Transmission Problems Guide

Transmission problems happen all the time and sometimes for no obvious reason. However it happened, they are a real pain in the butt and causes more stress than you need. Most of the time it’s because of poor maintenance and lack of service, but transmission problems can happen because of external factors too, like defects or things that are beyond your control. Not all transmissions are perfect and you shouldn’t expect them to be, but when problems occur, your best bet is to deal with them as quickly as possible or else you could risk severe damage to your transmission that can lead up to failure. That’s the absolute last thing you want to have on your hands because repair or replacement can cost a hefty price. So here’s our transmission problems guide to help you solve whatever you’re having trouble with ASAP.

Common Transmission Problems:

 transmission problems guide

Low fluid levels and leaks:

low fluid levelsLow fluid levels and leaks are the most common causes for transmission problems. Leaks are generally caused by a fault in the transmission itself, which is what causes fluid to escape. Faulty bolts and seals, ruptured fluid lines or vacuum hose, damaged gaskets, or a bad drive shaft can all cause leaks, leading to low fluid levels. We teach you how to check and add fluid here. A transmission needs the proper amount of fluid in order to run smoothly, and not enough can cause insufficient cooling and hydraulic pressure load. In cases like these it is suggested to find the underlying cause of the leak and stop it immediately. Here’s our useful guide on how to fix a leak. Once the leak has been located and stopped a fluid change should be performed. To see whether it is really a leak that is causing low fluids, check your driveway and underneath the car for signs.

Burnt fluid:

transmission problems guide - various transmission fluid colorsBurnt fluid is usually the result of debris or other unwanted contaminants in the fluid, which causes inefficient lubricating and cooling of the transmission. It can also be caused by overheating or the wrong type of fluid. There is a very distinct smell to burnt fluid, and you can notice it right away from regular, clean fluid. New fluid is bright red in color and smells somewhat sweet. If it is dark (black or dark brown) and smells burnt, it may be time for a service. Allowing the fluid to keep running in this state will end up causing a buildup of sludge and debris, at which point transmission problems or failure are likely to occur. Either a fluid change with a new filter or a transmission flush is recommended.

Torque converter issues:

While manual transmissions use the clutch to connect the engine to the transmission, automatic transmissions use a torque converter, which is a fluid coupling that allows the engine to spin on its own independent of the transmission by pressurizing transmission fluid. But torque converters can develop transmission problems, the most common being damaged needle bearings. Needle bearings separate the stator, impeller, turbine, and converter housing and fails more often than any other part of the torque converter. Damaged needle bearings often causes the transmission to make strange noises while driving because it allows for metal to metal contact between other components in the converter, which creates metal chips that the transmission fluid picks up and cycles around the transmission. Other problems can include damaged seals, worn torque converter clutches, or a faulty torque converter clutch solenoid. Service and repair is often your only option here when dealing with torque converter issues.

Solenoid problems:

The solenoid is the part of your car that controls fluid flow throughout the transmission. This electro-hydraulic valve can become damaged because of insufficient fluid levels or electronic problems that causes irregular fluid flow. This can cause a variety of transmission problems. If you experience slipping or gear shifting problems and have checked for low fluids and leaks, then the solenoid would be your next culprit. If it is an electrical problem with your solenoid then your car’s check engine light is likely to go off, and the most common issue with solenoids is that the wires connecting it to the car’s computer have been damaged. You can quickly diagnose whether it’s the solenoid by hooking up a scanner to the car’s computer.

Clutch problems:

A manual transmission can sometimes develop a problem known as the dragging clutch, wherein the clutch disk fails to disengage the flywheel when the clutch pedal is pressed. This can be very dangerous, as changing gears can be difficult due to the fact that the clutch is still spinning with the engine. A dragging clutch is often accompanied with a grinding noise when you try to change gears, and is a big indicator that your clutch has a problem. However, getting this fixed is often cheaper for manuals than it is for automatics, and the most common cause behind this phenomena is because of too much slack in the clutch pedal. This makes the clutch disk unable to disengage from the flywheel.

burnt clutch plates

Burnt clutch plates vs new clutch plates

But manual transmissions aren’t the only ones with a clutch, automatics have them too and they are located throughout the transmission as well as within the torque converter assembly. The bad news is that sometimes it can jam or burn out from friction, which causes slipping or the wrong amount of fluid pressure to be dispersed. This can cause a number of transmission problems such as shaking, high heat levels, and problems changing gears. It is also more difficult to fix clutch problems for automatics than it is for manuals.

