Common Car Transmission Problems and How to Fix Them

Major car defects can be frustrating. Not only can they take a while to repair, but they can also be expensive. However, no vehicle develops significant faults without early signs. Often, your vehicle gives you subtle indications of mechanical/electrical problems before they escalate. 

This fact reigns supreme for all parts of your vehicle’s system, including its transmission components. Thus, resolving simple transmission defects early could be the difference between spending a few hundred dollars on a new clutch and thousands of dollars on a complete transmission rebuild. 

Your car’s transmission is bound to develop faults due to wear and tear or inconsistent servicing. As a result, postponing transmission maintenance is a surefire way to set yourself up for major system defects. 

Call Nationwide Report’s Car Genius™ from RepairPal at 1-877-671-3040 from 9am-6pm ET, Monday through Friday. 

Common Signs of Transmission Problems

Here are some common signs your car may be having transmission issues: 

1. Clunking, Humming, and Whining

Not many things indicate a faulty vehicle like weird, unusual noises during operations. Depending on the car model, you may hear buzzing or humming sounds from its different components whenever there’s trouble lurking in the transmission system. 

For instance, you may notice loud mechanical sounds if your car has a manual transmission. An automatic transmission might denote humming noises whenever you try to shift gears. Furthermore, if the source of the clunking is the automobile’s underside, you may experience velocity differentials. 

If the noises occur while you’ve got the car in neutral, you either need a transmission fluid change or a significant fix from your mechanic. Regardless, don’t pass off a visit to your automobile technician till later because you feel the defect isn’t severe or want to see “how it goes.” 

Transmission rebuilds cost thousands of dollars, and you could end up needing one if you allow a small problem to develop into a significant fix. 

2. Shaking Motions or Grinding Sounds

Vehicle manufacturers design cars to move smoothly without start-stop jerks or shakes. Grinding noises aren’t part of a car’s make-up. If you experience any of these, you could have some gear trouble. 

Grinding noises are standard indicators of transmission problems, especially if they occur while you’re trying to shift gears. Worn-out gear synchronizes may also trigger these sounds. 

If the grinding occurs while engaging the clutch, your clutch may need replacing. For automatics, the vehicle may take some time to shift into gear. If you ignore the issue longer, the delays may worsen, and shaky motions may accompany them. 

Eventually, you may damage your gears completely if you don’t get an immediate fix. Visit your mechanic immediately whenever you notice grinding or shaky motions with your vehicle. 

3. Check Engine Light

A flashing Check Engine light is a scare most drivers want to avoid, especially if it’s a red indicator. 


Because it often indicates significant car trouble. 

Your vehicle has sensors across its components that alert it about unusual operating conditions, including problems with your transmission. You should visit your technician immediately the automobile’s computer indicates these transmission problems through the Check Engine light.

Interestingly, your car’s transmission sensors can pick up subtle jerks you may not notice. As such, even if you don’t experience anything when you see a flashing red Check Engine indicator, call your mechanic as soon as possible. 

Delaying this move could see you spend more than necessary on a repair that you could have avoided if you were proactive. Those seeking the DIY route could check for the issue without external aid if they’ve got a diagnostic scan tool. Connect the tool to the instrument panel, and you’ll get a code indicating the problem. 

4. Unresponsive Transmission

A well-functioning transmission should see your vehicle switch into gear immediately. There’s something wrong if you notice delays or unresponsiveness. Automatic transmissions often show delay signs to indicate trouble when you engage the gear. 

You’ll notice the same unresponsiveness with manual transmission, but there’ll also be a sporadic increase in the engine’s RPMs when the gears eventually engage. However, the vehicle’s speed won’t match the engine’s sound. 

Often, this unusual behavior points to a faulty clutch or some other serious defect. You can’t be certain till you visit your mechanic for routine transmission car maintenance. 

5. Leaking Fluids 

Your vehicle’s fluids are vital to its smooth operations. The Automatic Transmission Fluid (ATF) lubricates the transmission system, cleans the seals, and functions as a hydraulic fluid. As such, when there’s an ATF leak, you’ll experience a malfunctioning or inoperative engine or transmission breakdown. 

It’s not difficult to spot an ATF leak. The ATF has red coloration and a sweet smell. You’ll notice red puddles alongside the characteristic smell on your driveway if there’s a leak. You can resolve this by fixing the leaky compartment. 

However, it’s time to change the fluid if the puddles in your garage have darker colors alongside a burning smell. You may even need to execute repairs in some cases.

Also, you can still check for leaks even if you don’t notice fluid pools in your driveway. For automatic transmissions, drive the vehicle a short distance to get it warm and raise the hood. Afterward, use a dipstick to check fluid levels. Ensure your automobile is on level ground for this procedure.

If fluid levels are low due to a leak, add some extra ATF to facilitate smooth transmission system function until you visit a mechanic. If your car has a manual transmission, check fluid levels through the transmission case instead of using a dipstick. 

6. Dragging Clutch

Manual transmission systems typically experience clutch drags whenever the clutch disk doesn’t disengage from the flywheel after pressing the pedal. As such, it’s challenging to change gears since the clutch still spins with the engine. 

You’ll also typically experience grinding sounds alongside the drags. Other symptoms include hard starting and shifting. In some severe cases, you may notice engine stalls. 

This transmission problem typically results from unusual slack in the clutch pedal. This slack often leads to the clutch disk’s inability to detach from the flywheel. 

Other factors could also result in clutch drags, such as a warped flywheel, faulty clutch disk, damaged pressure plate fingers, and transmission mount faults. 

