Transmission Problems and What To Do About Them

By Mister Transmission

Save money on transmission service with an early diagnosis and quick corrective action

Modern manual and automatic transmissions are complex machines. With that intricacy comes the possibility for a number of transmission problems to arise over time. When faced with these issues, the average driver doesn’t necessarily know what kind of problem is occurring – they just know something is wrong with their vehicle. Unfortunately, most people tend to wait far too long to book a transmission system inspection, putting it off until the problem turns into something they have to deal with. By the time these drivers finally take action, minor issues have already morphed into major expenses.

When it comes to keeping your transmission in shape, early diagnosis is key, and knowledge is power. To help drivers stay safe and control the costs of transmission system maintenance, repair, and part replacements, today’s post spotlights some of the most common transmission problems reported by our customers, then explains how to fix them without breaking the bank.

Read on to learn some of the more common transmission problems your vehicle may experience on the road, or contact your local Mister Transmission to book a free road test and multicheckand get a same-day quote on any required services.

What are the most common transmission system problems?

Table 1: Search queries for www.mistertransmission.com relating to common transmission problems in the last 90 days.

Looking into the searches we receive for our website, most queries related to common transmission problems pertain to issues such as burning smell and overheating, delayed engagement, fluid leaks, and transmission noises.

Some of these transmission problems are easily resolved at home, while others require professional skills, tools, and experience, and it’s important to recognize the difference. To that end, knowledge is power, so let us empower you with some straightforward transmission troubleshooting.

Troubleshooting common transmission problems

1.  Burning smell

Is there a burning smell in your car when you drive? That thick, acrid odour may be an indication that you’re riding the clutch; in other words, you’re needlessly keeping the clutch partially engaged, which can cause considerable damage.

That said, in some cases, burning smells indicate your transmission is likely overheating because it is low in fluid, or the transmission fluid is aerating and needs replacing.

Like any of your vehicle’s fluids, transmission fluid becomes less effective over time when it aerates (i.e. combines with oxygen), begins to thicken as a result of debris, and breaks down. It may also signal your vehicle is running low on engine oil, has an electrical short, or one of the brake pads is dragging.

Whatever the case may be, you’ll need to act fast to prevent serious transmission damages, and our technicians are standing by to help.

2.  Transmission fluid leaks

 If you find a puddle of reddish fluid pooling beneath your car where you parked, it’s quite likely one of the gaskets or seals in your transmission has sprung a leak. Rubber seals, gaskets, and o-rings wear out over time and need replacing.

A transmission has the possibility of leaking in several areas:

  • Axles seals
  • Front seal of the transmission
  • Vent (if transmission overheats)
  • Pan gaskets
  • Shifter seals or any other misc. seals

If you suspect you have a leak in your transmission, don’t wait to do something about it. Continuing to drive while your transmission fluid is leaking may cause irreparable damage to the unit, which can cost you a lot in part replacements, and even put you in serious danger on the road. If there isn’t enough fluid to keep the intricate network of your transmission’s components from fusing together due to extreme heat, you’re courting the possibility of a full mechanical breakdown.

The moment you spot a leak, book a free multi check from an experienced specialist. They will likely need to drop the transmission pan, drain the fluid, replace the filter, and then determine the precise location of the leak. In general, anytime a transmission-related problem crops up it’s wise to have the quality and quantity of your transmission fluid inspected.

Other common transmission fluid issues include:

Failing to flush your fluid

Even though most modern transmissions are now manufactured as “sealed” units, the fluid within them should still be recycled or flushed to ensure the best possible performance.

There are different opinions as to how often this should happen, but in general, it depends on how often and how far you drive your vehicle. It’s recommended to make sure the transmission fluid is serviced once every 45,000 km, to keep all the parts moving the way they should. Although transmissions are made to withstand high operating temperatures, regularly scheduled transmission fluid services can help to prolong the longevity of them and their myriad of internal parts.

Modern transmissions are built to operate without a lot of maintenance, yet they are still intricate, sensitive systems and they can break down. Our expert recommendation is to make sure you freshen up the fluid consistently.

Incorrect transmission fluid levels

When inspecting the transmission fluid, ensure it is at the correct level as described in your vehicle’s owner’s manual. Incorrect fluid levels make it impossible to create the right amount of pressure to engage the gears correctly, and may even lead to a catastrophic mechanical failure.

While insufficient transmission fluid is a major cause for concern, it is also possible to have too much of a good thing. If you own a vehicle that allows you to change the transmission fluid yourself, be careful not to overfill it. Too much transmission fluid can cause gears to slip, or potentially add pressure to seals, causing them to rupture and leak.