Grinding, shaking, or strange noises:

If you experience any weird behavior with your car, such as shaking, jerking, or noises you’ve never heard before, then this may indicate transmission problems. The hard part however is identifying the cause. With a manual transmission the problem could be anything, such as clutches, gear synchronizers, or synchros that are worn out or damaged. You will often notice a problem if you hear strange noises–humming, buzzing, or whining–or have problems with shifting gears. For automatic transmissions you will typically experience trouble shifting gears or more frequently, shaking of the vehicle. The best course of action in these cases is to identify the problem as soon as possible and get it fixed before it gets any worse. You should have your car’s computer checked for any error codes and there are several places that will do it for free.

Check engine light:

It can be terrifying when the check engine light goes off. What can the problem be? How much is it going to cost to get it fixed? A bunch of questions spring into mind but often you’re making it a bigger deal than it is. While the light can go off for a number of reasons, it can also indicate transmission problems which is why it makes our list. If the light does happen to go off you should find out what the problem is immediately. There are sensors all over your car that will alert the computer for the slightest sign of unusual activity, so if you have a scanner, it’s as simple as plugging it into your car’s computer in order to diagnose the problem. Afterwards it is up to you whether you want to repair it yourself or bring it into the shop. Usually problems aren’t too serious and can be fixed by yourself–a common problem is worn sensors–and replacing the faulty part will solve the issue.

Transmission slipping:

Slipping is a common issue but can be dangerous on the road. Most of the time it is caused by low fluid levels or a defective solenoid, but worn gears, clutches, and bands are also suspect. If you can feel gears slipping or shifting has become more difficult than usual, it could mean you have transmission problems on your hand.

Low fluid levels are often caused by a leak somewhere, and your duty is to find it and plug it. Slipping can also happen because of dirty and contaminated fluid, so check whether that could be the problem and get it changed ASAP.

Solenoid problems would be your next item to check, and malfunction of this part means you will have to either fix it or replace it.

Worn gears are a common cause of transmission slipping for manual transmissions, and will need to be replaced. When gears are worn or frayed, they do not link together properly causing them to slip.

Transmission bands are what links the gears in an automatic transmission together, but if they are worn or damaged then they won’t be able to accomplish that. Replacing or adjusting them should be a straightforward process.

Clutch plates have a special friction material to help it engage with the gears but can burn out overtime. These clutch plates will need to be replaced in order to stop slipping.

transmission problems guide - transmission bands

Transmission bands

Stalling or shifting problems:

Stalling and shifting issues are common transmission problems, and should be fixed right away. You can usually notice if you are having this problem if you feel a longer than usual delay when changing gears (e.g. from drive to reverse) or when you give the engine gas but it’s not moving forward as quickly as it should.

Shifting problems will feel like the gears takes longer to engage (anywhere from 1.5-2 seconds), and can be felt even at normal operating temperatures. If changing gears does not give way to a smooth engagement (also known as delayed engagement) then you have an issue with the transmission. The causes can vary, but the most common reasons are low, dirty, or the wrong type of fluid. It could also be a faulty sensor or solenoid, which will trigger an OBD error code.

Stalling on the other hand is when you experience a delay in movement, when you apply gas but your car doesn’t seem to move forward. The causes can also vary, but are often because of low transmission fluid or a faulty solenoid.

**If any of these transmission problems continue or are too advanced to fix (such as situations where the transmission will have to be removed with a transmission jack), it is suggested that you get an expert opinion on it.**


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