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How to test a trasmission solenoid?


How are we testing solenoid?

Here are some common processes used regardless if you are a shop rebuilding a transmission on the bench or are a large reman with assembly lines for high volume production of units. In either case, there is a process of disassembly and determining what parts are good and can be reused, and which ones are bad and must be replaced. Many hard parts that can simply be inspected for wear, cracks, or other damage and determined very quickly if they are useable or not. Many soft parts are automatically replaced as they are not reusable. Between these two types of parts are the ones that require some level of testing to determine if they can be reused or if they need to be replaced. Solenoids are a prime example of such a part since a hydraulic test is required to determine if they are still functioning properly.

When we talk about testing, we not only need to understand why we are testing it, but more importantly, the how do we test it . The “why” is fairly straight forward, as we want to determine if it is still functioning properly and that we can reuse it. The how to test it might not be as clear, and there are multiple methods of how to test, and sometimes opinions on how to test that are not always accurate. The basis of testing involves giving the unit under test some type of a stimulus and measuring the response. Then we examine the response and see if it is within an acceptable range or not to determine if it passes or fails. The proper stimulus and what the acceptable range are is things might get tricky.

So how do we test a solenoid? The obvious answer might be to apply a hydraulic pressure, apply an electrical current, and observe the output pressure. In the case of a variable pressure solenoid, different current points should produce different output pressures and these pressure points should either increase or decrease with current depending upon what type of solenoid it is, right? Well, that answer is partially correct.


I was on site with a customer once and we were testing a Ford 5R55E EPC solenoid. This solenoid is a good basic example of a pressure control solenoid and it is easy to see how as we increase current; the pressure should drop. The controller we had was able to vary the current to the solenoid in steps and you would set it to a value and then check on a pressure gauge the output pressure of the solenoid. I started with it off, then set it at 0.3 amps, then 0.7 amps, then 1.0 amps. The pressure decreased each time. I came back to 0.7, then 0.3, and finally back to 0, and the pressure increased with each test point. At each test point I stopped for about 20 seconds so we could check and read the pressure and discuss. The pressure readings matched what we expected. So, we concluded that this solenoid was fine, operating properly, and ready to be put onto the valve body, right? Wrong!

Increasing Current Steps

Decreasing Current Steps

Solenoid Current

Output Pressure

Solenoid Current

Output Pressure

0.0

90 PSI

1.0

5 PSI

0.3

80 PSI

0.7

32 PSI

0.7

30 PSI

0.3

81 PSI

1.0

5 PSI

0.0

90 PSI





This same machine also had an option where we could increment these current steps over time to “ramp” the current to the solenoid from 0 to a maximum and back to zero. It would then graph the response on the computer screen so we could get a clearer picture of what the solenoid response was. We set the max current to 1.0 amp and our total time for the ramp up and down to about 20 seconds and ran the test. When we did this, we saw a vastly different picture. The solenoid would drop pressure as expected as current increased, however as the current decreased, the solenoid would stick for about 5 seconds at minimum pressure and then snap to about half pressure as we continued decreasing current. This repeated each time we cycled the solenoid as we ran it over and over again. From the graph it was obvious we had a problem, which we could only see as we continually increased or decreased the current, rather than just holding it steady at certain current points. Today, this is easy to see on solenoids machines such as the Hydra-Test HT Sol as this test and graphical method is the basis for how their machine is designed to test. At the time I was working with this customer, this method was more or less only done at large remanufacturers.


But as you can see, this gets to the very root of the how do we test it issue. We also need to understand why one method indicated that everything was fine and the solenoid was working properly, while the other clearly showed us a problem that would cause drivability issues, would give fault codes, and possibly damage to the transmission under certain conditions as our line pressure would be much lower than expected in the unit.

Let us think about how this solenoid functions in the vehicle during normal operation. We want to test in the same way and try to mimic the real-world operating conditions as closely as possible. If we think about an EPC solenoid, especially one that is controlling overall line pressure, how does it operate as the vehicle as it goes down the road? Does it sit at a constant current or is the current constantly varying as the driver changes throttle position, if we are shifting gears, or if we apply the brakes? If you answered that it is constantly varying, you are correct. There may be times when it will be constant (say a long stretch of highway where you keeping a constant speed and throttle), but each time we change an input, it ramps the current up or down over time, just like when we ramped the current and observed it on the graph. If we only look at a few points where the current is constant, we completely miss the bigger picture and the solenoid momentarily sticking before it snaps into place due to wear, internal contamination, or damage.

There are two takeaways from this. The first is that a tool (in this case a solenoid test machine with a variable current and graphing capability) is only as good as the operator and how they are using it. It is important to think about and understand how you are testing. The second takeaway relates to testing equipment. If you have a good handle on how to test you can also verify that the equipment you are purchasing has the features and the ability to test properly. Is the ability to ramp solenoid current and see a resultant graph a standard feature like on the HT-Sol or not? Proper testing yields good results and will save you both time and money, as well as the frustration of chasing a bad part that tested “good” because of incomplete testing.


Popular articles

Probably every transmission repair specialist was keen on LEGO constructions or at least enjoyed making some minor things with their hands. Here's the game taken to a new level of creativity!

Modern auto industry is full of sophisticated drivetrain technologies which are supposed to make your driving experience even more pleasant and trouble-free. Despite a great abundance of sophisticated technical solutions, it is highly likely that very few people know a transmission solution operating like a manual CVT.

Over recent years engineers developed a lot of gear shifting solutions for different car brands, which may seem a bit unusual for oldtime drivers. In this article we will review the most peculiar gear stick technologies and provide video materials related to these technologies.

Only few people know about transmission concepts which were popular 70-90 years ago. For men of today, these gearboxes may seem very unusual and weird, but even now some gearboxes that date back to those years are quite competitive in comparison with modern transmissions.

Nowadays Extroid CVTs are commonly known as “toroidal” due to the fact that the working surface of driving and driven discs in this transmission has the form of a torus. Extroid CVT is not a V-belt transmission, but a friction drive CVT.

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