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Transmission Trouble Signs You Shouldn't Ignore

If you're like most people, car trouble is high on your list of the things that give you headaches. Not only does car trouble put a damper on your day, and seriously slow things down, but it usually means you have to empty your pockets of all your cash.

While some issues, such as a flat tire, are a relatively easy fix, others aren't so much. Take your vehicle's transmission, for example. No matter if you drive an automatic or manual, they are usually the more complicated issues to fix. Plus, if you choose to ignore certain signs that point to transmission issues, it can lead to even larger problems for the function and safety of your car.
Besides being potentially costly, when you have transmission issues, especially serious ones, it can disrupt your normal routine, making getting to and from your obligations impossible.

However, when you listen to what your transmission is telling you, along with taking proper care of it, you will be better able to maintain efficient upkeep or, at the very least, address the problem early on, before it causes more harm.

Below, we have included all the warning signs that signal something is seriously off, along with a quick lesson on what exactly your transmission does for your vehicle.

Transmission 101

You probably have a vague idea as to what your transmission is, and you more than likely understand that when your vehicle has transmission issues, it means big trouble. However, most people's knowledge stops there.

Transmission 101

Before we get into the warning signs, we'll briefly go over what your transmission does, so you have a better understanding of what it means when it starts displaying signs of distress. The first thing to remember is that there are two types of transmissions: automatic and manual.

Automatic Transmissions

Automatic TransmissionsAutomatic transmissions are the most common type, and most brand new cars have them. However, they are more complicated, and rely on a torque converter to engage the engine and gears.

The torque converter is a complicated system but, in short, it works like this: When the engine is spinning slowly, very little torque is used in the converter and, likewise, when the engine is quickly spinning, just about all of the engine's torque is converted into the transmission. This explains why your vehicle may creep while idling or when in drive. That is the torque which is being applied to the shaft.

Since the torque controls the engine's input, the gears inside the transmission are left for the output job, without interference from the driver.

The gears in an automatic are connected to the engine's input through a series of internal clutches that also rely on a computer and hydraulic system. Together, this complicated system determines the gear ratio that connects the appropriate shaft to the wheels.

Manual Transmissions

Manual Transmissions

A manual transmission is the simpler of the two in both construction and function. The basic structure of a manual transmission comes down to a set of gears, and the input and output shafts. The gears on the input shaft engage with those on the output shaft. The result when these two gears are engaged with their respective shafts determines the gear.

Those who drive a manual transmission select gears by moving a shift lever. Moving this lever engages linkage that controls the gears on the input shaft. This allows you to go forward and backward, and the driver moves the lever left and right.

In order to engage a gear, the driver has to apply the clutch pedal. This allows the input shaft gears to move, and disconnects the power from the engine to the transmission. Then the driver selects which gear is necessary – first, third, reverse, and so on – and releases the clutch, which then allows the car to function in the desired way.

This is the main difference between the two. While an automatic transmission relies on a torque converter, the manual relies on clutches, but what's important to remember is that a transmission is a vital part of any vehicle.

Without it, the energy from the engine doesn't make it to the wheels, which enables your car to move and function. So, if you notice any signs that your transmission may be in trouble, it's always in your best interest to get it checked out as soon as possible.

Signs to Watch Out For in an Automatic Transmission

Ignoring automatic transmission issues leads you down a road of wasted time and money fixing the issue. If you experience any one of these signs, be sure to get your transmission checked immediately. A fast fix may save you a load of cash in the long run.

Rough shifting

One of the very first signs you might notice, when an automatic transmission is in need of repair, is rough shifting. This can be subtle at first, but with time it will become increasingly more obvious.

Shuddering when you switch between gears along with an audible “clunk” when changing gears are the first signs. You may also notice that your car has a harder time picking up momentum.

It's hard to tell exactly what the issue is, as the cause could be a few different things. For one, it might be a fluid problem, which is a simpler fix. However, when your car won't go into gear, or has a hard time doing so, it also indicates that it could be an issue with the clutch linkage shift cables or the computer system.

Delayed engagement

Delayed engagement is a stall of a few seconds when you shift from park to drive. Usually, during that delay, you'll hear the engine rev when you press on the gas, but the car doesn't move like it normally does.

Luckily, this is an obvious issue – it won't be hard to miss it – and it can quickly be taken care of if you catch it early. However, the delay will get worse the longer you let it go on.

