DEXRON is the trade name for a group of technical specifications of automatic transmission fluid created by General Motors (GM). The name is a registered trademark (later becoming a BRAND) of GM, which licenses the name and specifications to companies which manufacture the fluid and sell it under their own brand names.
Originally the DEXRON name was associated exclusively with automatic transmission fluids, later GM released DEXRON gear oils and other lubricants under the DEXRON brand.
Automatic transmission fluids
The original Dexron transmission fluid was introduced in 1968. Over the years, the original Dexron was supplanted by Dexron-II, Dexron-IIE, Dexron-III, and Dexron-VI, which is the current fluid. GM has upgraded the Dexron specifications over the years; newer fluids are generally but not always backward compatible with previous fluids. Because there are still applications for which Dexron-VI either has not been proved suitable or deemed to be not necessary, there remains a market for fluids that claim to meet the earlier specifications.
The original Dexron fluid, like its predecessor Type-A/Suffix-A, used sperm whale oil as a friction modifier. The U.S. Endangered Species Act banned the import of sperm whale oil, so the fluid had to be reformulated.
DEXRON-II, IID and IIE
Dexron-II was introduced in 1972 with alternative friction modifiers such as Jojoba oil. However, it caused problems with corrosion-prone solder in GM's transmission fluid coolers; accordingly, corrosion inhibitors were added to the product. The resultant fluid, released in 1975, was called Dexron-IID. However, the corrosion inhibitor made the new fluid hygroscopic, which while it was not a major problem in automatic transmissions, made Dexron IID unsuitable for other hydraulic systems in which it was commonly used. A further reformulation, to address excessive hygroscopicity, but primarily to improve low temperature performance (20,000cP @ -40C vs 50,000cP@-40C for Dexron-IID) was named Dexron-IIE (GM Spec GM6137M).
In 1993, GM released new Dexron-III fluid (GM Spec GM6417M and later GMN10055). It is generally backward-compatible with transmissions using earlier Dexron fluids or Type-A/Suffix-A fluid. However this specification failed to address a number of issues concerning long term durability such as shear stability and fluid oxidation. Dexron-III underwent a number of iterations in an attempt to address various shortcomings but was eventually replaced by new thinking i.e. DEXRON-VI.
An attempt to introduce an 'upgrade' that was not fully accepted by GM management for a number of reasons including the way that it was promoted internally and cost. It was therefore abandoned in favour of making further incremental upgrades to the existing DEXRON-III specification.
The fluid specification for Dexron-VI was introduced in 2005, and was first used as the GM factory-fill automatic transmission fluid for model year 2006. All Dexron-III licenses expired permanently at the end of 2006, and GM now supports only Dexron-VI fluids for use in their automatic transmissions, although fluids asserted by their manufacturers to meet Dexron-III standards continue to be sold under names such as Dex/Merc. These fluids are not regulated or endorsed by GM.
Dexron VI is of a slightly lower viscosity when new compared to the prior Dexron fluids (a maximum of 6.4 cSt at 100 °C for Dexron VI and 7.5 cSt for Dexron III), but the allowed viscosity loss from shearing of the ATF during use is lower for Dexron VI, resulting in the same lowest allowed final viscosity for both Dexron III and VI (5.5 cSt) in test. In reality most of the DEXRON-III fluids typically sheared to about 4.2 cSt in use. The lower, more stable viscosity improved pumping efficiency within the transmission and fluid stability over life. Since Dexron VI is not allowed to thin out (lower its viscosity) as much as Dexron III during use, it requires the use of higher-quality, more shear-stable (less prone to thinning while in use) formulations. The current GM specification that defines the fluid is GMW16444, which superseded the original specification, GMN10060.
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