Gallery: Poor Shifting Fixed With Lucas Oil Products In Project Trail ‘n Thrash

It can be impressive how regular maintenance and proper fluids can help restore the performance of your vehicle. Our 2013 Jeep Wrangler, Project Trail ’n Thrash, recently started shifting hard, slow and at odd times. The Jeep only has 108k miles on it and seemed to be well maintained. We were a little worried that something in the transmission was majorly wrong.

Before we jumped the gun and started to tear the transmission apart, we started with a simple fluid and filter change first. We wanted to make sure we used quality fluids and called on our friends at Lucas Oil Products for help.

Above: Lucas Oil Products sent us plenty of their Brake Parts Cleaner, Semi-Synthetic Multi-Vehicle ATF and some ATF Conditioner to hopefully solve our poor shifting. 

Lucas Oil Products have been a go-to for our fluid needs over the years. Their long list of fluids and chemicals keep everything from our daily drivers to our race cars at peak performance. Project Trail ’n Thrash is a daily driven Jeep and we needed a transmission fluid to perform in all weather conditions on a daily basis. We also needed a transmission fluid to perform when we go off the pavement and hit the trails.

Lucas Oil Semi-Synthetic Multi-Vehicle Automatic Transmission Fluid would be the perfect fit for our Jeep. The fluid is designed to cover an array of fluid specs including ATF+4. Their transmission fluid is compatible with synthetic and conventional oils and recommended for old and new vehicles. Since we were not doing a complete transmission flush, we would have peace of mind that any existing fluid would mix just fine.

Above Left: Having a lift definitely makes the job easier. Above Right: We did have to remove the small support and then we cut the bolts on our exhaust pipes. 

If you think there is no difference in transmission fluid, you are very wrong. That cheap box-store brand is great if your in a pinch, but if you really want your transmission to last and perform, Lucas Oil is what you want. The Semi-Syntheitc Multi-Vehicle ATF is designed to condition existing seals, resist heat and provide smooth shifting.

Heat is the biggest enemy of transmission and finding one that provided us with better heat and foaming resistance was a must. Sitting in traffic and creeping on the trails in 4WD Lo builds a ton of heat in our transmission. Eventually bigger tires will also make the transmission work harder and we wanted to be prepared.

Above Left: You can the bolts still sticking out of the back of the flange. Above Right: We slowly removed the transmission bolts and allowed the front side of the pan to drop and drain majority of the fluid out. 

Lucas Oil Semi-Syntheitc Multi-Vehicle ATF can normally be found at most local auto parts store. If you are looking at buying bulk, Lucas Oil offers their ATF in 5 gallon pails and 55 gallon drums also. We only needed about 6 quarts for our fluid change.

Since the Jeep was just over 100k miles and not knowing if the transmission was previously serviced, we also added in a quart of Lucas Oil Automatic Transmission Fluid Conditioner. This is different from Lucas Oil’s Transmission Fix. The Transmission Fix is designed to stop slippage, hesitation, rough shifting and bad seal leaks.

Above Left: You can see the spacers for the pan and a small heat shield that will need to be reinstalled. Above Right: No matter what we do, chasing transmission fluid is always messy. 

We did not feel our transmission was to the point that we needed transmission fix, at least we hoped not, and opted for their ATF Conditioner. Adding a quart of this with our transmission fluid change would help prevent slipping, leaks and wear. We had our fingers crossed that Lucas Oil’s ATF and Conditioner would fix our issues.

The transmission fluid and filter change is fairly straight forward on our Jeep. Remove pan, drain fluid, install new filter, reinstall pan and fill transmission back up. The biggest issue we run into is the clearance between the backside of the transmission pan and the crossover exhaust pipe. We have pried the exhaust out of the way to get the transmission pan out before, but this is not the proper way and could damage the transmission or exhaust.

Above Left: Its a little difficult to tell, but under that fluid is a layer of grime from 100k miles. Above Right: Lucas Oil Brake Parts Cleaner was an easy choice for cleaning our pan.

We also had a RedRock Exhaust Spacer Kit from Extreme Terrain laying around that needed installed since the Jeep was lifted. This kit would give our font driveshaft more clearance anytime the suspension was at full flex. We decided this would be the perfect time to install it and knockout two birds with one stone.

At 100k miles, the head of the exhaust flange bolts were useless. We decided to use a sawzall and cut the bolts to get the exhaust apart quickly. Our plan was to get transmission fluid and filter changed and then deal with the exhaust spacer kit after.

