DRAFT Transaxle Oil Testing Results

Discussion in 'Gen 2 Prius Care, Maintenance and Troubleshooting' started by bwilson4web, Oct 13, 2007.

  1. bwilson4web

    bwilson4web i3 and Prime

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    INTRODUCTION

    The "prius_technical_stuff" team has been doing some transaxle oil studies that may be helpful to folks experiencing transaxle problems. Never forget that the 2001-03 Prius, the NHW11 model, has a growing and notable list of long lived examples:
    - 326,000 miles, 2002 Prius, Jesse's, MA (10/13/07)
    - 256,250 miles, 2001 Prius, Empress Taxi, Victoria, British Columbia
    - 207,500 miles, 2001 Prius, Yellow Taxi, Vancouver, British Columbia
    - 164,687 miles, 2002 Prius, Dept. of Energy fleet test
    - 160,045 miles, 2002 Prius, Dept. of Energy fleet test
    - 126,185 miles, 2004 Prius, Dept. of Energy fleet test
    - 125,663 miles, 2004 Prius, Dept. of Energy fleet test
    - 100,000+ miles, Ebay listings, varies

    However, there have been some transaxle failures:
    - Germany, Florian Stephan
    - San Francisco, Art's repair
    - Washington State, photos
    - 156,250 miles (250k km) Canadian 2002
    - Berkley CA, two including a salvage replacement
    - Kansas City
    - others

    BACKGROUND

    In November 2005, I became interested in Prius cold weather performance and decided to try replacing the existing transaxle oil, 53,000 miles, with a high performance synthetic. Before the change, I conducted a series of hill rolling tests in cold weather, near freezing, to benchmark the performance. I then changed the oil, taking a sample, and repeated the tests. Sure enough, after the change, the hill rolling test results were improved. At operating temperature, the ending speed down the hill was 16 mph versus 13 mph with the old oil. Still, I sent oil samples for testing: virgin Type T-IV; virgin synthetic; and drained Type T-IV oil.
    [​IMG]

    The old oil test results came back with terrible numbers. The viscosity had fallen by more than 15%, the threshold the oil testing service PdMA reports as severe. Worse there was evidence of possible dirt/grit contamination and excessive particle counts. The old oil was beyond worn out at 53k miles even though the recommended change interval was 60k miles.

    Working with others in the "prius_technical_stuff" group, we had other transaxle oil samples tested. Of all the samples, one 2001 Prius, 20k miles came in just over the 15% viscosity threshold. The other samples at 40k, 44k and 53k were all well beyond the 15% threshold and some of the results showed similar dirt/grit indicators as my first sample.

    This data suggests the 2001-03 Prius transaxle oil, Type T-IV life is between 15-30k miles.

    TYPE WS AND OTHER TRANSAXLE OILS

    I had failed to drop the pan when I switched to a 3d party, synthetic transmission oil so I decided to treat the first change as a flush. After 7,000 miles, I dropped the pan, wiped it clean of the sludge layer, installed a vent-plug modification to minimize negative air pressure, and refilled with the synthetic. This oil was also tested and the results showed a significant loss in viscosity, 8% in just 7k miles. This was half-way to the 15% change threshold.

    Some of the 2004-current Prius owners, model NHW20, decided to have their oil changed and we sent a virgin copy of Type WS as reference. So far, the NHW20 samples changed at 60k miles have come in right on or about 15% down in viscosity. Then we noticed that the starting viscosity of Type WS oil used in the NHW20 transaxle is the same as the ending viscosity of Type T-IV.

    This suggested that Type WS might be an acceptable replacement for Type T-IV. Toyota's SAE paper on the changes between the models also mentioned the low friction transaxle oil along with a bearing change. Some have already started the experiment but I still had a synthetic oil under test. IMHO it is very important to test use of any non-OEM oil to determine the wear patterns.

    The synthetic oil viscosity held up great after 27k miles, only a 9% loss and the 7k mile change showed an 8% loss. This suggests the viscosity loss happens pretty quickly but in the case of the synthetic, Amsoil ATF held up better than Type T-IV. But there were problems with the synthetic transmission oil.

    The synthetic oil 27k sample particle count was higher than desired but the Cu levels were over the top. The data suggests the synthetic, Amsoil ATF, additives are doing something bad to the copper in the transaxle or possibly it was bringing it into solution. Regardless, such high copper levels are unacceptable in a transaxle with copper stator windings. The viscosity behavior is great but the Cu levels are unacceptable. DO NOT USE AMSOIL ATF IN PRIUS TRANSAXLES!

