Editor’s Note: This blog has been updated to reflect current knowledge of industry standards as of 2021.
Transmission Failure: 10 Warning Signs
As with any part of your car, early detection of transmission issues can save you hundreds of dollars, as well as prevent further, more serious damage to your vehicle. This is why it is important to learn to recognize the warning signs of transmission trouble and what to do when you start to experience any sign of transmission failure.
What Are the Transmission Failure Symptoms?
1. Refusal to Switch Gears
If your vehicle refuses or struggles to change gears, you are more than likely facing a problem with your transmission system. Low or incorrect types of transmission fluid could be the reason why your vehicle is refusing to switch gears.
2. Burning Smell
When you notice any burning smells coming from your car, you should visit an auto shop right away. This odor can be an indication that your transmission is overheating or the transmission fluid is old and burnt.
3. Noises When in Neutral
Weird noises coming from your vehicle when in neutral are a sure sign that something may be wrong with your transmission. If you are lucky, the noises may indicate that your car is ready for new transmission fluid, which would be flushed and replaced by a professional.
On the other hand, it could also mean that your car requires a replacement or further service by a professional auto mechanic.
4. Slipping Gears
Not only is it scary and alarming if your gears impulsively slip in and out of place while you are driving, but this scenario is also dangerous as it is never recommended to drive with a slipping transmission. You will know your transmission has slipped when you hear the engine revving during a gear change. It is often compared to the feeling as if you are driving over ice, with no apparent traction on the road.
Some other symptoms of slipping gears include a delay in acceleration, strange noises, and a general harsh response when you attempt to shift gears.
5. Dragging Clutch
A dragging clutch fails to disengage the clutch disk from the flywheel in your vehicle when you press the clutch pedal. This issue causes the gears to clash and the car to move when shifting gears. A dragging clutch is commonly caused due to a mechanical failure or misplacement of the clutch.
6. Leaking Fluid
Leaking transmission fluid is one of the easiest transmission problems to identify. If you notice a red, sweet-smelling fluid underneath your car in the garage or a parking lot, let your mechanic know they need to check the transmission fluid level and inspect for possible leaks.
7. Check Engine Light
A lit-up check engine light on your dashboard can indicate a variety of car issues – both minor and serious. But make sure a local technician takes a look in case the source of the problem is imperative.
8. Grinding or Shaking
More common in cars with an automatic transmission is any type of grinding or shaking that occurs when the gears change. This often is a sure indication that your transmission has a problem. When this happens, it is important to have your vehicle inspected by a professional as soon as possible.
9. Unusual Sounds
Humming, whining, or clunking noises—none of which are good sounds to hear in your car. While there are many reasons why your vehicle may be emitting strange noises, they should be addressed by a professional mechanic.
If your car does not respond when you attempt to change gears—especially from park to drive—it is most likely caused by a problem with your transmission and will need transmission service.