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4:13 PM

Page 66

by Chuck Hansen

4L60E Shift Solenoid

Metering ball against
plastic seat shuts oil off.
Total travel .050 inches.

Figure 1

Do you honestly
believe that ever y
solenoid removed
from ever y transmission is totally
wor n out? Ever y
single solenoid?


he fact is that they are not all

bad nor all good. The bottom
line is the only one who can
answer the good or bad question is
YOU. I know what you are thinking.
ME! I dont want to take a chance.
Why should I reuse a solenoid if it
could be bad! Did I mention the prize
to you?
Most every car you guys work on
has solenoids in them. Most of them
have shift solenoids, lock-up solenoids,
and pulse width modulated solenoids.
What do you do when you rebuild these
units? Do you take a chance and reuse
the solenoids? Replace just the ones
that wear; or do you say: what the
heck Im gonna fix this baby once and
for all. Theyre all used and all worn;

Im gonna replace them all!

So you are probably thinking.
What does this have to do with a
prize? Isnt this just something else we
got to worry about? Where is the prize?
Where is it? If you really want to
know where your prize is look directly
into your waste can for used solenoids.
Spend a little time looking at your parts
bill. Think about the time and material
wasted pulling solenoids only to find
out it was something else. Think about
the oil, the seals, the boss, the waiting
time and the customer!
Whats the prize? The prize
varies with the job. If you are dealing
with an AXODE for instance the most
you can win is $182.52 Thats my local
Ford Dealers list price. On the other
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Page 65

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GEARS July 2003




4:13 PM

Page 68

Solenoids: How Big Is The Prize?

Figure 2

hand if you are doing a 4L60E you can

win $240.48 Thats the local GM dealers list price.
Some of you will probably say I
pay less than that. This is just an example. Only you can determine the actual costs and savings. However you
look at it there is absolutely no denying
it is a significant part of the job. It really doesnt take a rocket scientist to see
that the numbers keep adding up and
But how does this help you? Think
about it. Say your shop does 20 jobs a
month and only 1/3 of them need
replacement solenoids. Now take the
average cost of solenoids per job lets
call it $150. 20 jobs at $100 savings
each (2/3rds of $150). Thats $2000 per
month. Thats the prize! Imagine
$24,000 per year! Out of the trash can
and back into your hands.
Whoa! You say. Solenoids wear
out! I gotta worry about warranty and
when should I replace them. Besides
we use new solenoids and mark them
up. Good point.
Lets see. . .
New Solenoids: $150 marked up,
say 30% thats $45 you make each job.
Your happy but is the customer?
Used Solenoids: You charge the
customer $95 to flush and test their
solenoids. You save the customer $100
and you make $95 dollars!
Thats enough about the prize.
Now some serious discussion about
It is no secret that some of you

believe solenoids wear out and should

be replaced. After all they contain
moving parts and can get contaminated
with metal. The pulse width modulated
ones really get a workout being pulsed
million and millions of times.
It is important for you to really
take a hard look at how a modern solenoid operates. You really need to
understand what moves and what
wears. With that thought in mind I have
chosen the 4L60E as an example.

Types of Solenoids:
Lets take a look at 3 types of solenoids. Sticking with the 4L60E we will
examine the simple on/off shift solenoid, the 3-2 solenoid which is a pulse
width modulated type solenoid and the
force motor which is a balanced spool
valve type solenoid.

Shift Solenoids
Simple on/off solenoids: Figure
1 shows a GM 4L60E SHIFT solenoid.
They have a GM list price of about
$23.91 each and are extremely simple
in operation. Apply current and the
solenoid stops oil flow. Take away current and the oil is allowed to flow.
The moving elements of the GM
4L60E solenoid consist of a plunger,
spring and metering ball. It is actually
the action of the metering ball against
the polycarbonate nozzle seat that controls the oil flow. This particular solenoid is a normally open solenoid. Oil
constantly flows through the nozzle and
around the ball while the solenoid is
open. When the solenoid is energized it

pushes the ball against the seat thus cutting off oil flow. The entire process
takes a fraction of a second with total
movement of approximately .050 thousandths of an inch.
With only a small amount of movement and with the constant flow of oil
its easy to see why these solenoids can
last so long. Probably the most susceptible part of this solenoid is the nozzle
and O-ring.
How can you judge when to
replace one of these solenoids? Do you
start by checking the cars speedometer
or perhaps look in the sump for metal.
Thats ok if you want but there is
always that gray area, isnt there? You
can tell some things just by looking at
them, but how can you be sure?
Assuming there is no obvious damage to the nozzle and O-ring. I would
start with a simple on/off test measuring leakage (to make sure it works at
all), flow (to check that it isnt clogged)
and the ability of the solenoid to energize under pressure (to make sure the
solenoid mechanically can hold pressure when energized). Its that simple.

GM 3-2 Downshift solenoid

Next lets take a look at the 4L60E
solenoid in figure 2. This solenoid is a
normally closed PWM type solenoid
and lists for $25.58.
Examining figure 2 the moving
elements consist of a spring, plunger,
diaphragm and metering ball. In operation the metering rod is drawn from
the sleeve allowing the metering ball to
move. This allows more oil to get by it.
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Page 69

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4:13 PM

Page 70

Solenoids: How Big Is The Prize?

4L60E Electronic Pressure

Control Solenoid coil operates at 292.5 cycles per second but mechanism moves
very slowly.

