One of the most important parts of any vehicle is the transmission system. Whether your vehicle runs on an automatic transmission, manual transmission, continuously variable transmission or some kind of hybrid, without a properly functioning transmission your car is essentially useless. That's why when you are noticing symptoms of transmission problems, you're going to need them to get checked out as soon as possible before a bad problem can get to be much, much worse.
What is the Transmission and What Does it Do?
In the modern age there are well over 1 billion cars on the road around the world. As you can imagine, not everybody knows what's going on under the hood of the car when they get behind the wheel. We live in an age where we don't actually need to fully understand the technology we use to get the full benefits from using it. There's not necessarily anything wrong with that, nobody can be an expert on all the pieces of technology that we use from day to day. How could you expect to understand how your cell phone works, your dishwasher, your microwave, and your car unless you've gone out of your way to learn these things? The fact is that most of us don't and that's okay.
Even though you may not fully understand how everything in your car works, it's never a bad idea to at least understand the basics. That way you'll be able to keep your car properly maintained and working the way you need it to. That's good for you and your vehicle in terms of avoiding problems down the road and expensive repair bills. You don't need to be a fully licensed mechanic and know all the ins and outs of a vehicle to have an understanding of exactly what your transmission does and how to tell if something is going wrong with it.
The transmission is the system in your car that allows you to shift from one gear into another gear. Although transmission construction can vary from one vehicle to another, and one kind of transmission to another, these are the basics of the transmission that you should know about.
Gears: Whether it's a manual or an automatic transmission there are gears inside of the transmission that you will shift through during the operation of your car. This includes both main gears and planetary gears.
Bell Housing: If you were to look at your transmission under your car you would see a cone shaped case on the side of the engine or behind the engine. This is the bellhousing that contains the actual components of your transmission system.
Transmission Fluid: Just like oil in your engine, your transmission requires lubrication to work properly and to keep it cool. Transmission fluid is what allows your transmission to keep running smoothly. It's usually red in colour to help you distinguish it from other fluids in your vehicle should you spring a leak at some point in time. This will need to be changed on a regular basis. You should check with the owner's manual for your specific make and model of car, but in general you're going to need to change your transmission fluid every 30000 miles to 60,000 miles to keep it working properly.
How Does My Transmission Work?
Although the basic function of both manual transmission and automatic transmission is the same, the way you use them is obviously different. Manual transmission requires you as the driver to disengage one gear and engage another gear by the use of a shift lever. The gears in your car are located on a pair of shafts called the input shaft in the output shaft. These two sets of gears interact with one another.
When you want to shift gears in a manual transmission you have to push on the clutch pedal which will disconnect the engine from the input shaft. The gears are now free to be moved which you can do with the shift lever. So, for instance, if you are accelerating down the highway you might put your foot on the clutch pedal to disengage the transmission and then shift from 2nd gear into 3rd gear so that you'll be able to continue to accelerate. Once the gear has been engaged then you can re-engage the clutch and the engine will power the input shaft with the new gear in place.
Automatic transmission essentially performs the same task on your behalf rather than making you responsible for manually shifting the gears yourself. Once your engine reaches the required RPMs, the automatic transmission will automatically shift from a lower gear to a higher gear. If you're decelerating than the opposite is true it will go from a higher gear to a lower gear. It's still your responsibility as the driver to shift into park, neutral, or reverse but the shifting as it relates to accelerating and decelerating is all automatically done for you.
Automatic transmission is hands-down the most popular kind of transmission available in vehicles today. Manual transmission was the standard for many years, but it is much harder to learn and most modern drivers have never actually experienced manual transmission. If you're not used to how manual transmission works, it can be a jarring experience to try to drive in manual as there is a definite learning curve and you can often make mistakes and cause a loud and distracting grinding of the gears when you do things wrong. This is arguably part of the reason why most people don't like manual transmission.
Signs of Transmission Problems
Regardless of whether you are driving automatic or manual transmission, things can go wrong from time to time. Faulty transmission can bring with it a very high repair bill, especially if it goes for so long that the transmission seizes up and needs to be entirely replaced. You'll nee to keep your senses peeled for any symptoms of transmission problems.
If you're noticing any of these problems with your transmission, it's best to get into a mechanic as soon as possible to get it looked at. You do not want to sit on a transmission problem for too long because it will get worse.
Although there are a number of ways that your transmission could potentially go bad, these are the most common ones that you should be on the lookout for.
