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Transmission Overheats: What To Do and How Can You Stop It?

Transmission Overheats: What To Do and How Can You Stop It?

When you hear the word overheat, you usually think of the engine. But did you know that the transmission overheats too? The transmission overheats due to a number of reasons. It includes a low transmission fluid level, old, contaminated, or burned transmission fluid, defective solenoid, hot weather, bad transmission sensors, towing heavy loads, bad driving habits, or bad driving conditions. When the transmission overheats it will show symptoms such as slow or delayed shifting, no response when you try to shift gears, acrid smell, and transmission slipping.

Auto Repairs Are EXPENSIVE


When you notice that your transmission overheats, you need to have your car or transmission checked immediately. This way, you will know what caused the problem and have it fixed right away. If you ignore it and the transmission frequently overheats, it can result in severe damages that can leave your car undrivable. To prevent this from happening, you need to make sure that you always check your transmission fluid level, follow the recommended fluid change interval set by your car’s manufacturer, maintain your car’s cooling system, and practice good driving habits.


Transmission Overheats: What Happens When Transmission Overheats?


The transmission is a very important component of a car. It is placed or mounted directly on the engine. It is responsible for converting the combustion power of the engine to the momentum that drives the wheels. The transmission enables your car to cruise at highway speed without damaging your engine. It increases the engine’s torque to help propel the weight of the car.


A transmission is all that and more and that is why it is a vital component of your car. Since it is vital, you need to make sure that it is always in its top condition. Without a working transmission, you won’t be able to accelerate. A transmission that has failed won’t be able to transfer the rotation of the engine to the wheels of your car. Your engine may turn but your wheels will not.


One of the leading causes of a transmission failure is overheating. When the transmission overheats it can result in a number of problems and when it happens repeatedly, it can cause severe damages to your transmission. So what happens when transmission overheats?


Like mentioned earlier, when the transmission heats, it can cause several problems to occur such as delayed or no response at all. The operating temperature of the transmission is known to be around 175 to 200 degrees. The ideal transmission fluid temperature on the other hand is under 175 degrees Fahrenheit. If your transmission overheats and is running twenty degrees higher than it’s supposed to, it can cut in half the life of your transmission. If it is running at 240 degrees, it reduces its life even more.


Transmission Overheats: What Causes the Transmission to Overheat?



When your transmission overheats,  it may be the start of many transmission issues. It can cause some transmission components to become damaged. Overheating is known as the silent killer that took the service life of many transmissions since it can usually go unnoticed until it is too late. In order to prevent this from happening in the first place, you need to know what causes it. You need to know why the transmission overheats. The most common causes of transmission overheating includes:


  • Low transmission fluid level.


The transmission fluid is considered as the transmission’s lifeblood. Not only does it lubricate and cool the transmission’s moving parts, but it also supplies pressure to help the transmission function properly. When the transmission fluid level is low, it can cause friction between the parts which can lead to overheating.


When the transmission overheats, it can be an indication that your fluid level has dropped. You can pull your transmission dipstick to check your transmission fluid level. If you don’t know where to find it, you can consult your owner’s manual. If the fluid level is low, you will have to add more fluid. Make sure that you don’t overfill it since it can also cause some transmission issues.


  • Old or burned transmission fluid.


Your car’s manufacturer has set a recommended fluid change interval which can be found on your owner’s manual. Like the engine oil, the transmission fluid needs to be changed regularly too since it becomes dirty, contaminated, or worn out over time. If you don’t change the fluid, it can cause seals and gaskets failures and also some of the transmission’s internal components. When this happens, the transmission may start to overheat and break down.


You can check your transmission fluid since you can determine that it is due for a change when you see its color. Transmission fluids come in various colors but a fresh one usually has a bright and translucent red or pink color. Old, worn out, or burned transmission fluid will have a dark red, brown, or black color. It may have a thicker consistency and is often filled with gunk. The darker the color your fluid has, the older and more worn out it is, which means that it needs to be changed immediately. It is important that your transmission always has a fresh and effective fluid. If it has, it will help prolong the life of your transmission.


  • Hot weather.


Your transmission overheats when the outdoor temperature is extremely hot. This can happen since extreme hot temperatures can cause the resting fluid temperature to rise which can make the fluid more warmer than usual. If the fluid temperature continues to rise and remains hot for a long period, the transmission overheats. If you notice a whining sound coming from your transmission, it can be caused by the fluid temperature being too hot, making it difficult for it to cool your transmission.


  • Towing heavy loads.


The transmission overheats when you use your car to tow heavy loads even though your car is not designed to do so. The extra weight will make your transmission work harder than normal. Your transmission will have to deal with the extra stress which will make it produce more heat. The additional weight and the transmission working harder can quickly overheat the transmission. To know your car’s recommended maximum towing limit, check your owner’s manual.


