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Signs of a Bad Transmission – Watch Out For Grinding Gears!

Signs of a not working Transmission

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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Different Types of Transmissions

  • Manual Transmission

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 can 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.

  • Automatic 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. If the torque converter is not working correctly, it can cause signs of a bad transmission. 

  • CVT Transmission

A CVT transmission works through a pulley system to switch gears effectively. This CVT transmission consists of cows at each pulley connected via a chain belt. The cones can either move to increase or decrease the belt diameter to change the gear ratios, allowing quick-shifting into the required ratio for added power and a boost in fuel economy.


One pulley in the CVT transmission connects to the car’s engine, and the other pulley is directly connected to power the wheels of the car. The width of these pulleys changes based on the required power that is needed in your car. As one pulley gets larger, the other gets smaller. This allows a CVT to deliver strong and seamless acceleration and prevent any bad transmission signs. 

Top Causes Of A Bad Transmission 


In order to determine and diagnose the signs of a bad transmission, you need to figure out the reasons for a bad transmission and why it might be happening in your car. You know your vehicle – 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 handled differently while driving, is the car having trouble accelerating, or is the car acting erratically? The most important aspect of diagnosing the problem is finding out the causes of the signs of a bad transmission. 

  • Transmission Won’t Stay in Gear

One main reason for signs of 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 automatic transmission system’s valve body 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.

  • Delayed Shifting

If your transmission takes a while to go into the proper gear or the shifting is not smooth and jumpy, this could sign 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 your transmission fluid level’s routine maintenance, 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 more signs of a bad transmission and your engine. This can cause the engine to overheat, which can damage internal parts and show the sign of a bad transmission. Other possibilities that can occur from delayed shifting and low transmission fluid are that the computer could not allow the transmission to shift into the higher gears.

  • Slipping Transmission

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. 


A slipping transmission in your vehicle 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 that might be causing the signs of a bad transmission. 

  • Leaking Transmission Fluid

Leaking transmission fluid in your car can cause the issue of low fluid, leading to many signs of a bad transmission and car problems. A low transmission fluid level can cause numerous problems. The transmission fluid is necessary to lubricate the parts and keep your car running correctly. If your transmission slips, this means that the car engine revs, but no power is transferred to the wheels to move the car. Changing your transmission fluid on high mileage can cause slipping, which will only worsen as the transmission overheats and friction builds during use.


Check your dipstick in the vehicle for proper transmission fluid level and condition of the fluid, ensuring no contaminants in the liquid. 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 can catch and diagnose the fluid leak quickly, 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. A burning smell is a clear indication of signs of a bad transmission, so drivers should take note of this smell before it gets any worse. 

  • No Power in the 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 internal transmission problems, brakes that are not working correctly due to a faulty caliper or brake hose, or your car’s internal computer has 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 and fix the signs of a bad transmission. Recognizing the diagnostic codes related to the engine, fuel system, braking system, and transmission can help you determine the issues plaguing your car. 

  • Check Engine Light

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. 

  • Grinding Gears When Shifting

One reason why your transmission might not be working correctly and a sign of a bad transmission are 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, and 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 are 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. 

  • Limp Mode

The transmission control module isn't your vehicle in charge of noticing any failure within the monitors’ systems. Any failure that it detects, ranging in severity from a broken solenoid to a damaged fuse, will trigger and spur the limp mode to prevent further engine damage or any further damage to the transmission. Even when the limp mode is activated, the car can still somewhat work, allowing the driver to travel in a limited capacity. 


Generally, the limp mode will cause signs of a bad transmission. It allows your car to go into second gear and remain there. Limp mode can lead to a slow feeling when you first start driving, preventing full acceleration, and making the engine RPMs much higher than usual to go the same speed. 

  • Wire Damage or Failure

Most modern cars have some type of transmission control module in charge of monitoring the transmission through various sensors, like the shift-position sensor and the transmission speed sensor. Furthermore, the transmission control module and the solenoid wiring are protected by various fuels. If there is a failure or damage to one of the fuses or the wires, this can cause the signs of a bad transmission.

Transmission Replacement Guide

The transmission is one of your car’s most important parts and one of the most expensive parts to replace.  This is why it is crucial to note the signs of a bad transmission before it is too late. This part aims to shift gears and monitor the torque levels in the vehicle if you start to experience any issues with the transmission. You should know that a transmission replacement may be necessary.


To replace a transmission, the replacement cost is typically between $1,800 and $3,500 on average. It can take hours for this repair to be completed at the mechanic shop so that labor costs will be upwards of $850 for this crucial fix. 

Transmission Replacement Cost Comparison

We have given you a list of how much you can expect to spend when replacing your transmission – replacing your transmission in a timely manner helps prevent signs of a bad transmission. At your local mechanic, the total cost will range between $825 and $1427. 


At Midas, the total cost will range between $801 and $1487, while the cost at Mr. Tire will be a bit more expensive, costing $820 on the low end. At NAPA, the price is much higher due to the 24-month warranty, ranging between $1032 and $1327. 


If you are just purchasing the part for the transmission replacement, the total cost of the parts at Walmart is between $204 and $587, while the parts at Amazon will range between $177 and $612. 


Figuring out the most common signs of a bad transmission can help you diagnose and fix these issues before they get any worse in your vehicle! Make sure as a car owner, you keep an eye out for delayed shifting, your car is stuck in gear, grinding gears when shifting, and other severe problems that can harm your vehicle. 


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