Intellectuals solve problems, geniuses prevent them.-Albert Einstein
When it comes to problems we all face with automobiles, we should take a little hint from our good friend Einstein. The best solution to a problem is ensuring you prevent the problem from ever arising. For automobiles, this means providing your vehicle with proper maintenance and routine check ups. In this way, before a problem has the opportunity to arise, you can mitigate the headache, hassle, and cost of repairs.
With that said, when it comes to transmissions, perhaps one of the most feared of all automotive parts due to its complexity, there are certain things to be on the lookout for. Signs that will tell you something is wrong or amiss, and if acted upon, you can significantly reduce further damage to your vehicle by driving not driving it prior to repairs being made. So without further ado, let's discuss some common problems that occur with transmissions, and the signs to be on the lookout for.
Common Transmission Problems
Low fluid levels are perhaps one of the most common culprits for transmission problems. Generally, this is due to either poor maintenance or fluid leaking due to damage. Seals may dry out, other fluids could contaminate the transmission fluid itself, or they've simply run low. Either way, this is one of the first places to inspect when transmission trouble arises.
Torque converter problems can arise due to a lack of tuning and maintenance and result in worn or damaged needle bearings. Solenoid problems arise when the solenoid becomes damaged causing insufficient fluid levels. If your transmissions fluid levels are low, and there are no obvious leaks, it may be caused by the solenoid. Finally, clutch problems can occur and generally result in the vehicle not shifting properly or jamming. When a clutch problem occurs, your vehicle can shake tremendously and you may notice a significant reduction in the power output of your engine.
Signs Worth Knowing That Your Transmission Needs Maintenance
Unable To Shift Gears Easily
One of the most obvious signs that your transmission is failing is when the gears refuse to shift, or are difficult to shift. Every gear may not have a problem, and a single gear or small range may be problematic. This just means that within those gear ranges, something is broken or is having trouble. Again, one of the common reasons for this would be insufficient fluid levels or even the wrong type of fluid. Also the shifting cables may need to be tightened or clutch linkage adjusted.
Any time you smell anything funny coming from your car, you should be alarmed. But if you can distinguish the smell of burning transmission fluid, then you'll probably immediately understand what the problem is. Essentially, if your transmission fluids are burning, that simply means your transmission is overheating. Transmission fluid is not only used for its lubricant, but also for its cooling property, and if that's overheating, you definitely have an issue. This can be caused by obviously a low level of fluid, but can also be attributed to dirty or contaminated fluid as well.
Noises When in Neutral
Along with smells, if you hear the vehicle making abnormal sounds, that should raise alarm. Depending on the sound determines the extent of the problem. As you would imagine, a single less noticeable sound may indicate a lesser issue, but if you hear a lot of rattling, you may well have a serious problem on your hands. Sounds can be attributed to damaged or worn reverse idler, worn bearings, and even damaged or worn gear teeth.
If your vehicle is driving, and you notice the gear pop into neutral, you have a big problem. The gear teeth for a certain gear or range of gears may so worn that they can no longer catch or hold. This is harder to notice in automatics, as the computer will determine the rpm range to shift, and the driver may be unaware. But this is quite noticeable in manual transmission vehicles.
Inability To Disengage Clutch
When your clutch drags, this means that the clutch is unable to disengage from the flywheel even when the clutch pedal is fully engaged. Generally this is due to there being a loose clutch pedal. If this becomes too loose, the linkage between the pedal and the clutch itself don't have the tension required to pull the clutch from the flywheel. It will also generally make a terrible grinding noise when attempting to shift. So this problem at first may be a cheap fix, but if left unattended, can cause further serious damage.
If you are able to notice your transmission fluid leaking, this is perhaps the easiest way to determine your vehicle needs maintenance. Other factors to consider when checking your transmission fluids beyond the level are the fluids consistency, color and odor. If the fluid is thick, grimy, dark colored, or burnt smelling, than there may be other problems beyond the fluid actually leaking.
Check Engine Light Turns On
Though it often disregarded, when the check engine light in your vehicle turns on, that means something is wrong, even if it doesn't seem it. In the least, the check engine light is broken. But there are sensors that read and montior many parts and aspects of your vehicle, including your transmission. So when it turns on, be sure to understand its not always crying wolf. Head your vehicles call for help, and you won't be cursing later when it fails you.
Shaking Or Grinding When Shifting
If upon shifting, your vehicle makes a shake or sounds of grinding occur, this should be noted. As you probably understand by now, there are many factors which can cause a transmission to fail or problems to arise. Shaking can be due to damaged gears finally catching and engaging, while grinding can be those same gears failing to engage altogether. In essence, when you shift gears, the vehicle is supposed to make a seamless transition. If it doesn't, something is wrong.
The author of this article is Damien S. Wilhelmi. If you enjoyed this piece you can follow me on Twitter @JakabokBotch. When im not writing about automobile problems, im usually working in my Arvada transmission repair shop, learning more to share with you all.