    Along with the pan sludge and debre analysis, I had already decided to change to Type WS. I cleaned the pan and installed a modified drain plug so I could take intermediate, mileage samples.

    At 1.5k miles, the Type WS sample showed about 15-20% contamination from the earlier synthetic oil from the higher viscosity and additives. Also, there was evidence of growing levels of copper. The 5k mile sample was even worse with an unacceptable rise in both Cu and particulates. Either the Type WS or residual gunk and synthetic oil are doing something to bring Cu into solution.

    OIL SAMPLE COLLECTION

    All of the transaxle samples from PdMA can be found in the YahooGroup, "toyota-prius-sat2" files section. Having any test results is better than not but not all labs report the same data. Feel free to add your data to that area where anyone can pickup copies and do their own analysis.

    One critical test is to get both a 40C and 100C viscosity and the resulting viscosity index that gives an indication of oil quality. The extra viscosity test adds $5 to the $15 PdMA basic oil test. Recently, I've started testing the acid/base for some of the extreme cases. This extra $10 may lead to understanding of aeration dieseling and electrical conductivity.

    I've also started looking at the acid load, which increases with aeration dieseling. I only have two samples and can not draw any conclusions or trends. However, the 318k sample came in acidic and the 5k Type WS was basic. Acidic oil tends to be more conductive and is a risk factor in transformer oil.

    OLDEST OIL SAMPLE

    About two months ago, Jesse's 318k mile transaxle oil sample came in and was tested. The test results were "HOLY COW":

    318k - 53k - element ppm
    1250 - 279 - Ca
    990 - 116 - Fe
    570 - 67 - Cu
    190 - 258 - Si
    170 - 4 - Pb
    100 - 17 - Al

    318k - 53k - baseline viscosity
    26.7 - 26.6 - 35.3 cSt @40C
    5.0 - 5.2 - 7.4 cSt @100C

    Jesse's transaxle was changed and the last reports are it is still running strong . . . of course it has the cross contamination with the old oil, 15-20%. The cross contamination would probably make the current version look like my 53k sample! Also, Jesse's pan debre showed evidence of old case sealant yet Jesse's Si level was significantly lower than mine. But where did all that calcium come from??

    Florian's transaxle disassembly, photos from the Washington transaxle and Art's repair transaxle suggests that a unique failure mode in the Prius transaxle is stator shorting and subsequent charing of a set of coils. Once this failure mode starts, it is progressive and marked by a hum or vibration that is speed sensitive. The shorted coils draw energy from the spinning rotor and puts a significant stress on the transaxle. That 'hum' and excessive MG2 temperature is the signature of impending failure.

    FOLLOW-UP

    This weekend, I am dumping the current Type WS, throughly cleaning the transaxle including sucking out oil from the differential gallery. I'll put in a fresh load of Type WS and run it for about 600 miles. Then I'll dump it, keep a sample and clean all exposed surfaces and drain and restart testing with a new, Type WS test load.

    In parallel, I'm starting a Type WS exposure test to transaxle sealant. There has been some speculation that the sealant may be responsible for some of the high Si readings. We should have some results in about a month. Curiously the sealant has a warning about use around copper.

    With a little luck, we should have enough data by December to make data supported assertions about using Type WS in the NHW11 transaxle. If the cold weather shows up soon enough, I'll even replicate the hill rolling tests. If worse comes to worse, I may revert to Type T-IV but at least it will be for data driven reasons. Then an unusual sample with 318k miles arrived.

    RECOMMENDATIONS: NHW11, NHW20

    If you have not had your 2001-03 transaxle oil changed, I would strongly encourage you do it including having the pan dropped and cleaned and a new gasket used. If possible, ask the service technician to suck out the oil under the differential. The replacement OEM oil is Type T-IV.

    Schedule your future transaxle oil changes to be 15-30k miles, an annual or bi-annual change. Those living in dusty areas should have it changed more frequently. Be sure the pan is dropped and all gunk and exposed surfaces wiped clean and a new gasket used.

    Some of us are testing Type WS in the NHW11 but the test is not finished. If you wish to join the experiment, contact me by PM and lets discuss methodology and risks.

    For good measure, save an oil sample, about a cup or 100 ml. saved in a clean, dry, polycarbonate bottle. Testing is optional but impossible if a sample is not saved. I prefer to use small, half-pint, water bottles.

