If you’re familiar with the Honda Odyssey, you’re probably also well aware of the infamous transmission problems that mostly plagued models released between 1999 and 2005, with 2002 being the main culprit.
All in all, the car has a pretty good reputation. Although Honda has never quite reached the heights of Ford or Chevrolet in the minivan market, the Odyssey certainly holds its own in many regards.
In this article, I’ll go through some things to watch out for and some good ways to catch the problem early.
- Honda Odyssey history
- Honda Odyssey transmission
- Common Honda Odyssey transmission problems
- Does work need doing?
- Transmission Repair And All You Need To Know About It
- Transmission Fluid Change Cost – Workshop And DIY Pricing
- 4L60E Transmission Problems – Troubleshooting And Solutions
A Brief Introduction To The Honda Odyssey
The Honda Odyssey is an MPV (multi-person vehicle) based on the Accord. It represents Honda’s first minivan. There are two versions of the car – one for North America, the other for the rest of the world. Although the initial model was the same across the US and internationally, the second generation diversified the two markets.
The international model is classified as a compact MPV, while the American one is a large MPV.
In Europe, Honda gave the car the name Shuttle rather than Odyssey.
For this article, we’ll be mainly concentrating on the North American model. If you’d like to read more about the model developed for the rest of the world, click here to be taken to its Wikipedia page.
The Odyssey is currently in its fifth generation.
Note: all of the sales information used in this article is taken from this official report, Honda’s 2020 Digital Factbook and is available to the public domain. You can find US sales figures for the Odyssey and other models on page 9, section 3.3.
First Generation – 1995
The original model had a 2.2-liter Inline-4, 140 bhp engine, and a 4-speed transmission. In 1998, Honda updated it to a 2.3-liter motor that kicked out 150 horses.
Initially developed in the mid-1990s in Japan, the Honda Odyssey was built not long after the country’s severe economic crisis, often referred to as the Asset Price Bubble. As a result of this event, the initial model was minimal, to say the least. They didn’t have much to work with.
Despite this, the car performed relatively well in the JDM (Japanese Domestic Market) but not so well in the US due to its smaller size. In 1999, Honda released the second-generation Odyssey, explicitly tailoring a version of it to the American market. As with most things American, it was much (much!) bigger than the previous one.
Second Generation (US) – 1999
The second-generation Odyssey was one of the best-selling cars of all time in America. The numbers started to trail off after the third generation. Not that it wasn’t a good car, but the second-generation absolutely hit the nail on the head. Despite this, the second-generation model is the one that’s most well-known for transmission problems.
On the second-generation (MY 1999 to 2005), Honda’s US-focused department did away with the hinged doors and replaced them with sliding doors. They switched out the Inline-4 for a more meaty 3.5-liter V6 that produced 210 bhp, significantly more than its predecessor and much more aligned to the American market.
Rather than producing the car in Japan, production was initially moved to Canada and then phased across to Alabama in 2001, with 2,223 vehicles being made in Lincoln that year.
Around the same time, in 2002, the engine was again updated. Honda kept the 3.5-liter V6 but introduced many parts from the Acura MDX, including wider-diameter intake and exhaust systems, throttle body and valves, as well as VTEC variable valve timing. They also increased the compression ratio to 10.0:1 from 9.4:1. This one produced an impressive 240 bhp.
On this model, Honda added an extra gear to the Odyssey’s transmission without a significant redesign. They reduced the gear ratios in the first four gears to increase its acceleration and pulling power, with a tall fifth gear for economical, quiet highway cruising.
And here is where we start to have our major problem. The 2002 model is where most of the transmission problems we find on the Honda Odyssey have made their home.
Third (2005/2008), Fourth (2011), And Fifth Generations (2018) (US)
US sales of the Odyssey peaked in 2006 with 178,000 models sold. Since then, there has been a slow and steady decline in the numbers of Odyssey models sold Stateside.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. While the Odyssey numbers currently see a slow but steady decline, C-RV and H-RV models have risen from the ashes. In 2019, Honda sold a staggering 384,168 C-RVs, a number that has steadily grown from a respectable 66,752 in 1997. These numbers represent the general shift in population from large MPVs to compact crossovers. This in itself is a fascinating thing to analyze, but we’ll be focusing on the Odyssey for today.
