Considering how often you drive your vehicle and how crucial its transmission is in the whole process, it’s no wonder that this auto component experiences more wear and tear during your vehicle’s lifetime than any other. After all, your car’s transmission is responsible for ensuring the correct amount of power goes to your wheels through either manual or automatic gear-shifting.
So when your transmission goes bad, you know this is a repair you can’t possibly ignore. But how do you know when your transmission is showing its age? Here are 10 simple signs you should look for — and if you notice any of them, schedule an appointment with your mechanic right away.
- Hesitation When Shifting: If you’ve noticed your car is having trouble shifting into the correct gear or there’s an obvious delay when you try to park, there’s a good chance your transmission might be on the outs. Those who drive a car with manual transmission might observe there’s a big difference between the engine’s revolutions per minute (RVMs) and what’s showing up as the vehicle speed.
- No Response When Shifting: Worse than hesitation when trying to shift is discovering that your transmission won’t go into gear at all. This can occur for a number of reasons, including mechanical failures, clogged filters, incorrect fluids, and more. If this scenario should happen to you, you’ll probably have no choice but to call for roadside assistance and get your car into a mechanic’s shop straight away.
- Strange Sounds: No matter what the circumstances are, an odd sound emitting from your vehicle is never a good sign. But if you’ve heard buzzing, humming, clunking, or whining, your first thought should be the transmission. Even when you aren’t at all sure what the cause of the sound might be, you’ll want to bring your vehicle in now before any component fails.
- Noises in Neutral: We mentioned that certain sounds should sound alarm bells in your head, but it’s worth noting that hearing noises when your car’s in neutral definitely isn’t normal. If your transmission quakes or bumps when the gear is shifted into neutral, there could be a number of repairs that may need to be made. In some cases, it’ll be a simple fix — but you shouldn’t delay in finding out.
- Fluid Leaks: Your car’s automatic transmission fluid is necessary for lubrication — and if it’s leaking, your vehicle can easily overheat and cause the transmission to break down. Check for any spots of red, dark brown, or black liquid pooling beneath your vehicle. While darker colors may indicate even more substantial issues, any sign of leaking fluid should be looked at right away.
- Shaking Sensations: Your vehicle should not shake or jerk around under normal circumstances. So if you’re always feeling like you’re riding on a bumpy road, particularly when you shift gears, there could be something wrong with the transmission. If the problem is caught early, it’ll be much less expensive to fix.
- Burning Smell: Much like strange sounds, odd odors are never a welcome development. Burned transmission fluid smells a lot like burning rubber and may even smoke. Since the fluid doesn’t work once it becomes burned, you could quickly run into problems. A common cause of this issue stems from clutch debris, which may be fixed by transmission fluid flushing or other services.
- Check Engine Light: We all hate to see a strange light illuminated on our dash. But really, this means the car’s system is working as it should. The “check engine light” provides one of the earliest clues that there’s an internal issue, so ignore it at your own peril! While this light doesn’t always mean your transmission is about to go bad, you’ll want to get it checked out as soon as you can.
- Slipping Gears: This scenario can be a highly dangerous one for both the driver and anyone else around. Slipping gears may occur when the vehicle doesn’t respond as it should, particularly in a situation wherein fast acceleration or braking would be required. Although some vehicles will actually go into “safe mode” to prevent this situation, you’ll still need to get it fixed as soon as possible for your own protection.
- Clutch Dragging: A dragging clutch is a problem only for manual-transmission vehicles, but it’s worth discussing. A dragging clutch, which occurs when the flywheel and clutch disc fail to engage when the clutch pedal is pressed, makes it nearly impossible to change gears. In these cases, the transmission might pop out of gear or emit a grinding noise. Be sure to get it inspected by a professional to ensure the problem is truly fixed.
Now that you know the 10 most common signs of transmission failure, you can feel safer driving on any street. Once you know the proper course of action to take when you spot signs of trouble, you’ll never have to worry about becoming stranded along the roadway.