Signs of Transmission Problems

Signs of Transmission Problems 

If your vehicle is showing Signs of transmission problems, it is crucial to detect it early before it turns into a more involved – and a more expensive problem. If you are experiencing any of these transmission symptoms, we suggest bringing your car in for a transmission inspection and service soon:

  • Shifting delays
  • When shifting gears, there is jumping during acceleration
  • Transmission grinding or slipping while shifting
  • Car shakes
  • Burning smell under the hood
  • Fluid leaks
  • Clunking, screeching or whistling sounds
  • Transmission fluid is cloudy, thick, or smelly
  • Manual gear shifter is physically hard to move or won’t go into gear

Common Transmission Problems 

[accordions] [accordion title=”Low or dirty transmission fluid because of leaking, contamination, or age” visible=”no”]Vehicles with manual transmissions need transmission fluid to maintain gear lubrication and to avoid any grinding. Automatic transmission vehicles require transmission fluid to make the hydraulic pressure that powers movement in the transmission. Without clean transmission fluid, transmissions overheat and critical gears may slip, grind, or wear out. Particularly in automatic transmissions, the result can be total vehicle failure.[/accordion] [accordion title=”Worn clutch (manual transmission systems only)”]Another common manual transmission problem is a worn-out clutch. In a manual transmission system, the clutch can be worn due to mechanical error if there is a hydraulic fluid leak in the clutch master cylinder, or if the driver is frequently accelerating and shifting through gears without releasing his or her foot from the clutch. This may burn up a manual transmission clutch quite fast and then you’ll need another clutch replacement service.[/accordion] [accordion title=”Failed Needle Roller Bearings (automatic transmission systems only)”]Needle bearings are small, lightweight roller bearings that help keep gears from grinding in the automatic transmission’s torque converter. You may hear grinding or brushing noises while driving, if the transmission’s needle bearings become worn or sluggish. This sound can indicate your transmission gears are moving poorly and will become worn down.[/accordion] [accordion title=”Burning Smell”]If you detect burning transmission fluid, be advised it’s not how transmission fluid should normally smell because it’s working hard. It may indicate your transmission is overheating. Transmission fluid not only maintains the lubrication of the transmission’s many moving parts, it also decreases overheating by keeping all the components cooler. In some cars, the transmission even has its own mini-radiator (an oil cooler) that moves fluid to take heat away from the transmission. The reason for a burning smell may include low or inadequate transmission fluid, which can be a sign of a leak or fluid that needs changing. If you believed your transmission was safe from wear at least while in neutral, the truth might surprise you.[/accordion] [accordion title=”Transmission is Noisey in Neutral”]It seems intuitive that if you hear weird noises when the car should be shifting, that the transmission is acting up. But would you suspect it if things were going “bump” in neutral? Yes, it could be the transmission. Such sounds could have a simple and inexpensive solution — as with many of the problems on our list, adding or replacing the transmission fluid sometimes does the trick. Bear in mind that as is the case with engine oil, different vehicles do best with the specific formulation called for in the owner’s manual. Alternatively, lots of noises from the transmission while it’s in neutral could signal something more serious, like mechanical wear that will need the replacement of parts. In this case, common culprits are a worn reverse idler gear or worn bearings, possibly coupled with worn gear teeth.[/accordion] [accordion title=”Gears Slipping”]Does your transmission ever slip out of gear? In a normally functioning transmission, the car stays in the gear you designate, or that the computer designates for a given RPM range, until you or the computer initiate a gear shift. But on a transmission in which the gears slip, the car can spontaneously pop out of the gear it’s in while driving and (in a manual) force the stick back into neutral. This is unnerving at best and potentially dangerous at worst: when you mash the gas pedal to avoid an out-of-control vehicle, the last thing you want is a transmission that doesn’t get power to the wheels. No need to scratch your head over whether this is trouble or not: if it happens, you know it’s time to have your transmission examined. Signs of Transmission Problems.[/accordion] [accordion title=”Dragging Clutch”]Here’s another transmission trouble sign that haunts manual transmission vehicle owners: the dreaded dragging clutch. A dragging clutch is one that fails to disengage the clutch disk from the flywheel when the driver pushes in the clutch pedal. When the driver attempts to shift gears, he or she can’t because the still-engaged clutch is still spinning along with the engine. The driver is abruptly made aware of this by the grinding noise that then ensues with each attempt to shift. Fortunately, the most common cause for this problem is not that severe or costly to fix — at least not compared to some other transmission issues. More often than not, the problem is too much slack in the clutch pedal. With too much free play, the cable or linkage between the pedal and the clutch disk doesn’t have enough leverage to disengage the clutch disk from the flywheel (or pressure plate). Signs of Transmission Problems.[/accordion] [accordion title=”Leaking Fluid”]Leaking transmission fluid is probably one of the easiest ways to identify that your transmission needs attention. Automatic transmission fluid is vital to your car’s shifting capabilities, so a little fluid on your driveway can quickly turn into a major problem. Automatic transmission fluid is bright red, clear and a little sweet-smelling when everything’s working correctly. When you check your automatic transmission fluid, make sure it’s not a dark color and that it doesn’t have a burnt smell. If it is, you’ll need to take it to a mechanic and have it replaced. Unlike your car’s motor oil, the transmission doesn’t really consume or burn up any fluid during use, so if you notice you’re running low on fluid, then it’s definitely leaking out somewhere. If you have a manual transmission, checking the fluid levels may not be as easy as simply lifting the hood and reading a dipstick. Manual transmission fluid has to be checked right at the transmission case — usually through the fill plug. Again, if you suspect your transmission is losing fluid, have a mechanic locate the leak and have it fixed. If your fluid level is good, there’s another easy way to know if there’s something wrong with the transmission: go on to the next page to see how you can find out if your transmission is having problems — without even having to pop the hood. Signs of Transmission Problems.