Gears on Table

10 Most Common Transmission Problems

10 Most Common Transmission Problems

Determining what problem(s) your car has may seem like an impossible task, especially to the untrained eyes and ears of the average driver. It may be helpful to think of your car’s inner workings as similar to that of the human body. For instance, if you have chest pain that could point toward any number of health issues, but if the chest pain exists in addition to difficulty breathing, then it is much more likely that asthma (or something very similar) is the cause. Automotive problems are diagnosed in a similar manner. Problems that involve mechanical systems typically exhibit distinct sensations and sounds that act as indicators that a certain process isn’t working the way it is intended to. As soon as you recognize that something seems a bit “off” with your vehicle’s functionality, it is time to assess the issue and look for a way to fix it.

Diagnosing car problems yourself may seem like an impossible task, but try to think of it in terms of your own body. For instance, if your stomach begins to hurt without warning, you’ll probably start thinking of the last thing you ate in order to figure out why you’re having the pain. A similar type of thinking goes into diagnosing car trouble. The moment you start noticing something out of the ordinary, it’s time to start considering the problem and finding a way to fix it.

Your car’s transmission is a complex mechanical system that controls the application of power from the engine to the driveshaft. It experiences more wear and tear over time than most other parts of your vehicle due to the heat and friction produced by their many moving and interacting components. Major issues are bound to arise if your transmission is not well maintained and/or symptoms of a problem are not checked by a professional soon after they develop.

Transmission repairs or replacements are inconvenient, stressful and typically quite expensive, so it’s a good idea to pay attention to any activity that seems unusual. Adhering to the recommended maintenance procedures and schedule intended to prevent problems will help your transmission last longer, perform better and require fewer repairs over its lifespan. That said, if you’re having some car trouble, it is important to know what the most common types of transmission problems are so that you can easily diagnose them and get them fixed. Here is a list of 10 symptoms of transmission trouble and what signs you should look for.

Lack of Response

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.

Leaking/Low Fluid

A leak is probably the most recognizable symptom and should be repaired as soon as possible. Letting the fluid leak is one of the most common causes transmission break down. Automatic transmission fluid (ATF) is the life-blood of a transmission as it lubricates, cleans and conditions the seals and acts as hydraulic fluid. Without it (or even if it gets too low), the engine will seize up and stop working completely.

ATF is bright red in color, clear and smells somewhat sweet if everything is working correctly. If this is what you find on your driveway, then all that needs to be fixed is the hole. If the fluid is dark and/or has a burnt smell then it’s time to get the fluid changed or flushed and repairs might be required. To check if you’re running low on fluid, take your car for a short drive to warm it up and then lift the hood and read the dipstick (be sure the vehicle is on level ground). Unlike motor oil, transmission fluid is not burned off or consumed by a car so if the level is low then there is a leak somewhere that must be patched. It is recommended to top up the fluid anyway even if the leak still exists to make sure there is enough fluid for the transmission to function properly until you get it fixed.

To check the fluid level for a manual transmission, you must check at the transmission case (usually through the fill plug) – not with a dipstick under the hood.

Grinding or Shaking

A car is supposed to run smoothly and without any shaking, or jerking, and there is not supposed to be any grinding sounds. These all suggest that there is a problem with the gears. Manual transmissions commonly indicate problems by making a grinding noise or feeling when you shift into a gear. If the grinding occurs after engaging the clutch and shifting, this can be sign that the clutch may need to be replaced or adjusted. That said, it can also point towards several other issues including damaged or worn out gear synchronizes.

Automatic transmissions act a little differently. Instead of making a grinding noise, you will likely feel it take some time to wiggle into gear at first instead of the typical smooth transitions. As the problem gets worse, the transitions into the next gear become more jarring and involve more shaking. There are a few other reasons for grinding or shaking, but the appropriate course of action is still to have it inspected and serviced.

Burning Smell

Any burning smell coming from your car is a cause for concern. Overheating transmission fluid is one of the causes of a burning smell. Transmission fluid helps keep the parts lubricated and cooled so that they don’t get worn out and damaged. If the fluid breaks down, the system runs too hot which it results in increased friction and corrosive activity as well as the build up of additional sludge and debris. If this is not taken care of, the transmission will eventually damage itself enough to break down completely. The end result is an expensive replacement. Common causes include low fluid level or using the incorrect brand/type of fluid.

