Transmission repairs are actually known to be one of the most expensive repairs that car owners can come across. That’s the reason why it is crucial to have your vehicle checked by a professional once you experience what is commonly called a “hard shift.” In addition, problems with the transmission can often immobilize a vehicle until it is repaired, and it might require a tow, depending on where the transmission broke down. For you to avoid this kind of problem, we have prepared a guide on how to fix a hard shifting automatic transmission. Read on!
What causes an automatic transmission to shift hard?
According to experts, transmission replacement is the most expensive vehicle repair cost an owner can get, second to the cost of an engine replacement. For a transmission replacement, expect to pay approximately $1,800 to $3,400. Rebuilding the transmission will cost almost the same. This repair method will cost you about $3,000 or more, depending on the make of the vehicle and the extent of the damage.
You can significantly reduce the cost of transmission work and prevent the need for a replacement by immediately acting once you detect a problem. As soon as your vehicle starts showing any of the following issues, take it to your trusted mechanic or repair shop right away. Vehicle problems do not magically disappear or correct themselves! If left unchecked, they could cause more damage to the engine over time.
- Leaking Transmission Fluid
There are various causes of transmission fluid leaks, including improperly tightened bolts or unsecured drain plugs, loose pans, damaged torque converters or fluid lines, and cracked pan gaskets. Even if you constantly replace the lost transmission fluid, it will still not solve the problem. Your engine nor your transmission will operate efficiently when fluid levels experience strange or unusual fluctuations. Addressing the leak to ensure that fluids remain steady will significantly extend the life of your vehicle.
- Unusual Noises in Neutral
Try putting your vehicle in neutral and listen for unusual groaning, ticking, or whining noises, if you suspect your vehicle requires attention. Wear and tear of components such as gear teeth or bearings usually create sounds that indicate a failing transmission.
- The Check Engine indicator light comes On and stays On
Engine trouble does not always come with strange noises or a pool of red or brown transmission fluid under your vehicle. When your “check engine” indicator light comes on, you must do exactly what it says and get your transmission and engine checked by a professional technician. Even if newer vehicles are equipped with highly-sensitive sensors that can detect the smallest engine issue, all occurrences of the “check engine” indicator light coming on must be properly addressed by a transmission specialist.
- Slipping Gears
Your vehicle will be kept in one gear if your transmission is healthy until you decide to change the gear. It may show an rpm of 3,500+ or take a long time to coast when your transmission “slips.” In addition, your vehicle may seem to delay acceleration when you step on the gas, which typically indicates that it is not transmitting enough power to the internal combustion part of the engine. Broken or worn out bands could also cause transmission slips.
- You Can Smell Transmission Fluid Burning
When transmission fluid gets extremely hot, it emits a distinct, acrid smell similar to burning rubber. This smell indicates a leak that is dripping onto hot engine components or extremely dirty fluid that requires draining and replaced with new transmission fluid. Running your vehicle with old, contaminated transmission fluid is just as damaging to the transmission and engine as never changing the oil.
- Your Vehicle will not Go into Gear
Your vehicle may be prevented from engaging the drive or reverse gear when there is insufficient or low transmission fluid level. This could indicate a leak somewhere in the system or lines. For vehicles with a manual transmission, it could be a sign of a worn clutch plate if the vehicle manages to engage and move slowly, a little bit forward. Automobiles that do not slide easily into gear need immediate attention and should be brought to a professional mechanic or repair shop, even if it is a minor repair.
- The Vehicle Shakes When the Gear Shifts (Manual and Automatic Transmissions)
During gear shifts, normally functioning transmissions keep your ride smooth. Automatic transmissions that shift hard, shake, or jerk during a shift change may indicate that your transmission fluid requires replacement or fluid level is low. In manual transmission vehicles, unusual gear shifts could be a sign of worn clutches, damaged gear synchros, or other more serious problems.
What should you not do with an automatic transmission?
There are things that you must not do while driving an automatic vehicle to prevent transmission and engine damage. Here are the most common things that you must watch out for when driving an automatic vehicle. They are listed in no particular order.
- Never put your Vehicle in Neutral at a Signal
There is no point in putting the gearbox in neutral while waiting at a traffic light. It is okay to leave it in drive mode, and against common belief, putting the gear back to neutral will not save gas or fuel. It will only contribute additional stress to the gearbox.
The engine is already working while staying idle by keeping the gearbox in drive mode. On the other hand, putting the vehicle in neutral and then changing it to the drive mode to get moving only adds up to those unnecessary fuel consumption.
Although most of these points are common knowledge, they are still valuable enough that it would be worth mentioning. We included them here for those who might still be doing all wrong. The recommendations above, which came from experts, are some of the basic rules of handling an automatic transmission vehicle to ensure a comfortable and smooth drive.
- Never Coast down a Hill while in Neutral
You save fuel while coasting down a hill with the neutral gear, but that is insignificant. What modern automatic transmissions do while you are in gear and going down a hill and climbing another one, they cut the fuel supply to the engine. So, you will just use the wheels connected to the transmission, and thus the engine. This way, you will be able to save fuel, thanks to the design of automatic vehicles.
