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Transmission problems




The 4EAT transmission installed in the Subaru SVX (also in the Legacy, Nissan Pathfinder, and Mazda MPV) suffers from one fatal problem: HEAT.

  • Radiator-based transmission cooler can't keep the transmission fluid cool enough
  • Transmission is poorly designed and does not allow the lubricant to flow through it to keep parts lubricated (thus friction causing heat)
  • Unusually high overdrive places additional side loads on bearings generating heat
  • AWD system puts strain on the transmission causing even more heat
  Which Transmission Do You Have

All SVXs have the 4EAT but which version do you have? Incremental improvements were made to the 4EAT transmission throughout the production of the SVX. The improvements do not coincide with the year of the SVX but rather were made as they came up with fixes.

First, find the 6-digit ID on your transmission (it is on an adhesive sticker on the bell housing near the starter area).

  • If your transmission ID is less than 389607:
    • Ask your dealer if your transmission has been upgraded to the redesigned transfer clutch driven plate (Part # 31589AA041). Transmissions 389607 and higher have the improved parts. This fix addresses complaints about rear axle binding on turns.

  • If your SVX was manufactured before 11/92:
    • Ask your dealer if your transmission has been upgraded to the redesigned oil pump gasket (Part # 31339AA121). Transmissions 513102 and higher have the improved gasket. This fix lessens the chance of gasket failure resulting in half line pressure at idle and full pressure at stall speed; sometimes even causing a delay going into reverse.

  • If your VIN# is less than NH106286 (only 1992 models):
    • Ask your dealer if your transmission has been upgraded with the transmission oil filter kit.

  • 93-97 SVXs came with transmission oil filter kits from the factory

  • If your transmission ID is greater than 426207:
    • Your transmission has a modified transmission case to help prevent the oil pump gasket from leaking (this happened some time in 1994)

  • If your transmission ID is greater than 463969:
    • Your transmission has the new high clutch drum, reverse clutch fiber plates, and reverse clutch steel plates. These changes help oil flow to the transmission's components for better cooling.

  • If your transmission ID is greater than 633657:
    • Your transmission has a newly designed high clutch drum and thrust bearings . These changes fixed the problem of not shifting or increased rpms when shifting to 3rd.

Most of these improvements were made between 1992 and 1994 1/2. The newer your SVX, the more improved your transmission but all of these transmissions suffer, to some extent, from the same problems.


  Protect Your Transmission and Yourself
  • Use synthetic transmission fluid. It reduces the overall friction. Buy a reputable brand of synthetic fluid.

  • If you have a 1993-97 SVX or you have an upgraded 1992 transmission (see "Which Transmission..." above), install a high-quality external transmission filter. This will keep those stray particles from clogging up the too-small, oil-carrying arteries of the transmission.

  • Install a transmission oil cooler. It will cool your transmission fluid by up to 20 degrees (picture of an ATF cooler installed). There is a debate as to whether the cooler should be installed in series, parallel, or whether it should bypass the main system all together. I recommend parallel or bypassing.This costs around $350 to install.

  • Buy an extended warranty through SOA (if you can) or from a reputable warranty company. It's like health insurance for your car. Pay a $50 deductible and they pay the rest. A bumper-to-bumper 2-year/24K warranty will run about $1200; a 3-year/36K warranty is about $1500 and you can pay in installments. If you replace one transmission, you'll save money. Read the fine print if you want new parts, the warranty may only cover you for a rebuilt transmission.

  • Delay when shifting
  • Engine revs while shifting
  • A "thud" when putting the car in reverse
  • Will not go into 4th
  • Will not go into any gear


  Repairing Your Transmission
    Taking it to the Repairman

If you can't limp to the service garage, the Subaru manual states, "when transmission failure occurs all four wheels MUST be lifted off the ground in order to tow."

Taking this list of Technical Service Bulletins to your repairman will help to ensure that your new transmission will be installed correctly:

  • TSB# 16-58-94
  • TSB# 16-61-94 (contains crucial corrections to 16-58-94)
  • TSB# 16-62-97
  • TSB# 04-20-94
  • TSB# 16-56-93

If you're going to the expense of having your transmission replaced, you may as well have it done right. Have them flush out the radiator heat sink and replace the cooling lines. And use a synthetic transmission fluid from the start. You can also contact TransGo Performance (626/443-7456) and ask about their "Shift Improver" kit (part # SKRE4R01A). This $50 kit has 4 plastic rings for the transmission that are designed to handle greater temperatures than stock Subaru parts.


Cost estimates range from $1,800 to $4,200. The low end being a rebuilt transmission at a non-Subaru transmission shop to the high end of a brand new transmission installed at a Subaru dealership.


Subaru will give you a 2 year/24K warranty with your new transmission. AAMCO offers a 3 year/50K warranty on AWD cars for $190-$295 (depending on which one you go to). Some SVX owners have even claimed that their AAMCO offered them a $495 lifetime warranty but AAMCO Corporate headquarters said that they don't have authority to sell lifetime warranties on AWD cars. If you get such a warranty, you'll need to take your car back to that particular store if you want to redeem your warranty. The front-wheel-drive SVXs will probably have lower fees for warranty coverage.

Read the small print to see if the warranty covers the entire repaired transmission or just the new parts they install.


    Hidden Warranties
Another tactic you can try was suggested in a Consumer Reports article: Hidden Warranties Exposed:

"Don't assume all your problems are due to normal wear and tear. Peeling paint, transmission failures, and other major problems have all been traced back to factory defects....At the dealership, first have the service department give you a written estimate so they can't give you an inflated "regular" charge and then offer you a bogus discount. After getting the estimate, ask if there are any warranty-adjustment policies in effect for your model. If none apply but there is documentation about a factory defect that appears to cover your problem, present the information you've collected and ask for a goodwill adjustment. Your documentation should show that the problem is widespread and that the manufacturer knows about it. If the service adviser refuses, work your way up the line from service manager to the dealership's management. If necessary, call the manufacturer's customer assistance hotline."

Looking for documentation to take to the dealer? Try the NHTSA site ( It has a long list of transmission complaints from SVX owners who have traveled down this path before you. Print a bunch of these out for ammunition at the dealership. If it doesn't impress the dealership, maybe it will impress a judge. The Consumer Reports article goes on to say that a lot of people have taken manufacturers to small claims court and won.



If your transmission has failed, please contact the NHTSA and file your story with them. The web address for the complaint form is; their phone number is 888/327-4236. If they receive enough complaints, the NHTSA will conduct an investigation into the transmission failure problem. If Subaru is found to be at fault, Subaru will be required to solve the problem to NHTSA's satisfaction. The probable outcome would be newly redesigned parts for our 4EAT transmissions installed a no charge!