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Why Is the Automatic Transmission in A Car Not Shifting Smoothly?

Transmission Problems After Alternator Replacement

If you're wondering, “why is the automatic transmission in a car not shifting smoothly?” The problem most likely has to do with a bad electronic control module (ECM). However, there are some instances where one of the following components could cause your transmission not to shift smoothly:

1-    Bad connections

2-    Faulty solenoids

3-    Damaged sensors

4-    Warn engine

5-    Broken wires

6-    Blown fuses

7-    Low fluid levels

Your vehicle transmission is responsible for delivering the power generated by the engine to the wheels and making sure that the engine does not work hard all the time. There are two different types of transmissions in the world of the automobile: automatic and manual transmissions.

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In a vehicle equipped with a manual transmission, drivers switch gears to use the engine power efficiently. On the other hand, vehicles equipped with automatic transmissions do not require any driver input to switch gears.

Although automatic transmissions reduced the hassle of dealing with gear switches, they still have some maintenance issues. Unfortunately, transmissions are a little hard to diagnose, making it difficult for inexperienced drivers to understand what's going on and resolve the issue.

This article walks you through one of the very common automatic transmission problems, which is hard shifting.

What are the main systems in an automatic transmission?

Before we answer the question, “why is the automatic transmission in a car not shifting smoothly?” We must understand the main components making up the automatic transmission. This way, we can immediately pinpoint the culprit that could cause the issue.

In any vehicle equipped with an automatic transmission, you'll see the following components:

1-    The planetary gear set

The core component in an automatic transmission is the planetary gear set. This gearset is responsible for producing all gear ratios that translate the engine's revolution into wheel movement.

Your transmission has two sets of planetary gear sets that are consist of some gears, planted years, and rain gears. It is important to note that all other components in your vehicle's automatic transmission are there to support the planetary gear set to produce the gear ratios.

2-    The torque converter

The torque converter is a component that you will find in an automatic transmission but not in a manual transmission. This component is responsible for transferring the energy from the engine to the transmission. It is also the component that prevents your vehicle from driving erratically when your engine is idling because it absorbs all the energy and prevents it from getting to the wheels.

3-    The valve body

Finally, the valve body is the component in your automatic transmission responsible for controlling the motion of the transmission fluid. Your transmission needs the fluids to operate, and the valve opens and closes depending on the need for pushing transmission fluid around the transmission of different components.

In some modern vehicles, some computerized algorithms control the behavior of the valve body so it can be used efficiently to produce the best operation outputs for your transmission.

How does the automatic transmission shift gears?

In your automatic transmission, three systems interact with the electrical, mechanical, and hydraulic systems shifting gears. These systems are all controlled by the electronic control module and your vehicle's internal computer.

The electrical system plays a role in powering the transmission's electronic sensors that are responsible for selecting the right speed, gear, and throttle position.

The mechanical system is responsible for controlling the transmission at higher speeds. So your transmission works in improving the engine's efficiency by eliminating high engine revolutions at lower wheel speeds, and that's where the mechanical system comes into place.

Finally, the hydraulic system, almost the most important system in an automatic transmission, is responsible for providing the required hydraulic power to shift gears. Using a certain amount of transmission fluid, the hydraulic system performs the gear switch by applying a certain pressure level.

Why is the automatic transmission in a car not shifting smoothly?

When you notice that your automatic transmission suddenly does not shift smoothly, then you are dealing with one of the following problems:

  • A faulty electronic control module or ECM
  • Bad connections
  • Faulty solenoids
  • Damaged sensors
  • Warn engine
  • Broken wires
  • Blown fuses
  • Low fluid levels

When you turn, the automatic transmission does not shift smoothly. The situation can be extremely dangerous, and you must take immediate action to prevent safety issues, especially if you're driving at highway speeds.

It is important that once you notice any signs of transmission not shifting smoothly to take your vehicle to the nearest repair shop and have a professional mechanic inspect the transmission thoroughly. The mechanic will decide whether you need to repair the faulty component or replace the transmission in some severe scenarios.

How can I make my automatic transmission shift smoother?

When you notice that the automatic transmission is not shifting smoothly, you must research some recommendations on improving the shifting. Here are some of the recommended transmission services that you can try to improve the performance :

1-    Transmission fluid refill

The transmission fluid is one of the most important elements that you need to check and verify to have a smoothly working transmission. Your vehicle's owner’s manual should have recommendations about how much transmission fluid should be in the vehicle. Therefore, you must check the transmission fluid level and top it off if needed.

2-    Transmission flush

Overtime abuse, the transmission fluid pics many debris and contaminants from components around the transmission. Therefore, you must follow your vehicle's owner’s manual about when you need to flush the transmission.

