14 Most Common Transmission Problems

What are the most common transmission problems, and how can you spot them?

AAMCO  | 07/03/2019
Car Problems & Safety

Common Transmission ProblemsFor car owners around the world, transmission problems can be one of the most stressful, most expensive cars or truck problems to deal with. Who wants to discover that their car doesn’t shift anymore or won’t move at all?

Here are the facts: if you want to keep your car safely operating on the road and your transmission doing what it is supposed to do, you need to know what issues to look out for.

When it comes to your transmission, the issues that cause the problems can add up like crazy unless you know what to spot early, and how to spot it.

So, you might be asking, what are the most common transmission problems and how do you spot them? Let’s cover a few of the most common for you.

1. Lack of Maintenance

The leading cause of transmission failure for all makes of vehicles is due to not properly following the manufacturer's maintenance recommendations for the engine and transmission and changing the fluid and filters at the proper recommended mileage and time, especially if you are using the vehicle in harsh conditions or stressful times such as towing or hilly areas. The fluid is the lifeblood of the transmission and when it begins to break down it no longer lubricates properly, nor will it cool properly leading to premature failure, overheating, and a host of other mechanical issues including leakage.

2. Leaks

Transmission leaks are probably the second most common transmission problems that lead to some devastating internal transmission issues. Most transmission leaks occur due to a leaking pan gasket, axle or driveshaft seal, or a transmission cooling line. which then leads to low fluid, burnt fluid, overheating and damage that cannot be repaired by just adding fluid.

If you spot a leak in your transmission, look to see if you can spot where it is coming from. Repairing a cooling line or a pan gasket can be a quick somewhat inexpensive solution. An axle seal, output shaft seal or a converter seal is a bit more work and labor but if you catch the leak soon enough before internal damage can occur, you probably saved yourself a bunch of money for a replacement or rebuilt transmission.

3. The Check Engine Light

Check engine light can mean many different issues are happening depending on your vehicles make and model. When you get a check engine light, even though it’s called a check “engine” light, it doesn't necessarily point directly to your engine. It could be your transmission, brake system, air conditioning, or any system on the vehicle, so it's important you have the codes retrieved from the vehicle's computers to allow for a pinpoint diagnostic of the system and problem. If the light is flashing, that could mean a severe problem that is causing other damage to the engine and or transmission so do not delay.

4. Slipping Gears

You have slipping gears if it seems like the engine is revving higher than it should when driving down the road and you lack power. There are other warning signs worth looking out for as well:

  • The transmission has a hard time shifting into the next gears
  • Weird sliding sounds between gears
  • High RPM
  • A burnt look and smell to the fluid
  • Low fluid levels
  • A Check Engine light

These symptoms sometimes come before or after your transmission starts to slip. These issues can occur when you haven't replaced your fluid levels at the correct intervals, you have an ill running engine or the clutches are worn.

You can prevent a slipping transmission maintaining your fluid levels regularly and making certain you do not have any leaks. Burnt and low fluid can be easy fixes. Replacing, clutches, bands and other internal parts require a professional Technician.

If you plan on fixing slipping gears yourself, make sure your issues fall in the categories listed above before targeting your transmission - you can create issues on transmission by "fixing" the wrong parts.

5. No Shifting at all

Transmission bands wrap around the parts of the internal transmission parts to allow upshifting and downshifting. Friction clutch and 1-way mechanical clutches do as well. Inside the transmission, you also have pistons, solenoids, valves servo’s and a fluid pump that provide and control pressure. In addition, the computer takes information from all systems of the vehicle to determine when to shift and how hard. If these parts or systems fail to operate correctly, you'll find your car unable to shift correctly or shift at all Even though it may feel like a transmission problem, it could be caused by another system on your car or truck. Have a professional check it out for you

Parked on A Hill

If you're parked on a slope you might have excessive pressure put on the park pawl. This causes your car to become very difficult to get out of Park and isn't typically the result of a transmission related problem but just extreme pressure on that mechanism. You may need someone to help you rock the car a bit to see if it will release with even pressure on the shifter. Be careful though, stay safe.

6. Smells Like Burning

In most cases, a burning smell comes from the very hot or leaking transmission fluid. Preventing this requires checking your fluid levels regularly to look for indications of a leak. Low fluid levels often cause major problems if you don’t catch it quickly.

