How to Narrow Down Transmission Problems

by Dianne Christensen-Herman

Transmission problems can make many drivers frustrated, but not all of these issues are difficult to fix. If your vehicle begins to make grinding or whining noises and starts having shifting problems, chances are you have a transmission problem. Familiarizing yourself with the warning signs and symptoms of particular transmission problems can help you narrow down the cause. The earlier you catch a transmission problem, the less damage it may cause to your vehicle in the long run.

Inspect the transmission fluid level with the dipstick. If it is low, most likely there is a leak. Look for a reddish brown liquid, which is transmission fluid, below the car. Examine the transmission case for cracks or leaks. Transmission fluid can leak from gaskets, seals, fluid cooler and line. Narrowing down the origin of the leak is important to make the correct repairs.

Add a few drops of transmission fluid on a white paper towel. If the liquid is light brown or red and quickly spreads over the towel, it is in good condition. Black or dark brown fluid that is thick needs replacing to provide the correct pressure and lubrication within the transmission.

Listen for a loud whirring or whining noise while you are driving your vehicle. This could possibly be an indication of a clogged transmission filter or low fluid. Replace the transmission fluid filter to ensure it is in adequate working condition. Look for metal shavings in the old filter, which is a sign of wear and tear and most likely requires a fluid flush.

Observe the gear shifting while you are driving. If the shifting is less than smooth, slipping or making noises, this could be a sign of a clogged filter, low transmission fluid or serious transmission problems. If you completed the above steps and the transmission problems persist, you may want to take your vehicle to a licensed mechanic. Unless you are an experienced mechanic, fixing major transmission problems on your own is not a good idea and you could do more harm.


  • check Routinely check transmission fluid levels about every 6,000 miles or every six months to ensure your vehicle has enough fluid. This practice can prevent many transmission problems from beginning. Make sure the vehicle is on an even surface, and some manufacturers recommend you check the transmission fluid while the engine is operating.

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