From toting the kids to school or soccer practice, getting to work, and picking up groceries and other supplies, we rely on our vehicles every day to get us to where we need to go. This is why it’s imperative to ensure that your car is running properly. Nobody has time for transmission pan leaks. However, if you see a puddle of green or red colored oil under where your car had been parked, you may have a leaking transmission. While this issue is considered to be quite normal, it can really take a toll on your car in the long run.
The longer your car goes with a leaking transmission pan, the more damage will ensue. While it may seem like a headache, if you wait to get your vehicle into a service center, this inconvenience can turn into a real nightmare.
What is a Vehicle’s Transmission?
Not all drivers fully understand what their car’s transmission does or even how it works. This is because it’s one of the most complex components of a car and can be tough to decipher unless you’re a licensed mechanic.
The transmission of your car takes the power from the engine and delivers it to the wheels. It plays a critical role in keeping your vehicle moving, as it is responsible for ensuring that the generated power gets to where it needs to be.
There are two types of transmissions available, including automatic and manual.
- Manual transmissions: Although they are not as popular now-a-days as automatic transmissions, manual transmissions are easier to comprehend. The transmission is composed of output shafts, input shafts, and gears. The gears of one shaft will engage the gears found on the other shafts. When driving a car with a manual transmission, a gear is selected by moving the shift lever. This links with the part that controls the gears’ movement in the input shaft, with each of the linkages working with two gears. The links are changed by either shifting the lever left or right. The gear is then engaged when you push down on the clutch pedal with your foot, which disconnects the engine and the input gear. The gears located on the shaft will then move and disconnect power between the transmission and the engine. Next, the gear is selected and the clutch is released to re-engage the engine power toward the input shaft.
- Automatic transmissions: These types of transmissions work in a similar fashion, but a driver does not have to trigger it themselves. Automatic transmissions generally do not have clutches. Instead, they utilize a torque converter that de-couples the engine and the gear set. It will do all of the work for you.
What is a Transmission Pan and Gasket?
Now that you know what a transmission is and how it works, let’s discuss what a transmission pan and gasket are.
Your car’s transmission fluid is crucial to keep its transmission running smoothly. Without it, your car would be motionless. The transmission pan is needed to hold that important fluid. Beyond acting as a container for the transmission fluid, the pan may also impact the performance of your transmission.
The transmission fluid provides the fluid pressure, cooling functionalities, and lubrication necessary for your transmission to function properly and is held in the transmission pan. The transmission pan also:
- Protects the transmission fluid from contaminants
- Cools the fluid before it is sent back up into the transmission
- Collects dirt and other debris in the transmission fluid through a magnet
- Prevents debris on the road from causing leakage
The average transmission plan can hold about 12 quarts of fluid. Transmission pans on large trucks can hold as much as 36 quarts. The more transmission fluid a vehicle needs, the harder its transmission has to work.
It’s also important to note that the transmission pan will only house half of the fluid at any given time. The other half will stay in the torque converter or other components of the transmission.
The transmission pan gasket is a small, thin piece of rubber is critical for the wellbeing and performance of your vehicle’s transmission. It is located between the transmission pan and the transmission housing, and prevents transmission leakage from the pan.
How Important is My Vehicle’s Transmission?
Your car’s transmission plays a vital role within your vehicle. While its job may sound simple, the transmission contains numerous parts that all work together to move your car. The fluid inside helps to keep the transmission adequately lubricated and cooled, helping it to properly transmit force and pressure and preventing debris build-up. By changing the fluid on a routine basis, the transmission fluid will stay clean and keep the transmission running smoothly.
Common Causes of Transmission Leaks
Here are some of the main culprits behind a leaky transmission:
- A leaky transmission pan: There are many causes of transmission leaks, but the most common one is a leak in the transmission pan. This critical part of your transmission can easily wear out. Once the pan gets a puncture or has a loose bolt, the transmission fluid will start to leak out of it. If something large on the road like a rock hits the pan, it can cause a transmission pan leak.
- Gear slippage: If you forgot to top off your transmission fluid and it is running low, you may experience gear slippage. This is because your transmission needs hydraulic pressure to connect the power between the car’s engine and its wheels. If the pressure gets too low, transmission fluid will start leaking from the engine.