7. Torque Converter

torque converter is a device that transfers torque from the engine to the transmission and on to the drive wheels of the vehicle. IT is an important part of the transmission and also drives the fluid pump to make the transmission work. When the torque converter starts to go bad, it will cause overheating of the transmission, juddering and shuttering feelings and at times will even not allow the transmission to go into high gears.

if you experience slipping, overheating, and shuddering or the check engine light is on, this just might be part of the problem. Most transmission problems involve overlapping symptoms, so be sure to check out the whole system before jumping to conclusions and blaming your torque converter. It could be something else less costly that controls the torque converter instead

8. Solenoid Issues

Solenoids are a major component that controls upshifting and downshifting while you drive. solenoids wear can result in damage to your transmission, shifting problems, pressure problems, and diagnostic codes in your computer

  • The symptoms for a damaged solenoid are as follows:
  • Strange shifting patterns
  • Won’t go into gear
  • Inability to upshift or downshift
  • Shifting delays
  • Slipping or flaring shifts

Your car's computer sends signals to your solenoids that it receives from other parts of your car telling it how much pressure it needs, when to shift, how fast to shift, and when not to shift amongst other things. Some solenoids move 100’s of time if not 1000’s of time a second so you can imagine the wear that can occur and why maintenance with good clean fluid is so important,

Fixing this issue can sometimes simply require replacing the solenoid that has become defective.

9. Shaking and Grinding

Science tells us odd sounds and vibrations point towards deep lying issues with friction between surfaces, your transmission is no different.

Since your computer tells your transmission when to shift, and your transmission automatically does the work of shifting, shaking or grinding is a really good sign that your transmission needs attention. in many cases shaking and grinding result from damage to the planetary gear system, a bearing issue, or sometimes it is outside of the transmission in u joints, half shafts or even engine.

In addition to Automatics, many manual transmissions suffer from grinding gear shifts too. You may be able to treat this differently with a manual as opposed to an automatic as it could be just a clutch or a slave cylinder. See a trusted Technician to have it looked at as soon as you start noticing these signs in order to avoid more serious damage

10. Delays

You can spot delays in shifting quite easily. If you notice a large delay between going into gear or between shifting gears where your engine is revving really high before it shifts, it may point to several problems with your transmission:

  • Transmission Solenoid problems
  • Engine problems
  • Low or dirty fluid
  • A Clogged transmission filters
  • Issues with clutch or converter
  • Transmission cooler issues

You can test delay patterns in shifting on your own. Simply observe the time between shifts. 

11. Shuddering

A shuddering transmission usually stems from issues with lack of holding by the clutches or bands due to wear or pressure issues. This could be caused by many things including dirty or low fluid, improper signals from the computer, an ill running engine, worn or damaged clutches, valve body issues and more. Have a trusted Technician look at any codes the vehicle may have and to look at all the associated systems that could cause this.

12. Clutch pedal free play

For car owners with a manual transmission, a clutch that won’t disengage makes it impossible for a driver to shift gears without hearing a horrible grinding sound, and in some cases, they can't shift at all.

You'll notice the above-mentioned symptoms right away but may not know the underlying issue: in order for a clutch to disengage the clutch disc from the flywheel The pressure plate that clamps the clutch disc to the flywheel needs the hydraulic slave cylinder must work properly to release the pressure. A dragging clutch occurs from that clutch slave cylinder or clutch master cylinder Not being able to provide the force needed to release that pressure due to wear, leakage or air in the system.

You'll need to adjust the clutch if possible or replace the slave and master cylinder to solve this problem. Go to a Technician you trust, describe the issue in detail, and have them take care of it using quality parts.

13. Noisy in Neutral

This one is easy to spot. If there is an odd sound emitted from your transmission only while you're in neutral and not moving, that is a clear indication that your transmission or you’re your engine could be the culprit. The common issues include the following:

  • Worn bearings
  • Loose internal parts
  • Loose exhaust system
  • An engine problem

A thorough inspection of the systems on your vehicle can isolate where the noise is coming from and point to where you should do a more in-depth inspection.

A Cure for Most Common Transmission Problems

Most common transmission problems don't have to get you down. In truth, if you know what to look for, and you have prepared for it, your half-way to handling the problem. So, the question is, are you ready to dig in?

If you're tired of being "out of the know" about the state of your transmission, you should reach out to your Trusted Auto Technician starting today. It's that simple. You're in control of the condition of your vehicle, so why not start right now?

Do it. Move forward with the knowledge you gained and begin maintaining your car properly so you’re not working on your car’s clunky problems tomorrow. But if you must, at least you know why.

We all know car trouble causes a ton of stress. Why not reduce some of that? You can reach out to AAMCO.com to start financing the fastest way to fix your transmission. 

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