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Discussion Starter #1
Hi:

this is my first MDX, switched from bmw x3 for the reliability of mdx. Got a 19 awd + tech.
just see many discussions on issues or reliability of the zf9 speed, is it really that bad?
my x3 had zf 8 speed which is the best I had owned. the new zf9 is slower but does the job right now.

really don't want to got a trans issue after 4-5 years owning the car. Is there any preventive things owner can do?

thanks
 

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Don't worry and just enjoy your MDX. Most of the issues were to the 2016, the first model year with the ZF9. You have a good warranty, and Acura has been very good about honoring it. I have a 2016 which had minor issues, and I got a free replacement transmission. The new one works well. The only thing you can, and must, do is replace the (expensive) special ATF when the minder tells you to. This is one thing I would leave to the dealer as it needs a special procedure to get the level right: it is not a simple dipstick adjustment.
 

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What you have read are subjective opinions with how the transmission performs...hopefully during your test drive you determined it acceptable? To my knowledge there are no wide spread or even narrow spread (is that a thing?) issue with the 9 speed. The issues that have been reported here are mostly related to the ATF cooler if you want to tow heavy (I wouldn't), so as long as it's clear to you that the MDX is not a high-end luxury rig (your first service experience will make this abundantly clear) then you'll be fine in the long run with the MDX.
 

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Actually the problems were with the ATF warmer, not cooler. All of the ZF 9 speeds have an ATF warmer; the cooler is optional and raises the towing rating from 3500# to 5000#. The warmer is a heat exchanger between the engine coolant and the ATF, which is intended to warm the transmission in cold weather for smoother operation. The 2016 and a few 2017 model year cars could have defective warmers which allowed a mixing of the two fluids. Needless to say the engine coolant wasn't a good enough lubricant for the transmission and hence the problems. (The cooler, by contrast, is essentially a radiator which exchanges the heat from the ATF to the air.)

There were improvements made to the programming of the transmission controller in later model years which caused the transmission to shift more smoothly.
 

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Discussion Starter #5
thanks you all for the kind infor.

I never towed anything with all my cars. so this should not be an issue. Also live in SoCal with mild weather which should hopefully be nice to the tranny. Just wonder when going downhill with engine break, would this lead to high stress on the ZF9? I only foresee this during occasional long road trips but I do use engine break with down shift.

would like to keep the car for a few years as long as it doesn't have unbearable issues that I have to get rid of it. Will for sure flush ATF at dealer when recommended. what is the mileage interval for this and how much does it roughly cost?
 

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Engine braking should not be a problem. The correct process is to drain and replace the ATF; Acura/Honda discourage flushing. My transmission was changed just before the first ATF change was due at 30k miles, so I haven't had to deal with it; IIRC it is several hundred dollars. The ATF itself is almost $50 a quart, and 4 quarts are needed, so just the fluid is ~$200. Then add labor, which might be $100-200, or even more, and you have an expensive job. The memory minder will include a "3" when it is time to change the ATF along with the other maintenance. So count on a total service cost at roughly $500 or so.
 

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The nine speed transmission was what scared me the most when purchasing my 2020 MDX.
The fear was for nothing as nine speed has worked without flaw. Smooth shifts and pretty rapid response in my opinion.
 

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Actually the problems were with the ATF warmer, not cooler. All of the ZF 9 speeds have an ATF warmer; the cooler is optional and raises the towing rating from 3500# to 5000#. The warmer is a heat exchanger between the engine coolant and the ATF, which is intended to warm the transmission in cold weather for smoother operation. The 2016 and a few 2017 model year cars could have defective warmers which allowed a mixing of the two fluids. Needless to say the engine coolant wasn't a good enough lubricant for the transmission and hence the problems. (The cooler, by contrast, is essentially a radiator which exchanges the heat from the ATF to the air.)

There were improvements made to the programming of the transmission controller in later model years which caused the transmission to shift more smoothly.
Thanks for the tutorial on what a warmer does and what a cooler does, haha. The transmission COOLER was in fact a source of complaints/issues...there are a number of threads detailing a 4th-5th gear clunking that was traced back to the cooler.
 

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I had forgotten about that clunking. I have the cooler installed and haven't noticed anything but sometimes I am oblivious :) Heading to Costco this afternoon and will try to remember to check that. AFAIK, unlike the warmer, the cooler issues are not associated with transmission failures, although hard shifting is not good for any transmission. And it is clear that the warmer is not the only problem with the 2016 ZF 9 speeds - mine was replaced without any sign of warmer failure. Acura is keeping pretty mum about whatever the issue is. The good news is that it seems to have been resolved in later years.
 

