Myths of the Multivehicle ATF Fluid

There was a time when the vast majority of automatic transmission needs were satisfied with a single transmission fluid, Dex/Merc. That’s not true anymore. Today, many original equipment manufacturers require unique, stand-alone fluids that meet their specific requirements.

Fluid specifications vary for each transmission type, and additives must be carefully formulated to deliver the right balance of friction, wear resistance, oxidation resistance, extreme-pressure properties, aeration control and durability. As transmission hardware becomes more complex and compact, developing the fluid and hardware in parallel is the only way to provide optimum performance and component protection, as well as other benefits such as fuel efficiency and extended drain intervals.

Why Multi-vehicle Fluid Is Waning Multi-vehicle ATF was introduced so that an installer or quick-lube did not have to carry so many different fluids. Generally, formulators would design one or two fluids to serve the majority of vehicles likely to come in for service. This was fine until Ford and General Motors deactivated their respective Mercon and Dexron-III specifications about six years ago. Ford replaced the former with Mercon V, GM created Dexron-VI, and both declared that the expired products were obsolete and no longer to be used. Since then, auto manufacturers have evolved or substantially changed their transmission designs so this older fluid technology now only meets the needs of a decreasing number of vehicles.

Afton Chemical has been doing market research on ATFs for the past five years. While unlicensed Dex/Merc fluid still comprises a significant portion of the market, we see that portion declining considerably in the next five years. Conversely, market share has increased for current specifications such as Mercon V and Dexron-VI. Penetration of these newer fluids is greater at car dealerships, where Mercon V has 25 percent market share and Dexron-VI 21 has percent.

Multi-vehicle (universal) fluids remain the second largest application, particularly at quick lubes (39 percent) and repair garages (23 percent). This situation has given rise to a great deal of confusion in the industry with respect to which ATF should be recommended for which transmission type. The confusion has led to some myths that, at best, cause the consumer to pay more for transmission fluid changes and, at worst, damage transmissions that the fluid is meant to protect.


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