Beautiful Shade Tree + Transmission Replacement = My American Dream

No mowing lawns or following dogs and bagging their poo here - Just a hot muggy August in Florida pre-hurricane transmission replacement. Time to complete is before SHTF.

A quick background story: Buddy needed a cheap car fast and found one for under 1K. 2001 Honda accord with ~260K on it and a bit of a jump from a stop. Good tires, cold A/C, just barely tap the key for a smooth and quiet engine start. Belts squealing slightly and trans mounts torn from said jumping issue. Fixed everything but the trans. We knew this day was coming like a hurricane, and now both are upon us.

The drain plug magnet was downright terrifying! Previous owner acquired the car from a customer in lieu of cash. Changed a few things including trans fluid which was worrying. The pic isn’t good, but there are some larger specs in the goop that came off the magnet. Less easy to see are the slightly larger bits stuck to the magnet. At first glance the fluid appeared well used, but a close look while it drained showed it was still red but full of fine debris - far too much to just be friction material in only a few months of driving.

As per the title, the car I’m working on is under a black mulberry tree. The August Florida sun is particularly brutal, yet even with some leaf loss it is growing new leaves and starting to fruit again this year. Given the location I wouldn’t trust eating all of the fruit it bears, but it is really good and I usually eat a cup or two of it. The umbrella effect from pruning, minimal care, and maximum shade/fruit for little effort makes it one of my favorite trees, Then again I say that about a lot of trees. I have too many to count and always learn new things observing them.

The new trans came in and looks pretty good on the outside, lets hope it holds up. I got started with the basic stuff - disconnect and remove battery + tray, remove airbox, start labeling wires and hoses as I disconnect them. Since I’m not using the engine hoist and not winging it (first import trans job), I decided to label things as per the repair manual in the same order so I can do the reverse for installation. I normally assign letters to each one and tape a key on to the engine hoist. That’s a great way to teach someone, just call out the letter and which wire or hose it is and then get questions such as ‘what is that for’ and ‘how does that interact with that system’. The best is the BAC. ‘What’s that?’ It’s the Big Ass Connector!

I don’t have ~$500 for a proper engine cradle so I improvised. Old 4x4, pieces of a 2x6 ripped in half longways, and some blocks to hold things in a stable manner. All taken off my sawhorses and cut to length. I jumped ahead a few steps and loosened the trans mounts and front mount so I could jack up the engine a bit and get my chains as tight as I could by hand, then lowered it down. It held tight and hovering a fraction of an inch above where it normally rests.

The pics I took didn’t come out great, and my light didn’t do much to make it better. I do like using those cheap LED light strips. My first light I made with them was just a PVC pipe with LED’s glued to the outside. That was a bad idea for a drop light, as it was easy to smack into something and bust a section. Luckily they can be cut out in sets of 3 LED’s and new sections soldered in place, so that one I hang in my garage. I made another one with the LED’s spaced out and I cut the pipe in half this time so they are recessed on the inside of the half pipe. I have had a strange fascination with making my own light fixtures since I was a teenager.

Nothing to really see, so no pics, but I took apart the ball joint, wishbone that goes to the strut, radius arm, and loosened the inner CV axle on each side. I had more trouble with the ball joints than I can ever remember having before. I had to partially reassemble things and use a jack on the loosened castle nut to use the force of the suspension to push down on the control arm, and wail on it with a framing hammer until it finally gave way. No space for the really big hammers and no pad to beat on either.

I wasn’t going to destroy good ball joints with a pickle fork and those lever style tools are either cheap (garbage) or expensive (I’m cheap AF, never needed one). A good hour or more of fiddling and beating things into submission. I have no remorse for non-compliant inanimate objects.


After that it was just a matter of unclipping a few things from the front of the subframe, putting a paint mark on the rear bolts where it meets up with the rear subframe section and then unbolting things. I used a piece of cardboard with a hole in it and a dollar spray can to make a clear mark without overspray. I got the rear part of the front subframe unbolted and resting on the control arms via the radius arms attached to it, then unbolted the front which allowed me to lower it down without slamming down. Carefully laid on my trusty piece of carpet and dragged out from under the car.

That’s it for today, I’ll take my time in the morning getting the shift cable removed and unbolting the trans. Around noon I’ll have the owner come over and lend a hand so I can use a pair of jacks to lower the old trans and pop in the newer one. I may employ the engine hoist and a steel cable so it can’t accidentally drop too far. I wont be in harm’s way but I don’t want anything to get wrecked by a 200lb paperweight.