Refuses to Go Into Gear

If the car will not shift after engaging the clutch and trying to move the stick, take a look at the fluid to make sure that it is at the right level. Other causes include using the incorrect thickness (type) of fluid and the clutch linkage or shift cables needing adjustment. The source of the problem could also be the vehicle’s computer system. If you’ve already inspected the fluid, you can try resetting it. To do this, detach the battery and let it stand for thirty minutes. Then, reattach and allow the system to reset itself. This usually takes around thirty minutes. If this doesn’t work either, then it’s time to take it to a mechanic.

Check Engine Light

The check engine light located on your car’s dashboard is a great early indicator that something is about to go wrong (or already has) with your car, and in particular with your transmission. While the light turns on for a number of reasons other than transmission issues, it very important not to ignore this helpful warning sign. There are sensors placed in many areas of a car’s engine that alert the computer if it senses unusual activity coming from a particular process. The sensors on a transmission can pick up on the slightest jerks and vibrations than you are not able to see or feel.

Take the vehicle in and have it inspected. They can take look and immediately tell what is happening through the use of similar diagnostic tools and the car’s computer. If you’d like to diagnose the problem yourself (and possibly save yourself a trip to the mechanic’s) you can buy a diagnostic scan tool that is plugged into the instrument panel on the driver’s side and return a code that corresponds to the part that needs attention. Whatever you do, do not assume that the check engine light can wait because it might be warning you of a serious problem in the near future.

Transmission Noisy In Neutral

Luckily, a transmission that is noisy (goes “bump”) when it is in neutral could have an inexpensive, simple solution such as adding some fluid or changing it. This could do the trick, as it does for several other issues on this list. If that doesn’t work, the transmission may require professional attention to replace worn out parts, most commonly the bearings, worn gear teeth or the reverse idler gear.

Gears Slipping

A transmission stays in a designated gear until a shift is performed by the driver (manual) or the computer (automatic). If the transmission is spontaneously slipping in an out of gear (or simply popping into neutral) while driving, I don’t need to tell you that this is a serious safety risk. When you need to step on the gas to avoid a dangerous situation, you need power delivered to the wheels, end of story. The cause can be the link that holds the gears is worn or broken. Get your car inspected and repaired as soon as possible.

Dragging Clutch

A dragging clutch describes the symptom experienced by manual transmissions that involves the clutch disk failing to disengage the flywheel when the clutch pedal is pressed. The clutch is still spinning with the engine which makes it anywhere from difficult to impossible to change gears. This difficulty is accompanied by a grinding noise each time you try to change gears. Fortunately, this problem is considerably less expensive to repair than many other issues. More often than not, the cause of this is too much slack in the clutch pedal. With too much slack available, the linkage between the clutch disk and pedal can’t pull the clutch disk away from the flywheel.

Conclusion

It is important to keep up a regular maintenance schedule for your car. Many times major expensive repairs can be avoided if the vehicle is properly maintained. This is especially true if you notice something unusual. The car should be taken in immediately for service. Brushing up on your knowledge of transmissions (at least the basics) is highly recommended as it can help you save money by avoiding costly inspections and doing simple procedures such as changing transmission fluid yourself as well as making you knowledgeable enough to avoid being over-repaired, over charged or simply ripped off.

Over to You

Which of these problems are you experiencing with your vehicle?

54 replies
    • satucker
      satucker says:

      Typically, if any component of the transmission, to include the valve body, becomes “dirty”, that is usually a sign of something more serious…only due to the fact that transmission’s just do not get “dirty” by picking up dirt and debris from the road, as a transmission is sealed, and requires a clean environment. Our free diagnosis will help us identify if there may be a simple solution required to get you back up and running like normal, or, you may have something more serious going on. Please call us at either location to schedule an appointment. We look forward to hearing from you!

      Sean Avner

      Reply
    • Aaron
      Aaron says:

      I have a bmw 320d auto, when I turn left at a reasonable speed it slips out of gear and the orange transmission light comes on? Turning right is no problem, can you advise me of what the problem maybe?

      Reply
      • satucker
        satucker says:

        Sounds like something pretty minor- can you bring in for diagnostics? There are no charges- and simple adjustments are free as well :)

        Reply
  1. larry green
    larry green says:

    2011 chrysler 200. I don’t have a dipstick and I can’t see any check like I would if it was a manual transmission. When I go from reverse to drive, it sometimes has a hard clunk with a lurch. Almost feels like the passenger front tire is grabbing. Any suggestions? Car has 74,000 miles o. It already. I love driving this car.

