First Things First
It is my understanding that Drive Accord, as well as any other online automotive forum, is intended for users to share their experiences (both positive and negative) with the members therein. With this post, I am doing just that by informing the community of the factual details concerning my 6-speed transmission swap, performed by Paul Smalser (NVA-AV6), and the unfavorable repercussions that came from it.
The decision to swap a manual transmission into my automatic TL was not one that I made quickly, or without careful research to explore all of the possible options. My automatic transmission completely failed, but I had access to other forms of transportation while I thought about the best route to get my car back on the road.
After comparing the prices of A.) Buying a used 5AT, B.) Rebuilding my current 5AT, and C.) Ditching the auto clan altogether and swapping in a 6MT, I decided to go with option C, the most expensive and time-consuming one of them all. The PRIMARY reason for choosing to swap in a manual transmission was because I knew Iíd have added reliability (as opposed to the problematic í04-í06 automatics), and I wouldnít have to worry about something like this ever happening again. After all the time and money that I had already invested into this car, it only made sense that I do something to make it last as long as possible.
I found a few threads that discussed the process of converting a 5AT TL to a 6MT and also listed the parts necessary to complete the job. I quickly determined that this was not a project I was going to be able to accomplish myself. Iím not afraid to get my hands dirty, but this was just a little bit out of my league. Once I started my research on the swap, it didnít take long for me to start noticing posts by a particular individual who claimed he had successfully completed this job on multiple Acura TLís and Honda Accords alike. His name is Paul Smalser, and he goes by the screen name NVA-AV6 on Drive Accord, as well as other automotive forums. Through further searching, I came to the conclusion that Paul was a rather popular guy among the Honda and Acura crowds, and he seemed to really know a lot about the mechanics of these cars. Furthermore, other members genuinely seemed to like him, as he was always providing helpful information and advice to the online community. Knowing all of this, I decided it was time to contact him about my transmission situation.
Below is the complete timeline of events for the entire project:
April 27th, 2014
My automatic transmission failed with no prior symptoms. It started slipping, and was completely done in less than 5 miles.
I first contacted Paul via Acurazine.com, and from that point on, we communicated via SMS texts and phone calls only. During this time, I was also calling other performance shops all over Ohio to get a quote for the same job. Every shop I called was either not interested, or did not return my call to provide a quote. After talking with Paul, I was quite impressed with his knowledge regarding this transmission swap, and the fact that he claimed to have swapped 25 TLís and Accords over the years. He explained that if I decided to do the swap, I would start by sending him an initial deposit of $4,500 to completely cover the cost of parts. He would source everything, and any money leftover would go towards his $1,500 labor charge. He estimated that the parts would run between $3,000-$4,000, with a total cost of $4,500-$5,500 (parts + labor). Regarding the parts, he assured me that he wouldnít buy a used manual transmission with more than 50,000 miles, and the clutch would be brand new from Honda/Acura, along with some other items such as the lower transmission mounts. The flywheel was going to be used, but resurfaced by him. Over the next week, we continued to discuss the project and go over details, and I began to feel more and more comfortable having him do this work on my car.
With reliability in mind, I decided that having Paul do the transmission swap was the best option for my TL, so I sent the payment of $4,500 via PayPal to get the process started.
Paul informed me that all parts had been ordered and were en route to his ďshopĒ, including a manual transmission from an Ď04 TL with 42,000 miles.
My dad and I towed the car down to VA. We met Paul in a parking lot not far from his residence, and I was able to drive the car the short distance to his house. I was slightly discouraged at the cosmetic condition of the property and vehicles that were parked in front of his home, and hoped that mine would come away without any added cosmetic work. Paul told me my car would be worked on in the back, behind his house. I did not see an enclosed garage in that area, so this confused me. My dad and I drove back home the same day, and Paul started working on my car soon after.
Paul told me that my radiator needed replaced, and it was going to cost $220 for a new one. He also sold me on adding a real cold air intake to replace my ďPoor Manís CAIĒ. His custom-made intake cost $230. He also told me that only $3,762 of my original $4,500 deposit had been used up for parts at this point, but still asks for me to send the additional $450 for the radiator and intake because of ď1st-of-the-month billsĒ. I sent the payment via PayPal.
Paul sent me the following pictures to show the progress he had made on the car. The second-to-last picture is showing the bolt that came with my XLR8 62A side motor mount (top) and the bolt that Paul replaced it with (bottom) because he wanted to use every thread available. Iím pointing this out because it is quite ironic considering some events that happen later in the timeline. Also, pay close attention to the last picture as well.
