Like any part in your car, as your transmission gets older, it requires a certain level of maintenance so it can keep working properly.
Transmission problems should not be ignored because it can lead to significant damages that require much more money to get it fixed if you could. Therefore, it is recommended that you keep an eye on signs of a bad transmission.
The question now is “how to know if the transmission is bad?” this is very critical, especially for new car owners without much experience. In this article, we will walk you through a list of very common warnings or signs that raises a red flag for transmission issues. Furthermore, we will also present a list of more severe signs indicating transmission failure.
The purpose of this article is to educate drivers on some specific signs of bad transmission that shouldn't be ignored.
What is the car's transmission?
The car's transmission or the “gearbox” is the part that is responsible for using the engine's power to make the car run. In other words, if your car doesn't have a transmission, the engine will just be running and producing power while your car is not moving.
The transmission doesn't only transfer the engine's power to the wheels; it also controls the exact amount of power that goes to the wheels, so they rotate at the given speed by shifting gears in the same way as in the multi-speed bicycle.
There are three common types of transmission:
The manual transmission is the type of transmission in most older cars. In this type of transmission, the driver has to choose the gear ratio that matches a certain speed of interest.
The lower the gear ratio, the higher the torque, and the lower the speed. The higher the gear ratio, the lower the torque, and the higher the speed.
In newer vehicles, car manufacturers switched to what is called an automatic transmission.
In this type of transmission, hydraulic power is used to shift gears automatically. Thus, the driver doesn't have to worry about selecting the appropriate gear for the speed of interest. This way, the driver can focus much more on the road as the automatic transmission takes care of switching gears.
As an improvement to the manual transmission comes the dual-clutch transmission. In this type of transmission, there are two clutches to control the gears: one clutch to control the odd gears, and one clutch to control the even gears.
The dual-clutch transmission is more related to manual transmission than automatic transmissions. The goal of it is for the car to use fuel more efficiently by shifting gears faster.
How to know if the transmission is bad?
By now, we know what the purpose of the car's transmission is, what are the different types, and how does each type of work. Let's switch to how to know if the transmission is bad.
Knowing when the transmission goes bad is very important because detecting the problem early can save you a lot of time and money, and help you keep your car for a longer time.
There are a group of signs and warnings indicating a bad transmission like:
The transmission doesn't switch gears
If you noticed that your transmission is not able to switch gears, this is a clear indication of a bad transmission.
In general, the main cause for transmission refusal to switch gears is either a low transmission fluid level or a wrong transmission fluid.
Strange burning smell
As a rule of thumb, if you smell anything weird in your car, this is an indication of a mechanical problem, and the car needs to be taken to the mechanic immediately.
For example, a burning smell means two things:
- The transmission is overheating and almost burning
- The transmission fluid is burning because of its old or contaminated.
Hearing noises when neutral
Similar to the strange smell, hearing any weird noise is another indication of an internal car's problems.
For instance, when your car is at neutral, there shouldn't be any noise coming out of it. However, if you started hearing weird noises when neutral, this indicates a problem with your car's transmission.
This problem can be as simple as an oil change or as sever as major parts replacement due to tear and wear over time.
When you switch gears, you shouldn't hear any noise, and the switching should be done very smoothly. However, if there are issues with the transmission, you might hear a clunk or thud when switching gears or what is called “gears slipping.”
Gear slipping usually happens due to the lack of transmission fluid. In other words, if the transmission fluid level gets super low, the transmission will start wearing out and probably failing.
If you were able to detect a gear slipping early, you could solve the problem by adding the appropriate amount of transmission oil instead of changing the whole transmission.
Transmission fluid leak
Transmission fluid is essential in both manual and automatic transmission for different purposes.
In a manual transmission, the fluid works as a lubricating agent, exactly like the oil. If the manual transmission doesn't have a sufficient amount of fluid, transmission components will keep touching each other in a way that causes friction and, eventually, accelerated wear and tear.
In the automatic transmission, the fluid has a more important role. Beside helping lubricating transmission components, it also works as the hydraulic power to switch between gears automatically. Thus, a low automatic transmission level will cause the car not to operate properly and increase the chance of tear and wear.
That been said, most transmission problems happen due to low transmission fluid level. One of the main causes of the low fluid level is any leak.
If you looked under your car where you park and saw drops or maybe a puddle of fluid, you need to test the transmission fluid level immediately.
While the fluid leak can be due to other fluid sources in the car, it is easy to tell if it is transmission fluid by looking at the color. For instance, if the fluid color is bright red, then this is a clear sign of transmission fluid leak.
