I follow along in a number of online Volvo XC forums (XC90 and XC70 and general Volvo forums) as well as some of the Facebook pages dedicated to XC90 ownership. If there’s one thing that really grinds my gears (no pun intended) it’s people who don’t take automatic transmission fluid seriously enough. Between people who just want to save a few bucks on a vital fluid, to those who simply don’t get the fact that there is such a thing as a wrong transmission fluid for your AW55-50, it’s a wonder, possibly a miracle, that there are so many 2.5Ts with the Aisin Warner transmission still on the road.
First of all, I think it’s important to note that not all AW55-50 gear boxes are created equal. The basic AW55-50 is modified for use in a bunch of cars, including:
- Saturn (Ion and Vue)
- Chevrolet Equinox
- Pontiac Torrent
- Nissan Altima, Maxima and Quest
- Saab 9.3 and 9.5
And, of course, the transmission is found in a whole mess of Volvo products: from the C70 right up to the XC90. Note that each of these manufacturers likely sells a transmission fluid for this transmission under their own brand. I know Volvo does. I’ve read about others, but this is a Volvo site.
Each gearbox comes with its own tweaks specifically for each car. For example, the Saturn version is equipped with eight different operating modes (also known as “shift strategies”). And some of the Volvo transmissions have the infamous stop-neutral feature. These are just two of many different features found across the different versions.
Ok, back to transmission fluid. If you’re looking for a common thread among the gearboxes listed in the cars above, there are two that rise to the top of the list:
- They are made by Aisin Warner and
- They require transmission fluid that meets the JWS3309 specification.
- BONUS: They are a really reliable transmission.
So, why is the ATF so important in this gearbox? The right fluid, one that meets the JWS3309 specification, is specifically designed for this transmission and contains an additive package that helps the paper friction discs in the transmission and is meant for long change intervals. It’s as if engineers who know way more than the average Volvo owner know that this is a special transmission that has very specific needs when it comes to transmission fluid.
Will the wrong fluid kill your transmission? Probably not – at least not in the short term. But how many hard shifts and slippage do you think a transmission will take before it decides it’s had enough?
A quick trip to the AW55-50 section on the Sonnax site lead me to this quip:
“Note: The friction properties of this transmission fluid are different from other fluids due to the large amount of converter clutch slip. Failure to use the correct fluid will cause transmission damage and codes.”
So there’s no telling how long you have if you use an incorrect fluid, but the point is made: wrong fluid = damage at some point. And damage = $.
If an automatic transmission fluid doesn’t meet the JWS3309 specification, it doesn’t meet the specification. No personal preference or suggestions from your auto-mechanic-friend will do anything to magically turn that non-spec fluid into something that will work properly in your AW55-50 transmission. I suppose you may have some success in the short term. You’ll get around without much of a thought until that one day when things start to slip internally and your Aisin-Warner transmission begins a little revolution. It may begin as a few hard 3-2 downshifts, maybe a lack of power, maybe even some hunting for gears as you coast down a hill. Throw in a few codes and some shuddering and you’ve got an AW55-50 party!
But hey, your personal preference is important, right?
Your AW55-50 doesn’t care about your personal preference. It cares about having the right fluid with the right properties so it can perform the right functions and be reliable for you.
So let’s talk a bit about your options when it comes to the right ATF for the AW55-50 transmission.
Automatic Transmission Fluid Options for the AW55-50/Volvo XC90:
Transmission Fluid that meets the JWS3309 specification (and, therefore, can theoretically be used in your Volvo’s AW55-50):
- Valvoline MaxLife Dex/Merc ATF,
- Mobil 1 Synthetic ATF,
- Castrol Trans-Max Synthetic ATF,
- Quaker State Ultimate Synthetic Multi-vehicle ATF,
- Pennzoil Multi-Vehicle Automatic Transmission Fluid
- Shell Spirax S5 ATF X
Transmission fluids that are designed for your AW55-50 transmission (and therefore meet the JWS3309 specification and are ideal for your Volvo):
If you want to see the specs of the Mobil version, they have a page for that. Click here.
Notice the difference between “meets the JWS3309 specification” and “designed for your AW55-50 transmission.” If I had a choice, and I do when it comes to automatic transmission fluid for my XC90, I’d go with “designed for” every time.
“Note: The friction properties of this transmission fluid are different from other fluids due to the large amount of converter clutch slip. Failure to use the correct fluid will cause transmission damage and codes.“
The one I choose for my Volvo XC90’s Aisin Warner transmission comes down to price since there’s a very good chance that every fluid in the second list originated from the same manufacturer. In my experience, prices from low to high are as follows:
You may find a different order (and even different brands) based on what part of the world you live in, but in the end, you CAN go with the cheapest fluid from the “designed for JWS3309” list because THEY ARE ALL DESIGNED TO MEET THE SAME SPECIFICATION.
Now, you CAN choose to go with an ATF from the first list. But keep in mind that, while those fluids may have been “tested to meet the JWS specification,” they might NOT have been actually tested in a transmission. They may have been bench-tested.
What you CAN’T do is just grab any bottle of ATF, put it in your AW55-50 transmission and say that, because you have no symptoms at the moment, the fluid is compatible.
You can’t go around using words like “Euro spec” thinking that a fluid meets spec.
Eventually, if the fluid isn’t replaced, your transmission will have to be. I won’t even go into the price of a rebuilt transmission for this vehicle.
All this over “personal preference” or a suggestion from a friend.
There is no “euro spec.” There is JWS3309.
There is no “personal preference.” There is JWS3309.
There is no “high end synthetic” for another car brand whose standards are going to be similar. There is JWS3309.
Mobil ATF 3309 (and the Toyota and Aisin and Volvo equivalents) is a JWS3309-spec transmission fluid engineered specifically for this transmission application.
Why buy a fluid that’s been engineered for a dozen different transmissions when there’s one designed specifically for yours?
Bottom Line: There are fluids that are “made for” your Aisin Warner transmission, there are fluids that are “compatible with” your Aisin Warner transmission and there are fluids that have no business being anywhere near your Aisin Warner transmission.
*Mobil ATF 3309 is THE spec fluid. It was made for this application. No other fluid, synthetic or not, can make that claim.