    Reply
    • satucker
      satucker says:

      Chrysler has produced a completely sealed unit, and according to the Chrysler Engineering Department, service is not required! In fact, service is required. It requires a special electronic scanner that connects to the car, and then the fluid level and temperature can be monitored. As far as the hard clunk and lurch, that could be related to the transmission, although, it may be something otherwise. We have a free diagnostic service to find the answers to all of your questions. Please call us at either of our stores, and we will be glad to accommodate you! Thanks!

      Sean Avner

      Reply
  2. lydia diaz
    lydia diaz says:

    If a transmission of a 1991 montero on cold don’t grab rear but when the car heats up it grabs it just fine what can it be ? The Mitsubishi montero is 91′ but transmission is of 95′ can that be the reason

    Reply
    • satucker
      satucker says:

      Thanks for reaching out to us. Without seeing the vehicle its difficult to say. Please stop by or set up an appointment for our free diagnostic and we will do all we can to get you up and running again.

      Reply
  3. hubert b lumapas
    hubert b lumapas says:

    I have problem now with my car it is not engaging the gear even you pause the clucth… im now in other country and only my wife use the car. so waiting forme until two weeks so that ican try to do what you stayed in troubleshooting corner. thanks

    Reply
  4. Brandon
    Brandon says:

    Heard a fairly loud bang in my 02 a4 while on the highway yesterday. It caused a vibration until I was off throttle. Throttle again and the vibration was gone. At the first light I ran through the gears and noticed it was difficult to push into any gear. All the same. When I am in gear and let off the throttle there is a whine as well. Today when I started it. I noticed it is spontaneously having its rps raised and lowered. As if it is grabbing the driveline with the cluth totally disengaged. I have no idea what can cause all three things and I am a full time student now with little to no time to diagnose. Please help thank you

    Reply
  5. Pauline Leitch
    Pauline Leitch says:

    I I have a 2005 ford falcon, auto. After a while of driving it will not go into reverse. I have to turn off the car then try again and it usually engages then. There is no problem with the other gears.

    Reply
    • satucker
      satucker says:

      That could quit possibly be a simple adjustment! We offer free diagnostics, which include any external adjustments- usually takes about an hour or so. When is good for you?

      Reply
  6. Firas
    Firas says:

    Hello, I have a question regarding my mitsubishi pajero model 1998
    After the gear switches to 2nd gear, it either doesn’t switch to 3rd gear or switches after making the rpm reach around 5000 which makes the engine starts to make a sound as if its choking.
    Any help would be appreciated.

    Reply
    • satucker
      satucker says:

      Hi! Thanks for the inquiry. It sounds like it could be something simplistic as something electronic- or it could be a sign of something more serious. Free diagnostics from 8:00a through 6:00p Monday – Friday. AND, not charge for towing with any repair. What day is good, and which location is better?

      Reply
      • Firas
        Firas says:

        Thank you for your reply but I don’t live anywhere near Columbus so it would be really helpful if you could give me hints about the issue and I will do a check in my area. For example: from my description, what do you suspect is causing this problem? If you need any more details please tell me. Thank you.

        Reply
  7. Fredrick Jones
    Fredrick Jones says:

    Hi my 2003 range rover HSE transmission has to rev up to about 400 rpms before shifting into gear . Then it’s drives in normal but it still has a slow lack of power take off at the light. I think its electric because I had a mechanic friend drop my transmission pan and there’s no sign of metal on metal grinding particles in the fluid and once the truck is in gear it drives great. What do you think??

    Reply
    • satucker
      satucker says:

      Hello my name is Bruce,

      We can check your Range rover over at no charge to you. It is a plus that the fluid and pan look clean. The best thing to do is get it in here as soon as you can. That way we can see what is causing your issues and give the best plan of attack to take care of it. If it is an electric problem we will get to the bottom of it for you.
      Please call me at 614-864-7505 to schedule a time to bring in your Range Rover in and we will get it taken care of for you.

      Reply
  8. Jeremy
    Jeremy says:

    Hi, Thanks for this interesting article. I have a 1972 Buick Centurion with 455 big block and original transmission. Afew weeks ago I noticed it started taking longer to engage gear when starting. Yesterday it made a grinding sound in neutral and was ok in gear, plus the red Stop and Heat engine lights came on. I had checked fluid levels recently. It does leak fluid so I keep a clise eye on levels. It also have after martket oil pressure and engine temp gauges and readings in both looked fine. I’ll get it checked out but am curious if you have any thoughts or suggestions. Thanks!

