4 Signs There's Something Wrong with Your Automatic Transmission

Posted on: 30 August 2016

No one wants to deal with car problems, but automatic transmission issues don't have to become unmanageable. When you know how to spot trouble early on, you can save yourself a lot of money and heartache. Here are four signs that your automatic transmission needs attention.

Lagging Acceleration

A transmission that is slipping comes with some pretty clear tell-tale signs:

  • slow to accelerate upon hitting the gas
  • car shifts gears out of the blue
  • strange noises from the engine
  • clunking sounds when shifting
  • struggling to shift gears
  • rough or harsh shifting

So what does a "slipping transmission" mean? Generally nothing more than your car is having trouble shifting gears. But that doesn't translate into needing a complete replacement, so there's no need to panic.

A slipping transmission can often be repaired by something simple like refilling the ATF (automatic transmission fluid). Other times you'll need to have a worn gasket or leak repaired, or you'll have to replace a defective transmission band or worn out gears. There are other factors that can lead to a transmission slipping, but having your car checked out by a mechanic that specializes in transmissions is the best place to start.

Vibrating or Shaking

If your car is vibrating or shaking, whether you're sitting at a stop light or cruising down the highway, it could be a sign of low fluid levels. Therefore, it's time to get out that dipstick and do a check.

Checking the ATF levels on your car is fairly simple. If the dipstick isn't labeled, just consult the car's manual for its location. While checking, remember to keep the engine running and the car in park. 

If it turns out that your fluid levels are fine, then the problem could be caused by a number of other issues, including tires that are out of balance, worn out shocks, struts, or ball joints, a loose hose, issues with your fuel system, or something simple like a transmission filter that's become clogged.

Low Fluid Levels

Low ATF levels can mean one of several things:

1. Overheating. If the fluid is low or dark, you notice a burning smell, or you see solid particles in the fluid, this can often be a sign that your transmission is overheating. This should be addressed right away as it rarely, if ever, resolves on its own.

It's been estimated that about 90% of all failing transmissions can be attributed to overheating, and neglecting the issue can lead to the formation of varnish, hardened seals, slipping plates, and, ultimately, the demise of your transmission. Interestingly enough, if you can lower the temperature of your transmission by 20 degrees, you are potentially doubling the life of your transmission. So fixing the problem pays off in more ways than one.

2. Leaks. If your ATF levels are low, it often indicates a leak. You may have already noticed it if you see spots on your driveway or in your garage, but not everyone can tell where the leak is coming from. ATF serves as a lubricant to all of the moving parts of the transmission. It also keeps it cooler and assists with changing gears. So it goes without saying that leaks are pretty important to fix ASAP.

When overlooked, low transmission fluid can lead to overheating as well as a slipped transmission, ultimately causing damage that could be more expensive to fix than it would have been to repair the leak to begin with. To stay on top of things and catch problems early, it's recommended to check your transmission fluid monthly, with a fluid change performed every 30,000–60,000 miles.

Dark Transmission Fluid

New and "healthy" transmission fluid should be red or pinkish tinged, with the occasional green, yellow, or blue color. The color can deepen to a darker red after some use, and this is perfectly normal. If the color is light brown, you're in the early stages of needing a fluid change. Dark brown means it's due right away, and black pretty much screams that you're way past due and in danger of ruining your transmission.   

If upon inspecting the fluid, you note that the levels are normal but the color is strange, it's time to get that ATF changed by your mechanic. For more assistance, contact services like American Transmission Center. 


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