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:

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Customer Reviews
Excellent services! DES provided fantastic...
Mayowa O
Excellent services! DES provided fantastic services, helping to fix multiple major issues in my car at competitive prices. I strongly recommend DES!
Date: January 29, 2023
Website: Google
Nice to see frank good...
Mohammad Ashfaq
Nice to see frank good advise
Date: January 29, 2023
Website: Google
Super proffessional! Great Service!
Guislena Jimenez
Super proffessional! Great Service!
Date: January 29, 2023
Website: Google
I just wanted to say...
Ab H
I just wanted to say that the Orillia Mr T is amazing! Christina is very pleasant to deal with. They tested my car and told me the power issue and engine light was an engine problem and that the transmission was in good shape. They also said it was probably a turbo related problem. I had my mechanic fix the issue which was a cracked air intake pipe for the turbo. It's great to deal with a very professional and honest operation!
Date: January 29, 2023
Website: Google
Great stuff. Very nice people...
Pavel Shnayderman
Great stuff. Very nice people . Do good job.
Date: January 28, 2023
Website: Google
Fast, friendly, efficient! Came in...
SHELDON Tipple
Fast, friendly, efficient! Came in with a blown. Clutch. He got me in Same day and had my truck back to me in a few days! Definitely recommend this guy to anyone in the arena that needs transmission work! 👍🏻👍🏻
Date: January 28, 2023
Website: Google
I was driving into the...
LJU H
I was driving into the city from out of town when I suddenly got warning lights. I called and spoke to Tanya who was so helpful, she worked to get me in quickly. The team diagnosed the problem quickly, ordered in the part and had the work done within 24 hours. I really felt they went out of their way for me because they knew I was in a tough position. Excellent service! Thank you!
Date: January 28, 2023
Website: Google
Excellent knowledge, amazing customer service...
Mircea Adrian
Excellent knowledge, amazing customer service and support! Highly recommended
Date: January 27, 2023
Website: Google
Wonderful service . Knowledgeable and...
Friday Osagie
Wonderful service . Knowledgeable and experienced staff. Highly recommended
Date: January 27, 2023
Website: Google
I could not be happier...
David Traves
I could not be happier with the service that I received, this is a first class shop. When I took my sons car in they went above and beyond to help us out not only with the transmission but also the engine, what a fantastic group they have. I strongly recommend this shop to anybody with transmission issues I’m sure you will be very satisfied as was I. Right from Denise in front office to her husband Sean and and the crew in the shop you have my utmost thanks. Dave Traves
Date: January 27, 2023
Website: Google
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