- Overheating transmission: One of the vital roles your vehicle’s transmission fluid plays is to help keep the rotating components of the transmission nice and cool. Heat is created by the friction of these moving parts, and if the fluid levels get too low, it will be unable to cool the transmission properly. Your transmission will overheat as well as start to leak fluid.
- Torque converter: Faulty needs or bearings in the body of your torque converter can cause a transmission fluid leak.
- Fluid lines: If the fluid lines in the transmission are damaged by debris or heat, they will leak transmission fluid.
- The engine light is on: Your vehicle’s transmission utilizes numerous sensors and solenoids. If its control unit is detecting an issue, a trouble code will then be installed into the control unit. This will then send a signal to the engine to illuminate the engine light on your dashboard. If it stays on, the ECM will eventually detect a problem and cause your transmission to shift, causing fluid leaks.
- Erratic shifting: In order to function properly, your transmission needs stable hydraulic pressure. If the pressure is too low, it will cause the transmission fluid to leak. It will also cause your shifting to become erratic.
- Late engagement: Stalled engagement between gears can result in low transmission fluid. When your car’s gears or in ‘neutral’ or ‘drive’ modes, they have to build up a certain amount of pressure before the car can move. If the transmission fluid level is extremely low, it will dramatically delay the movement in your car, and result in a leakage.
- Damaged seals: To maintain the correct hydraulic pressure, the transmission has several seals that can suffer wear and tear over time. They can crack, which will cause the transmission fluid to spill out.
- Forgetting to change the fluid regularly: Routinely replacing and topping off your transmission fluid is very important. The fluid can pick up a lot of debris and harm the transmission, resulting in leaks. Refer to your driver’s manual to see when you should be getting your transmission fluid replaced.
How to Diagnose a Transmission Pan Leak
If you can identify and locate the car’s transmission from the underbelly of the vehicle, a leak can be relatively simple to spot. However, finding the root cause of the leaking transmission pan is a different story.
To correctly find the source of the leak, you need to thoroughly clean off all fluids from the entire underbelly of your car and then add dye to your transmission system. After you ensure that your car is filled with the proper levels of transmission fluid, take it for a 30 to 40-mile spin. With slow leaks, you may need to drive your vehicle over 100 miles to notice fluid coming out.
How Much Does Transmission and Transmission Pan Repairs Cost?
The average cost for a leaking transmission pan gasket is $150 to $250, depending upon the kind of vehicle you own. Other small transmission leak repairs, including fluid lines, seals, drain plugs, and pan bolts, will also be within this price range.
How to Fix a Transmission Pan Leak
If you want to save money and have the mechanical expertise and experience, you may consider fixing the transmission pan leak yourself.
The tools you will need include:
- Ramps or jacks
- A funnel
- Transmission fluid
- New transmission pan bolts and drain plug
After gathering the proper tools, you will thoroughly drain the transmission fluid. Start by elevating your car with the jack to gain access to the pans. Place a container underneath the pan to catch the fluid. Then, remove the drain plug and drain all of the fluid. The best way to do this is to remove all of the bolts and have the pan dangle so that the fluid can come out slowly.
After finding the specific pan for your vehicle and thoroughly draining out all of the transmission fluid, remove the bolts that hold the pan in place. Replace them with the new bolts and pan. You will want to ensure that the gasket is flushed so that no fluid can escape. Then, tighten the bolts back on.
Is It Safe to Drive When My Transmission Pan is Leaking?
While driving with a leaking transmission pain isn’t dangerous in the short-term, it is advisable to have the leak repaired as soon as possible to care for the life of your car. When you notice that your car is leaking transmission fluid, you should make an appointment to take your car into a repair shop as soon as you can. The faster you get the leak fixed, the less problems you will have with your car in the long run.
However, if you ignore the problem for a long time, it can lead to unsafe driving. Your car could even possibly ignite, putting you, your passengers, and other drivers on the road in harm’s way.
Your transmission and transmission pan are proactive components of your car. The transmission helps to keep the car moving. Without it, you’d be stuck on the side of the road. The transmission fluid plays a critical role in your transmission’s wellbeing. Without it, the transmission could overheat.
If you are noticing red or green fluid coming out of your car, chances are that it is leaking transmission fluid. The best way to diagnose and repair the problem is by taking your vehicle into a certified mechanic.
If you fail to do so and simply brush the problem under the rug, it can lead to costlier repairs and even put you in danger. For your wellbeing and the life of your car, get your transmission pan repaired right away.