Honda Pilot Transmission Problems

My 2005 Honda Pilot with 87,000 miles on it bit the dust. It won’t start or move anymore. A problem with the radiator allowed antifreeze to mix with the transmission fluid. Honda recalled over a million 2003 and 2004 Pilots for this problem, but my 2005 isn’t covered.

My wife and I went to visit the Wild Center in Tupper Lake in the Adirondack mountains of New York. We were on Route 3, a rural 2-lane road, not heavily travelled, going about 50, when suddenly it felt like the transmission had slipped out of gear and I heard the engine revving. I saw the tachometer indicator jump upward. The truck started to slow down.

The “event” only lasted for three or four seconds before it went back to normal. I knew that whatever happened couldn’t be good. I wanted to make it to the next town instead of stopping in the middle of nowhere. I planned on stopping at the first gas station that was open. It was around 4:15 PM on a Friday afternoon. Saranac Lake was the next town and it was only a couple of miles away. We made it to the first traffic light in Saranac Lake and stopped for a red signal. The truck stopped running by itself.

I tried to restart it, but nothing happened. The engine didn’t crank or try to start. Silence. I put my emergency flashers on and got out and opened the hood. My wife got out too and noticed a fluid that looked like chocolate milk flowing from under the truck to the curb. I was pretty sure I hadn’t run over a carton of chocolate milk.

I got back in the Pilot and called my insurance company, Geico. People were pulling up behind me and most went around when they saw my flashers and my truck hood up. One woman didn’t and started beeping her horn for me to go. She eventually figured it out. I was just about to hop out and get the emergency reflective triangle from the back of the truck when a Saranac Lake police truck pulled in behind me with the overhead lights on. That was a lot safer than the triangle.

A woman police officer got out of the truck and my wife gave her a big hug! She was a little upset about our predicament and I think seeing help arrive in uniform and with flashing lights made her feel better. We explained the problem and I told her I was on the phone with Geico so that I could get a tow. Saranac Lake is a small town and the officer asked me if I would like it if she called a local towing company right down the street. She knew them. It turns out it was the same company that Geico was trying to contact and they were only about a half mile away.

Madden’s Garage, Towing & Recovery came to pick us up. They were there in a few minutes and towed the Honda Pilot to their shop. Mary Lynn and I rode in the back of the police truck, following the tow truck.  They backed the Pilot into their very spacious garage and took a look at it. Even though it was probably already five o’clock on a Friday, they took the time to try and help us. They diagnosed the problem correctly as the radiator leaking antifreeze into the transmission. They didn’t know if the engine was damaged, but suspected that the transmission was. They told me they didn’t work on transmissions. I decided to take the Pilot to a Honda dealer.

The nearest Honda dealer was in Plattsburg, NY about 50 miles from Saranac Lake and in the opposite direction, north, of where we wanted to go, south. If we took the Pilot to Plattsburg, 50 miles away, we would still need to get home ourselves and we would be 130 miles from home without transportation. Unless we were going to stay overnight and hope the dealer in Plattsburg had the right parts and could work on it Saturday, that wasn’t a good option.

We decided to have it towed back to Saratoga Honda in Saratoga Springs, New York near our home. Geico didn’t want to pay to have it towed anywhere else. The owner of Madden’s Towing was standing right there assisting us (so was the very nice police officer) and he offered to talk to Geico. I handed my cell phone to him and he told them that technically since the Honda Pilot had not been unhooked from the tow truck, the tow was still in progress. After several minutes going back and forth, Geico agreed that they would pay for a tow up to 48 miles. I guess that is their limit. I’m not sure. As it turned out, they had to take the Pilot off the original tow truck anyway.

They needed to put the Pilot on a flatbed trailer that would be towed by a large pickup truck in order to take the truck to Saratoga. The police officer took us to a convenience store for a snack and coffee while the Pilot was put on the trailer. We thanked everyone involved and hopped into the truck. I rode shotgun and we chatted while a very nice young man named Dan, confidently and safely drove the pickup. He mentioned Colorado while we were talking and whenever anyone does that I always tell them what a huge John Denver fan I am. He didn’t know who John Denver was. I explained briefly and told him to check him out. Thanks Dan! Thanks Mr. Madden. And thank you to the Saranac Lake police officer who went out of her way, above and beyond the call of duty, to make us safe and comfortable.

We had a pleasant night time drive through the Adirondacks to the Adirondack Northway (I-87) and down to Saratoga. I called my brother to meet us at the Honda dealer. The tow cost me an extra $310 beyond what Geico paid, but I knew it was going to be something near that number before we left. Ouch.

I left a note for the Honda service department and dropped the envelope with the keys into the slot by the door.

After I got home I went on the internet and started searching for “Honda Pilot transmission problems”. I found a forum on that described the exact problem I had. I read that over one million 2003 and 2004 Hondas were recalled for transmission problems, but not the 2005 Pilot. Not all of the vehicles recalled were Pilots though.

I called the dealer on Monday and they said they would look at it as soon as they could, but it probably wouldn’t be until Tuesday. The service department called me Tuesday and said it would be one hour of labor to look at the Pilot and give me a diagnosis. The labor rate is $96 an hour. They called me back later and said that I needed a new radiator for $375 and 4 hours labor. After they installed the new radiator, the Pilot still wouldn’t start. Big surprise there.

They told me it might need a new engine and transmission and that it wasn’t worth the cost of repair. It was going to cost in the neighborhood of $6,000 or $7,000 for a rebuilt engine and transmission. I wondered why they wasted their time and my money to replace the radiator if that is what they thought. Even I knew that if turning the key on doesn’t start the truck, replacing the radiator wasn’t going to solve the problem.

I got the number for Honda National Customer Relations in Torrance, California from the service manager at Saratoga Honda and called them. They took my information and contacted the dealer. The bottom line after several phone calls back and forth was that Honda wasn’t going to do anything for me.

The sales manager at the dealership offered me $1,000 for the Pilot. When I started the Pilot on that fateful Friday morning, it was worth about $12,500 retail. By the end of the day it was basically a piece of junk. I had recently spent about $1,300 on it for four new tires, a couple new pieces of the exhaust system and some other stuff. I had expected to get a lot more miles out of it. A lot more.

I have a 1997 Accord that I bought used in 1999 that has 181,000 miles on it. It’s not the greatest anymore, but it still runs and gets me where I need to go. It always starts. I think it is the only car I have ever owned that was worth anything after it was paid for. I was expecting similar miles and years from the Pilot. All of the goodwill that I had for Honda from my Accord’s years of exceptional service, has been ruined. I won’t buy another Honda.

I went to the website of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Office of Defects Investigation (ODI) and filed a report of what happened to the Pilot. I think it is a safety issue because if you lose power in a heavy traffic situation, the person behind you will not see your brake lights coming on as you are slowing down and could crash into you from behind.

I’m considering having the Pilot towed back to my house. I will keep it for a while and hope that Honda eventually does a recall on the 2005 year. In the meantime, I’m going to ask a local mechanic that I know what he thinks. At the very least, I think I can get more than $1,000 for it by selling it myself. The body and interior are in decent condition.

Note added on November 17, 2013: I did have it towed back home. It is sitting in my parking lot. I received a 2 page survey form from Honda yesterday about my recent experience with Honda’s products and services.  I filled it out and I’m mailing it back today.














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