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Automatic Transmission Problems: Delayed Engagement

One of the more common problems encountered with automatic transmissions is a delayed engagement. 

Common Transmission Problem: Delayed Engagement

Does your car experience morning sickness? Better known as delayed engagement, it is one of the most common problems in the automatic transmission.

The transmission problem is characterized by a long delay (approx. 1.5 to 2 seconds) from the moment you make your gear selection (D or R), to the moment you feel the transmission engage. Often, you'll notice this the most on your first drive in the morning.

Delayed engagament is a strong indicator that there is a transmission problem. It could be as simple as not having enough fluid, or it could be something more serious.

What causes delayed engagement?

Extreme temperatures are normally to blame, although it can happen at any time. Essentially, a delayed engagement is a type of slip in the automatic transmission. The clutches or bands, which allow the vehicle to move, do not operate instantly. Often, this occurs when the internal seals wear or become hard from infrequent fluid replacement.
Seals on the engaging mechanisms allow fluid pressure to flow past, so rather than applying the clutches or bands, the fluid returns to the pan. After a delay, the fluid pressure applies the mechanisms and our vehicle moves.



How to Avoid the Problem

  • Avoid revving the engine when a delayed engagement occurs. Increased engine speed produces friction and can damage the clutches and bands.
  • Allow time for the transmission to engage to prevent needless damage.
  • Check the fluid level. Consult your owner’s manual for correct filling and checking procedure as this varies with different manufacturers.
  • Some models do not provide a means for you to check the transmission fluid level. In this situation, it is best to contact your local Mister Transmission and seek expert advice.
  • If you are able to check your fluid level, remember it is very important to use the correct fluid type. Using the wrong transmission fluid can lead to problems with shifting, torque converter clutch application, or ultimately cause transmission failure.

Again, consult your owner’s manual to find the correct transmission fluid type for your vehicle. If it turns out that your fluid level is low, you may have a leak somewhere.

Today’s transmissions are very complex systems with complicated components that require expert service. If your vehicle is experiencing delayed engagement, eventually the seals will need to be replaced. We recommend acting sooner than later to limit additional damage.


If you suspect a transmission problem, call your local Mister Transmission and book an appointment for our FREE 21-Point Multi-Check Inspection.

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