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View Poll Results: Should the aftermarket cooler come before or after the stock radiator cooler?
Before--if you put it after, the fluid may be too cold in the winter 3 75.00%
After--it won't get too cold, and the extra cooling is necessary 1 25.00%
Multiple Choice Poll. Voters: 4. You may not vote on this poll

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Old 08-25-2011, 12:00 PM   #1
PlasticCarsRock
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1995 SL2
Default Transmission cooler: before or after stock cooler?

I'm adding a transmission cooler to my '95 SL2 automatic. I don't tow much, but a lot of my driving includes very steep hills (many of which prevent the torque converter from locking or force it to unlock for at least a portion of the hill). I also do a lot of driving (on said hills) with a fully loaded car--5 adults and/or heavy stuff. I just rebuilt the transmission, and coolers are relatively cheap, so I'd like to add a bit more protection.

I've done a lot of research on this, and I cannot seem to reach a conclusion: both sides have valid points: should the external cooler come before or after the radiator cooler?

After: the radiator cannot cool the fluid below 195 degrees, and if you put the cooler before the radiator, the radiator will warm the fluid back up. Putting it after the radiator allows for much better cooling (particularly given that for some reason, the transmission cooler is in the hot side of the radiator).

Before: in the winter (New York), the external cooler may over-cool the transmission (preventing it from reaching operating temperature) if the radiator is not allowed to re-heat it. Regardless of the ambient temperature, the radiator will keep the fluid at a semi-constant temperature. Also, having the fluid cool before it enters the radiator will take some strain off the cooling system (and hopefully extend the life of my still OE radiator).

The particular cooler I have includes a bypass section which forces thick, cold fluid to bypass the fins, however, I'm not sure how effective it will actually be--even with most of the fluid bypassing, I'm sure it will still provide a lot of additional cooling (particularly when below 0F).

So: what do you all think--should I put the aftermarket cooler before or after the radiator cooler?

Also: which line is which (ie. which line is before and which is the supply for the radiator and which is the return)?

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Old 08-25-2011, 12:18 PM   #2
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Default Re: Transmission cooler: before or after stock cooler?

I vote before radiator for all reasons quoted.
I can't remember which one is return, remove one line, start car for a quick second, supply will squirt!

I will add, the fluid does need to be brought up to a specific temperature for different reasons, keeping moisture out of it is one. Also the PCM monitors that temp and if it is out of range it may set a code or behave funny. Someone may know what effect the trans temp sensor (same as ECTS) has on shift behavior, but I do know it inhibits lock up until it is warmed up.

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Last edited by mattelderca; 08-25-2011 at 12:24 PM..

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Old 08-25-2011, 12:41 PM   #3
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Default Re: Transmission cooler: before or after stock cooler?

195 is the inlet temp to the rad.......it is cooler on its outlet going back to engine.

My trans temp on a 31 mile commute to work on the 110deg Friday (last 6 miles is stop and go) a while back never went above 205.

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Old 08-25-2011, 12:50 PM   #4
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Default Re: Transmission cooler: before or after stock cooler?

Quote:
Originally Posted by mattelderca View Post
I vote before radiator for all reasons quoted.
I can't remember which one is return, remove one line, start car for a quick second, supply will squirt!

I will add, the fluid does need to be brought up to a specific temperature for different reasons, keeping moisture out of it is one. Also the PCM monitors that temp and if it is out of range it may set a code or behave funny. Someone may know what effect the trans temp sensor (same as ECTS) has on shift behavior, but I do know it inhibits lock up until it is warmed up.
Thanks. As you said, moisture is supposedly one of the main concerns if it doesn't warm up all the way (although i don't think there should be too much, particularly without a case vent).

Also, with thicker fluid, shifts will probably be slower (unless the line pressure is raised to compensate), meaning increased clutch wear (and increased possibility of clutch glazing). With synthetic fluid, this is less of an issue, but probably still important.

It also means more energy is wasted in pumping the fluid (worse mileage).

