Signs That Your Vehicle Needs Transmission Repair

December 2nd, 2015 by

2014 TL80 (MGG) Eight Speed RWD Automatic Transmission for Cadillac CTS

Frank is driving home after a road trip and notices that his transmission is getting worse. It is slipping gears and there is an awful burning smell. “Huh” he said to himself “I should have thought about transmission repair in Albany NY when I first noticed the check engine light and puddle of transmission fluid I left in that parking space.” He pondered for a moment about getting off the highway  “Oh well” he said to himself while shrugging “I’m almost home.”

30 minutes later Frank was broken down on a back road with no cell phone signal and a busted transmission… Don’t be a Frank, don’t ignore the signs.

If you notice something off about your transmission and realize it needs to be repaired the first thing to do is find out what type of transmission you have. There are two types of transmission, commonly referred to as automatic and manual. The automatic transmission is controlled by a computer that automatically applies power to the driveshaft for you, putting it into gear for you as you drive down the road. This is not the case for the manual transmission, which applies power to the driveshaft (via stick shift) that is manually used by the driver. The computer makes the automatic differ greatly from the manual, and a few of the universal signs you notice when your transmission is acting up might be unique to one type of transmission.

Signs You Can See

by fluid


If you drive away and leave a puddle of bright red fluid on the ground (like Frank) or you notice a trail of bright red fluid in your review mirror as you go down the road, chances are you have a transmission leak. Ignoring the leak is one of the most common causes of transmission break down. That pink fluid you are seeing is called automatic transmission fluid, ATF for short. ATF helps to lubricate, clean, and condition the seals and acts as a type of hydraulic fluid. If it gets too low the engine will seize up and stop working completely. If the fluid leaking out is a dark red color and smells burnt, then you have an even bigger issue. This means that the fluid needs to be changed immediately, and your transmission might need to be repaired.

Check Engine Light

If this light goes on that means there is a sign that something has gone wrong or is about to go wrong with your car. The light turns on for many reasons, but because there are many sensors placed inside the engine that can pick up unusual activity you may not notice, especially in the transmission. While it is not guaranteed to be a transmission issue every time this light turns on it would be unwise to ignore this warning, like Frank did.

Signs You Can Feel

“Gear Lag”

For lack of a better term I call this “gear lag,” if you put a car into drive from park or any other gear for that matter, it should be an almost immediate response. If there is a second or two after you move the tree shifter from park and then you feel it shift into gear, then there is something wrong. It could be low fluid, the transmission could be getting old, but whatever the case a transmission should show an almost immediate response when you move that shifter.

Don’t think manual transmissions are safe either, they can suffer from a similar problem. After shifting into gear the engines RPMs surge and the car will be moving a lot slower than the engine sounds. Kind of like when your car is trying to make it up an icy hill, the car is only doing 10 mph but the engine sounds like it is doing 60 mph… that is also very bad for the engine.

Slipping Gears

The transmission shifts gears in two ways depending on the type, automatic uses a computer while manual uses a stick. Regardless, both types of transmission are supposed to stay in a certain gear until you or the computer tells it otherwise. If the vehicle slips into a different gear while driving, that is referred to as the gears slipping. This is a huge problem, obviously, and needs to be fixed immediately, right Frank?

Next to refuses to go into gear

Refuses to Go into Gear

Another gear related issue is when the car refuses to go into gear, this only effects manual transmissions. If you engage the clutch and try and use the stick shift to shift and the transmission refuses to go into that gear, there is a problem. This can be caused by various issues such as low fluid or the wrong type of fluid (ATF has different thicknesses depending on the transmission). If that doesn’t work it is best to bring it somewhere to get fixed, seeing as it has something to do with the internal components of the transmission.

Grinding or Shaking

Grinding can be a noise or a feeling, depending on what is wrong with the transmission. While grinding is more associated with manuals (see the Dragging Clutch section below) shaking is more associated with automatics. The shaking will typically happen when the computer tries to shift gears, instead of being a smooth transition between gears you might feel it get slightly stuck and then shake when it finally pops into gear. As this problem gets worse, so does the transition into the next gear and the shaking.

Signs You Can Hear

You will hear different sounds when there is something wrong with your transmission, and each sound is unique depending on what might be wrong with it. For example, loud mechanical and abrupt sounds are associated more with manual transmissions. These sounds can range from whining, buzzing, clunking, humming, and any other strange sound you can think of. If there is something wrong with your transmission, the car will sound very out of the ordinary while running.

Dragging Clutch

This sign is also unique to manual transmission. The function of the clutch is to engage the flywheel in the transmission which allows the car to shift gears. The dragging clutch happens when the clutch disk fails to engage this flywheel, which causes the clutch to spin with the engine. This makes it almost impossible to shift gears seeing as there is nothing engaging the flywheel, and is noticed when you hear a grinding noise every time you try to shift gears.

Transmission Noisy in Neutral

A vehicle is supposed to run the quietest and smoothest while in park and neutral, that’s because the engine is running but not engaging the driveshaft, I know that from experience. So when you are in neutral and you hear a clunking or other type of odd noise, that is another telltale sign of an issue.

Next to check engine light section

A Sign You Can Smell

The final and most concerning sign is a burning smell. This smell is a cause for concern even if it does not involve the transmission, it means somewhere there is too much friction being applied between parts, such as a stuck caliper, or an oil leak has sprung and oil is burning on the engine. Regardless, it is important to get checked out. Remember how previously I mentioned the ATF fluid could be a dark red color? That means the fluid has burned, and that is because there was not enough of it to keep the transmission lubricated. That burning smell means the transmission is dangerously low on ATF fluid, or the wrong type of fluid in the transmission. As the fluid breaks down it can create sludge and debris that can corrode the transmission, as well as cause the transmission to generate too much friction. The end result is the transmission actually damages itself, and it is a very costly repair.

Frank will tell you that when he sees his bill from the garage… so don’t be a Frank. If you see, smell, feel, or hear something weird with your car go get it checked out immediately.