Vehicle transmissions are composed of a complex system of tiny moving parts, all of which are exposed to heat and friction during normal operation. As a result, transmissions tend to go out before most of a vehicle’s other essential systems and components. Read on to find out about a few common transmission problems and how they’re diagnosed to avoid expensive repairs.
Lack of Response
Vehicles with automatic transmissions should shift into gear immediately when drivers switch from park into drive. If there’s a delay before the gears engage, this usually indicates a transmission problem. In manual transmission vehicles, lack of responsiveness usually indicates clutch damage.
Damaged transmissions can produce a wide variety of troubling noises, ranging from a low hum to a high-pitched whine. Manual transmissions produce louder, more abrupt clunking sounds upon shifting gear when they’re beginning to wear. No matter what type of transmission system the vehicle uses, it’s best to take it in for repairs now before the problem becomes more severe and requires more expensive repairs.
Automatic transmissions need ATF fluid to lubricate, clean, and condition seals and other parts so when the fluid level gets too low, the car may stop working completely. Clean ATF fluid is bright red and smells somewhat sweet, while used transmission fluid is darker and may have a burnt smell.
If the leak is minor, and the fluid is clean, drivers may be able to get away with topping off their ATF until they have the time to take their cars to the shop. If the leak is more substantial, or the fluid is dirty, there’s no wiggle room. Failing to repair the leak immediately will lead to more serious transmission issues.
Shaking and Grinding
Both manual and automatic transmission vehicles should handle smoothly with no shaking, jerking, or grinding sounds. Shaking and grinding sounds in manual transmission vehicles usually indicate that the clutch needs to be replaced. Automatic transmissions won’t usually make grinding sounds when they need to be repaired but they will shake and jerk around while changing gears, so that unexplained shaking should still be considered a sign it’s time to take the car in for transmission work.