears for engine braking.

I also use synthetic oil in my autos, but use the recommended fluid in the transmissions.
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Old 08-30-2014, 12:45 PM   #19
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I really struggle to accept these lengthened service intervals that all the company's are using , yes the engines run cleaner and yes the oils are better. However after taking apart engines that have had lengthened service intervals and seeing the condition I am not convinced we should be stretching them as far as they are. I can't help think some of it is pressure to
Have "greener" cars with less carbon footprint and also the marketing aspect of less maintenance to the consumer. I can't help thinking the carbon of one car with a few more oil changes would be less than replacing the car or at least major mechanical repairs . Surely a replacement engine for example has a larger carbon footprint than several additional oil changes
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Old 08-30-2014, 12:57 PM   #20
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Tom - I think doing what the manufacturer recommends is wise. I think that a blanket statement to never use "overdrive" ignores a lot of variables. With a trailer as light as an Escape, many tow vehicles will have far more towing capacity and their engines may have no problem running all day on flat ground in overdrive.

What I see as the potential problem is using cruise control in hilly terrain Cruise control is going to fight to keep a precisely constant speed and will frequently shift very often to try to maintain that speed. I'll use cruise on open freeways if it is flat, dry and light winds, but pop it off as soon as any hills appear.
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