How to check for transmission problems
Whether you have an automatic or manual transmission in your car, you need it to be in working order if you want to drive anywhere. That’s because the transmission turns the power from the engine into a force that moves the wheels of the car. So if you have transmission problems, your car might not even be drivable. Luckily, there are a few ways to look for issues with this part so you can get a transmission diagnosis and repair as soon as possible. Here are some ways to check transmission problems on your car.
PAY ATTENTION TO WARNING LIGHTS
In most cases, transmissions problems will trigger the Check Engine light to come on in your car. This is especially the case with automatic transmission problems. If you see any warning lights on your dashboard, it may be time to take your car to a mechanic for a transmission diagnosis, or possibly to find out if there’s anything wrong with the rest of the vehicle.
CHECK TRANSMISSION FLUID
Checking your car’s transmission fluid is another way to find out if there is a problem with this part. To do this on your own, start your car and put it in park. Open the hood and locate the area where the transmission fluid is stored; then pull out the dipstick that covers it. Make sure the transmission fluid is at the right level, and then check the color.
Clean fluid should be reddish and almost translucent. It can be hard to tell what color it is by just looking in the fluid compartment, so wipe the dipstick on a white rag to check. If it’s pinkish or light red, it’s pretty clean. But if it’s very dark red or brown, it may be old, dirty and even burnt. You may even be able to smell if it’s burnt, in which case it’s time to change the fluid to fix or prevent transmission problems.
USE THE BRAKE PEDAL TO CHECK TRANSMISSION PROBLEMS
Another way to look for transmission problems is to hold down the brake pedal with one foot while stepping on the gas pedal with the other foot so you can rev up the engine. Make sure the parking brake is on during this time, and don’t rev the car for longer than a few seconds. The point of this technique is to ensure the engine revs up and the car tries to move when you press on the gas. If the engine does not rev up or cannot remain revved up for long, there may be transmission problems.
PAY ATTENTION TO THE TRANSMISSION AS YOU DRIVE
Transmission problems should be apparent when you’re on the road. So the next time you drive, pay close attention as you shift gears. The car should be able to shift from one gear to another easily and smoothly. If you notice any sudden jolts, vibrations or very high RPMs when you shift, your car might have transmission problems. And of course, if the car can’t shift from one gear to the next at all, it may be time to get a transmission diagnosis and repair.
If you’re familiar with cars and transmissions in particular, you can try making repairs yourself. Just buy the products you need to fix your transmission problems and you should end up with a car that functions as it should. But if you’re not confident about car repairs, you should take your vehicle to a trusted mechanic for everything from a simple transmission fluid change to a transmission slipping fix.
Common transmission problems
LOW OR DIRTY TRANSMISSION FLUID CAUSED BY LEAKING, CONTAMINATION, OR AGE
Manual transmission vehicles need transmission fluid to keep gears lubricated and to prevent grinding. Automatic transmission vehicles need transmission fluid to create the hydraulic pressure that actually powers movement within the transmission. Without the right amount of clean and debris-free transmission fluid, transmissions can overheat and essential gears can slip, surge, or become ground down, and – especially in the case of automatic transmissions – total vehicle failure can occur.
WORN GEAR SYNCHRONIZERS (MANUAL TRANSMISSION SYSTEMS ONLY)
In manual transmission systems, gear synchronizers – or synchros as they’re commonly called – are the transmission component that makes the gear you are about to shift into spin at the same speed as the gear you are shifting from. By having the two gears spinning at the same speed during the shift, gear synchronizers create a smooth, seamless shifting experience. Worn gear synchros are a common manual transmission problem, and if untreated, can cause transmission failure.
WORN CLUTCH (MANUAL TRANSMISSION SYSTEMS ONLY)
A worn clutch is another common manual transmission problem. The clutch in a manual transmission system can become worn due to mechanical error if there is a hydraulic fluid leak in the clutch master cylinder, or by human error if the driver is frequently accelerating and shifting through the gears without releasing his or her foot from the clutch. This can burn up a manual transmission clutch quickly and will result in a clutch replacement service.
FAILED NEEDLE ROLLER BEARINGS (AUTOMATIC TRANSMISSION SYSTEMS ONLY)
Needle bearings are small, lightweight roller bearings that help prevent gears in the automatic transmission’s torque converter from grinding. If the transmission’s needle bearings become worn or sluggish you may hear grinding or brushing noises coming from your vehicle while the car is in motion. This sound can mean your transmission gears are moving inefficiently and being prematurely worn down.
Lack of Response or Shifting Delay
Ever notice that while driving that the car hesitates or refuses to go into gear? If you have, then there is definitely something wrong. The moment a driver shifts from park to drive the car should immediately go into the proper gear. For automatic transmissions, you might notice that when shifting into drive or park that there is a delay before you feel the gear engage. This is usually a transmission-based concern.
Manual transmissions can have the same lacking response issue, but after shifting into gear the engine’s RPMs will surge, but the car won’t move as fast as the engine sounds like it’s going. This is usually caused by a clutch that needs to be replaced, but may sometimes point to a more severe problem.
Whining, Clunking and Humming
It’s impossible to say exactly what your car will sound like when there is trouble with your transmission, but one thing is for sure, you’ll get a “I haven’t heard that sound before” feeling when you notice it. The sounds that are produced vary widely between different makes and models, but the best way to describe them is that you’ll probably hear a humming, buzzing or whining noise.
Manual transmissions will emit sounds that can be described as being slightly more mechanical, louder and abrupt sounding. A clunking sounds when you shift gears almost always lies within a transmission, while constant velocity joins or the differential may be the source if the clunking is coming from the underside of your car.
As mentioned already, it is always best to get the problem diagnosed and repaired as soon as possible and not wait until later when you “find the time” or “have the money”. If you wait until later what would have been a relatively inexpensive repair can easily become a much more costly one.
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.
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.
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.