[/accordion] [accordion title=”Check Engine Light”]The check engine light can be a great early indicator that something is starting to go wrong with your transmission. The check engine light can come on for any number of reasons not related to your transmission as well, but don’t overlook this clear warning sign. In newer cars there are sensors throughout the engine that pick up irregularities in the engine and notify the computer that there’s something wrong in a particular area. In the case of transmissions, these sensors can pick up vibrations and early problems that you may not even be able to feel or see. If you want to know if your check engine light is telling you about a transmission problem, you can purchase a diagnostic scan tool that you plug into your car underneath the driver’s side of the instrument panel. The scan tool will display a code that corresponds to the area of the vehicle causing the fault. If the code tells you there’s a transmission problem, well, that’s a good time to see your mechanic. But even if your check engine light isn’t on, you can still be on the lookout for transmission problems. On the next page, see what type of movements your car can make when the transmission requires service. Signs of Transmission Problems. Signs of Transmission Problems.[/accordion] [accordion title=”Grinding or Shaking”]Depending on whether you have a manual or automatic transmission, your car may respond differently when your transmission isn’t working correctly. As noted in a previous section, with a manual transmission, a common sign of trouble is a grinding sound or feeling when you shift into a new gear. If you fully engage the clutch, shift and then hear a grinding sound, you may have a worn clutch or you may just need to have it adjusted. Or perhaps one or more of your transmission’s gear synchronizers, or synchros, is worn out or damaged. Grinding gears can be caused by a number of different factors. For automatic transmissions problems, you’ll most likely feel the car shimmy into each gear rather than the typical almost unnoticeable shifts, or the transmission will make a jarring transition into the next gear. Both are signs that your transmission needs attention. If you notice anything other than a smooth transition between gears, then you might need to have your automatic transmission looked at for adjustments or repair. But feeling transmission problems aren’t the only way to use your senses. Go on to the next page to see what sounds you should be listening for as well. Signs of Transmission Problems.[/accordion] [accordion title=”Whining, Clunking and Humming”]Ignore the noises your car makes for long enough and you could eventually wind up like this unfortunate driver. It’s difficult to nail down exactly how your car may sound if there’s transmission trouble, but one thing’s pretty certain, you’ll probably get a that-doesn’t-sound-right feeling when you hear it. Every car is built differently, so the sounds they produce can vary greatly, but if you have an automatic transmission, there’s a good chance you may hear a whining, humming or even a slight buzzing sound ƒ. With manual transmissions, the sounds will usually come across as a bit more abrupt and mechanical sounding. If you shift gears and hear a clunking sound, then you definitely need to have it checked out by a professional. But a clunking sound from underneath your vehicle may not always point to a transmission problem. Your constant velocity joints (CV joints), or even your differential may be the culprit. The sounds you hear may happen from time to time at first, but if you neglect the noises, they’ll occur more frequently as time goes on. Signs of Transmission Problems.[/accordion] [accordion title=”Lack Of Response”]Automatic transmissions have the same lack-of-response problem, but will usually manifest the issue while engaging the “Park” or “Drive” selection. Transmissions are designed to go into the correct gear every time, so when they hesitate or refuse to go, it’s a sure sign there’s something wrong. With manual transmission problems, you may notice after shifting into a gear that the car’s engine will rev up, but the car won’t be moving as quickly as the engine is running. In this case, a worn-out clutch or more serious transmission problem may be occurring. Automatic transmissions have the same lack-of-response problem, but will usually manifest the issue while engaging the “Park” or “Drive” selection. The car should shift quickly into either of these modes, but if your transmission hesitates to go into either one, then it’s likely there’s an issue with the transmission.Signs of Transmission Problems. [/accordion] [accordion title=”Refuses to Go Into Gear”]Believe it or not, there are still a lot of people out there who practice the fading art of shifting manually, with a foot pedal and a “stick” gearshift, and they prefer it that way. Despite having a less complex operation, manual transmissions nonetheless have their share of things that can go wonky. One potential problem is that the transmission refuses to move at all when you depress the clutch pedal and try to move the stick shifter. Sometimes it’s when you’re trying to get into first gear from a stop, or it can be at any gear level. Common issues responsible for this are low transmission fluid ot it has the wrong viscosity (thick/thin), or your transmission might need the shift cables or clutch linkage adjusted. Signs of Transmission Problems.[/accordion][/accordions]

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4 Replies to “Signs of Transmission Problems”

  1. This is some great information, and I appreciate your point that delays in shifting can indicate problems with your transmission. In the past, my car was really smooth when shifting from one gear to the next, but I’ve noticed it having a bit of a delay recently. I’ll definitely look into having my car inspected to see if there are problems with the transmission. Thanks for the great post!

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