Transmission Problems and What To Do About Them

By Mister Transmission

Learn some of the more common transmission problems your vehicle may experience.

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 until the problem turns into something they have to deal with, rather than something they should deal with immediately. By the time they do act, the issue may morph into something more expensive to fix.

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 primarily pertain to issues such as burning smell and overheating, delayed engagement, fluid leaks, and transmission noises. Recognizing and learning about what these common transmission problems are, why they happen, and what you should do about them is the most proactive way you can identify minor issues before they become major ones, and keep your wheels on the road.

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 lead to damaging it. However, in some cases, your transmission is likely overheating because it is low in fluid, or the transmission fluid is oxidizing and needs replacing.

Like any of your vehicle’s fluids, transmission fluid becomes less effective over time when it oxidizes (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 are dragging. Regardless, if you smell something burning in your car, act immediately to ensure your car isn’t on fire.

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.

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. Keep in mind 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.

If you do have a leaky transmission, see 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.

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

Transmission Fluid Levels

When inspecting the transmission fluid, ensure it is at the correct level as described in your vehicle’s owner’s manual – too much or too little fluid can lead to a mechanical failure. 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 flushed 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 flushes 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. Nothing harms a transmission more than operating without the correct amount of lubricant or its inability to create the right amount of pressure to engage the gears correctly as a result of too little or too much fluid.

Contact the expert at
Mister Transmission near you.

Too Much Transmission Fluid

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.

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.

Preventing 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.

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. While in other cases, the noise is a clear indication it’s time for an inspection or repair.

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 flush 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 Transmission Problems

Modern vehicles are primarily computer-controlled. You’d think that would make transmission problems easier to identify, however, this are 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.

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. Taking modern transmissions apart is a laborious and time-intensive process; it’s kind of like surgery for your vehicle.

Preventative Maintenance: Your Best Defence

Failing to address the warning signs such as burning smell, leaking fluids, delayed engagement and noise issues, can lead to your car breaking down. Conducting scheduled and preventative maintenance can help ensure these problems are avoided.

Every motorist should be aware of what the most common transmission faulty signs are. 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.

Do you have questions about or concerns with your vehicle’s transmission? Get the information, advice, and service you need from Canada’s certified transmission experts. Call or visit the Mister Transmission location nearest you.

Contact Our Experts!

image-reviews image-reviews
Customer Reviews
Good and friendly and reliable...
Albert Wilton
Good and friendly and reliable people and they work hard to get your vehicle doneService: Transmission
Date: July 25, 2021
Website: Google
Thank you, Mister Transmission! After...
Christy McMurray
Thank you, Mister Transmission! After taking my vehicle to the dealership where I bought it, and paying $150 for them to tell me what I already told them was wrong, the Dealer gave me a quote of $6,500 to replace my 9 year old transmission with a factory rebuilt one, because it couldn't be fixed or rebuilt by them. Thankfully I called Mister Transmission and Chris knew exactly what the issue was, how to fix it, and it only cost me $385 for everything and it was fixed in a day. I am so grateful that Chris and Dawn run an honest operation and provide genuinely great service. Thanks again!
Date: July 25, 2021
Website: Google
Cambridge Mister Transmission was awesome....
Sarah MacArthur
Cambridge Mister Transmission was awesome. We ended up having a small issue but they still took the time to show me where on my vehicle the problems were and fully explain the possible issues. They were prompt in getting back to me the following day and I had my vehicle back in no time. Chris and Nick were amazing and the office is so clean and pleasant. Great customer service!
Date: July 24, 2021
Website: Google
Great service , friendly and...
John Neven
Great service , friendly and very knowledgeable.Excellent work
Date: July 23, 2021
Website: Google
Mazda 3 AT light came...
Chris Elmquist
Mazda 3 AT light came on one with some bad noises and clunking. Dealer said need a new transmission for only $4400. Took it to this and a quick check they determined it needed new TCM which is very common on the mazdas. They took care of it and even did a bunch of extra work fixing a wiring harness all for the cost of the TCM . cannot say enough about how we were treated by Chris and Dawn. Would recommend them. FIRST CLASS!!!!!
Date: July 23, 2021
Website: Google
Workers are very nice and...
Ely Bolivar
Workers are very nice and explain thing clearly. Also they have an option to finance your repairs.
Date: July 22, 2021
Website: Google
They assessed the problem quickly,...
Colleen H
They assessed the problem quickly, quoted a good price, provided fast service, in a no-pressure, friendly manner. I've been telling everybodyService: Transmission
Date: July 20, 2021
Website: Google
I took my differentials down...
Kieran Massicotte
I took my differentials down to get rebuilt and Steve was very professional and the total was 200 bucks cheaper than the quoted price and there was a few things during the whole process that didn’t go as planned as I had brought all the bearings parts and some bearings were the wrong ones and I had brought 4.88s to put in end they would not work and before continuing with anything Steve would call and double check to let you know what needs to be done and get the ok from me first before they would continue overall amazing place Steve and the guys were awesome and the work was done perfect and the diffs have never been more smooth highly recommend.
Date: July 20, 2021
Website: Google
Excellent customer service.Service: Transmission
Eduardo Vieira
Excellent customer service.Service: Transmission
Date: July 20, 2021
Website: Google
Thank you Kyle and the...
Roman Danko
Thank you Kyle and the Mr. Transmission team for very professional and friendly customer service and repair. I definitelly recommend their services.Service: Transmission
Date: July 19, 2021
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
4 Common Transmission Maintenance Mistak...
Transmission maintenance is absolutely imperative to ensure long and efficient life
Read More
June 25, 2021
How A Transmission Shop Can Actually Sav...
Transmissions are expensive. And they can be expensive to fix. That’s why any visit
Read More
June 23, 2021
The Benefits Of A Transmission Fluid Cha...
When done at the right time, a transmission fluid change can really benefit your vehicle.
Read More
June 17, 2021
The Top Ten Models With Major Transmissi...
Which transmissions have the most problems? Here are the ten models with the most
Read More
June 14, 2021
“How Can I Tell What Kind Of Trans...
“What transmission do I have?” It’s a question we hear a lot at Mister
Read More
June 7, 2021
RAM Differential and Driveability Issue
You are enjoying a drive in your 2012 - 2018 Ram 1500 pickup truck and all of a sudden,
Read More
May 19, 2021
7 Common Transmission Problems
We all want to avoid transmission problems. To do that, it helps to know what some of
Read More
May 10, 2021
What Is A Driveline, And Do I Need It Se...
Have you ever heard of a “driveline” before? Wondering what it is? Does it have
Read More
May 6, 2021
Do CVT Transmissions Need Repairs More O...
CVTs are still relatively new so people often have a lot of questions about them.
Read More
May 3, 2021
Do You Really Need To Change Your Transm...
You’re supposed to change your transmission fluid every so often. But is that
Read More
April 30, 2021