Keep in mind that the transmission operates based on the right amount of fluid pressure between the components. Offsetting that balance by having too much fluid in the unit could damage components or cause some components not to function properly.

1.  Delayed Engagement

You hop into your car, turn the ignition key, shift to ‘Drive’ or ‘Reverse’, and there is a seemingly long delay before the transmission engages. Known as delayed engagement, it is one of the most common symptoms of problems with any automatic transmission. A delayed engagement is a type of slip that occurs when 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.

Delayed engagement 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. You’d notice this on your first drive in the morning, if your car were parked overnight. Delayed engagement could be due to a variety of reasons from something as minor as a low level of transmission fluid, infrequent fluid replacement, or a more serious issue like failing transmission solenoids.

Transmission solenoid failure

Also called a “shift solenoid”, in automatic transmissions, the solenoid is used to regulate the flow of transmission fluid. If the solenoid is malfunctioning, it can impact how the transmission fluid is distributed while you’re shifting gears, causing delayed engagement. Solenoids can fail because of an electrical or mechanical malfunction. Because modern vehicles are heavily dependent on computers to manage the distribution and flow of fluids, these solenoids are integral to a transmission’s operation.

Inability to shift gears

In some cases, specific gears may simply refuse to engage. For example, if your vehicle is only able to shift to “Drive” and not “Reverse” successfully, then there could be a problem with the valve body.

The valve body acts as the nerve centre of the automatic transmission. It manages the flow of fluid through to the appropriate valve, which in turn, signals the respective clutch pack to engage.

How to treat delayed engagement problems

If you feel there is a lag between when you shift into gear and when the gear engages, you need to take note and monitor the problem — it could be symptomatic of something more severe. If you suspect your transmission has delayed engagement, we recommend you:

  • Avoid revving the engine when 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 among auto manufacturers.

For peace of mind, pinpoint diagnosis of any problems, and the best chance of minimizing your service costs, get in touch with our transmission specialists to book a free road test and multicheck.

4. Transmission noises

Another problem commonly found in transmissions is the noises they make, whether in neutral or when shifting while driving. In most cases, the issue is sourced from a lack of lubricant between the moving parts, and these noises are always a clear indication it’s time to book a multicheck or repair service.

Noises While in Neutral

Clattering, clunking, clanging, or clinking, these are some sounds you never want to hear when your vehicle is idling while parked or in neutral. More often than not, these disconcerting noises are warning signs that your transmission may be on the cusp of failing. And if you hear a constant whining sound while driving that changes pitch, or a constant tone while in neutral, it’s possible your torque converter needs inspection and repair. Other noises can be silenced by a transmission fluid service and change.

In any event, unlike other sounds a vehicle can make, transmission noises are usually constant regardless of the type of transmission that is in your car.

Noises When Shifting

Hearing a cacophony of banging, growling, buzzing, and grinding while you’re driving or shifting gears can be an even more disturbing experience. If your transmission makes troubling noises when in neutral, that’s not a good sign. To hear loud whining or other noises while you’re driving is a serious warning sign you will have a transmission failure somewhere down the road. The longer you wait to have it inspected, the greater the risk you run of a roadside breakdown.

The Role of the Computer in Pinpointing Transmission Problems

Modern vehicles are primarily computer-controlled. You’d think that would make transmission problems easier to identify, however, this is not always the case. Because the modern vehicle merges computer, mechanical, and hydraulic systems, we can’t assume that a computer error code is telling us the whole story about what is wrong with a vehicle’s transmission, even when we use the best diagnostic tools and software available.

Error codes could help to narrow down the problem, but they may indicate trouble elsewhere that can only be identified by taking a closer look. Unfortunately, this sometimes means taking things apart, and this can be a laborious and time-intensive process—it’s kind of like surgery for your vehicle. Fortunately, finding a qualified transmission surgeon has never been easier, and with 56 different locations across the country, help is closer than you think!

Preventative Maintenance: Your Transmission’s Best Defence

Every motorist should be aware of the aforementioned common signs of transmission trouble, as failing to address the warning signs such as burning smell, leaking fluids, delayed engagement and noise issues, can lead to your car breaking down.

While no automobile or mechanical or electrical device will function flawlessly forever, you can avoid many transmission problems by regularly scheduling preventative maintenance with an experienced, certified professional technician. And the more often you schedule preventative maintenance, the greater your odds of early detection and service savings.

Whatever you need to keep your transmission in shape, Mister Transmission is here to help. We offer a complete suite of transmission repair, maintenance, and part replacement services, flexible payment plans, and one of Canada’s best warranties.