    Reply
    • satucker
      satucker says:

      Hello my name is Bruce,

      Glad you liked the article. Sounds like a cool car you have. I love the older cars. Do you have the same problems when the car is full of fluid? A leak can eventually cause an internal issue if left not fixed. The best thing to do is get the car in as soon as possible. We will check it out at no charge to you. That way we can find out exactly what is needed to make it right.
      We will also keep your car inside at night if it has to stay. We work on a lot of specialty vehicles and know how to protect them.
      Look forward to helping you, please call 614-864-7505 with any questions you have or to schedule an appointment.

      Reply
  9. Derek Mcdoogle
    Derek Mcdoogle says:

    In your article, you stated that your car’s transmission is a complex mechanical system that controls the application of power from the engine to the driveshaft and it experiences more wear and tear over time than most other parts of your vehicle due to the heat and friction produced by their many moving and interacting components. My family and I are going on our annual east coast road trip next month and my car has been having some transmission issues every time I start the car. I wonder if there are certain types of vehicles that are more prone to transmission problems.

    Reply
    • satucker
      satucker says:

      Hello my name is Bruce,

      That is a good question. I would say there are some vehicles we seem to see more than others. However we see pretty much everything sooner or later. If you are concerned about your vehicle the best thing to do is let us perform our free diagnostics on it. We can check it out and find out if there is something going on that needs addressed before you put your family in it and go out of town. We will perform a road test, computer test, and a lift test at no charge. Once this is completed we will give you a free estimate on what is needed.
      Please call me a t 614-864-7505 to schedule an appointment or with any questions you may have.
      Look forward to helping you and your family with your vehicle needs.

      Reply
  10. Blaine Babineaux
    Blaine Babineaux says:

    My name’s Blaine I have a 2002 chevorlete Silverado 4.8l with a 4l60e transmission just changed the transmission BC it burnt up. Now put it all back together and now the truck doesn’t want to go into gear even if you get under the truck and try to shift it by hand on the transmission. It won’t engage for nothing. Any help????

    Reply
    • satucker
      satucker says:

      Did you get the torque converter all the way in the pump? Sometimes the “flats” on the hub do not get locked in properly… Ensure proper level of transmission fluid- if all this checks good, you may have a bad unit :/

      Sean Avner

      Reply
    • satucker
      satucker says:

      Obviously, double check fluid-
      See if the seller pulled the filter out. (Sometimes they do that)
      Was the torque converter installed “all the way” back into the pump?
      Last but not least, may be a bad unit…
      Call us if we can be if any more assistance- good luck!

      Reply
  11. John
    John says:

    I’ve recently noticed that my wife’s care doesn’t go into gear real easily. According to the article, a lack of response could indicate that there is something wrong with the transmission. If her car is a 4 wheel drive, does this change the diagnosis of the problem? I’d be curious to know.

    Reply
    • satucker
      satucker says:

      Thanks for the inquiry! To answer your question, it would not change diagnostics-
      I would recommend to swing by as we can determine if the issue is a simple fix or a serious one. When is good?

      Reply
  12. Erick
    Erick says:

    I bought a 2004 saturn ion im guessing its the redline since it has super charge. When i try going into reverse its like if it wasnt an option on it. It doesnt go in at all ive tried to do it when the car is off aswell and nothing. Like if it had no gear for reverse. Im trying to find out what it can be

    Reply
    • satucker
      satucker says:

      Thanks for the question. Please give us a call at either location- we would need a little more info on the car, and determine which route would be best-

      Sean Avner

      Reply
  13. John
    John says:

    I have a 2013 Chrysler Town & Country minivan. Last Sept. it started the shifting problems. RPM would shoot way up before shifting and on acceleration. I had it reprogramed and it cleared up. A month later it started same problem again. Had it reprogramed with “Quick Learner” again and it cleared up again. Now in Mid March it is doing it again.
    Any ideas for fixing it for good.?

    Reply
    • satucker
      satucker says:

      Sounds like this could quite possibly be a simple solution, such as a sensor or a solenoid. Diagnostics will reveal how. When is good for you? An hour or 2 is all we need for diag…

      Sean Avner

      Reply
  14. Lisa Barron
    Lisa Barron says:

    2003 Mercury Marauder. When put into drive, hesitates going into gear. Revs up and “jerks” into drive. Small hesitation at each stop before engaging in gear?

    Reply
    • satucker
      satucker says:

      Thanks for the inquiry. Please swing by for our free diagnostic service. Those vehicles do not have a conventional style transmission, and have very sophisticated electronics. Please advise when it is convenient for our free diagnostic service!

      Reply
  15. Marie
    Marie says:

    I have a question. My 2007 ford Mustang automatic transmission will start up allow you to put it in any gear but will not move even though the motor revs up. Any idea what caused this. It drove normal the day before with no check engine warnings.