As far as how the PCM deals with transmission temperature: I'm not sure if it will throw a code or do anything weird if it's too cold (I think that's mainly in case it gets too hot, but maybe it goes both ways). However, below a certain point (a bit above 0dF, IIRC), the PCM will control the transmission using only first and third gears. Until it reaches something like 60dF, it will not lock up the torque converter (an unlocked torque converter is one of the main sources of transmission heat). There are probably also some less significant modifications to shift points, line pressure, etc, depending on temperature.

Quote:
Originally Posted by 1996SL11.9L View Post
195 is the inlet temp to the rad.......it is cooler on its outlet going back to engine.
True, but the cooler is on the hot side of the radiator, not the cold side (very unusual, in my experience). Also, 195 is the best case scenario (assuming a good t-stat). With the a/c off and non-highway driving, the temperature will rise quite a bit before the fan comes on. My main concern is climbing steep hills from a standstill: the coolant temp will often be up quite a bit (just below the fan-on point) by the time I reach the top.

Last edited by PlasticCarsRock; 08-25-2011 at 01:02 PM..

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Old 08-25-2011, 01:00 PM   #5
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Default Re: Transmission cooler: before or after stock cooler?

Quote:
Originally Posted by 1996SL11.9L View Post
195 is the inlet temp to the rad.......it is cooler on its outlet going back to engine.

My trans temp on a 31 mile commute to work on the 110deg Friday (last 6 miles is stop and go) a while back never went above 205.
The factory in rad cooler is inside the inlet tank so it does see the hottest (195) coolant.
I agree on your observed temp, I don't see the need for the cooler myself. But If I did, it is before.
I have never had my trans only use first and third in cold weather. Not sure about that one. and as we all know it gets real cold here in Canada. LOL

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Old 08-25-2011, 01:13 PM   #6
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Default Re: Transmission cooler: before or after stock cooler?

So the t-stat opens to suck coolent out of the rad? That's a new one, Saturn is different.

I got a bare block in the garage...going to look at water passages at pump housing. Wonder how t-stat operates properly with cold coolent flowing over it.....

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Old 08-25-2011, 01:24 PM   #7
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Default Re: Transmission cooler: before or after stock cooler?

Quote:
Originally Posted by mattelderca View Post
I have never had my trans only use first and third in cold weather. Not sure about that one. and as we all know it gets real cold here in Canada. LOL
Quote:
Originally Posted by 1998 Saturn FSM
COLD TEMPERATURE OPERATION

Under cold operating conditions the high viscosity of automatic transaxle fluid (ATF) can result in sluggish operation of the hydraulic controls of the automatic transaxle. Because of this, when the transaxle fluid temperature is below -13C (9F) the PCM will control the transaxle using only 1st and 3rd gears. Once the transaxle fluid temperature is above -12C (10F), the PCM will control the transaxle using the standard shift patterns.
Quote:
Originally Posted by 1998 Saturn FSM
The PCM uses transaxle fluid temperature to calculate enable/disable functions and shift feel. When the TFT sensor is below -13C (9F), the PCM will only command 1st and 3rd gears. Once this temperature is reached, the PCM will command normal shift scheduling.

The PCM also uses the TFT sensor input to enable TCC operation. The PCM will only allow TCC operation above 10-20C (50-68F) based on the intake air temperature (IAT) sensor input.

When the TFT sensor input is above 25C (77F) the PCM will begin adapting 1st, 3rd and 4th gears. Above 40C (104F) the PCM will begin adapting 2nd gear. The PCM uses the TFT sensor input to disable all transaxle adaptive functions below 25C (77F) and above 140C (284F).
That's for a '98 DOHC; I would not be too surprised if other years and/or SOHC were different. However, I have definitely noticed that behavior in my '95 SL2. It's really only noticeable when you start out cold, going up a hill: in order to skip second gear, the PCM will refrain from shifting out of first, even under gently throttle (mild hill) until almost 4,000 rpm, IIRC (and when it does, the shift is very noticeable). On the same hill, warm, it will shift well below 3,000 rpm. Keep in mind: with no coolant flow in the radiator (and no other external cooler), the transmission fluid will reach 9 degrees F pretty quickly unless it's very cold.


