The Basics of Automatic Transmission Troubleshooting

When problems arise in your automatic transmission, it’s very important that you know the proper steps of transmission troubleshooting. Otherwise, you could be guessing at a problem your transmission might not have, wasting both time and money to get it fixed. Knowing the exact cause of a transmission’s woes means you can get it repaired as quickly as possible and at minimal expense to you, which is ultimately what everyone wants. So of course, there are a few steps to follow when it comes to correct automatic transmission troubleshooting and we will explain the basics here.

The Basics of Automatic Transmission Troubleshooting

To perform automatic transmission troubleshooting as accurately and cost-effectively as possible, you should follow these steps in order before you decide to bring your car to the shop. If the problem is too advanced to fix yourself, pin-pointing the exact cause can still help to make repairs easier on you as well as the shop.

Step 1. Try to determine the problem first

Since you understand how your vehicle should feel and operate more than any other person, try to determine what the problem is firsthand. For example, look under your car for any leaks, shift between gears for any issues, or determine whether gears are slipping. Here’s a useful chart of common problems and what causes them:

automatic transmission troubleshooting guide

Step 2. Check the transmission fluid

Checking the transmission fluid will be the next thing you’ll want to do, since the majority of transmission problems are caused by either low fluid levels or ineffective fluid. So, with that in mind, make sure you check both the levels and the fluid condition. If you don’t know how to check transmission fluid yet, here’s our useful tutorial on the process. Low fluid levels will mean that you’ll have to add more of the transmission fluid that is specified in the owner’s manual, while fluid that is contaminated, black, or burnt will require a complete fluid and filter change.

Step 3. Check on-board diagnostic codes

If the transmission fluid looks okay, or adding or changing the fluid hasn’t helped to solve the problem(s), the next step in automatic transmission troubleshooting is to check your car’s on-board computer for any OBD codes.

There are a few places that offers free scans such as AutoZone and Advance Auto Parts (you could even try repair shops around your area), although they will only provide you with the OBD codes that come up. You can also purchase your own OBD scanner if you are going to use it frequently, and a few good, reasonably priced ones include the Autel MaxiScan MS300 and the Actron PocketScan. There are even apps that you can use with an Android phone (e.g. Torque Pro).

If you are looking to find out what a specific OBD code is including repair advice, OBD-Codes.com offers lots of information on this topic.

Step 4. Refer to a repair manual or website

If no OBD codes pop up or you can’t find any solutions to it, what you’ll want to do next is refer to a repair manual or website for your particular vehicle’s make and model. Repair manuals often go much more in-depth although you’ll have to pay for them, and popular options include Haynes and All Data DIY. There are auto repair help websites online as well, which either offers free information (e.g. AutoMD, AutoZone) or consists of a question and answer forum (e.g. 10w40, RepairPal).

Step 5. Have a professional look at it

The last thing to do if all other transmission troubleshooting methods have failed is to have a professional transmission specialist look at your car. There are just some things that someone with more experience can help solve, and this is also recommended if a problem is too complicated to fix yourself. For a convenient service, we highly recommend YourMechanic, which not only provides you a free online repair quote instantly but also provides diagnostics and services right at your home or office. You can learn more about them here.

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