What Are the Signs of a Failing Automatic Transmission?

by Jill Richards

Replacing a transmission is an expensive repair that most people would like to prevent if possible. By recognizing the signs of an automatic transmission failure, you may be able to fix it and avoid a costly replacement. If you notice any of the signs below, you should have your vehicle checked out.

Shifting

If your vehicle doesn't go into gear when you shift it into drive or if it takes a few seconds to engage, you may have transmission problems. However, there could also be a problem with the linkage cable that runs from the transmission to the steering. If it is not correctly adjusted, you may have shifting problems that are not related to transmission problems, according to CarTalk.com.

Slipping

Slipping happens when a transmission has trouble changing between gears. You may hear a racing sound of the engine revving but not feel the vehicle move forward. That means your transmission is not engaging and is a warning sign that it could be failing.

Noise

If you hear any new, abnormal noise while your vehicle is shifting, this may be the transmission. For example, sometimes you can tell when your automatic transmission is shifting by watching your RPM level on the tachometer. If the noise seems to coincide with shifting, have a mechanic check your transmission.

Leaks

Check the ground under your car for leaking fluid. Any fluid leak should be checked, but particularly if you suspect it is transmission fluid. If you lose this fluid, the transmission gears aren't lubricated and will break down quickly. According to AAMCO, the fluid also helps keep the transmission cool, so leaking may cause overheating.

Check Engine Light

When your "check engine" light comes on, you should always have a mechanic check your car. The light could signal something minor like a gas cap that isn't tight enough, but it could also indicate a major problem, including the transmission.

Movement

If your engine starts normally, but when you shift into drive it doesn't move, your transmission may be to blame. You need to have the car towed to your mechanic. This is a major sign of transmission failure and will likely require extensive repair or replacement.

Prevention/Solution

It is less costly to prevent a transmission problem than it is to repair, rebuild or replace the transmission. Regular maintenance is key. Check your vehicle's owner's manual to see how often your transmission fluid should be changed. Fluid should be red in color. If it looks brown or smells dirty, it should be changed. Never shift a moving vehicle into park. This can damage the moving parts in your transmission. Overheating your transmission can cause failure--for example, if you tow a heavy load. Small transmission problems, if caught early, are less expensive to fix.

About the Author

Jill Richards has almost 20 years of writing, public relations and marketing experience. She primarily writes about non-profits, health, business, education and fund-raising strategies. Richards holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Wisconsin.

Photo Credits

  • photo_camera Photo courtesy of pierre.eric