    If you have a 2004-current Prius with 60k miles, it is time to have the oil changed. Testing is optional but impossible if you don't have a sample collected in a clean, dry, polycarbonate bottle. Testing does not fix anything but it gives us insights to determine if more aggressive, preventative maintenance is recommended. If your sample comes out smelling like paraffin and opaque, please PM me with the age and miles.

    CONCLUSION

    About all we can do is minimize the risk of shorting from worn-out, contaminated oil and overheating from high speeds, +70 mph. A single excursion to 100+ mph won't fail the transaxle but over time, heat weakens the wiring insulation and contaminates in the oil can attack metal parts. In the meanwhile, we continue to look at what makes sense to extend the service life of our marvelous rides.

    Bob Wilson

    ps. Feel free to copy or share this reports in other forums. Just understand this is master copy and I may make changes to correct errors and add new information.
     
  2. efusco

    efusco Moderator Emeritus
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    Thank you Bob for posting this, I hope others will continue to contribute to the data collection. I'm glad I did my transaxle oil change at 60k...wish I'd have had them keep a sample though.

    I'm curious, are you looking at driving conditions at all? Those who routinely do highway driving vs those with rural/city commutes? Or do you feel that's probably not a significant factor?
     
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  3. priussoris

    priussoris New Member

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    As a guess how much strain or wear goes into the transaxle when towing approx. 500 pounds on a 100 pound trailer? will it hurt it or is it the basically the same as having passengers and fully loaded cargo?

    any guess
    thanks
     
  4. bwilson4web

    bwilson4web i3 and Prime

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    <div class='quotetop'>QUOTE(efusco @ Oct 13 2007, 01:41 PM) [snapback]525190[/snapback]</div>
    I've noticed samples from dusty areas, Texas and Utah, seem to have higher levels of Si than others. This is the signature of dirt/grit.

    In theory the transaxle is sealed but the vent plug is actually a one-way valve. What this means is normal thermal cycles cause the air inside to expand. Then the transaxle cools and the one way valve blocks inflow. Over time, the internal air pressure become negative, trying to suck in air from . . . the shaft seals which in Texas and Utah are lined with dirt/grit.

    One of the things we need are NHW20 samples from dusty areas. This will improve our understanding of dirt/grit infusion.

    Bob Wilson


    <div class='quotetop'>QUOTE(priussoris @ Oct 13 2007, 04:44 PM) [snapback]525228[/snapback]</div>
    I'm not an expert and have a lightweight trailer. But my trailer is rated at 55 mph max and I only use it in the city.

    Bob Wilson
     
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  5. bwilson4web

    bwilson4web i3 and Prime

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    Hi folks,

    Seeing a pile of oil test results can be intimidating so I'm uploading a spreadsheet that covers the oil tests on one vehicle, my NHW11, 2003 Prius. Hopefully, this will clarify what we're looking for in the data.

    Please don't read anything into the particle distribution of the Type WS. I made a mistake by taking this sample from the bottom of the pan instead of drawing it from an area closer to the oil intake tube. Where you sample is as important as taking samples.

    I had already noticed the problem of oil carry over from areas that can not be drained and the accessible sludge areas. In this last sample, I was drawing from the worst area but it confirms the importance of developing a transaxle oil flush procedure.

    With a cost of $5-6,000 to replace, it makes sense to spend a little time and money to find out how to maximize our transaxle life. Given Jesse's 326k mile 2002 Prius, some do very, very well but others have had earlier failures. We're just trying to find out how to get the most out of our Prius investment.

    Bob Wilson
    [attachmentid=12061]
     

    Attached Files:

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  6. p626808

    p626808 New Member

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    Had my fluid replaced at 110K miles.. did not have it tested though..
    My mechanic (and brother) said it was due to be changed.. with minimal shavings.

    I am now at 126K and have not had any problems..

    Might change the fluid a little earlier next time..

    The manual recommends 120K?

    We will see how it goes..

    Scott
     
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  7. mcbrunnhilde

    mcbrunnhilde Opera singin' Prius nut!

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    <div class='quotetop'>QUOTE(bwilson4web @ Oct 13 2007, 01:23 AM) [snapback]525041[/snapback]</div>
    I had my oil changed at about 61,000 miles, and I'm just waiting for Blackstone's kit to arrive so I can send my sample off for testing. Are you interested in seeing a 40C viscosity test for WS-type fluid, or was that only necessary for the T-IV oil? BTW I'm testing it out of curiosity to see if I really do need to change it at 60,000 each time or if it can go longer. I plan on sharing the results with my dealership, since the service writer said it was supposed to be "lifetime" oil (and when he checked with the mechanics in back, they hadn't done any changes on 2004+ models yet).
     