Leaking Fluid: Hands down the number one problem with transmission is a fluid leak or contaminated fluid. This is very similar to how many engine problems are related to oil leaks or contaminated oil. So, if you're noticing any red fluid pooling under where your car has been parked that's a definite sign you have a leak in your transmission fluid that's going to need to be checked out soon. This is also one of the easiest to identify since it does leave a very clear and noticeable trace that you have a problem.
Remember that if you identify a transmission fluid leak, it's not enough to simply buy a new bottle of fluid, you need to figure out why it was leaking in the first place. It may cost you somewhere between $100 and $200 to get a transmission fluid leak repaired, or it could be more depending on what's causing the leak in the first place.
Burning Smell: You may not notice every leak in your transmission right away, but if you do have leaking fluid or badly contaminated fluid then your transmission may start to overheat. When that happens, it can start producing a noticeable burning smell when you're driving. This is another of the symptoms of transmission problems to look out for. This is typically the result of contaminated fluid that has become so thick with grime and debris that it's no longer able to properly do its job. Again, if you need to do a full fluid flush, you're probably looking at about $100 to $200 to get that job done.
Inability to Switch Gears: Possibly the most frustrating symptom of a problem with your transmission is that it simply doesn't work the way it's supposed to and you're not able to switch from one gear to another anymore. If you find yourself in a position where your car is very much resisting changing gears, or it's literally impossible to do so, then you definitely have an issue with your transmission. Usually this is caused by a serious fluid leak or even possibly having the wrong kind of transmission fluid.
Noises: Obviously your car is going to produce a variety of sounds while you're driving, and a number of unusual sounds can indicate a wide variety of problems with your vehicle. In terms of symptoms of transmission problems, if you notice grinding and buzzing sounds, especially as you're trying to shift through gears, this is a good sign that there's an issue with your transmission. Likewise, if it's making noises when you're in neutral then you probably have an issue with not enough fluid or contaminated fluid that's going to need to be addressed.
Other potential sounds that can be related to an issue with your transmission includes humming and whining noises as well as a potential clunking sound. Sometimes it can be hard to diagnose the exact nature of noise being made by your car because there are several other components under the hood that could be producing these sounds as well.
Shaking: This is much more common in automatic transmission vehicles that have a problem as opposed to manual transmission, but if you're experiencing shaking in your car as the vehicle changes gears, or a noticeable grinding that you might even be able to feel vibrating the steering wheel then you should be getting your transmission checked out.
No Shifting: If you're just trying to get your car started and you're in park attempting to get into drive and the gear simply will not engage, then obviously your transmission is suffering some kind of problem. This is another very frustrating symptom because you won't be able to drive your car into a mechanic to get it checked out, and you're going to require a tow truck to help you out.
Check Engine Light: The final symptom of a problem with your transmission is when the check engine light pops up on your dashboard. Unfortunately, the check engine light is not very helpful in indicating why it came on in the first place, so if you don't have any of these other symptoms happening at the same time you probably won't have any reason to believe that it's your transmission that caused the light to come on in the first place. When it comes to transmission problems, the check engine light is more helpful as a confirmation for you that you definitely have something wrong, rather than a specific indication of what the issue is.
Transmission Repair Costs
After looking for symptoms of transmission problems, it's time to look for the repair costs. Unfortunately, when something goes wrong with your transmission you could be looking at a very steep repair bill to get it working again. Aside from transmission fluid issues which we mentioned might cost between $100 and $200, if it's a mechanical issue with your transmission itself you could be looking at quite a bit more.
Replacing a damaged transmission can range anywhere from about $1,800 to upwards of $3,500. This very much depends on the make and model of the car you're driving, and if you do have a rare vehicle this could be significantly more. At some point it may be more cost-effective to buy a new vehicle than to repair the transmission if the problem is bad enough or your car is old enough.
There are some cheaper alternatives to replacing a damaged transmission such as getting a salvage transmission from a scrap yard, for instance. And although this is more cost-effective, it's still about $700 at the low end of things and may cost as much as $1,500 or so.
The Bottom Line
Every time something goes wrong with your car it is frustrating and stressful. No one wants to have to go to a mechanic and spend money to get their car fixed. But at the same time, if you put it off fixing a problem with your transmission you are going to end up having to head to a mechanic eventually anyway and the repair bill can be so much more than it would have been if you got it taken care of when you first noticed the problem.
Your car simply can't function without a properly working transmission. When you notice something has gone wrong, you should get it fixed as soon as you can to save yourself a bigger problem down the road.