Figure 3

This solenoid is electrically pulsed at

50 cycles per second. The PCM operates the 3-2 valve at 90% duty when the
transmission is in 2nd, 3rd and 4th
gear. During a 3-2 downshift, the solenoid duty is reduced to control the
exhaust of 3rd accumulator fluid
through the 3-2 valve. This action
helped by the spring and diaphragm and
accompanied with signal oil causes the
ball to move smoothly in and out of the
seat (again the nozzle serves as the
seat). It is this smooth and almost
motionless action (the entire travel is
approximately .035 inches) that strokes
the much larger 3-2 control valve in the
valve body and ultimately exhausts the
3rd accumulator. By changing the
length of time the solenoid is actually
pulsed (pulse width) the metering rod
and ball can be moved in varying
amounts thus changing the 3rd accumulator exhausting times and ultimately
the downshift feel.
Remember, the maximum total
movement of the metering ball is only
.035 thousandths of an inch assisted by
both spring and a cushion of oil.
Operation is smooth and lubricated by a
wave of oil.
How can you check a 3-2 solenoid:

First inspect the solenoid physically.

Pay particular attention to the O-rings,
nozzle, connector and screens. This
solenoid depends upon oil and carefully controlled electrical energy to operate, so you will need a tester to check it.
The following tests should be conducted:
Solenoid Off: Leak test under
Solenoid On (90%): Output
pressure = Input Pressure
Output Flow check
Dynamic Test: Carefully step
the solenoid from 90% duty to
0% duty monitoring the
change in output pressure.
Pressure should diminish in a
smooth fashion as the metering ball moves in and out of
the seat.
Hint: Try comparing the used one
to a new one. They should both behave
the same.

Line Pressure Control Solenoid

(aka:Force Motor, EPC)
Figure 3 shows a 4L60E electronic
line pressure control solenoid. This
solenoid, which GM lists for $119.29,

has some similarity to the 3-2 solenoid

we just discussed. It is also a pulse
width modulated solenoid, however its
coil operating frequency is 292.5 cycles
for second. It also controls oil flow
through the variation of pulse width.
Unlike the 3-2 solenoid the Line
Pressure Control solenoid utilizes a
spool valve to control oil flow and pressure.
The way this solenoid works is a
small amount of actuator feed limit
(AFL) fluid is allowed to flow through
a small orifice into the spool valve.
This fluid passes through the center of
the spool valve and is either applied
against the solenoid armature or
exhausted. Actuation of the armature
by increasing the coil current causes the
spool valve to move smoothly up and
down floating in a constant wave of oil.
The entire spool valve is held in balance via an ingenious combination of
oil pressure, spring action and electrically induced magnetic force. The GM
4L60E Line Pressure Solenoid also
contains a damper spring (actually a
diaphragm) that serves as a dashpot for
the armature to move against.
Its easy to see all the moving parts
in an EPC solenoid assembly that with
GEARS August 2003



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Page 71


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4:13 PM

Page 72

Solenoids: How Big Is The Prize?

In reality probably
the weakest item in
the solenoid is the
diaphragm, spool
valve and sleeve.
all there is an increased chance for one
to wear out. In reality probably the
weakest item in the solenoid is the
diaphragm, spool valve and sleeve.
This solenoid is mainly influenced by
the vehicles throttle. Wear will be
more dependent on the type of driving
the vehicles operator has done as compared to the miles on the odometer.
Thats to say that if a vehicle has
200,000 highway miles on it, chances
are the EPC is probably ok. You may
also find one with low mileage, a New
York Cab for instance, with high wear
due to constant starting and stopping.
I know you have all heard or read
somewhere or other that since this solenoid operates at 292.5 cycles per second that its going to wear out really fast
but relax. It is physically impossible
for the solenoid spool valve and push
rod to move that fast. In reality its
movement is closely related to the vehicle throttle movement and if you really
examine its operation it tends to float in
oil - balanced between oil pressure,
spring tension and its electromagnetic
Some suggest that this solenoid
should be replaced when the unit is
metaled up or there is a lot of heat and
damage involved. If you examine the
last 2 PWM solenoids we have discussed you will quickly see that they
both utilize a 40-micron screen on their
input and output side. If you think a bit
of metal can get through these screens
then you probably have little to no faith
in planned parenthood.
Finally, you probably want to
know how to tell a good used EPC solenoid from a bad one. Here is how:

Inspect the solenoid carefully

for damage.
Check the coil resistance

Using a solenoid tester:

Measure the solenoid for flow
and pressure regulation at various duty cycles to determine
Measure the starting point
where the solenoid starts to

Measure stopping point where

solenoid starts to regulate.

Note: This particular EPC can be

adjusted by turning the torx screw ON
THE TOP. Adjustment should only be
made if you can measure the resulting
output pressure changes and verify that
they are correct. I strongly urge you to
leave the adjustments alone if you
arent equipped to make these measurements.

Every solenoid you pull out of a unit is not bad and doesnt
have to be tossed away. Most modern transmission solenoids are designed to last a long time. Only YOU can decide
whether to reuse a solenoid or not. Strictly looking at miles
on the odometer or whether or not the transmission has had
a catastrophic failure isnt a very scientific way to find bad
solenoids. The most accurate method is to employ a good
solenoid tester and carefully evaluate how well the solenoid
is operating under carefully controlled conditions.
The bottom line is that YOU can save your shop considerable money by using carefully tested used solenoids.
The amount of money your shop saves on each job will
allow it to be more competitive and for the shops earnings to
increase. This means more money for the shop and hopefully more for you. Dont forget the jackpot is yours; all you
need to do is claim it!

Chuck Hansen is the President of Zoom Technology, Inc. His company has been
manufacturing automatic transmission test equipment for 19 years. Chucks backround is in electrical engineering, manufacturing and marketing. He holds a BS in
Business Administration, an AAS in Computer Science and a Certificate of Pro-efficiency in Electrical Engineering Technology.

GEARS August 2003