You should visit a mechanic once you notice this issue, although this transmission problem repair shouldn’t cost much. 

7. Burning Smells

You should be concerned whenever you perceive a burning odor coming from your vehicle’s engine. One common cause is overheated transmission fluid. When the fluid degrades, it overheats and increases friction, corrosive activity, and debris/sludge build up in the transmission compartment. 

Over time, your transmission system may break down and require an expensive fix. While low fluids can lead to this fault, using the wrong transmission fluid is also a typical cause. 

You can avoid an overheated transmission fluid and the resulting pricey transmission car repair by checking your car’s ATF levels monthly for low or burnt fluids. It helps to also check your driveway or underneath your vehicle for any puddles that indicate a leak. 

Furthermore, ensure you change your vehicle’s transmission fluid regularly. Ideally, you should get a new ATF every 30,000-60,000 miles. However, it’ll be best to change your vehicle’s transmission fluid every 15,000-20,000 miles if you use it in hot climates or a region known for stop-and-go traffic. 

Finally, change your vehicle’s radiator coolant every two years since it’s responsible for regulating the temperature of the ATF. It also helps to get an external transmission cooler if your car tows heavy loads.

8. Vehicle Fails to Shift Into Gear 

A faulty transmission system is a common reason automobiles fail to get into gear. Often, it’s a result of low or degraded transmission fluid. Contaminated or expired transmission fluid in your vehicle makes it challenging to shift into gear. If the transmission fluid isn’t contaminated, you may need to check the fluid levels. 

If you’ve added extra fluid recently but notice low ATF, there’s probably a leak somewhere you need to resolve. Other reasons your car won’t get into gear include a damaged shift lock in automatic transmission vehicles. 

The shift knob in automatic transmission cars locks whenever you put the automobile in park mode to prevent unintended gear shifts. However, the shift knob will disengage when you start the engine and press the brakes. That said, it could get stuck sometimes, causing the vehicle to fail to shift gears. 

A failed clutch master cylinder or torn linkage wire in manual cars could also lead to this problem. Damaged linkage wires could cause gear shifting issues in automatic transmissions, as well. 

9. Slipping Transmission

Transmission slips occur when you’re trying to change gears. Usually, the vehicle returns to the previous gear or switches to neutral. This issue is often the result of a faulty clutch in manual cars. However, you might experience this problem in automatics for several reasons.

Low fluid level is one of the common causes. The hydraulic pressure created by the ATF enables your car’s automatic transmission to change gears. If you don’t have enough fluid in the transmission system, the pressure deficiency makes it daunting to switch gears. 

Burnt or degraded transmission fluids are another common cause. Transmission fluids degrade with time and end up with several contaminants. 

As it loses its quality, it becomes too thin and unable to keep heat away from the transmission or cool the bands and clutch. As such, it’s nearly impossible to make gear shifts as the system becomes hotter. 

It’s unsafe to drive with a slipping transmission. Once you notice this defect, take your car to a professional mechanic immediately for a transmission car repair. 

What's the Cost of Transmission Replacements?

Transmission replacements are pricey. Depending on the vehicle’s make and model, you could spend as much as $15000- $30000. A salvage repair could cost around $1000, while a rebuilt transmission could cost up to $2800. You could spend as much as $3400 for a remanufactured transmission. 

Most rebuilds cost as much as a transmission replacement, mostly for high-end cars. However, you may not spend as much for a basic repair, especially if you’re fixing a manual vehicle. For instance, changing a manual car’s clutch could cost around $800. 

Factors That Affect Transmission Repair Costs

While transmission repairs can often be pricey, several factors account for these expensive repair fees. Some of them include: 

  • Vehicle Model 

Imported vehicles like Volkswagen or BMW, typically cost more to repair than US-manufactured brands, like Chrysler. 

  • Damage Level

Transmissions with significant defects are usually more expensive to repair than those with minor faults. Also, if you’ve not maintained your vehicle’s transmission for a while, issues that arise will gulp a substantial amount in repair expenses.

  • Automatic or Manual Transmission

Automatic transmission vehicles are more expensive to repair than their manual counterparts. 

  • Location/Technician’s Expertise

Some auto shops charge more to repair a vehicle due to their service quality. If you live in neighborhoods with high costs of living or a lack of skilled mechanics, you may also have to pay higher hourly fees for transmission car maintenance or repair. 

Differences Between Transmission Rebuilding and Remanufacturing

Transmission rebuilds typically involve removing the transmission compartment from the vehicle, disassembling it, and replacing damaged parts. Often, you’ll have your gaskets, bands, o-rings, and seals replaced in a transmission overhaul.  

You can execute a transmission rebuild in an auto shop, although the process takes around three days. However, the rebuild’s quality depends on your technician’s skills and reputation. In other words, you’re not likely to get a solid transmission refurbishing from an unqualified mechanic.

On the other hand, a remanufactured transmission involves restoring your car’s transmission to manufacturer standards in a factory. 

Some transmission remanufacturing typically includes upgrades against bugs, valve body modifications, and adding more durable parts to the compartments that led to the initial faults. 

As such, you’ll walk away with a transmission that’s good as new. Transmission remanufacturing typically takes around two days to complete. 


Your car’s transmission is a vital part of your vehicle. However, it’s often subject to defects due to wear and tear or lack of maintenance. You should get your automobile to a mechanic immediately if you notice any transmission trouble. 

No matter how subtle the symptom may seem, allowing it to linger could lead to significant defects. Transmission faults can be challenging and more pricey to fix when they escalate. Get your car to a mechanic once you notice a transmission problem to avoid unnecessary repair costs.

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