Click here to learn more about how crossover models have all but dominated the American market. Alexis C. Madrigal wrote this article for The Atlantic.
Over the following generations, numerous changes were made by Honda, with new engines, transmissions, designs, safety features, and accessories, among the other changes you’d expect over the last 16 years. The latest models have an engine power output of 280 bhp.
The fifth-generation Odyssey received a 2021 facelift and, it must be said, it looks pretty good.
What Transmission Does The Odyssey Have?
Currently, the fifth-generation Odyssey has an optional 10-speed transmission that is 29 lbs lighter than the previous 6-speed one.
This transmission has got people everywhere raving. It’s almost revolutionary and widely reported as one of the best transmissions ever fitted to an MPV.
Honda Odyssey transmission problems, in general, don’t lie here, although the 2018 model occasionally gets some stick. We’ll come to that in a little bit.
There were also a few issues with the fourth-generation models that Honda produced in 2014 and 2015.
However, as mentioned before, we have to look back to the second-generation and some early third-generation models for the era of transmissions that, well, sucked. They are well-known for transmission problems.
It’s these models that we’ll be focusing on primarily in this article.
Most Odyssey models use different versions of the H5 transmission, including the P36A, BGRA, PGRA, B7TA, and BYBA.
Second-generation models went through two different transmissions. Initially, it had a 4-speed, but Honda modified this to be a 5-speed, as detailed above. The 4-speed transmission was the B7XA, aka B7TA. They replaced it with the BYBA 5-speed transmission in the 2002 revamp.
What Are Some Common Honda Odyssey Transmission Problems?
Different standard Honda Odyssey models have various problems and so listing them all together in one go is perhaps problematic.
Instead of addressing it all in one go, I’ll go into the problems on a year-by-year basis.
Early Odysseys often suffer transmission failure at somewhere between 100,000 and 150,000 miles. That’s not to say that all models will all fail somewhere in this range – many models will easily do double that before you encounter any serious problems.
Common Honda Odyssey transmission problems have symptoms such as what’s on the following list.
- Low fluid levels, perhaps caused by a leak.
- A smell of burning – this indicates a possible overheating problem and/or leak.
- Rattling, shaking, or grinding vibrations coming from the transmission.
- Screaming, banging, or humming noises.
- A lack of gears or a refusal to go into gears. You might not have 3rd and 4th, 1st and 2nd, and/or reverse. The transmission might also slip out of gear.
- Loud noises when you’re in neutral.
- Check Engine Light on.
Early 2nd Generation – Common Honda Odyssey Transmission Problems
1999 and the early 2000s were one of the worst times for the Honda Odyssey’s transmission.
Regarding the B7XA 4-speed transmission, Mike Spencer, a spokesman for Honda, explained,
“The four-speed models were afflicted with a bad bearing that could break apart, scattering fragments of metal that clogged fluid passageways in the transmission, causing it to shift erratically.”
He also said that the parts were not made to the correct specifications and claimed that Honda hadn’t been responsible for producing these parts. Instead, they had been bought in from a supplier.
Late 2nd Generation – Common Honda Odyssey Transmission Problems
Here is where we’ll be concentrating most of our thinking.
The 2002 to 2004 Honda Odyssey is the biggest culprit when it comes to transmission problems. This year, the company redesigned the transmission on the car, adding a fifth gear and lowering the gear ratios of the first four.
This was the BYBA transmission.
The same Honda spokesman as mentioned before, Mike Spencer, had the following to say.
“The five-speed models typically were damaged by premature wear of the third-gear clutch pack. As the clutch friction material abraded, it scattered bits inside the transmission case, clogging fluid lines and causing erratic shifting. Drivers might suffer slipping, poor or no shifts, or sudden down-shifts from 5th gear to 2nd gear.”
This was undoubtedly an issue with the BYBA, but not the main one…
2nd Gear Breaks And Transmission Potentially Seizes – Honda Recall ID: P30
The most severe problem with the BYBA was the fact that it tended not just to stop working but, in a perilous fashion, could seize up while you were driving (in rare conditions).
Under certain operating conditions, the transmission could overheat, leading to extreme damage to the countershaft and secondary shaft second gears. You’d likely end up with gear teeth breaking and, in some cases, the complete failure of the gear. This happened due to insufficient lubrication from the oil cooler’s return line.
Once this has happened, the transmission can seize up. This would effectively cut the power path between the engine and the wheels, bringing you to an abrupt stop. As you might imagine, this happening would make the word “dangerous” sound like a severe understatement.
To fix this, Honda issued a mass recall on April 21, 2004, of Odysseys built between 2002 and 2004. It affected a staggering 1,099,796 vehicles (source: carcomplaints.com). This number wasn’t limited to the Odyssey, also including the Honda Accord and Pilot.
Vehicles with less than 15,000 miles had a dealer mechanic modify the oil cooler return line so that the second gear would be better lubricated. If the car had over 15,000 miles on the clock, they would have to disassemble the transmission and manually check for any heat damage, taking photographs. If they found some, they would have to replace the entire transmission with a new model. Should everything look okay, they would continue with modifying the oil cooler return line.
It’s safe to say that this isn’t something you want happening to you.
You Can Remove Key Before Selecting Park – Honda Recall ID: S73
This problem typically affected 2003 to 2004 Odyssey models but wasn’t officially recalled until 2013, February 7. It was discovered and announced in December 2012 and involved 807,161 vehicles.
The interlock lever within the ignition switch could become deformed over time. As a result, you could remove the key without the transmission being in the Park position.
For obvious reasons, this is dangerous. The car could roll away after you’ve parked it up, either with you in it or after you’ve left. Should it run into anything or anyone, it could cause serious damage.
Honda told dealers to install a new, modified shift interlock lever. Alternatively, they could completely replace the entire ignition switch.
Here is a pdf copy of the letter sent from Honda to its (probably quite unhappy) customers. It’s from the NHTSA website.
3rd Generation – Common Honda Odyssey Transmission Problems
To be fair to Honda, they really got it right here. Models built from 2005 and onwards had far fewer complaints about the transmission and, overall, it seems to have worked a charm.
The only thing of note in this generation of the Odyssey is that the torque converter was known to, occasionally, go. If you notice symptoms such as vibrations and humming and jerky or clunky shifting, it could be due to the torque converter. This is likely to cost a little over $1,000 to get replaced.
The Odyssey was the best-selling minivan in the US in 2006 and received a facelift in 2008.
4th Generation – Common Honda Odyssey Transmission Problems
Problems Shifting Into 2nd, 3rd, or 4th – Honda TSB 12-064
This issue affected Odysseys between 2011 and 2012 and was caused by a software issue.
Fixing it is relatively simple. Take your car to a registered Honda dealer. They’ll update the PGM-FI software to the most up-to-date version and then replace the transmission fluid (ATF).
Dealers don’t have to replace the ATF if the car hasn’t yet been bought by a customer so that that condition won’t apply to you.
An Upward Trend In Problems With 2014/2015 Models
Although there’s been no official word from Honda (so far as I can tell) about these models, there’s a clear upward trend in customer complaints for these model years, according to carcomplaints.com. Click this link to check out the fascinating graph of customer complaints reported to the website.
Most problems in 2014 and 2015 relate to loud, clunking noises. Many people report that Honda has simply told them that’s how the transmission operates and is to be expected.
You can solve some problems with a simple transmission fluid flush or software update. However, some have had to resort to getting a new transmission or even selling the car.
5th Generation – Common Honda Odyssey Transmission Problems
There has been a recall of 50,000 Odysseys built between January 2017 and January 2019, representing MYs 2018 and 2019. Honda issued this in early/mid-2019.
Why was it recalled? Well, some vehicles would suddenly decide to throw themselves into Park. While driving. This doesn’t only make a noise rivaling nails on a blackboard; it also has the (likely) potential to damage the rod that’s part of the way Park engages. Once that’s damaged, the vehicle won’t be able to stay in Park. That’s quite a safety hazard.
When parking up, you should always use the parking brake as well as Park in an automatic vehicle – it is there for a reason.
If your car was on the recall list, you should’ve received a letter in the mail from June 2019. If in any doubt, get in touch with Honda through your local dealer/shop.