  • Improper towing.


There is a proper way to tow a car. Cars with a rear wheel drive should be towed with the rear wheels off the ground while the ones with a front wheel drive should be towed with the front wheels in the air. For vehicles with all wheel or full time four wheel drives, they should be flat towed or all of their four wheels should be off the ground.


If your car is frequently towed and is towed the wrong way, it can cause damages. The bands and the clutches can begin to slip. When this happens, debris can get into the transmission which can cause failure and overheating.


  • Bad driving habits.


When your transmission overheats, it can be caused by some bad driving habits such as shifting up and down through the gears, or when you are always stepping on the brakes and the accelerator. When you do these things, it can result in your transmission to work harder than normal. A transmission that is overworked can cause premature wear of some of its components.


Another bad habit you should avoid is abusing your drivetrain. Like when you are stuck in sand, mud, or snow, avoid rocking since it can lead to excessive heat. This can cause overheating or other transmission problems. It can also reduce the life of your transmission. You can have it towed or dug out instead of quick-shifting between reverse and drive, over and over again.


  • Defective solenoid.


The transmission solenoid is responsible for regulating the amount of fluid passed through the transmission. If it becomes faulty, there won’t be enough fluid pumped into the transmission which can cause it to overheat. To fix the problem, you will have to replace your faulty solenoid.


Transmission Overheats: How Do I Know If My transmission is Overheating?



You now know what happens when your transmission overheats and what causes it, so you might ask, how do I know if my transmission overheats? It is a good idea to be aware of the common symptoms of an overheating transmission so you will know what to do and prevent other potential problems from occurring. You will know if your transmission is overheating when you experience the following symptoms.


  • Delayed response or no response at all.


Low transmission fluid level can cause your transmission to overheat. So if your transmission overheats, it is most likely caused by that and you will know this when you experience obvious delays when you are shifting between gears. It can also happen that you won’t have any response at all.


This can happen since there is not enough fluid available in the system that can be used to readily transmit pressure. That being the case, you will experience lag as the transmission finds it hard to enact the desired gear change. Delayed response is known as one of the early signs of overheating. If you notice the delayed response, your transmission may be at risk of overheating. You better pull over and stop your car. If you can, check what is causing the problem.


  • Burning smell.


If you notice an acrid burning smell, it can be an indication that your transmission is overheating. It has been explained earlier that old transmission fluid gets worn out or burned. When this happens, the fluid no longer has the ability to do its tasks. The internal structure of the fluid will eventually break down due to the forces of oxidation. It can no longer help reduce friction or absorb heat. It will degrade which can cause your transmission to overheat.


When the fluid has reached this stage, it will start to burn and will turn black. You will notice its color if you check your transmission fluid. When this happens, the oxidation may produce unpleasant and harsh fumes that can usually be smelled inside your car. If you notice the burning smell, it is a sign that you have to take your car to a mechanic to have it checked and repaired.


  • Fluid leak.


Fluid leaks can cause your fluid level to drop too low. When this happens, it is most likely that your transmission overheats. This can occur since the transmission fluid is what keeps the parts of your transmission lubricated and cooled. If there is a fluid leak, the system won’t have the appropriate amount of fluid which helps keep the internal components from heating due to friction.


  • Transmission slipping.


The transmission fluid loses its ability to give smooth shifting between gears when it gets old, worn out, or contaminated. When this happens, it can cause your transmission to slip out of gear and this usually occurs with an overheating transmission.


If you notice this problem, make sure that you have your car checked immediately since transmission slipping can also indicate other problems such as a faulty clutch, worn internal gears, or bad transmission bands.


Transmission Overheats: How Do I Cool Down My Transmission?


It can be alarming when your transmission overheats all of a sudden especially if you don’t know what to do. There are some ways that can help you cool down your transmission.


  • Idle in neutral.


If you are stuck in traffic or some place where you will be sitting for a while, you can shift your transmission into neutral and let your car idle. Idling your car in neutral can help reduce the strain on your transmission and enable it to cool. Idling in neutral can also reduce the amount of gas used by the engine.


  • Use additives.


Adding transmission fluid additives regularly can also keep your transmission cool. It has special coolants designed to lessen the transmission temperature. Transmission fluid additives can be bought in most car supply shops.


  • Installing external coolers.


If your car is used to tow or carry heavy loads, installing an external cooler can help cool your transmission and keep it at a regulated temperature. It can also help lessen friction to the transmission.



When a transmission overheats, it is an indication that something is wrong. The very moment you experience it, have it checked and repaired immediately since overheating is one of the most common causes of transmission failure.