You can perform a “dipstick inspection” to check how much transmission fluid you have. You can check the car's owner manual to locate the dipstick location. While your car on the park or neutral, let the engine run for a little bit and remove the dipstick. Take a look at the fluid level and check the color of the fluid by rubbing it between your fingers.
Using this simple, cheap inspection, you can tell if you need to add more transmission fluid or take the car to the mechanic and have them replace the old fluid.
Check engine light is illuminating
Check engine light on your dashboard means that your car's internal computer is telling you that there is an internal issue with the car.
Check engine light can indicate minor and major problems. Some of the common problems can also be related to your transmission. However, by seeing an illuminating check engine light, you can't tell it's your car's transmission.
The best way to tell for sure if it's the car's transmission, you need to take the car to an expert mechanic. The mechanic will have his tools that car read the car's computer's problems in the form of error “code.”
For example, here is a list of check engine light codes that indicates a problem with the car's transmission:
- P0218: Transmission over temperature
- P0613: Transmission Control Module (TCM)
- P0614: ECM/TCM Incompatible
- P0700: Transmission Control System Malfunction
- P0720: Output Speed Sensor Circuit Malfunction
- P0715: Input/Turbine Speed Sensor Circuit Malfunction
- P0706: Transmission Range Sensor Circuit Range/Performance
Once the mechanic detects the meaning of the code, he will know how to fix the issue immediately.
Shaking or grinding
Again, like any weird noise or sound, and especially in an automatic transmission, you might start feeling shaking or grinding. This is a clear indication of the transmission issue.
While most shaking and grinding issues in your car's transmission can be due to low transmission level, it might also be due to a cracked or broken gear. Whatever the reasons is, you need to take your car to the mechanic immediately and get the issue resolved.
Hearing a strange sound like humming
If you heard any strange humming or clunking sound, this is a very sure sign of bad transmission. Don't ignore it and take your car to the nearest mechanic.
Any humming or buzzing sound in the transmission can be related to issues with the bearing or another internal issue with the transmission.
Does the car have any power?
Another problem that can be related to the car's transmission is limited power. If you noticed that the engine is running normally without producing any power, you need to take your car to the mechanic because of transmission issues.
Are there any delays in shifting?
If you noticed that it takes the transmission a while before it responds to the gear change, then your transmission has a problem.
The delayed shifting can be mostly due to low fluid levels caused by leaking or due to contaminated transmission fluid.
The car doesn't like a response to gear shifting
Also, if you tried to shift from park to drive and noticed that your car doesn't respond, then your transmission has a problem.
How to tell if the transmission is failing?
If you ignored any of the signs we mentioned earlier, your car's transmission could start a failing phase. There are additional sever signs indicating a failing car's transmission like:
- If you ignored a humming sound due to the transmission bearing issue, you would see a fluid leak as the bearing will force the shaft to wobble and ruin the sealing.
- If you ignored harsh and tough shifting, the transmission clutches will wear out and cause a complete transmission failure.
How do you damage your car's transmission?
As you noticed in all the problems we mentioned earlier, most transmission damages happen because of a low fluid level. Therefore, the fastest way to ruin your car's transmission is to run it on a low fluid level.
Therefore, you must maintain the recommended transmission fluid level all the time, so you always have a lubricated and cool transmission.
Your driving style can also affect how long your car's transmission can last. For instance, it is recommended that you avoid wearing your transmission parts by shifting at heavy throttle.
Can I drive my car with a bad transmission?
DON'T drive your car if there are any signs of bad transmission! While your car will still drive when the transmission is bad, however, the more you drive it, the more you increase the chance of transmission failure.
Every time you drive your car with a bad transmission, the problem gets more complicated and the repair costs doubles or triples, this is assuming that you are lucky enough and the problem will be solved.
In short, driving a car with a bad transmission is just driving on borrowed time. Yes, we understand that a lot of people can't afford the price of transmission repair; however, what you don't know is that the more you drive the car, the more parts will get ruined.
Problems with your car's transmission are considered one of the most expensive car repairs. However, if you were able to detect certain transmission problems and get it fixed sooner, you can avoid paying a lot of money on more complicated damages.
In general, if you noticed any weird smell or noise, you must take your car to the close's mechanic as soon as possible.
As it is obvious from the issues we mentioned, most transmission issues are caused by low or contaminated transmission fluid. Therefore, you must keep regular maintenance for your transmission fluid. It is a good habit to check the transmission fluid level and condition every time you do an oil change or something.
Last, don't wait for transmission repairs. If you cant afford the repair cost, don't drive the car better than causing more troubles.