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Signs Of A Bad Transmission In A Car: What There Is To Know!

Signs Of A Bad Transmission In A Car

The transmission in your car is in charge of making sure that the right amount of power goes directly to your wheels in order to drive the vehicle at a specific speed. The transmission works properly by shifting gears and putting the car in the right gear for the current conditions. 

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In a manual car, the manual transmission is engaged by pushing the clutch to disconnect the engine and the transmission. When you adjust the gear shifter, it is able to move the car into a new gear, and then the process is repeated. Although these cars are rarer than automatic vehicles, they can still show signs of a bad transmission.


In automatic vehicles, the automatic transmission is the automatic gear shifter that does all of the work for you. When you use the automatic transmission, it has the torque converter sense any changes as you accelerate and shift into a higher gear. 

Top Reasons Of A Bad Transmission 


In order to determine and diagnose the signs of a bad transmission, you need to figure out the reasons of a bad transmission and why it might be happening in your car. You know your car – so you also know when it starts acting differently, and how this is a sign that you need to take action quickly. Is a different smell coming from your vehicle, is it handling differently while you are driving, is the car having trouble accelerating, or is the car acting erratically? The most important aspect of diagnosing the cause of your vehicle’s bad transmission issue is to see the reasons why it is happening.

Transmission won’t Stay in Gear


A big reason why you might have a bad transmission is that your transmission might not be able to stay in gear. If you try to put your car into a specific gear and shift and it will not move smoothly, or will not move at all, this could be a clear sign that there could be a low transmission fluid amount. This low transmission fluid could be due to a leak, the gear shifter, the gear shifter cable, or the problem with the valve body of the automatic transmission system in your car. 


Newer and more modern vehicles on the market depend on the car's internal computer, the electronic control unit, to direct the transmission when it should go into the proper gear based on the driver’s selection and homicides. This means that you may need to have the electronic control unit checked with a diagnostic tool for any potential trouble codes in order to see if this is a sign of a bad transmission.

Shifts are Delayed


If your transmission takes a while to go into the proper gear or the shifting is not smooth and jumpy, this could be a sign of a transmission fluid that is too low to work correctly and a sign of a bad transmission. This could be due to a transmission fluid leak, a fluid contamination, or due to water intrusion that has occurred during certain weather or road conditions. Make sure you stay up to date with the routine maintenance of your transmission fluid level so this doesn't happen.


Although delayed shifting and gear switching might not sound like the most serious issue in your vehicle, this can create further problems with your transmission and your engine. This can cause the engine to overheat, which can lead to a damage of internal parts and show the sign of a bad transmission. Other possibilities that can occur from delayed shifting and low transmission fluid is that the computer could not allow the transmission to shift into the higher gears at all.

Transmission Slipping


The occurrence of your transmission slipping is surely a reason for a bad transmission and can lead to various signs of a bad transmission in your car. This condition is also caused by the pesky low transmission fluid, contamination of the transmission fluid, or the lack of routine maintenance in the transmission system. This can also be due to the internal wear and tear on transmission parts inside of the transmission itself. If your engine is also revving highly along with the slipping transmission, this is a sign that you have worn out clutches or other parts inside the car might be causing the bad transmission. 

Leaking Transmission fluid 


A red fluid that is leaking and showing underneath of your vehicle is a clear sign of a bad transmission and an indicator that you probably have a transmission fluid leak coming from one of your cooler lines, a transmission gasket, or a valve seal. This leaking transmission fluid is not only detrimental and negative for the transmission itself, but it can also lead to a dangerous situation if the fluid ends up leaking onto a hot pipe or other services that can cause overheating or a fire hazard.


Check your dipstick in the vehicle for proper transmission fluid level and condition of the fluid, ensuring there are no contaminants in the liquid. Take note that not all transmission fluid is red and not all levels can be verified with this method, but it can lead to signs of a bad transmission.

Burning Smell


If you notice a burning smell coming from your car, this is a clear sign that you have a problem that needs to be addressed. A burning smell is usually caused by a fluid leak in the transmission, or even the low fluid causing a burning clutch smell and overheating in the engine. If you are able to catch and diagnose the fluid leak quickly, then you might be able to save the transmission from any further damage, and prevent the additional signs of a bad transmission. In addition, a buzzing sound can also be an indicator of a bad internal sealing surface, a bad valve seal, or low transmission fluid due to the leak. 

