Yes, this is a long read, but this is a condensed version of everything I’ve absorbed or discovered on the topic. I do not claim to be the first person to document this process – not by a long shot. The intent of this page is to be a comprehensive gathering of information and I hope it proves helpful to others in that regard.
There is a lot of information out there and not all of it makes sense at first glance. For instance, there is much discussion around…
Which transmission fluid to use
Whether or not the VIDA/DiCE unit is really necessary
What drain-and-fill process to use and
Why you should change the fluid… or not!
Overall I found this job to be more involved than a regular oil change, but mainly due to the preparatory work and extra planning. In its simplest form, this is just a fluid swap. Given that I was being quoted nearly $600 for this job to be done at the local dealership and the necessary parts/fluids cost me about $100, I was willing to learn about it and give it a whirl. My car had 82,000 miles on it.
So what transmission fluid should you use?
Volvo sells their transmission fluid for $20 a quart, Mobil sells 3309 for about $7 and Toyota Type T-IV is about $4-6. They are all the same thing. If you use one of those, you should be fine. If you want to google this topic and spend hours reading about it, go for it. The “are these fluids equivalent” discussion has been beaten to death and I’m not getting into it here. (Start here if you want to: https://www.bobistheoilguy.com/forums/ubbthreads.php?ubb=showflat&Number=1432395 and then go here http://www.volvoxc.com/forums/showthread.php?11368-Volvo-ATF-fluid-confirmed-by-mobil-the-same-mobil-3309-amp-Toyota-T-IV ). More importantly, you need at least 12 quarts to do this job properly, even though the capacity of the transmission is around 8 quarts. This is because the capacity inside the transmission does not account for the fluid volume in the hoses or transmission cooler (in the radiator unit but obviously on a separate circuit). Thus you need more fluid than you may initially realize. If you really want to be safe, order 14 quarts, because even in a midsize metro area these fluids may not be on the shelf at your local auto parts store. One last important point about the fluid and I’ll move on. If you’re planning to use a VIDA/DiCE for level calibration, save 1-1.5 quarts of new oil and don’t run it all through the transmission during the flush. The reason for this is if your fluid level turns out to be a bit low during the calibration, you’ll have some fluid to add back in.
Should you even replace the orignal transmission fluid?
A number of people will suggest that the fluid should never be changed. I completely disagree (just my opinion). Volvo brands the transmission as having “lifetime” fluid from the factory, and to reinforce that point there isn’t even a dipstick on the TF-80SC transmission to check the fluid with. Other people will suggest that if it’s shifting smoothly, don’t “fix what ain’t broke”. I won’t argue against this point on principle, but I’ve also read that the transmissions in these SUVs may adapt their shift quality to poor fluid conditions which would give the false impression that things are doing fine when the fluid is beyond its service life. I’m not an automotive engineer and don’t have the documents to confirm this, but it’s a point to consider.
There is probably some truth to the theory that you shouldn’t do a first-time transmission fluid change on a very high-mileage car that is shifting normally (say, 150k+ miles). At that point the viscosity change in the fluid may effectively mask the wear that has occurred with the worn-out fluid, and replacing it with fresh fluid may expose the wear resulting in poor shifting. The partial drain-and-fill method may be better for high-mileage transmissions with original fluid (see below).
After reviewing a number of forum threads on the internet and seeing the murky dark quality of the fluid coming out of a 100k-mile transmission, I decided to press forward in swapping out my transmission fluid at 82k miles/10 years. I sent a sample of the factory-original fluid for analysis to see just how far it had degraded and have posted the results at the end of this page. The fluid that came out of my transmission thankfully did not smell burnt or look damaged/mixed, but it was definitely a dark red color.
Why not just do a partial drain-and-fill repeatedly?
If you want to avoid the $29 cost of the flush kit, you could approach this problem with a cold partial drain-and-fill. By that I mean you remove the full drain plug with the engine/transmission cold, let about 3-4 quarts drain out, measure it exactly and refill that exact amount. I think of this akin to the “turkey baster” method of changing power steering fluid. This may be the preferred method if you’ve never changed the transmission fluid before and have accumulated a lot of miles (I’ll say over 150k), because this method is a slow assimilation process rather than a total replacement. The downside to this approach is that it will take far more than 12 quarts to completely replace the volume of the circuit and… do you really want to measure the fluid, remove and reinstall the engine splashguard, etc like 6-8 times? The overall time investment in this method in my opinion negatively outweighs any other benefit.
Calibrating the fluid level/resetting the counter:
I already had a VIDA/DiCE unit so I didn’t have to debate this point, but plenty of people perform the flush without doing this step. Does that make it less precise? Probably, but if you strictly measure fluid-in versus fluid-out (volume and/or weight) you’re probably going to be ok. There is a bit of a change in volume with temperature so using a DiCE is the best option.
The internet consensus seems to be that (if you have a VIDA/DiCE unit) resetting the fluid counter is appropriate but resetting the transmission adaptation should only be done if a major service occurs such as replacing the valve body in the early 2007 TF-80SC transmissions. VIDA states “reset the counter when replacing the transmission”. It does not state only when replacing the transmission, so it’s probably safe to do.
Calibrating the transmission fluid level after the fluid swap is finished involves verifying the transmission temperature is between 50-60C and loosening the inner T40 bit on the drain plug (“integrated level plug”), waiting until the flow reduces to a dribble. If no fluid comes out, then you need to add some. If you want to try this without a DiCE unit, you may want to get the engine up to operating temperature to approximate the correct temperature.
When I initially finished changing the fluid, I took the XC90 for a drive before resetting the fluid counter. It did not drive much differently than it had before. I then reset the transmission fluid counter and noticed a performance difference after that.
