What Are the Signs of Clutch Problems in an Automatic Transmission?

by Craig Woodman
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Clutches in an automatic transmission control the activation of planetary gear sets. These are made up of several discs, alternating between metal and fiber inside of a metal container. When these clutches fail, the transmission cannot operate properly.

Signs of Clutch Problems

A slipping transmission is the most common sign of clutch problems. The engine will suddenly race without the vehicle moving faster, most commonly during a gear shift. The vehicle may also be slow to take off from a stop.

Initial Diagnosis

Check the transmission fluid to see if it is dark or smells burned. Scan the vehicle's computer for any electronic problems. Remove and inspect the fluid pan. If the transmission pan, after being drained of fluid, has a dark, sludgy material in it, this is probably clutch material and could be a sign of clutch failure when poor transmission performance is present.

Disassembly and Inspection

Only when the transmission has been removed from the vehicle and completely disassembled can transmission clutch failure be confirmed. The fiber clutch plates have lateral grooves in them, and these grooves may be worn off. The metal clutch plates may show obvious wear or may have grooves running radially around them, sometimes quite deep. Heat stress may also be present.

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