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  8. tochatihu

    tochatihu Senior Member

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    If I am not mistaken, Pat, you will be the first to send trans. fluid to Blackstone. Is it confirmed that they can perform the appropriate analyses?
     
  9. mcbrunnhilde

    mcbrunnhilde Opera singin' Prius nut!

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    <div class='quotetop'>QUOTE(tochatihu @ Nov 22 2007, 12:19 AM) [snapback]542849[/snapback]</div>
    Hiya Doug!!!

    Scott Y did it in this thread http://priuschat.com/Transaxle-Oil-Analysis-t39665.html and their FAQs confirm that they can do transmission and differential fluid as well (and someone has a great sense of humor!!). http://blackstone-labs.com/faq_gas.html I look forward to seeing my results and reporting back to y'all!

    HAPPY THANKSGIVING, EVERYONE!!!
     
  10. tochatihu

    tochatihu Senior Member

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    Blackstone has always seemed like a folksy homespun outfit to me and their FAQ follow in that vein.

    Reading FAQ I also saw that their (engine-type based) universal averages are averages of *all* brands and grades of oil submitted. Thus they will not be meaningful at all in terms of calcium, etc., as components of additive packages.
     
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  11. mcbrunnhilde

    mcbrunnhilde Opera singin' Prius nut!

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    <div class='quotetop'>QUOTE(tochatihu @ Nov 22 2007, 06:47 PM) [snapback]543064[/snapback]</div>
    Yes, I noticed that as well. Do you think a test should be run on virgin transmission fluid (both types) to get a baseline?

    Edited: Oops! I re-read Bob Wilson's post, and he did request analyses for both types of new fluid. I just joined the sat2 yahoo group so I can check them out. I'll post mine there as well when I get it in.
     
  12. bwilson4web

    bwilson4web i3 and Prime

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    Pat and I have been sharing PMs and both of us thought it would be a good idea to share this:

    <blockquote>Thanks for the great info, Bob! My sample is not at Blackstone yet, because I wanted to find out how important the 40C test was before sending it in (and, of course, find out if they could do it!). It will definitely be valuable to me, since I do seem to do a lot of short trips (6 miles or less). Looks like I'll send this to PdMA! I'm really interested in the results of the test, because I think I'm pretty easy on my engine, and I do balance my many short trips with long-distance driving now and then (I have 60,000 miles on my car in 3.5 years...). I hope other 2004+ owners do transmission oil samples to see if just certain people (or areas of the country) have a tendency to wear out the transmission oil faster--or if we should ALL change it at 60,000.

    Pat

    P.S. One thing I forgot to ask the dealership about was to make sure and get a mid-stream sample...I just hope someone with more than two brain cells took the sample and did it correctly anyway!

    --------------------
    Pat
    2004 Salsa #7/AM "Gracie"</blockquote>

    I wanted to add that the ICE and transaxle live somewhat different temperature profiles. I see the ICE coolant at 85C within 2-3 miles on any trip. However, the transaxle runs a lot cooler. On somedays, the transaxle barely reaches 40C. Yet if I get on the highway and travel at 65-70 mph, within 30 minutes the ICE will be in the 85-95C range.

    Since the ICE is going to be at 85C, a single viscosity measurement at 100C is probably good enough. But my mix of commuting and high speed suggests I need to see both the 40C and 100C viscosity test results for the transaxle. BTW, this change in viscosity between 40C and 100C is what makes an oil a multi-grade like 5W-30.

    Both labs appear to handle ICE oil testing with perfectly fine results. However, for transaxle oil, I prefer the 40C/100C viscosity testing because it gives a better indication of the lubricant performance under load.

    Bob Wilson
     
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  13. mcbrunnhilde

    mcbrunnhilde Opera singin' Prius nut!

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    Bob, thanks for posting our PMs where you outline the importance of the 40C test. I was originally going to go with Blackstone for my testing, and their basic test (for both transmission and engine oil) is $22.00. I found out that to add a 40C test would bring the total to $50.00!!!!!! I was told the reason for that is because they only have one viscosity machine, so they have to let it cool down overnight to do the 40C test. I'm sure they're a fine lab, and I know others have used them, but I'd MUCH rather pay $20 than $50. BTW I'm not getting a particle test from PdMA (the total price would rise to $34.50) since I don't expect my sample to be THAT bad....let's hope, anyway!
     