I didn’t take pics with it raining on me, but I managed to get it mostly complete! Waiting on parts to install an aftermarket cooler since I don’t trust flushing out the old radiator and don’t want to replace the radiator if I can avoid it, plus the extra cooling capacity and external filter should help this one last a long time.


The old one is out! Since the bottom isn’t flat and I didn’t want to remove more stuff from the engine to get a strap on the second hook, it was a bit of a pain to balance by myself. It took a bit of fussing to get it down safely without wrecking stuff around it. It went slow but uneventful. Same with mounting the new one to the engine. Using the hoist and an old seat belt as a lifting strap made things much safer.

Then the hate came. I had plenty of time to get things assembled to the point that I could take the engine cradle off the top and resting back on the mounts before the rain came, but the instructions from the factory service manual have you do things in an order that only works with a lift and devices to hold the transmission while lifting the front subframe in a perfectly level manner. I stupidly installed the front engine mount even though I thought it was too soon for it and it bit me good. I was trying to hold the subframe up with two knees and one arm while bolting it down and got it very close, but couldn’t line up the marks. Barely off enough that some bolts wouldn’t fit. The front engine mount hadn’t lined up with the bracket, and it would be extremely difficult to line that up along with everything else with no free hands. I had to take the subframe back down and unbolt the front mount bracket and start over.

Of course the rain starts now and the weather said it was going to be very rainy from this point forward until the hurricane passes. No squall lines on the radar, just cells forming and growing as it gets later in the day which is typical this time of year. By the time I got back under the car it was dumping down. It’s always so humid that the rain drops collect condensation and are massive by the time they reach sea level at the beach. I had to get this subframe on in order to undo the engine cradle and stop rain from pouring into the engine and trans. Garbage bags had been put in place the night before, but I can’t leave it like that through a hurricane.

In effect I waterboarded myself. I had to look up to see the alignment marks and bolt things together. Water running down the engine bay and pouring in my eyes made it near impossible to see. Any tilt to my head and dirty water runs in my ear so I can’t hear, not like my vision or hearing were good to begin with. Water pouring up my nose and having to turn to let it dump/blow out. Massive sinus damage and nerve damage on my face making this particularly ‘enjoyable’. The lightning starts and I’m a conduit for electricity. 5 out of 5 stars, would gladly torture myself again.

I finally manage to get things done with the subframe, line up the trans mounts to hold things up, got the cradle removed and closed the hood. Ducked in to the garage and closed the door to finally get out of the rain. I wash up real quick and get changed, complete with new shoes since the others were waterlogged. Go outside and the rain stops and doesn’t come back for the rest of the night. Can I change my rating to 6 stars?

Everything else went by the book, save for the front engine mount bracket that was still easy to install with the mount in the way. Stayed out there till 1AM again and got it almost finished. I can’t put the battery and intake ducting back in until I get the trans cooler parts in. With the chaos of people freaking out over the hurricane it may take a few days for everything to show up. Hopefully everything comes in soon and this replacement trans runs well.


I got the car back together as much as I can. The fluid and rest of the parts for the trans cooler haven’t come in and won’t with the hurricane. So the job is done but I can’t test it.

I evacuated and went inland. I put new cotter pins on the ball joints and put the wheels back on the car before I left. Pretty happy overall with the job. I’m so used to all kinds of little things falling apart as I disassemble them on cars with that many miles, but it went very well and everything was pretty straight forward for me.


The fluid got lost in shipping, so we finally had to go to the dealership. Initially said ~$11 a quart, but we got 10 so they knocked it down to ~$8. The shifter inside was busted (button fell out in pieces), and I had to undo the housing to the shifter cable on the trans to get it free so we could get it out of park. Once loose it started shifting fine.

After hearing many years ago that some shops would purposely jam on the gas after changing trans fluid so they could sell you a new transmission, I always let the car go through the gears while up in the air so it doesn’t have the weight of the vehicle behind it. Going from slippery old fluid to grippy new fluid with a lot of weight and torque can end badly.

In any event, the car started perfectly and ran great! We went out to lunch and headed inland a bit to get it up to highway speed and run it through the gears. There are still a few odds and ends like the shifter and one of the window motors that need to be replaced, but the transmission swap was successful and finally came to a good conclusion. Having never done any serious surgery on a Honda before, it was a pretty straightforward job and for a car with such high mileage it didn’t have too many setbacks like I have seen dealing with some older domestic cars.

Now I need to get things lined up to do a 3500 swap on my Impala.

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