Paul sent me the following pictures to show the continued progress being made on the car:
Paul informed me that my car was, officially, a fully operational 6-speed vehicle, and also said that he didnít have any ďnecks to wringĒ (in reference to the functionality of the used parts that were purchased). He also sent these final progress pictures:
Paul confirmed that I still owed him $762 for labor after the remainder of the $4,500 parts deposit was applied to the $1,500 labor charge.
I took a one-way flight to Dulles International Airport to get my car and drive it home. Paul picked me up at the airport and drove me back to his house. The first thing I noticed about my car was how incredibly filthy it was. It literally looked like someone had taken it mudding. I guess this was to be expected after it sat outside for almost 3 weeks. I gave the car a quick inspection, and other than the filth, everything seemed to be good. However, when I got in the car, I did notice that my memory seats were not working. I showed Paul, and he really didnít have an answer. He basically just said that none of his wiring would have interfered with the memory seat function. I figured it must be a fluke, and was anxious to set out on my 6-hour journey home. I paid Paul the remaining $762 for labor, and was on my way.
Before heading home, I simply had to stop at a car wash and eradicate the contamination from the exterior of my vehicle. While washing it, I noticed a spot on the rear Aspec lip that was being really stubborn. I soon realized that it wasnít dirt, but an obvious scrape in the paint that was not present when I dropped the car off to be worked on. I immediately sent a picture to Paul, and he called me to ask if I had backed into something. I told him I had not, and he insisted that it must be a bad paint job from the factory and that I should contact the dealership that I got the kit from. I wanted to get back on the road, so the conversation pretty much ended at that.
When I got home that night, I popped the hood to check things out. I saw that my coolant reservoir had absolutely nothing in it - not a single drop. I asked Paul if he had filled it up with coolant after replacing the radiator and he said he had. He told me to top off the reservoir and see how it looks in a day, so thatís exactly what I did.
I drove the car, checked the coolant, and the reservoir was bone dry again. Clearly, I had a leak, and it was coming out fast. I looked under the car and saw a massive puddle of coolant (the car had not been sitting there that long).
I sent Paul a picture of the puddle, and he told me to check all 6 of the coolant hose connections. It didnít take long to find the one that was leaking. I bought a new hose, replaced the old one, and filled it back up with coolant. The coolant level has been fine ever since. After inspecting the hose that was leaking, I found a rather large gash in it. I donít think this is something that just happens to hoses as they age. It was evidently damaged somehow, and I still cannot believe that I made it all the way home from VA without overheating the engine.
I eventually realized that the lack of memory seat functionality must be due to the fact that the car needed to be in Park for them to work, and I obviously didnít have Park anymore. I knew that the manual TLís came with memory seats also, but Paul obviously forgot to wire mine after the swap. I also noticed that my reverse lights and automatic mirror tilt did not activate when the car was put into reverse. This was an even bigger annoyance than the lack of memory seats. I notified Paul of these problems.
Paul eventually responded and gave me access to his AllDataDIY account so I could look up the wiring diagrams and figure out how to get things working on my own. I started studying the diagrams and trying different things to get my memory seats, reverse lights, and tilting mirrors functioning again.
After DAYS of troubleshooting and testing the wiring, I finally got my reverse lights and mirror tilt function to work. The memory seats worked, but not flawlessly. For example, I can only SET a new memory setting when the car is running, and I can only ACTIVATE a current memory setting when the car is off. Quite strange, but itís the best I was able to do.
I called Paul to inform him I had resolved the issues (for the most part), but also to express my disappointment that I had to even spend my time figuring these problems out in the first place. I paid HIM to do the work, and I expected everything to work properly when I got the car back. He even stated in our early conversations that the only way one would be able to tell this was not a manual car from the factory would be to scan the VIN. During this phone call, I also reminded him about the scrape on my rear Aspec lip that was not present before he worked on the car. All things considered, I requested that he buy me a new, rear Aspec lip to replace mine that was scraped, AND to make up for the extra wiring work that I had to do, as well as the broken heater hose that I had to replace. He agreed to this compromise, and said it would be about a week before I received the new Aspec lip. I told him the lip could be purchased for $280 from my source (shipped), but he wanted to check another place.
It had been 8 days since Paul agreed to send me a new lip, and I hadnít received any updates. I sent him a text asking if he was able to find the lip for a better deal through his source, and he said it was the same price. I asked if he had received a tracking number for it yet, and he said it was going to be another week before he ordered it.