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They extend the warranty for potentially affected vehicles. I think it was 10 years/100k miles but that may not be exactly right. If the vehicle is in VIN range the owner will have received a letter informing them of the extension.

BTW no clunking today, and I was listening carefully. Ever since the swap it has performed quite well. Every once in a while I do have an odd shift or similar, but it is sufficiently rare that I don't mind. The programming for the ZF9 is very impressive, and very adaptive - just not perfect. BTW in case you didn't know the transmission programming adapts to the way you drive. When buying a used or especially demo model it is a good idea to have service reset the learning algorithm.
 

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They extend the warranty for potentially affected vehicles. I think it was 10 years/100k miles but that may not be exactly right. If the vehicle is in VIN range the owner will have received a letter informing them of the extension.

BTW no clunking today, and I was listening carefully. Ever since the swap it has performed quite well. Every once in a while I do have an odd shift or similar, but it is sufficiently rare that I don't mind. The programming for the ZF9 is very impressive, and very adaptive - just not perfect. BTW in case you didn't know the transmission programming adapts to the way you drive. When buying a used or especially demo model it is a good idea to have service reset the learning algorithm.
The extension is only for the transmission warmer, not the entire transmission. I'm still dealing with the warmer issue after 2 years of trying to get a dealership to do ANYTHING to resolve the chirping noise. Just avoid the 2016s and early 2017s in general.
 

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That was not my understanding about transmission coverage - I'll have a look again and get back to you.

It seems that there are actually multiple issues that can be described as "chirping". Clearly a warmer that leaks coolant into the transmission is going to mess up the clutch action, and that is one source. But there are reports of transmission chirping that are not caused by such leaking. And sometimes the direct injection pump noise is described as chirping, and IIRC there were other sources. And dealer responses seem to be all over the place, with some quickly agreeing to install a new transmission and others doggedly refusing. It is hard to recommend anyone taking this on with a used 2016/early 2017 model, although later models seem to not be affected. Personally I would have no problem recommending someone buy a used 2016 if it has had the transmission swap, but otherwise proceed with caution. If after a long test drive, specifically listening for the chirping and hearing none, it might be a risk worth taking - or not. Caveat Emptor.
 

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That was not my understanding about transmission coverage - I'll have a look again and get back to you.

It seems that there are actually multiple issues that can be described as "chirping". Clearly a warmer that leaks coolant into the transmission is going to mess up the clutch action, and that is one source. But there are reports of transmission chirping that are not caused by such leaking. And sometimes the direct injection pump noise is described as chirping, and IIRC there were other sources. And dealer responses seem to be all over the place, with some quickly agreeing to install a new transmission and others doggedly refusing. It is hard to recommend anyone taking this on with a used 2016/early 2017 model, although later models seem to not be affected. Personally I would have no problem recommending someone buy a used 2016 if it has had the transmission swap, but otherwise proceed with caution. If after a long test drive, specifically listening for the chirping and hearing none, it might be a risk worth taking - or not. Caveat Emptor.
Yeah I'm confused as well. And here's why:
warmers.JPG


And then this:
letter.JPG
 

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They extend the warranty for potentially affected vehicles. I think it was 10 years/100k miles but that may not be exactly right. If the vehicle is in VIN range the owner will have received a letter informing them of the extension.

BTW no clunking today, and I was listening carefully. Ever since the swap it has performed quite well. Every once in a while I do have an odd shift or similar, but it is sufficiently rare that I don't mind. The programming for the ZF9 is very impressive, and very adaptive - just not perfect. BTW in case you didn't know the transmission programming adapts to the way you drive. When buying a used or especially demo model it is a good idea to have service reset the learning algorithm.
Just curious, did you have any clunking before your transmission was replaced? It’s good to know your new transmission does not clunk with the cooler installed. My 2016 also had its transmission replaced and I am considering adding the Cooler to up the towing limit of the vehicle. I also considered trading for a deal on a 2020 with the cooler add. I’ve been so reluctant because of people’s disenchantment. It would be great if these newer transmissions quietly resolved that.
 