When you flush the transmission, you drain out the old fluid and for fresh fluid that can provide your transmission with all necessary capabilities to shift gears smoothly.

3-    Replace the filter

Like any other filter in your vehicle, the transmission filter also might get clogged, requiring replacement. Again, over time reviews, the transmission fluids collect a lot of debris, but this might get stuck at the transmission filter level.

Therefore, consult your mechanic or refer to your owner’s manual to know when to replace the transmission filter. Depending on your driving habits and driving environments, you might even want to replace the filter before the recommendations. You need to keep an eye on symptoms indicating a clogged transmission filter.

4-    Perform regular maintenance

To keep your transmission and ensure that it serves you belong is possible, you must build a habit of performing regular maintenance. There are many different recommendations on how often you should inspect the transmission thought. But, if you have one, you should be good to go, and you can get the most out of your transmission.

What are the signs your transmission is going out?

Aside from hard shifting, there are additional symptoms that you need to keep an eye on, indicating that the transmission is going out. Whenever you notice any of these symptoms, you must take your vehicle to the nearest repair shop and have the mechanic perform an inspection to determine how to resolve the issue. According to experts, the earlier you detect the problem, the easier it is and the cheaper it is to resolve the problem.

Here are some of the common warning signs your transmission is going out:

1-    Difficulty starting

Although starting issues always have to do with the battery or engine, there are some instances when the transmission is out. You'll deal with starting problems. It is generally happening during cold weather conditions, but that's not always the case.

2-    Slipping gears

When you set the transmission to a certain gear, it should not change the position, and it should maintain this gear all the time. Slipping gears is one of the very common symptoms indicating a major problem in your transmission. Unfortunately, slipping gears are one of the worst symptoms that might put you in safety issues. Therefore, if you notice any signs of slipping gears, you must take it seriously to prevent the situation from happening when you're driving at highway speeds.

3-    Weird burning smell

When the transmission fluid does not reach all components within the automated transmission, you might notice some weird burning smell. This burning smell indicates that the internal components of your transmission are not lubricated properly, and you need to check the transmission fluid level immediately.

4-    Transmission fluid leak

Your vehicle needs a certain level of transmission fluid to perform properly. In automatic transmissions, the fluid lubricates the transmission and plays a major role in operating it. Therefore, if you notice any symptoms of transmission fluid leaks, you need to take care of them immediately.

Sometimes transmission fluid leaks might be minor, which means that your mechanic can resolve them easily without very high repair costs. However, there are some instances where the transmission fluid leak is major, and there are puddles of fluid underneath your vehicle. If that happens, you might end up replacing the internal transmission when ignored.

5-    Vehicle jumping or surging suddenly

When your vehicle jumps or surges suddenly, it can be a little scary, especially for drivers who haven't experienced it before. While this surge might be related to various other problems, a bad transmission might be one of the first and most common culprits.

6-    Weird transmission noises

As a rule of thumb, your vehicle makes any weird noise you didn't experience before; it indicates an internal issue. This applies to the transmission, and it indicates that when the transmission makes loud noises, it could indicate that the internal components are not lubricated properly. Your transmission is about to go out.

7-    Not shifting smoothly

If you tried to switch gears and noticed that your vehicle is not shifting smoothly, it indicates an internal problem. In good scenarios, it might be as simple as needing additional fluid, but it could indicate some major internal damages in severe scenarios.

8-    Check engine light

Your vehicle relies on the check engine light to communicate with the use of internal problems. Obviously, when the check engine light illuminates, it does not necessarily mean a problem with the transmission, but it could be. Therefore, you cannot immediately rely on the check engine light to say that the transmission is going bad. Instead, you need to consult your mechanic or use some specific tools that help you scan the vehicle's internal computer and get an idea about what's going on.

9-    Weird gear grinding

Finally, when the gears grind against each other and make loud noises, it indicates that your transmission is about to go out. You need to immediately resolve the issue before it gets complicated and requires replacing the entire transmission.


Your vehicle transmission is one of the core components that need to be maintained all the time. Therefore, when you're dealing with situations where the transmission does not shift smoothly, you must investigate their issue and resolve the faulty component to prevent safety problems.

If you're wondering, “why is the automatic transmission in a car not shifting smoothly?” It could be the electric control module (ECM) that is going bad. However, there are instances where other less frequent damages might be the culprit in Corning a faulty solenoid, bad connections, damaged sensors, etc.

If your vehicle has major issues like a damaged engine or probably a malfunctioning transmission, it might not be worth the time and money to resolve the issue. Instead, experts recommend selling your vehicle and using the value towards a better card with no problem.

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  • Describe your car’s type and condition
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