No Power in Car


Another reason that your transmission might be failing and a cause of the signs of a bad transmission is that the car has no power, very little power, and the engine is still able to run correctly. This problem could form from the internal transmission problems, brakes that are not working correctly due to a faulty caliper or brake hose, or your car’s internal computer is having limited power because of an internal electrical problem that has been detected in the engine. Make sure you use a diagnostic trouble code to check for the problem.

Check Engine Light is On 


A check engine light doesn't just mean that there is a problem with the engine. The check engine light can come on for various reasons, like a poor oxygen sensor, a damaged intake manifold, and other issues that deal directly with the transmission. The check engine light can be a reason the transmission is failing, and cause the signs of a bad transmission. The transmission issues include overheating, transmission solenoid problems, speed sensors, slipping transmission, and many other problems that need addressing.


To fix this issue, have the trouble codes analyzed to determine what systems and circuits are having trouble and which ones are damaged. 

Gears Are Grinding When Shifting


If you are driving a manual car, there are specific signs of a bad transmission that are directly related to your type of transmission. Although not as common, many drivers will still choose to drive manual transmission vehicles, especially overseas in Europe. 


One reason why your transmission might not be working correctly and a sign of a bad transmission si that the gears are grinding when you try to change gears and shift in your car. When your transmission grinds and the shifting gears are not working, this can be a condition that is directly related to the clutch not releasing, the shift synchronizer rings inside the transmission being broken or damaged, or the shifter having an adjustment problem. In addition, if your transmission fluid and oil is too low, contaminated, full of debris, or is the wrong fluid altogether this can also cause the problem in manual cars and show the signs of a bad transmission. 

Clutch Pedal Grabs Too High or Too Low 


If your clutch pedal is engaging very low, then this is usually an issue with the linkage or the hydraulic system that is in charge of operating the clutch. In order to fix this issue, a simple adjustment or bleeding of the system could solve the problem – granted that there are no hydraulic leaks. If the clutch pedal is grabbing very high, then this could be due to a worn clutch disc, worn pressure plate, and cause the sign of a bad transmission. 

How To Prevent Signs of a Bad Transmission


If you can tell as the driver of your car at your transmission is already on its last leg, there is only so much you can do to keep the car running smoothly and enhance the longevity of the transmission. In the future, however, when you get a new car or a new transmission, there are certain precautions and safety measures that you can take that can keep the transmission lifespan running longer. 


While it is very important to take immediate action as soon as you notice something is wrong with your transmission, there are steps you can take in the first place to prevent the problem, like routine maintenance and monitoring your transmission fluid levels. 


There are some factors, however, that might be a little bit out of your control when it comes to the longevity of your transmission. Some of these aspects might be faulty issues with your specific car, like poor design, recalls, or manufacturing errors that have harmed your transmission. In this case, the only real thing you can do about this is to research and educate yourself on the vehicle before buying, by using websites like JD Power. 

Monitor Transmission Fluid Level 


Since the lubricant is key for all moving parts to prevent friction and overheating, the transmission fluid does the same role in your transmission system. It is critical to have the right levels and quality of transmission fluid, ensuring that the transmission is working correctly and preventing signs of a bad transmission. 


Ideally, try and check your fluid levels once per month, ensuring that you have the right amount of fluid and there is no debris. New transmission fluid should have a red and transparent color that will slightly darken over time. 

Driving Conditions 


How you take care of your car while driving is key to the impact on how it maintains itself both the driving conditions that you put your car through and how you drive your car through these conditions can determine the overall health and lifespan of your transmission and prevent the signs of a bad transmission. 


If you frequently drive in heavy traffic, you frequently stop and go very quickly, and you drive on rough terrain, this can take a toll on your transmission and cause the signs of a bad transmission. 



If you frequently drive in cold weather or winter conditions, then this can negatively affect your transmission system. Cold weather can wreak havoc on a car’s transmission system, causing the transmission to slip and causing signs of a bad transmission like rough idling. In these cold weather conditions, the system can freeze altogether and cause the fluid to leak out of the damaged and cracked transmission lines. 


To avoid harming your transmission during cold weather driving, you can store your car in a warmer garage when you are not using it, or invest in an engine heater that lets you safely idle your car before you kick it into gear. 


If you follow these precautions, you can severely reduce the risk of harming your transmission and seeing any signs of a bad transmission in your car. By performing regular and routine maintenance, you can enhance the longevity of your transmission, keep your transmission fluid level high and keep the fluid clean, and prevent any detrimental side effects to your transmission or your engine. 

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