Given the above quote, it's clear that the transmission will not behave completely normally unless the temperature reaches and stays above 104 degrees. With an external cooler after the radiator, I wouldn't be surprised if that condition were not met, at highway speed with ambient temperatures near or below 0dF.


I'm definitely leaning towards putting the cooler before the radiator: even though it will not provide the same level of cooling, the transmission should be fine operating at nearly the temperature of the engine coolant. With such a small engine and transmission, the cooler will definitely make a difference, either way, and it's not all that necessary in the first place (if under normal conditions, you don't even need a separate cooler, the cooler before the radiator should be more than sufficient for anything I will do with it).

[Yeah, I know this isn't really necessary--I'd just like a little extra insurance. If I didn't enjoy working on/modifying cars, I wouldn't even consider it (the only reason I rebuilt the transmission is because I had it open to install a phantom grip and weld the diff pin--at only 109k miles, there were no problems, and it had always had regular synthetic fluid changes).]

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Old 08-25-2011, 01:27 PM   #8
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Default Re: Transmission cooler: before or after stock cooler?

Quote:
Originally Posted by PlasticCarsRock View Post
Thanks. As you said, moisture is supposedly one of the main concerns if it doesn't warm up all the way (although i don't think there should be too much, particularly without a case vent).

Also, with thicker fluid, shifts will probably be slower (unless the line pressure is raised to compensate), meaning increased clutch wear (and increased possibility of clutch glazing). With synthetic fluid, this is less of an issue, but probably still important.

It also means more energy is wasted in pumping the fluid (worse mileage).

As far as how the PCM deals with transmission temperature: I'm not sure if it will throw a code or do anything weird if it's too cold (I think that's mainly in case it gets too hot, but maybe it goes both ways). However, below a certain point (a bit above 0dF, IIRC), the PCM will control the transmission using only first and third gears. Until it reaches something like 60dF, it will not lock up the torque converter (an unlocked torque converter is one of the main sources of transmission heat). There are probably also some less significant modifications to shift points, line pressure, etc, depending on temperature.



True, but the cooler is on the hot side of the radiator, not the cold side (very unusual, in my experience). Also, 195 is the best case scenario (assuming a good t-stat). With the a/c off and non-highway driving, the temperature will rise quite a bit before the fan comes on. My main concern is climbing steep hills from a standstill: the coolant temp will often be up quite a bit (just below the fan-on point) by the time I reach the top.
The transmission is designed with a relatively narrow temperature range of the fluid in mind. If you plan on using an aux cooler place it in the inlet hose to the radiator cooler. It is also bets to use a cooler with an internal thermal operated bypass that does not put the cooler in the circuit until 160F or so. The TAAT is not a case where colder is better.

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Old 08-25-2011, 01:29 PM   #9
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Default Re: Transmission cooler: before or after stock cooler?

Quote:
Originally Posted by 1996SL11.9L View Post
So the t-stat opens to suck coolent out of the rad? That's a new one, Saturn is different.

I got a bare block in the garage...going to look at water passages at pump housing. Wonder how t-stat operates properly with cold coolent flowing over it.....
Yeah, it's definitely different. I was confused by it for a while, too: here's how it works (I think): when cold, coolant is pumped across the inside of the closed thermostat, then through the rest of the engine, heater, etc. As this fluid heats up, the thermostat will start to open, and cold fluid from the radiator will be sucked in by the venturi effect. This cold fluid leaving the radiator is replaced by hot coolant, from the head of the engine. (The venturi effect is how shop-air powered vacuum pumps (or water powered vacuum filtration equipment in a chemistry labs) works: you can blow air (or fluid) across an opening and actually create a vacuum, that way.)

In other words, the thermostat is actually controlled by the temperature of the coolant inside the block, not by the temperature of the coolant that it allows to flow through it. I don't know for sure, but I wouldn't be surprised if our thermostats lack the typical little hole that allows a bit of flow, even when the thermostat is fully closed.

See:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Venturi_pump

Quote:
Originally Posted by OldNuc View Post
The transmission is designed with a relatively narrow temperature range of the fluid in mind. If you plan on using an aux cooler place it in the inlet hose to the radiator cooler. It is also bets to use a cooler with an internal thermal operated bypass that does not put the cooler in the circuit until 160F or so. The TAAT is not a case where colder is better.
Thanks, that's exactly what I was thinking. The bypass in my cooler is not quite thermally operated (it works by restricting the flow through the cooler so that thick (cold fluid) will bypass, only allowing the thin (hot fluid) to enter). It's not great, but it should help a bit. Something that worked like the variable thermal expansion valve in our air conditioners would be great, but would probably make the cooler prohibitively expensive.

Last edited by PlasticCarsRock; 08-25-2011 at 01:43 PM..

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Old 08-25-2011, 01:50 PM   #10
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Default Re: Transmission cooler: before or after stock cooler?

You will pay out the nose for a thermostatically controlled cooler.

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Old 08-25-2011, 01:54 PM   #11
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Default Re: Transmission cooler: before or after stock cooler?

Thought external coolers were used instead of the stock cooler, not inline with the stocker

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Old 08-25-2011, 01:58 PM   #12
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Default Re: Transmission cooler: before or after stock cooler?

Quote:
Originally Posted by 1996SL11.9L View Post
So the t-stat opens to suck coolent out of the rad? That's a new one, Saturn is different.

I got a bare block in the garage...going to look at water passages at pump housing. Wonder how t-stat operates properly with cold coolent flowing over it.....
Lots of modern cars have T stats that function this way. Remeber, there is constant flow through this system, including the reservoir bottle. As mentioned, that flow is across the T stat. When open it allows coolant to flow out the left side of the head, through the rad, and back in at the pump. The hot coolant from the head is what causes the common crack near the rad inlet.

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Old 08-25-2011, 02:04 PM   #13
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Default Re: Transmission cooler: before or after stock cooler?

Quote:
Originally Posted by fetchitfido View Post
Thought external coolers were used instead of the stock cooler, not inline with the stocker
Cooler is not really the correct term in this case. As mentioned, fluid temperature is important in our cars. In cold climates it does as much to warm the fluid to operating temperature, as it does to cool it in hot climates.
Older cars never had a computer to monitor trans temp, Saturns, and many more modern cars do. Don't forget, an S series Saturn is now almost 20 years out of date technology wise.

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Old 08-25-2011, 02:25 PM   #14
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Default Re: Transmission cooler: before or after stock cooler?

Quote:
Originally Posted by mattelderca View Post
a S series Saturn is now almost 20 years out of date technology wise.
Actually, a bit over 20 years (excluding the OBDII PCMS and BCMs). Saturns were actually designed in the late 80s and started production in or before 1990.

Still, because they were starting from scratch, using the newest technology whenever possible (instead of just updating older technology, when necessary), they were actually one of the most technologically advanced cars in the early '90s (Saturn was one of the very first car companies to use lost foam casting to make engine blocks and cylinder heads, for example, and many cars still had distributors into the late '90s and beyond).

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Old 08-25-2011, 03:29 PM   #15
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Default Re: Transmission cooler: before or after stock cooler?

Quote:
Originally Posted by mattelderca View Post
Cooler is not really the correct term in this case. As mentioned, fluid temperature is important in our cars. In cold climates it does as much to warm the fluid to operating temperature, as it does to cool it in hot climates.
Older cars never had a computer to monitor trans temp, Saturns, and many more modern cars do. Don't forget, an S series Saturn is now almost 20 years out of date technology wise.
Other then when it's frozen solid at 20 below my transmission doesn't care about temps nearly as much as an autotragic. I've got 1 full "kit" and most of a 2nd "kit" to fix that problem in any future one I happen to get too

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Old 08-27-2011, 05:01 PM   #16
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Default Re: Transmission cooler: before or after stock cooler?

Trans temp at end of 31 mile commute was 179f. 78 degrees ambient temp. It was 165f for 23 miles then the last bit of stop and go it creeped up to the 179.

One time I watched the temp in stop and go driven it was about 200f when got out of town it only took 5 miles for the temp to go down to the mid 180's.

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