How to Know Your Transaxle is Bad

by Justin W. Sanders
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The transaxle is a standard part of nearly every vehicle with a front-wheel drive system. Eliminating the need for a heavy drive shaft that transfers power from the engine to the rear wheels, the transaxle incorporates this component into the same housing as the transmission, distributing the power into the front wheels instead. Thanks largely to the transaxle, front-wheel cars are generally lighter and more fuel-efficient than cars with rear-wheel drive. It's, therefore, important to be able to recognize when the transaxle is having problems.

Step 1

Listen for indicative sounds coming from the engine while the car is in motion. A bad transaxle can manifest in a variety of different noises; common ones include whining, grinding or light tapping.

Step 2

Eliminate other problems that can produce similar noises by putting the car in neutral, clutch unpressed, and listening to the idle. If the noise is present in this state, it's probably a clutch problem and not a problem with the transaxle. You should also rule out bad wheel bearings. If the noise occurs or disappears while taking corners or seems to change pitch when you speed up or slow down, you may just need new wheel bearings.

Step 3

Pay attention to the sounds the car makes in fifth gear as well. In some cases, a car will rattle in fifth gear at low RPM because of faulty transaxle fluid. You can often easily remedy this problem with a quality synthetic gear oil.

Step 4

Assess the vehicle's shifting. Is it difficult to shift into gear? Tough shifting can be the sign of a bad transaxle, especially in cold weather conditions. If shifting is tough when it's cold but grows easier as the car warms up, chances are it is the result of bad synchros in the transaxle.

Step 5

Check your transmission fluid at least every 6,000 miles. If it is brown or black in coloration or has a burned odor you should have your transaxle checked out by a service professional as it may be experiencing overheating issues.

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