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Signs of a Failing Transmission



Signs of a Failing Transmission

Your vehicle’s transmission is one of its most integral and structurally complicated components. It contains hundreds of sophisticated hydraulics and computer controlled electronic parts working together to change gears within the engine, trans- ferring the engine’s power to the wheels with the purpose of moving your vehicle. Today’s transmissions, particularly those with front wheel drive technology or computerized systems, are complicated and can be costly to fix. Regular service and fluid changes are necessary to help maintain your vehicles transmission whether it be manual or automatic. To avoid a major vehicle malfunction or a faulty transmission, here are the top warning signs your transmission may be failing.

Schedule Your Next Transmission Service

Transmission Warning Signs:

Fluid Leaks

Leaking transmission fluid is probably one of the easiest ways to determine your car needs attention. A little fluid on your driveway can quickly turn into a huge and expensive car problem. Transmission fluid is crucial to your car’s shifting capabilities and is bright red and sweet or tart smelling. Unlike motor oil, your transmission does not consume or burn up fluid during use, so if you notice your fluid is running low it is almost always caused by a leak. Keeping a close eye on your transmission fluid level is a good way to stay on top of this. Common reasons for a transmission fluid leak are:

  • Any recent service or part replacement that involves disconnecting cooler lines like a radiator replacement or a transmission flush
  • Worn seals or gaskets
  • Damaged bell housings
  • A loose transmission pan/pan leak
  • Out of balance drive shaft
  • Worn axles (FWD), engine and transmission Mounts

A transmission leak can not only cause serious damage to your vehicle but also the environment. For more information, check out our leaky fluid guide.

Warning Light Activates

Most modern cars have sensors that will pick up irregularities and trigger your vehicle’s computer system to report there is a problem in a particular area. When it comes to your transmission, these sensors will recognize vibrations and early problems that you may not be able to feel or see. One of the most common dashboard warning signs is the transmission temperature. This means that your transmission fluid is hotter than normal causing your transmission to operate at a higher temperature. Should this light engage, check your transmission fluid level and engine coolant level immediately. As with all automotive malfunctions it is best to have the vehicle evaluated by a professional, and to familiarize yourself with your car’s dashboard indicator lights


Strange Smells

Generally transmission fluid has a slightly sweet or tart odor. Should you start to notice a light, burning odor it’s time to start thinking about your next fluid change This is a problem that can go from bad to worse very quickly. Transmission fluid is vital in keeping all the transmission parts lubricated while preventing the unit from burning itself up. If your transmission fluid is severely burnt it could mean your transmission is burning as well which can mean a complete transmission rebuild. To avoid unnecessary costs come to your local Pep Boys and have one of our trusted experts take a look.

Dipstick Inspection

Checking your car’s transmission fluid with the dipstick is one of the easiest and most inexpensive ways you can help prolong the life of your transmission. If you have rear-wheel drive, it is located toward the rear of an in-line engine. If your vehicle has front wheel drive, the transmission fluid dipstick will be sticking out of the transaxle. Please refer to your owner’s manual guide for further help. With your car in neutral or park, let your engine run until it is warm before pulling the dipstick out (Do not turn your engine off). To check the fluid color, rub in between your index finger and thumb. The fluid should be pinkish and almost clear. If the fluid is a brownish color and has a burnt toast smell it can no longer dissipate the heat the transmission generates and needs to be changed.

To check fluid level insert dipstick, wipe it clean, and examine level marks and then insert it again. The fluid should be between two marks labeled either “full” and “add” or “hot” and “cold”. If the level is not full, you will need to top off your transmission fluid. Be careful not to add too much. If the level is too high it will cause the fluid to churn and aerate, creating air bubbles, that can trap heat and make the fluid run hotter. Not sure what type of transmission fluid to choose? Come to Pep Boys and choose from a variety of products or make an appointment.

Odd Sounds

Manual and automatic transmissions respond differently when they are malfunctioning. It is important to recognize any odd sounds your transmission might be making to avoid further complications. If you have a manual transmission, a common warning sign is a very abrupt grinding noise or feeling when you shift into a new gear. Experiencing a grinding noise after fully engaging a clutch and shift may mean you have worn clutch or might have to get it adjusted. Also, your transmissions gear synchronizers may be worn out or damaged.

With an automatic transmission you’ll most likely feel the car shimmy into each gear, instead of having unnoticeable shifts. There is also a good chance you will hear a whining, buzzing, or humming sound. If you are experiencing any of these problems we suggest you have your vehicle checked out by a professional.

Delay in Movement

A delay or lack of response from your vehicle may mean you are having transmission issues. Transmissions were designed to go into the correct gear every time. Any hesitation is a sure sign something is wrong. Manual transmissions will act up as you’re shifting gears. If you notice after shifting that the car’s engine will rev up but the car won’t move as quickly as the engine is running, this could mean a worn-out clutch or more serious transmission issues. Automatic transmissions show the same lack of response, however it will show when the car is in “park” or “drive.” Normally your car should shift easily into each gear, but if your transmission hesitates to go into either one, then there is most likely an issue. This is not only a vehicle concern, but a safety one as well. Please have one of our trusted experts take a look.