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I never noticed the clunking, but it may have been there at a low level - I wasn't really listening for it. Whatever the cause is, I seriously doubt that there ever were defects in the cooler and its hoses; I think it was just the extra volume of ATF or perhaps resistance with the long hoses that caused the transmission to act differently. I would expect that your newer transmission would be fine, but there is always that risk... I certainly wouldn't be spending thousands of dollars for a newer MDX of the same generation because of your concern for what might happen. IMHO it is as likely that the 2020 would have the problem as the 2016 with a new transmission; mechanically the transmissions should be the same, although the programming may vary a bit.
 

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Thanks for the feedback. The potential upgrade to a 2020 isn’t just about the newer transmission, although it was a factor. The 2019 Advance models were running at more than $10k off, which I believe is a good value. There are a lot of feature updates to the suspension, infotainment, and others that I would like. I’m actually a fan of this generation and a part of me wants to avoid a turbocharged engine as long as possible, as I assume that’s the direction the 2021 MDX will go. Also, I like the idea of getting the last model year because the production is generally buttoned down better. I assume that the transmission cooler will be costly to add to my car and I’m still not convinced I want to do that on an almost four year old car. We’ll see.

For what it’s worth, Motor Trend did document there are mechanical changes to the 2019+ ZF 9 speed on Honda/Acura products. If I recall correctly it was changes to specific valves, when combined with the latest software update that were making the transmission much more livable. I will say, my replaced transmission is much smoother. I only occasionally get a rough shift, and only notice it’s existence when slowing down and the vehicle downshifts through all the gears. In general I’m pretty picky about my vehicles and I like this drivetrain much more than I expected. It’s also why I wasn’t considering sticking with this body style as long as possible. But I will most likely wait and see what the 2021 will look like before pulling the trigger.

Thanks again for the feedback. You’ve made me a little less nervous about putting the TC on my car or a new MDX.
 

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IMHO it is as likely that the 2020 would have the problem as the 2016 with a new transmission; mechanically the transmissions should be the same, although the programming may vary a bit.
With the 19 MDX and Pilot, Honda and Acura advertise "significant refinements" to the ZF9 which allude to far more than a simple programming update, as if that were the case they could simply update all older models with the same programming from the 19+. Not sure exactly what "refinements" were made as it's vague and doesn't mention specific changes, but the end result is a much smoother transmission in 2019+ (which goes far beyond simply starting off in 2nd)
 

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Yup, the improvements for 2019 were hardware related and affected all Honda/Acura products. Here is what MotorTrend said about the 2019 Pilot. To me, it reads that they made pretty big changes.

“For 2019, the Pilot's nine-speed gearbox got hardware and software changes that address these issues. Honda replaced the clutch and hydraulics to help shift speed and consistency, and modified the valve structure to improve persistent shifts. Honda claims the response from the paddle shifters is faster, and that it's updated the shift selection strategy to maintain performance and combat shift frequency. Honda made other revisions to the start-stop system, which now starts the engine a little more swiftly. In normal driving conditions, the transmission will start in second gear for a smoother launch, but that changes when driving is more aggressive or when the Pilot is in Sport mode.”
 

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Yup, the improvements for 2019 were hardware related and affected all Honda/Acura products. Here is what MotorTrend said about the 2019 Pilot. To me, it reads that they made pretty big changes.

“For 2019, the Pilot's nine-speed gearbox got hardware and software changes that address these issues. Honda replaced the clutch and hydraulics to help shift speed and consistency, and modified the valve structure to improve persistent shifts. Honda claims the response from the paddle shifters is faster, and that it's updated the shift selection strategy to maintain performance and combat shift frequency. Honda made other revisions to the start-stop system, which now starts the engine a little more swiftly. In normal driving conditions, the transmission will start in second gear for a smoother launch, but that changes when driving is more aggressive or when the Pilot is in Sport mode.”
That's by far the most definitive statement describing the changes made I've seen to date, thanks for sharing! While it mentions the 19 Pilot those same changes would also apply to the 19 MDX as it's the same transmission and they both advertise these "significant refinements", not to mention my experience with the zf9 in my 19 MDX being very smooth with no complaints whatsoever. In other words if buying a new car either the 19 or 20 MDX should have none of the issues with the zf9 that were present in 17 and earlier MDX's and thus you can feel much more confident. Even with the older zf9's, outside of a few issues in 16 and early 17 the majority of them were actually pretty good and the changes in 19 only make it that much better.
 
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