You are taking away the vehicle’s control
while you are coasting down a hill in neutral, as it can no longer speed up to complete the stretch.
- Stop the vehicle completely before changing the gear
When you are driving an automatic transmission vehicle, you want to make sure that you come to a full stop first before switching from drive to reverse, or vise versa. It should be done because you are using your brakes to stop the vehicle and not your transmission. In automatic transmission vehicles, the gearbox is designed to shift gears, while your brakes are designed to stop the vehicle.
- Do not Launch your Vehicle
Never launch your vehicle if you want it to last longer. Launching will only put lots of strain and stress on the vehicle.
One common practice among people driving an automatic vehicle is that they rev up the vehicle first in neutral. And then, put the drive mode on to take the vehicle forward. It is a huge no-no. It is hazardous for the automatic gearbox, and replacing one can cost a boatload of money. Putting the gearbox in drive mode and drive is the right way to do it. It is as simple as that. Once again, by putting the gearbox in drive mode, you are making your engine work even while staying idle.
Can you damage an automatic transmission?
Automatic transmissions are made to be tough, but still, they can be damaged.
While transmissions have always been complex systems, they get even more sophisticated every year. Despite being made of metal, wrapped in metal, and capable of moving boatloads of metal, they can still be damaged if they get beat-up and neglected. Vehicles with automatic transmissions, in particular, are prone to damage in some ways you might not have thought.
Extremely low or high fluid levels – either can be hazardous to your transmission.
If you let the transmission run out of fluid, you are risking your vehicle to some serious damage. The transmission’s internal parts are kept lubricated and working together smoothly by that precious red fluid. Letting that fluid run low can cause the parts to grind together, overheat, and fail in the end.
Failing to change the transmission fluid is one of the most common mistakes that damage the transmissions.
By not changing, or at least checking, the old transmission fluid according to your vehicle owner’s manual, you are jeopardizing the performance of your transmission. The fluid will not be as effective as the transmission requires in order to operate. Same with motor oil, transmission fluid wears out, becomes soiled—and has to be changed eventually. Cracked gaskets, leaky seals, and other important components overheating and breaking down are some of the negative results of failing to change the fluid. Check out this link if you want to know more about how to check the transmission fluid.
Do not just put your vehicle in park. Utilize the parking brake.
Your vehicle’s automatic transmission is not supposed to serve as a mechanism to hold your automobile in place. Its primary purpose is not to keep your vehicle securely parked but to move it. A part called a “pawl” keeps the weight of the entire vehicle in place when you put the vehicle in park. By not applying the brakes, an extreme amount of pressure is put on this part when the vehicle is parked—especially if it is parked on an incline. Apply the parking brake or hand brake to alleviate the extra stress on your already hard-working transmission. If you notice that your vehicle rolls while in parking, have your transmission checked by a professional, for it might have some serious problem.
Neglecting to service your transmission can lead to permanent damage.
Automatic transmission must be tuned once in a while, just like any engine. If you do not service your transmission according to your vehicle owner’s manual, dirt and contaminants will build up and cause your transmission to develop problems in the long run. Your transmission’s performance will decrease, parts will wear out rapidly, and the probability of leaks to occur is higher. Ignoring your transmission’s health for a longer period of time can lead to severe damage. A little maintenance work often prevents serious damage and a costly repair.
How many quarts of transmission fluid do I need?
Depending on why you are adding, it will determine the right amount of fluid to add to the transmission. A lot of passenger vehicles take approximately 12 to 16 quarts of transmission fluid; however, the model of the vehicle determines the type and how much oil add.
Many modern vehicles are equipped with a dipstick to check the transmission fluid, but there are other models that do not. Those vehicles that do not come with a dipstick require lifting levelly and checking the fluid from underneath the vehicle. While doing transmission service, where the pan is dropped, and the filter changed or replaced, adding 4 to 5 quarts of transmission fluid should be enough to replace what was lost from the pan. If you have to keep adding transmission fluid because of a leaking seal, the vehicle should be checked by a professional technician. We have a detailed guide on how to check your transmission fluid without a dipstick.
When and How to Add Transmission Fluid
Vehicles that come with a dipstick can be easily filled through the hole where it is inserted, by using a funnel and pouring the fluid carefully and slowly. The vehicle should be warmed up first to operating temperature and parked levelly while in neutral or in park to check the level accurately. This must be done to allow the petroleum-based fluid to expand to its maximum level.
Locating the fill plug will also be needed, and similar to a differential plug, you have to add enough fluid until it seeps lightly from the fill plug porthole. Without a dipstick or fill plug, sealed transmissions should only be serviced by professional transmission technicians.
Hard shifting automatic transmission can be due to various reasons, but like any other vehicle problems, knowing when to service your transmission will help you prevent severe and costly damage from occurring.