Fluid leaks

Transmissions are a closed system unit. Therefore, if you suspect your transmission is leaking, that's one of the most reliable signs you have to warn you of a serious issue. The fluid in your transmission's system not only lubricates all the working parts, but keeps the system cool.

If you notice puddles or stains under your car, that's a good indicator there may be a leak. However, it helps to determine if the leak is active and/or coming from the transmission. Transmission fluid looks pink, red, or even dark brown. It might have a sweet smell – if everything is functioning as is – or it might smell burnt, which indicates that the fluid needs to be replaced.

Even if you suspect that your transmission fluid is leaking, but aren't totally sure, bring your vehicle to a trusty automotive repair shop. If you let the leaks continue, it can cause irreversible damage to your transmission. Whether there is a leak or the fluid needs to be replaced, be sure to leave that up to your trusted mechanic. Even just overfilling the fluids can lead to a detrimental issue for your transmission.

Slipping gears

When your automatic transmission is slipping, it feels like you're driving in one gear and, all of a sudden, it changes for no reason. There might be an accompanying whining from the engine, or your vehicle might seem like it's struggling or isn't accelerating as it should.

If you experience this, you should immediately take your car to a mechanic. Gears that slip compromise your safety, as they cannot catch one another. Needless to say, this is extremely dangerous.

Over time, the gear's teeth are ground down or break, which cause slippage. Additionally, riding around with slipping gears, along with being dangerous, can also further damage the transmission. While the other issues don't immediately threaten your safety, this one will. Don't hesitate to get your transmission repaired if you experience this warning sign.

Burning smell

A burning smell is an obvious sign that something is wrong. One of the most common reasons that you experience a burning smell is from the transmission. When the transmission fluid is dirty and overheats, it doesn't do a great job of lubricating the parts or cooling them down. If you continue to drive with dirty transmission fluid, the transmission will become damaged, and you'll notice the burnt smell.

Noise in neutral

Last, if you hear a bumping sound while your car is in neutral, it's a sign that you need to get your transmission looked at. This noise could be due to dirty fluid or worn parts in the transmission.

Beware of the warning light

While a sole flash of the Check Engine light doesn't necessarily mean there is an issue with the transmission, if you see the light while experiencing one or more of these signs it might indicate a serious problem. If this happens, it's best to have the transmission checked out before making the problem worse.

Signs to Watch Out For in a Manual Transmission

Since manual transmissions differ from automatic ones, they do give off different warning signs. However, just as with automatic transmissions, if you experience any of these in your vehicle, be sure to promptly get it checked out. Ignoring problems only makes them worse.

Clunking, humming, whining

Manual cars might make more noise, over automatic transmission; however, if you hear humming, whining, or clunking, there's a good chance there is trouble with the transmission. It's always a good idea to have noises checked out, especially if you have never heard them before.

Shaking or grinding

For manual transmissions, one of the most common signs that indicate there is something wrong is grinding when you shift gears. You shouldn't hear grinding, and your car shouldn't shake or jerk.

While these could be signs of a faulty clutch, they just as easily could indicate a larger problem within the transmission itself. Be sure to have your transmission inspected if you hear grinding after shifting or if the vehicle shakes.


If you notice the vehicle hesitates before shifting, it usually means there is an issue with the clutch. Which, most of the time, is an easier fix. However, it also might point to some transmission trouble, so be sure to have it checked out, and don't let it go on for too long.


Just as with an automatic transmission, a manual transmission can experience slippage. While the experience might be slightly different, it's still just as dangerous.

Your transmission is supposed to stay in gear until you shift gears yourself. However, if you notice that it is slipping in and/or out of gear while you're not shifting gears, then you need to have it checked out immediately.

Check Engine light

Again, this is worth repeating. Your Check Engine light shouldn't be ignored. While it could indicate an issue with another part of your vehicle, if you see it and experience any of these manual warning signs, it's a good indicator that something is wrong.

It's vitally important to take care of your transmission. Even minor issues, when ignored, can become worse with time. Listen to what your vehicle has to say, and properly take care of it for maximum safety, efficient handling, and longevity.

Turn to Mavis Discount Tire for all your transmission repairs and other automotive needs. From easy maintenance such as oil changes and tire rotation, to transmission maintenance and suspension system repair, you want to trust a qualified, reliable automotive repair shop.

Being a family owned and operated business for over 50 years and having 24 convenient locations throughout Central Florida, we strive to be that shop for you!

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