Help With 2003 Cavalier Transmission Fluid Swap

JOD

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PNW/WA
A friend's kid has a new (to him) 2003 Cavalier. There's no documented maintenance history, besides the fact that it went 23K on its last oil change (and had 2.5 qts of oil in the sump). Before anyone points out that I need better friends, let me just say that I realize that... Anyway, the engine seems strong (doing a couple of short OCI's with some free Nextgen oil to clean things up). I want to help him change the transmission fluid, teach a kid to fish and all that... I see there's a pan that I have to drop and a rock-catcher filter. A couple of questions for those familiar with this transmission: -fluid: I'm assuming Maxlife Dex/Merc will work fine? -pan gasket: does it matter what brand? What material are these, and will I need some sorta gasket sealer? From the pics, all the gaskets look like cork-including the Delco one? -pan: is it worth it to upgrade the pan to one with a drain bolt? -lastly, is there an easy way to pump out the torque converter through a cooler line on this car? It looks like a pan drop gets out 7 of 10 qts. I'm pretty sure the fluid is original, so I'd like to get it all out of there. Thanks!
 
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Middlesex County CT
The last t-filter I bought came with a pan gasket; it was rubber and required (which it explicitly said) no gasket cement. There were enough pan fasteners (18) to hold it in place prior to reinstall. This was on a Protege so YMMV
 
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503
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McLean, Va.
being a GM and 2003 it should have a lifetime reuseable trans pan gasket that works 100% better than any gasket in a trans kit. Dexron standard fluid works great and remember some transmission have no dipsticks on them.If this is one the fill level plug is on the right side of trans above axle and is an 11mm headed pipe plug. Standard refill on dipstick models but on the others fill hole is threaded plastic breaher cap on trans top and and fill until it runs out hole with engine running on level ground after going through gears and back in park. These trans's with filter change will hold about seven quarts min so be ready on trans oil when purchaseing.
 
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JOD

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Originally Posted By: vssjim
being a GM and 2003 it should have a lifetime reuseable trans pan gasket that works 100% better than any gasket in a trans kit. Dexron standard fluid works great and remember some transmission have no dipsticks on them.If this is one the fill level plug is on the right side of trans above axle and is an 11mm headed pipe plug. Standard refill on dipstick models but on the others fill hole is threaded plastic breaher cap on trans top and and fill until it runs out hole with engine running on level ground after going through gears and back in park. These trans's with filter change will hold about seven quarts min so be ready on trans oil when purchaseing.
Thanks. This one has a large threaded fill cap so I guess that means no dipstick (I actually forgot to check on that). When you fill the transmission and set the level, does it have to be at a certain temp?
 
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18,431
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Michigan
It's spec'd for Dex/Merc, and I put some valvoline dex/merc in my wife's 03 Cavalier when I changed the ATF a little while back. Good stuff.... You could go to Dex VI, but it might be better not to in this case. Coming from resident J body guy, I'd say go Maxlife Dex/merc...as it should give it a helping hand there, depending on the shape it is in....
 
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Michigan
Originally Posted By: vssjim
being a GM and 2003 it should have a lifetime reuseable trans pan gasket that works 100% better than any gasket in a trans kit. Dexron standard fluid works great and remember some transmission have no dipsticks on them.If this is one the fill level plug is on the right side of trans above axle and is an 11mm headed pipe plug. Standard refill on dipstick models but on the others fill hole is threaded plastic breaher cap on trans top and and fill until it runs out hole with engine running on level ground after going through gears and back in park. These trans's with filter change will hold about seven quarts min so be ready on trans oil when purchaseing.
+1
 
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503
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McLean, Va.
They say it can be warm but not hot when checking so just fill it and put the plug back in and forget it, it really is a easy system and works well.
 

JOD

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Originally Posted By: vssjim
They say it can be warm but not hot when checking so just fill it and put the plug back in and forget it, it really is a easy system and works well.
Right on, thanks! Any thoughts on pumping out the torque converter, or should I just not worry about it given that I'll be getting out >70% of the old fluid?
 

JOD

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Originally Posted By: JOD
Originally Posted By: vssjim
They say it can be warm but not hot when checking so just fill it and put the plug back in and forget it, it really is a easy system and works well.
Right on, thanks! Any thoughts on pumping out the torque converter, or should I just not worry about it given that I'll be getting out >70% of the old fluid?
Sorry to respond to myself, but I'm still wondering if anyone with experience on this transmission has any thoughts on flushing the torque converter through a cooler line on this car (after the pan drop). While there are no problems, the original fluid has about 116K on it.
 
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Chicago Area
It really has to run to get the converter flushed. A line flush may help, but it is inefficient. This is why guys have been doing multiple drain/fills for decades.
 

JOD

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Originally Posted By: mechtech2
It really has to run to get the converter flushed. A line flush may help, but it is inefficient. This is why guys have been doing multiple drain/fills for decades.
Well, the hassle on this car is that there's no drain plug. So, while I'm cool doing a pan drop and replacing the filter....once...I don't want to have to keep doing it! There is a Dorman pan available that comes with a drain plug, and it's $40.00. Maybe that's the way to go for subsequent drain/fills?
 
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208
Location
Boston, MA
I did the Dorman pan on my now-sold 05 Malibu. It is definitely a little more flimsy than the OEM pan. And they don't corrosion treat the bolt so expect it to rust really fast if you don't hit it up with something ahead of time. No magnet either.
 

JOD

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Originally Posted By: jhMalibu
I did the Dorman pan on my now-sold 05 Malibu. It is definitely a little more flimsy than the OEM pan. And they don't corrosion treat the bolt so expect it to rust really fast if you don't hit it up with something ahead of time. No magnet either.
hmm...that sounds kinda ghetto... What about installing a drain plug into the existing pan?
 
Messages
208
Location
Boston, MA
If I'm not mistaken, isn't the stock pan aluminum? Might make welding a nut more difficult. But I could be wrong. Don't me wrong, the Dorman wasn't bad. When I did the pan drop, I was under limited time so I couldn't fiddle with the pan and trying to get a magnet transferred over. And if I had known the bolt would rust I would've done something about it before installing. I had zero problems with the seal afterwards so it was sized right. Never got to test out the drain functionality of the bolt, but I was glad to have it there. Other mechanical issues is why I got rid of the car. And I used Maxlife Dex/Merc which the tranny seemed to love. Any Dex VI should be fine in that car.
 
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