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  14. bwilson4web

    bwilson4web i3 and Prime

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    <div class='quotetop'>QUOTE(mcbrunnhilde @ Nov 28 2007, 06:39 PM) [snapback]545476[/snapback]</div>
    Good point! The particle test really needs to be used to diagnose specific problems such as contamination or excessive wear and looking at the fine particle impact on oil lubricity, the ability of the oil film to reduce friction.

    The literature indicates particles in the 3-8 micron range are the worst ones for adding drag because they can fit in the small spaces of bearings. These size particles are basicly 'smoke' dissolved in the oil. Even the better engine oil filters stop around 16 microns, which means they take out the chunks that can become future smoke but the the sticky smoke passes through.

    A particle test is useful to quantify oil contamination and monitor excessive wear. So if your oil test comes back with high Si/Al amounts, the signature of dust/dirt contamination, the particle count can show the distribution of particle sizes. A second one say 1,000 miles later, lets you check on how much was carried forward and whether the source of the contamination was removed. As for excessive wear, chips are a bad thing, a very bad thing and means it is time to start saving up for an transaxle overhaul. In the meanwhile, think of using oil flushes to keep the particle load down.

    Bob Wilson
     
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  15. johnp

    johnp New Member

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    I changed my transaxle fluid on my 2004 at 45,000 miles. I had a sample of the used fluid analyzed by Blackstone labs.

    Al 112
    Cr 3
    Fe 206
    Cu 19
    Pb 2
    Sn 3
    Mo 1
    Ni 5
    Mn 5
    K 1
    B 46
    Si 195
    Na 5
    Ca 114
    Mg 7
    Zn 12
    Ba 26

    SUS Viscosity @ 210 F = 41.9
    cSt Viscosity @ 100 C = 4.76
    insolubles 0.1%

    Blackstone concludes based on insolubles and viscosity that the "oil was run too long"

    I hope this is useful information. The moral of the story seems to be that it is a good idea to change the fluid.

    John
     
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  16. whodat

    whodat Member

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    I changed my transaxle fluid on my 2006 at 65,000 miles. I had a sample of the used fluid analyzed by Blackstone labs. Car is driven on California freeways near the coast. 100 mile round trip commute 5 days a week.

    Al 101
    Cr 3
    Fe 219
    Cu 18
    Pb 2
    Sn 2
    Mo 0
    Ni 8
    Mn 5
    Ag 0
    Ti 0
    K 2
    B 47
    Si 188
    Na 4
    Ca 106
    Mg 5
    P 253
    Zn 10
    Ba 39

    SUS Viscosity @ 210 F = 43.6
    cSt Viscosity @ 100 C = 5.28
    insolubles 0.1%
     
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  17. Delmartian

    Delmartian New Member

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    Based on this advice, I will have the transaxle oil changed in my 2005 Prius with almost 60,000 miles. I have noticed a mileage drop and was wondering if this might fix it. The dealer did a series or tests and said everything was within spec so he could not explain mileage drop.
     
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  18. Patrick Wong

    Patrick Wong DIY Enthusiast

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    In general I would not expect a transaxle fluid change by itself to improve mpg.

    However with my HiHy I noticed that the transaxle was overfilled about a quart when I drained the factory-fill ATF. After I refilled the transaxle with fresh ATF the mpg seemed to improve, not sure if that was a real change or my imagination.
     
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  19. bwilson4web

    bwilson4web i3 and Prime

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    The temperatures have been getting cooler lately and this also impacts mileage. Do you have a record of mileage similar to the GreenHybrid.com mileage?

    I found a reduction in cold temperature, rolling resistance with my first change. Since then, my transaxle oil's health has been excellent. I've also optimized my tires and wheel alignment. It has been difficult to replicate the hill rolling tests ... it rolls too easily.

    Bob Wilson
     
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  20. ETP

    ETP Ancient sloth foot

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    Has anyone done a longevity/failure test of never changing the fluid versus every year?

    Just to stir the pot a little. In the shop (8 years ago) we had close to 70% (actually it was 100% but I figured no one would believe me :target:) failure rate of changing fluid the first time at 90-140K ( within a couple of days the tranny failed sometimes 10 minutes). It was so bad we told people to not change their fluid if it had not been changed on a regular basis. Lot of factors to consider in those stats but we were convinced the stiring the sludge pot at very high mileage was costly.
    And yes the pan was cleaned and a new filter but no flush because we did not have a flush unit.
    We also noticed a thin layer of varnish on all those tranny parts and wondered if that was breaking loose and plugging the valve body and other passage ways. The bands, clutches and other internal parts seemed ok.
     
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