Complete list of tools that I used:
–Torx T55 bit to remove the fill-hole plug on top of the transmission ($6, Amazon).
–Torx T40 bit to remove the integrated level plug for level calibration (inside the drain hole plug).
–17mm hex bit in case you need to remove or tighten the main drain hole plug on the bottom of the transmission. ($8, Amazon)
–10mm socket to remove engine splashguard under the car
–Needle-nose pliers to remove the old o-rings.
–Optional VIDA/DiCE + laptop to perform fluid counter reset and fluid level calibration (about $160 on ebay).
–Minimum 12 qts of Mobil 3309 ATF ($68/12qt, Amazon)
–IPD transmission flush kit ($29, ipdusa.com, https://www.ipdusa.com/products/4808/107945-automatic-transmission-flush-hose-kit)
–Clear disposable plastic containers to catch and measure the fluid (buy three $1 gallons of water for the jugs). Before you start the procedure, use a measuring cup to fill the containers with 1 qt of water, then 2 qt, etc, so you can mark lines on the containers with a sharpie or other marker. This is how you will determine the volume of fluid has come out.
–Larger container for used oil (any 12-qt oil change container will work).
–Flo-tool MeasuFunnel to fill fresh fluid into the top of the transmission ($7, Amazon).
–Disposable gloves because disposable gloves.
–“Shop rags” to clean up the mess.
You may also want to include a scale to weigh the fluid you’ve removed, if you’re not using a DiCE unit and want another way to check amount of fluid has been removed. I did not use one in this case.
The IPD transmission flush kit p/n 107945 seems reasonable to me at ~$30 as the green clip and o-rings that come with it should be replaced and those amount to $15 or so when purchased separately. The instructions state that is for the XC90 but “not for 6 speed automatic 2005 and later” which was a huge letdown when I opened the box, however this appears to be erroneous. I let them know.
Flushing and refilling the transmission
Remove all of the stuff in the pictures. See the pictures below. Seee the piiiictures.
After removing the transmission line from the cooler on the radiator (the thing with the green clip), plug the drain hose from the IPD kit into that hole. It should fit rather snugly. Place the other end of the hose into the collection containers that you marked the 1/2/3/4 qt lines on.
I suppose you could do this with one person, but having two was very helpful. The process is done a couple of quarts at a time. Start the engine. You will immediately notice old transmission fluid coming out of the drain hose into the container. Shift from Park to Reverse, N, D, etc. Hold it in each of those gears for 2-3 seconds each time. Any longer than that and you’ll already exceed the two quart drainage. Shut the engine off. The fluid comes out faster than you might imagine. At first I did not anticipate how much would still come out after the engine was off, and consequently spilled ATF on the concrete. This was actually the messiest job I’ve ever done on a car – take note.
Once you drain two quarts, use the funnel tool to replace those two quarts of ATF through the fill hole.
Repeat the process of power-draining the fluid two quarts at a time by starting and stopping the engine, and then filling with another two fresh quarts. Do this until you’ve run about ten quarts through and replaced ten quarts. Save the last two quarts for calibration.
Re-seal the T55 fill hole bolt. Place a new green clip and two white O-rings on the transmission line that goes into the transmission cooler (the one you removed earlier). Snap that line firmly back into the transmission cooler, which is essentially built into the radiator on the XC90 3.2.
Open the T40 bolt on the transmission drain and allow excess transmission fluid to drain out (make sure it’s on a flat surface and 50-60C fluid temperature). When it stops draining, reseal the bolt. The main drain plug is a 17mm hex and you shouldn’t need to mess with it for this step.
Reset the transmission fluid counter with the VIDA/DiCE.
If you are using VIDA (+/- DiCE unit) you can actually find all of the necessary steps to do this job: navigate to “Information” tab, “Repair”, “4 Power Transmission”, “Transmission, automatic, TF-90SC AWD” (or whatever yours is), “Transaxle oil”.
(Below) Get underneath the car and remove the engine splash guard with 10mm socket at the points shown.
(Below) The leftmost yellow thing is the intake snorkel. Two small bolts and it’s out (8mm). The rightmost yellow thing is the intake cover. It’s just a plastic shield.
(Below) I did not remove the electrical connections to the airbox, I just unscrewed the bottom of the airbox from the top half and removed the bottom half. There are five T25 torx screws to loosen for this step. Remember, the engine has to be running to make this happen.
(Below, two images) This is the location of the fill plug. Torx T55. I used ratchet extensions to get it out. It was on tight.
(Below) Removing the transmission line from the cooler (radiator). You just squeeze the green clip on both sides and wiggle it until it comes free.
(Below) This is the green clip and two O-rings on the transmission line. If you bought the IPD kit it came with new ones; install these.
(Below) insert the hose from the kit into the hole from which you just removed the green connector. The Transmission fluid will flow out through this hose into whatever container you have set up below to catch the fluid.
(Below) This is the funnel I used to fill new fluid back into the transmission two quarts at a time.
(Below) Be careful. It is very easy to overflow the gallon jugs. I made a real mess.
(Below) the T40 inner bolt on the transmission drain plug. This is the one to remove when checking the level at 50-60C.
(Below) Just for reference, this is the main 17mm hex drain plug for the transmission. I DID NOT remove this during the procedure, I am just pointing it out here.
(Below) Using VIDA/DiCE to reset the Transmission Fluid Change Counter.
(Below) You will receive the red dot error if the engine is still running when you reset the transmission fluid counter.
(Below) If you switch the engine off but then turn the key clockwise to position ii and try the counter again, it will work.
Results of the transmission fluid analysis seem to suggest that a post-break-in-period fluid swap might be advantageous: