Falcon Transmission woes

I thought it about time we updated this post with some actual useful information! A big thanks goes out to a number of people that have been good enough to share their knowledge with everyone. These include Sandy, Tinntter (Paul), Ralph, nrivers2, Tony, John S, transmission builder, Jay, Mark and Kim – thanks!

In this post we are looking at some of the more common problems that seem to dog the 4-speed automatic transmissions fitted to EA-onwards Falcons.

Where’s The Dipstick??

The first issue we will look at is the dipstick (and no Mark, I don’t mean the person behind the wheel 🙂 ), or lack thereof on some Falcons. If you own a Falcon built after February 1996 it will be fitted with a ‘sealed’ transmission and no, your eyes aren’t playing tricks on you, there is no dipstick fitted to these transmissions (which I believe is part of the reason these transmission don’t often get the servicing they need – out of sight, out of mind).

Yes, you can check the condition of the fluid and it’s level but it does require the car to be jacked up both ends and a 5/8 (18mm) filler plug being removed. You can read more about this at our Falcon 4 Speed Auto Fluid Level Check post.

My Car Won’t Change Up Or Down Gears!

If you find that your Falcon won’t change up or down gears, even when coming to a complete stop or doing highway speeds when you know it should be in fourth, there is a good chance that it is in ‘Limp Home’ mode. What’s happening is the ecu has picked up that there is a problem and basically ‘locked’ the transmission into third gear to prevent any damage (or more damage) being done to the trans.

This can be caused by a number of things, excessive fluid temperature, a faulty throttle position switch or selector switch, the list goes on. Fault codes can be retrieved from the ecu to help find the problem and/or an inspection by a transmission specialist will get the issue sorted.

How To Prolong The Life Of Your 4-Speed Auto 

Regular Servicing is an absolute must if you want any auto transmission to last. I lost count of the number of sealed transmission that we saw that had never had a fluid and filter change and despite what you may have been led to believe, a sealed transmission does need to be serviced. Every 20,000km is a good yardstick to go by.

With a typical automatic service the pan is dropped, the filter is changed, the pan put back on and the trans. is refilled. While this is better than nothing at all, it does leave an amount of old fluid behind in the torque converter and places like that which is why a complete flush of the auto every 50,000km is also a good idea. I know Ford will do this for you but I’m also going to go with the suggestions made by a couple of our readers and do a post on how you can do this yourself. I will update this post when I get that done and documented.

Change To An Aftermarket Transmission Cooler – quite a number of the transmission failures we have seen over the years were due to the original in-radiator transmission cooler breaking down and sending bits of copper back into the transmission with the fluid.

The best thing you can do here is to bypass the factory cooler and fit an aftermarket cooler, or two. An external cooler is also a must if you are going to be doing any towing or otherwise giving the transmission a thorough workout and the bigger the better with transmission cooler’s. Paul (tinntter) was kind enough to send through some pics and diagrams of how he fitted two original Ford external trans. coolers to his Falcon. You can read this here – Falcon Transmission Cooler Installation.

A couple of other things worth mentioning here, the Ford 4-Speed Auto’s use TQ95 fluid, not Dexron 3 which is used in a large number of transmissions. This is very important as Dexron 3 will not do your 4-speed auto any good.

Also if you find that the filler plug on your dipstick-less Falcon trans. is rounded off and you need to refill/top-up the fluid level, a couple of readers have removed the top cooler hose/pipe to the radiator and while using a funnel have managed to fill the transmission this way. It may take a while but unless you can weld a bigger nut to the filler plug or something like that it may just get you out of trouble!

I would like to mention also that these problems aren’t necessarily limited to the Falcon auto’s – case in hand, my inlaw’s (or outlaw’s as I call them) bought a VS Commodore off the showroom floor for their big around-Australia trip. In the 80,000km that the car had travelled by the time they left (mostly thanks to us ‘kids’ borrowing it) the transmission had been serviced twice and a large external cooler had been fitted because they were taking a single axle, I guess ‘medium’ size caravan with them.

Cut a long story short, they made it as far as Rockhampton (roughly 600km’s) and the auto fried itself big time. The guy that rebuilt it said that this was quite common and he would only guarantee his work if a bigger pan was fitted – more fluid, more ‘cooling capacity’.

Bit of trivial informaton there for you but it does go to show that they don’t make ’em like they used to!

There are some really helpful comments below, I urge you to read them if you’re having trouble with your transmission.

228 thoughts on “Falcon Transmission woes

  1. Update concerning NF Fairlane,
    after a couple of months were it would occasionally not have reverse, it proceeded to get worse over the past week where it didn’t have reverse more time than it would have reverse. I changed the neutral inhibitor switch with no avail. When it wouldn’t have reverse, you could here a whine in the gearbox in drive, then occasionally you would feel a slight clunk in first gear, and I assume this would of been the clutches releasing, allowing reverse again. I fitted a second hand gear box over the weekend, first draining all the oil out of the replacement gearbox and torque converter, and also changing the filter. Took the car for a drive today, and couldn’t get over how smooth it changed gears…. Maybe I should of bitten the bullet when I first got the car, when the tranny was full of coolant, and wasting so much time flushing the fluids

  2. hi i have an old 96 AU falcon station wagon that i use on the farm i parked it in a shed some months ago with no problems when i went to use it the other day i could not get any gear selection. i am not wanting to spend too much money on it and suggestions on what could be a problem with it

  3. HI Lockie,

    It would be worthwhile checking the oil level. Are there any puddles underneath the vehicle?
    To check the oil level there is a 16mm plug on the drivers side of the box.

    Also check to see that some punk has not stole your tail-shaft 😛

    Cheers Mick

  4. Hi i have the same problem on my 97 EL when cold the trans is perfect but when it warms up every now and again it wont change down gears it just vibrates when slowing down so i change it down manually and then its fine..Any ideas..

  5. Hi, i was just wondering where can i find the ECU fault codes for my 1998 AU Forte V8 sedan its a Automatic with factory fitted gas.

    But recently the transmission has been going into limp mode which i have also noticed that the throttle tends to feel like its sticking on intial acceleration after trans has locked into 3rd

    Apart from that love my ford , but if someone could please let me know where i can locate the fault codes to download that would be fantastic.

    Thanks 🙂

  6. i have a 2007 ford territory AWD 6 speed auto.transmission is locked in 3rd – what may be th probable cause for this?has done 172000km and serviced regularly by ford.

  7. i have a au falcon ute 2000 model the autotrans when cold bangs out of first into second. And slow to pick up reverse, when warms up everthing seems ok any info on this would be appreciated.


  8. I have an 03 B series tray back ute – the gearbox seems to search between 2nd & 3rd when accelerating. Any advise greatly appreciated as I’m not much into mechanical things.

  9. Im trying to replace the retainer spring clip on an EF falcon transmission filter with no luck, has anyone got any tips


  10. Hi, just wondering if you would know whether an el automatic trans will go into an xg/ea/eb ? I know it will all bolt up and connect up etc bar the wiring, not too sure whether the auto will still function with the loom unattached (burnout car so as long as it works it dont matter) lol cheers.

  11. 77-liter outboards are similar to Evinrude and Mercury.

    They block out 98% of the sun’s harmful UVA & UVB rays.
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  12. I have a 1996 NF LTD Fairlane V8 My problem is The car drives well all the time however the gear ID on the dash is really
    Indicated and when shooting down never works except on the rear time that the dash gear indicator is working, also a few times the transmit ion has dropped down a gear bor two for no reason, been like this for a year or so.
    Can any one shed some light on the problem?

  13. Hi I have a 2000model falcon when it’s cold I take off in drive it seems to free rev not wanting to find a gear then clunk. I had the oil changed and seemed to be better for a while but now it’s back is the box stuffed or is there an easy fix?

  14. I have a ford falcon el gli auto
    And ever since I got the car it doesnt go into gear properly like drive or anything it just gets stuck and doesnt want to go then a cpuple seconds later it kicks into place and drives. It also has no balls so taking over someone without it over reving is impossible

  15. My EL 97 falcon started to fail in top gear . and each time it warmed up. And then progressively fails in third and second .it revs out with no connection. To drive . like angel gear. I’m wondering if it can be the module on the side of the box . Its sfour speed auto .

  16. Ian, I doubt it will be the module on the side of the box. This is just the neutral/park/reverse switch.
    Could be the torque converter and or the transmission pump(problem more noticeable when hot)
    Best way to solve it, find a good condition 2nd hand one. That’s what I did and it saw my car out to retirement(520,000k’s) and the tranny is still good!

  17. Ian.
    Yes it sounds like the module, aka inhibitor switch. It will cause the exact symptoms you described.
    It not only contains the neutral/reverse switch, but also has a multi position switch in the centre which tells the ecu what gear the selector is in. As the transmission is electronically controlled by the ecu, if this switch isn’t giving the correct information then the ecu won’t know what to do.

    The inhibitor switch is simple to change, and not expensive. Just unplug the two connectors and remove two small bolts and it slides of the shaft.

    Even a second hand one from a wreckers should do the job.

  18. My ba ford fairmont wont go into performance mode. When i try the D stays on the dash no matter if its in p, r, or n. With only the ignition lights on it seems to work perfectly until i start the car.

  19. I have a 2004 ba sedan when I accelerate the engine light comes on and if I accelerate harder the motor stalls could this be something to do with the torque converter

  20. I have a 2000 AU that sometimes jambs in top gear (always at the traffic lights of course). I can manually disengage but as soon as I try to reingage in drive or reverse it slams straight into top gear and stalls. I flick the gear leaver quickly between neutral, drive and reverse and stall it regularly but eventually it will release and drive perfectly for days and then do it again. Can anyone give me some advise please?

  21. I have a 4.lt 98el falcon auto just replaced with a second hand gearbox all is okay except when you select reverse it makes a small wheezing sound and the engine cuts off.
    anyone out there got an idea what the problem is.
    Im in Botswana the wagon is imported from Australia (love my 4.lt
    help please urgently

  22. Hi,i have a 96 ford fairmont 4l straight 6 auto,i would like to know what transmission oil it takes?and my car seems to battle to change gears especially when its it 2nd gear and when i stop and take off again its abit sluggish i just had the fuel pump n feul filters changed and the kick down connected the car drove perfectly for about two weeks and now it seems to be loosing power and driving very sluggish,any ideas on what needs to be done?

  23. Hi I’ve got 1991 fairmont 302 v8 auto and gbox not changing into 4th stays in third sometimes goes into 4th but you give it Lil bit more gas drops again swaped gbox from another car into it that box was working mint in other car but doing same thing in new car anyone know wat it might be?

  24. Hi I’ve got a 2002 AU series 2 ute. The auto is stuck in (park) I have seperated the shifter from the box but and the box is still jammed in park. I’ve tried rocking the ute, Any idea’s?

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