To get a free quote on transmission system services from a Mister Transmission near you, you can:

image-reviews image-reviews
Customer Reviews
Wes was very knowledgeable and...
Mike Webster
Wes was very knowledgeable and helpful and kept me informed throughout the repair. It was a pleasure to deal with such a professional automotive repair shop. I wholeheartedly recommend them for any transmission issues.
Date: September 22, 2022
Website: Google
Our car broke down upon...
Virginia Tang
Our car broke down upon when we return home. End up car need to get tow to this store. Staff are very friendly and owner PJ is very helpful. He explained very clear about the problem and shown his expertise.They really relieved our stress.
Date: September 22, 2022
Website: Google
Chris and his staff provided...
Glenn Gibbons
Chris and his staff provided excellent service. Quickly diagnosed problem ,clearly explained the repair. estimate was accurate and vehicle was repaired in time framed promised. highly recommend them .
Date: September 22, 2022
Website: Google
Very happy with Carlo and...
Malcolm Ogley
Very happy with Carlo and the work he does. He has worked on both my vehicles and no issues. Will keep going back
Date: September 21, 2022
Website: Google
Great service and friendly staff....
Neal Woelinga
Great service and friendly staff. Definitely will come for servicing my truck again
Date: September 21, 2022
Website: Google
Had a great experience from...
TJ Deering
Had a great experience from the first phone call, very friendly staff. Highly recommended!
Date: September 21, 2022
Website: Google
I have a Toyota rav4...
Kashmir Maan
I have a Toyota rav4 2013 Symptoms were , low speed shudder between 35-45 Km Dealer told me that it has problem with torque converter .So it has to be replaced . the cost would be $2000 . Suddenly I called Mr Giorgio .He at once ask me to come to his shop . He took test drive . Then he told me he will fix it without changing torque converter . He did it . He saved me $1650 and did an excellent job . I am fully satisfied with his services . He is a very professional and honest person . I would highly recommend that you visit Giorgio and his team for assistance with any issues you may have with your auto
Date: September 20, 2022
Website: Google
Sean is amazing. Very sincere...
Patti Mckay
Sean is amazing. Very sincere and honest. I highly reccomend this location. I trust them 100%. Thank you.
Date: September 20, 2022
Website: Google
Highly recommend this location! I...
Scott Bullock
Highly recommend this location! I don't normally post these but Ken was extremely helpful with my repair. He answered every one of my questions. If your car has a problem, go to this location, Ken will fix your problem
Date: September 20, 2022
Website: Google
Aki and the boys know...
Gee Bee
Aki and the boys know EXACTLY what they're doing. You pay for that knowledge and experience. But it is worth every penny. I just have to remember to drop by more than once every 3 years! Lol
Date: September 19, 2022
Website: Google
Featured Services
Transmission Repair

The evolution of transmissions has made these machines and systems increasingly complex. When transmission repairs are required, determining the cause and cure for what ails can be tricky.

Read More
Transmission Technology

At Mister Transmission we have access to leading-edge diagnostic equipment, enabling us to offer you the fastest and most accurate findings about what’s going on inside your vehicle’s transmission.

Read More
Transmission Maintenance & Service

Just as you have other parts of your car serviced, your transmission needs maintenance to ensure a long life and avoid transmission problems.

Read More
Recent Blogs
What Services Do High-Performance Transm...
If you demand a higher level of performance from your transmission, it needs a higher
Read More
August 12, 2022
What Is Transmission Oil, And What Do Yo...
Discover what transmission oil is, what it does, what transmissions use transmission
Read More
August 5, 2022
What Are Technological Diagnostics For T...
Discover what you need to know about technological diagnostics, why they’re
Read More
July 29, 2022
Transmission Service & Maintenance ...
It’s not always easy to get transmission service and maintenance right, but we at
Read More
July 22, 2022
Trust Your Automotive Fleet Maintenance ...
Maintaining and repairing your fleet of automotives has to be top of mind as a
Read More
June 23, 2022
The Big Question Regarding Transmission ...
The transmission is one of the most essential and highly complex parts of any
Read More
June 16, 2022
Important Facts About Transmission Fluid...
The transmission is one of the most important parts of any vehicle. It is directly
Read More
June 9, 2022
Common Transmission Problems: The Transm...
One of the most common problems people tend to experience with their transmissions is
Read More
June 2, 2022
Mister Transmission: Your Transmission T...
Everything seems to be computerized these days and automobiles are no different,
Read More
May 18, 2022
3 Common Transmission Repairs
Transmissions are complex pieces of machinery and there’s a lot that can go wrong
Read More
May 11, 2022