    Reply
    • satucker
      satucker says:

      The issues you are experiencing may be a low fluid condition, as it takes heat to cause the fluid to expand, and the cooler evening temps cause it to retract… although it could be something more serious- let’s start with checking the fluid!

      Reply
    • Glen
      Glen says:

      What’s a more serious problem? Have the same problem and fluids are good and flushed and rechanged. 2008 escape. Prob next step get diagnos

      Reply
  16. Dwight
    Dwight says:

    I have a 2005 bf xr6, in trip tronic as I change in to 2nd gear at low revs around 1500 I notice a shudder in the rear end then as the revs increase a bit more it goes away, and it only seems to do it in that gear. Would anyone know why. Would appreciate some help

    Reply
    • satucker
      satucker says:

      Tiptronics certainly are sensitive- it could be a number of things going on, starting with fluid viscosity breakdown, to major mechanical/electrical malfunctions. When would it be convenient to allow us time to perform free diagnostics?

      Reply
  17. Todd
    Todd says:

    Have 02 Town and Country, other put it in reverse and started going but felt like we had hit something. Did two jerks like this. Then put in drive and did the same thing. After doing that it won’t move, acts like it is in park, whether it is in reverse, neutral, or drive. When the engine is off but the key is turned on the car will move forward, even in reverse; its currently parked a slope. Is this a bad transmission or is it something else?

    Reply
    • satucker
      satucker says:

      Well, it doesn’t sound pretty :(, but diagnostics will reveal and confirm if it’s is something serious. We provide free diagnostics, as well as towing!

      Reply
  18. Pauline leitch
    Pauline leitch says:

    I have a 2005 ford BA. It goes i to all gears but reverse. Sometimes it will go in, other times the only way to bet it i to gear is to turn the car and restart, it usually then goes into gear. I have spoken to so ma y people and no help. Oil level is fine. PLEASE HELP

    Reply
  19. Mike
    Mike says:

    I have a 2004 Kia Ri, when clutch pedal is down car moves, when pedal is up car stops, so basically working backwards. Any ideas on what this might be?

    Reply
    • satucker
      satucker says:

      Hi! Could be an adjustment- or possibly something more serious. Can it be driven to our store for some free diagnostics? If not- we have free towing with any repair!!!

      Sean Avner

      Reply
  20. Gary
    Gary says:

    My 1999 4Runner makes a grinding when I put it in drive and then stops making the noise while driving, it only does it at idle.

    Reply
  21. Mo
    Mo says:

    I have a 2000 buick century limited and every gear works but the drive. It works perfect when in neutral drive 2 and reverse when in drive it barely moves what could this be?

    Reply
  22. Nadia
    Nadia says:

    Hi i have a 99 grand marquis with 142,000 miles on it. I bought ot 2 years ago and the transmission gave out on me after 2 mos of driving it. It has since had 7 more transmission install. My problem is none of it worked. My overdrive light is flashing, car switch gears late and speedometer is not working. Any clue to whats going on. The guy at the repair shop said it something electrical

    Reply
  23. Regina Pawlak
    Regina Pawlak says:

    Great article! I have a 2005 Nissan Xterra with automatic transmission…. I know ugh! It was driving perfectly fine, then on the hwy the engine revved to high RPM but no forward movement (this is a rural highway with lots of curves so i was probably going around 40 mph). I pulled over, assumed it was tranny, waited for a few tried again same thing. I had it towed home and honestly left it for oh about a year – had another car we used, the tranny replacement cost was $4500 and no way can I afford it on VA disability. Anyway, I finally decided to just sell as is, couldn’t jump battery so bought a new one yesterday, it ran just fine, all gears no problem lots of power no slip, no disengagement. Could it have been a computer reset issue? I’m assuming if the tranny was out it couldn’t magically start working again… it has 140K on it never an issue before this and now no issue… I’m stumped. Can you email me back?

    Reply
    • satucker
      satucker says:

      There is a ghost in the machine!!!

      Actually, the most reasonable explanation may be, even though it seems to be working fine now, more than likely, there is debris circulating inside the transmission (as this debris is being produced from within the transmission), and, that may have prohibited proper hydraulic pressure, thusly, causing a “neutral”, or a “no pulling” condition. Between the times you were restarting while on the road, then allowing it to sit, then putting a battery in, and doing a start up after one year of rest, the debris has possibly relocated itself through the filtration system, and is resting in the filter. I hope you find this sufficient, and if we can help in the future, please let us know!!

      Reply

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