Above Left: You can see how easy the Lucas Oil Brake Parts Cleaner cleans the gunk from our pan. Above Right: Pan looks brand new and ready to be reinstalled. 

Once the exhaust crossover pipe was free, we had plenty of clearance to drop the transmission pan. If you are not familiar with the newer 5-speed transmissions, the bolts have a spacer to prevent over tightening of the pan. You want to be sure not to lose these spacers when removing the bolts and pan.

As we removed and drained the pan, we let the transmission drip while we cleaned the pan. As you can see, our pan had a nice coating of gunk on the bottom. We assume that the transmission was not previously serviced.

Above: We pressed our new filter into our transmission and get ready to bolt the pan back on.

We removed the rubber seal and used Lucas Oil Brake Parts Cleaner to clean the pan. Lucas Oil Brake Parts Cleaner is Non-Chlorinated and VOC compliant in all 50 states. We have used many different brands of brake parts cleaner but Lucas Oil Brake Parts Cleaner works the best. The cleaning power and strong spray results in less chemical usage and quicker cleaning. It also dries quickly leaving no residue.

A few sprays, couple blue shop towels and our transmission pan looked brand new. We did not see any major metal pieces or indications that our transmission was potentially broke. We fitted our pan with a new gasket and it was ready to be reinstalled.

Above Left: You can see here that we did not have the spacer quite aligned. Above Right: It took us a few tries to get both spacers aligned properly.

With the transmission pan ready, we removed our old filter and popped in our new one and reinstalled our pan. Although the transmission pan has spacers, you still want to make sure to properly torque the bolts to 105 in-lbs. You can find a complete list of drivetrain torque specs here from Extreme Terrain.

Once our filter and pan was reinstalled, it was time to get back installing our RedRock Exhaust Spacer Kit. We cut our bolts at the flange which frees up one side of the exhaust flange but still had half a bolt and welded flange nut to deal with on the opposite side. We were not going to fight with trying to get the bolt out and decided to torch out the rest of the bolt and welded flange nut.

Above Left: Our green form-a-funnel was sort of a gag gift but it did come in handy. Above Right: We slowly poured our fluids in and started with a quart of the Lucas Oil ATF Conditioner first. 

The RedRock kit came with new bolts, but we had to find some nuts to fit the bolts since we burned out the ones on the flange. Once again installing the exhaust spacers are fairly simple. The longer spacer goes on the passenger side and the shorter space on the drivers.

After some time prying on the exhaust and slipping both spacers in place, we were ready to bolt it together. Be sure to check all sides of the spacer are lined up with the existing exhaust. We had a couple of instances that we thought it was aligned and only one side was. You do not want an exhaust leak. We tightened down the bolts evenly on bolt sides once both spacers were aligned up. Now we were ready to add our fluids and test drive.

Above Left: once the Jeep was to operating temperature we shifted it to neutral to check the fluid. Above Right: With the transmission in neutral, we pulled the dipstick to check our levels. 

As you can see our Jeep transmission dipstick tube is not at a good angle for our transmission funnel. Luckily we had a form-a-funnel type thing laying around that we were able to extend our funnel to add fluid. A flexible transmission funnel would work best but we did not have one on hand.

We started with the quart of Lucas Oil ATF Conditioner first and then added three quarts of the Lucas Oil ATF. We then started the Jeep and let it idle and get to operating temperature. We shifted the Jeep to neutral and checked the transmission fluid level. We had to add a little more and then we were ready for our test drive.

Above: We wished more vehicles hoods would lift all the way back. 

We were blown away at the difference in shifting. We honestly had some hope that fluid and filter would help, but still worried that it would not fix our issues. The transmission felt better than ever with super smooth shifts, quicker shifts and better timed shifts with the rpms. It felt like a whole new Jeep.

The RedRock Exhaust Spacer Kit worked exactly as intended too. We did not have any exhaust leaks and now have the confidence that if we are off road and suspension is flexing that we will not rub our front driveshaft on the exhaust.

Above: Back from our test drive and thrilled with the results from the Lucas Oil Products. 

This weekend project is something that we should have done a lot sooner. Normally we change all the fluids in our vehicles as soon as we get them, but Project Trail ’n Thrash seem to be fine till recently. With a transmission full of Lucas Oil products, we know that it has a long life ahead and is going to perform on and off road.


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Gavin Wollenburg

Gavin grew up around Mopars in his lakeside home in Ohio, his father showing him nearly everything he needed to know about haulin' some serious rear in his '72 Dart Swinger. Since then, he's made his little A-Body a serious autocross contender and regularly shows the modern boys how an old Dart does it!

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