This glitch can happen due to the TCU – the transmission control unit. For example, under low voltage conditions, if the battery is old or a terminal has a loose connection – the TCU reboots. However, its default setting was Park when it turned back on. As a result, it would shift into Park while you were driving.
Honda altered the system’s software on its production line and issued the recall. Now, when under low voltage conditions, the TCU reboots and automatically sets itself to neutral in these conditions, sparing the expensive mechanical butchering that could have happened.
If your car gets recalled, it will have a similar software override. In the case that this adjustment doesn’t work, Honda will replace your transmission for free.
How Much Does A Transmission Rebuild Cost?
The average cost for a transmission rebuild is between $1,500 and $3,000. Unfortunately, the Honda Odyssey tends to cost somewhere in the upper range of those figures or even more.
A transmission is made up of a lot of expensive parts. Like, a lot. They all have pretty intricate jobs to do, too. That’s why, when something needs rebuilding, you often end up with quite a hefty bill at the end.
It also takes quite a long time to rebuild a transmission, depending on its condition and how well it’s been looked after. On top of the cost of parts, you can expect to pay several hours’ worth of labor costs. These can vary from $50 per hour to $150 per hour.
Can I Work On My Own Transmission?
I mean, there’s nothing to stop you, legally, but I would highly advise against doing so.
A transmission is a complex piece of kit and made up of many different individual components. Misplacing or forgetting to reinstall or incorrectly replacing even one of them could do even more damage, cost you a bomb, and be very dangerous to drive with.
I would recommend taking your car to a transmission specialist and just getting the work done if you possibly can.
Sometimes, it works out cheaper to scrap your car than to have it fixed.
Should I Get A Transmission Rebuild Or Replacement?
If you’re faced with this situation, I’d simply go with whichever is cheapest (assuming someone else is doing the work for you). Ask the mechanics for a quote for both, and also, don’t be afraid to shop around other nearby garages, constantly weighing up the initial cost and the reliability of who you’re asking.
Suppose you’ve decided to tackle the work yourself. In that case, a replacement transmission is likely to cost you more, in terms of parts, than rebuilding your transmission. However, there’s less to go wrong. It’s a classic risk/reward situation.
Don’t get a brand new transmission for a battered, old engine. It’s the equivalent of filling a cracked plastic water bottle with champagne. All you’ll accomplish is ruining perfectly good bubbly. Just, why?
Where Can I Get A New Honda Odyssey Transmission?
You can get a new one pretty much anywhere. Online classified ad websites are likely to have them in abundance because the Odyssey is a reasonably popular, common vehicle.
Local scrap yards might also be able to source one for you.
Whatever you buy, make sure that it’s good quality and that it works. There’s no point getting the transmission from an Odyssey that’s been scrapped because the transmission went kaput.
A new transmission for an Odyssey is likely to cost anything between $1,000 and $3,000. It depends on the state in which you buy it and whether it comes with a warranty.
Reman Transmission is a website offering remanufactured or rebuilt transmissions, including those for the Odyssey. Click the link to check out the prices. (Motor Verso has no affiliation with the company – it’s just there for your understanding of how much an Odyssey transmission is likely to cost.)
Are Honda Odyssey Transmission Problems A Deal-Breaker?
They aren’t, necessarily, but you should certainly be aware of what might go wrong.
Issues, such as the ones we’ve talked about above, can be both dangerous and costly. However, it’s not just Honda that these problems affect. Any carmaker is sure to have transmission problems associated with it. Transmissions are mechanical parts and, as such, are guaranteed to wear out eventually, no matter how well they’re made.
Although MY 2002 to 2004 Odysseys are infamously well-known for having – shall we say, tense? – transmissions and transmission problems, Honda did issue that recall. As such, many of these vehicles will now be fitted with more reliable, updated versions.
When you buy a car, check the age of the transmission and its general state. You can do this by just going for a ride in it. If someone’s not willing to take you out in the car, there’s something they want to keep hidden from you.
However, if all seems good, the Honda Odyssey is a great competitor in the minivan market. Keep an eye on the transmission’s wellbeing, and all will be just fine.