How to Prevent Automatic Transmission Gearbox Failure

It is very easy to kill an automatic gearbox especially when you have increased horsepower. Many have managed to kill their YRV Turbo gearbox, and even more have destroyed gearboxes on Myvi’s with bolt on turbos. More often than not, automatic transmission gearboxes fail due to heat, which breaks down the ATF and stresses the gearbox.

I have 3 vehicles with automatic transmissions in my household, a 16 year old ZF 4HP14, a 11 year old Aisin 03-72LE and a 5 year old Myvi that I just swapped to K3-VET this year. All automatic transmissions are working great because they are well maintained – I don’t baby the cars at all, all 3 have seen pedal to the metal top speed runs.

Here’s some easy steps to take care of your automatic transmission.

  1. Use the correct Automatic Transmission Fluid
  2. Change ATF every 20,000km or 1 year
  3. Change the ATF filter
  4. Install an ATF cooler
  5. Optional: Bypass the radiator
  6. Check for leaks
  7. Learn to drive an automatic correctly


Use the correct Automatic Transmission Fluid (ATF) for your car.

I see a lot of people using the new Toyota ATF-WS and Toyota T-IV in their Myvi & YRV Turbo automatic gearbox and says its good with no problems. The truth is, Toyota’s official technical service bulletin stated clearly that Toyota ATF-WS is NOT COMPATIBLE with T-IV or Dexron ATF, and T-IV is NOT COMPATIBLE with Dexron ATF.


Toyota WS Specification
Toyota WS is NOT compatible with T-IV or Dexron ATF!


Toyota T-IV is NOT USABLE for Dexron II/II specification!


Both Myvi & YRV Turbo automatic gearbox specification states to use Dexron III ATF only. If you want the latest and most advanced ATF, use synthetic ATF that meets Dexron III specifications. Sure, you probably argue that with Toyota T-IV or Toyota WS your gearbox runs fine, but truth is, gearboxes only fail overnight if there’s no ATF at all, it won’t fail immediately if you put the wrong ATF in. Gearboxes are expensive, why take the risk with an ATF with the wrong specification. A lot of engineer “bawah pokok” will tell you that it is fine. Do you want to believe them, or the people who build your gearbox and formulate the ATF. The Perodua Myvi with K3-VE and 3SZ-VE engines use the A4LB-1 automatic transmission made by Aisin-Warner, which is a company partly owned by Toyota. The Daihatsu YRV Turbo should be using the A4B-D1 automatic transmission by Aisin-Warner as well.


Change ATF every 20,000km or 1 year whichever comes first

Daihatsu ATF-3, the safe choice. Picture credits: Vanli

Change the correct ATF every 20,000km. There’s a total of 5 liters of ATF in the transmission, but each drain and fill can only change 2.2 liters. So change it more often. If you don’t travel that much, be sure to change every year as well because the ATF in the transmission will oxidize. It is not necessary to do a flush as you would replace almost all the ATF when you change the ATF filter mentioned in the next point. Dexron III ATF is cheap, only RM18 per liter for Daihatsu ATF-3 from Vanli so don’t be a cheapskate. 


Change the automatic transmission filter or ATF filter

The bottom most black cartridge is the filter.

Most Myvi and K3-VET owners don’t know there’s an ATF filter as it is not stated as a service item. The filter is really cheap, around RM30 for an aftermarket one. I changed the ATF filter in my K3-VET Steershift automatic gearbox when I transplanted it into my Myvi. I will change it every 80,000km or 3 years, whichever comes first. The K3-VET uses the same ATF filter as the Myvi K3-VE, so its easy to get.


Install an ATF cooler

ATF cooler installed right in front for maximum airflow.

With the tropical climate throughout the year in Malaysia, we see 32°C and above everyday. Installing an ATF cooler will extend the life of the ATF, and more importantly prevent the torque converter from overheating. As an example, Proton Perdana was notorious for its automatic gearbox incinerating itself, and its facelift model came with an ATF cooler from the factory. The new Proton Inspira also comes with ATF cooler pre-installed from the factory, and the original Mitsubishi Lancer GT did not have an ATF cooler until late models. This improvement done by Proton is to adapt the cars to the Malaysia’s climate.


Optional: Bypass the radiator

In most stock cars without an ATF cooler, the radiator that cools coolant has a separate section for the ATF. The benefits is that as the engine warms up, the coolant in the radiator will warm up as well, which heats up the ATF to operational temperatures. The major downside is that in the event of an internal leak and coolant mixes with ATF, it means bye bye gearbox. Installing an ATF cooler and bypassing the radiator would mean one thing less to worry about.


Check for leaks

Simple advice, we wouldn’t know when and if the car will start leaking engine oil, ATF, coolant etc. There are many reasons for this, hose deteriorating, leaky oil pans, holes in radiators, hose clamps giving way and etc. Just make a habit to check the ground under the car for any suspicious looking liquids.


Learn to drive an automatic correctly

  • Never shift from Reverse to Drive, or Drive to Reverse before the car comes to a complete stop.
  • Never shift to Park until the car comes to a complete stop.
  • Overdrive off or OD off means you are limited to 3 speeds only, suitable for driving in a hilly area or to slow down the car using engine braking when driving downhill. For normal driving it should always be on.


Hopefully these steps will help to ensure your automatic transmission serve you for years to come.

9 thoughts on “How to Prevent Automatic Transmission Gearbox Failure”

  1. thanx for the awesome write up. helped me a lot. wish i found it earlier tho. did some research bout the d3 atf for yrv turbo. u did mention bout k3-ve uses A4LB-1 while k3-vet uses A4B-D1 instead. i need to know if the two makes any significant differences. is it better to use A4B-D1 instead of A4LB-1 on my yrv? can i get A4B-D1 from perodua too? or they only have the A4LB-1 only since perodua never had yrv in their production. Or u can tell me where i can get the A4B-D1. Please tell me i can easily get it. tq in adv

  2. i got one alza auto. Normally there is one bolt at gear box to determine the atf oil is enough after pour from stick ( yellow stick). Can you show me where is that bolt on?

  3. Have YRV-F. NOT Turbo. 9 Years old. 55,000 miles. Auto Box oil never changed. Can I drain oil via sump plug and refill via dip stick tube – without dropping pan which is beyond my capabilities / equipment resources. How do you change the filter ?

  4. Yes you can drain via sump plug and refill via dip stick tube, that would change about 2L of ATF. You must drop the pan to change the filter.

  5. Found it does not have a changeable filter. Instead it uses a strainer which is designed not to be changed so that makes the job simple. Many Thanks

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