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10 Warning Signs of a Bad Transmission

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Many drivers are unaware of the warning signs when it comes to transmission repairs. A bad transmission can cause serious issues with your vehicle and even result in an accident. Here are ten typical signs that the transmission in your vehicle needs to be repaired.

1. Your Vehicle Is Leaking Transmission Fluid

Leaks are among the most noticeable symptoms of a failing transmission. Any leaks in transmission fluid should be taken seriously because it is essential to your vehicle's proper operation. A transmission fluid leak can cause significant damage.

Take your vehicle to a mechanic or dealership for inspection if you're unsure where the leak is coming from. In the meantime, check the level of your transmission fluid frequently and top it off as necessary. With the right maintenance, you can keep your vehicle in proper working order and prevent expensive repairs.

2. Shifting Gears May Cause Shaking or Grinding

When changing gears, your vehicle may shake or grind, which could indicate a transmission issue. It's crucial to pay attention to any odd noises or sensations your car is making because transmission issues can be so expensive to repair. Take your vehicle to a mechanic to have it inspected if shifting gears cause any extent of shaking or grinding.

3. Your Vehicle Is Releasing a Burning Smell

It's imperative to act immediately if you notice a burning smell coming from your vehicle. Ignoring this could result in costly repairs or even a complete breakdown of your vehicle if there is a serious issue with it.

The odor could be coming from a variety of sources: simple causes like an overheated engine or more serious ones like an oil leak are both possible. It's advisable to take your vehicle to a mechanic and have them have a look if you're unsure of the cause. It's never a wise idea to ignore a burning smell emanating from your vehicle. Take immediate action if you become aware of this problem to prevent further harm.

4. Your Vehicle Won’t Shift Into Gear

One of the most crucial parts of your vehicle is the transmission. If it isn't functioning properly, your vehicle won't shift into the intended gear. It's crucial to identify the issue so you can have it fixed because there are a few things that could be keeping your vehicle from changing gears. The clutch on your vehicle may not be properly engaged. This could be another sign of a faulty transmission because the vehicle won't be able to shift into gear if the clutch is not engaged.

There's also a chance that the shifter cables are damaged or broken. The vehicle might not be able to shift into gear if the shifter cables are damaged because they may be unable to securely connect the shifter to the transmission.

If your vehicle is refusing to engage in gear, it's critical to take it to a mechanic so they can diagnose the problem and fix it.

5. The Check Engine Light Is On

The onboard diagnostic system in your vehicle has identified a problem if the check engine light is on. Simple causes like a loose gas cap or more serious issues like a broken sensor could be the cause of this.

In either case, it's crucial to have a mechanic examine the issue right away. Your check engine light could also come on as a result of transmission issues. The engine control module (ECM), the primary computer in your car, communicates with system sensors to make sure everything is working properly. The check engine light will come on if the transmission sensors signal a problem, according to the ECM.

6. Humming or Shaking When in Neutral

Is the manual transmission in your vehicle noisy when it's in neutral? If you release the clutch while the car is in neutral, do you hear any humming or shaking?

If the answer to any of these questions is "yes," it could be a warning sign of a bad transmission. A qualified technician should perform a full inspection on your vehicle because there might indicate a problem with the its engine, transmission, or other components.

7. Inability to Shift up the Gears

It could be a sign of a bad transmission and could cause a lot of issues if you can't shift gears up properly while driving. One reason is that you might not be able to accelerate as quickly as you should, which can be risky in some circumstances.

Furthermore, improper gearshifting can make your engine work harder than it needs to, which can result in early wear and tear.

Typical gear selector for an automatic transmission

Typical gear selector for an automatic transmission

8. No Response From the Gearbox

The vehicle is malfunctioning if it hesitates or makes no response at all when attempting to shift gears, and a bad transmission is frequently to blame. In a manual transmission vehicle, this delayed shifting is accompanied by an increase in RPM and untimely engine noise.

Valve sticking, which prevents shifts from occurring when they should, is a common cause of delayed shifting. The shift solenoids that are used to initiate shifts on more recent vehicles, which use computers to control shifts, might be the source of the issue. It might also be your clutch, but the only way to be certain is to bring it in for service.

9. Unusual Transmission Noises

Unusual transmission noises are frequently a sign that the fluid levels in the transmission need to be checked.

Usually, a noise in the transmission lines is brought on by an abundance of air. If there is a transmission leak or if you forget to check the transmission fluid level, the problem might occur.

But it might be a more serious issue. The sound could be a transmission failure if it sounds like humming, buzzing, or clunking. While manual transmissions produce harsher "clunking" sounds, faulty automatic transmissions may make humming, buzzing, or whining noises.

10. Other Dashboard Warning Lights

It's crucial to pay attention to the warning lights on your dashboard while driving. These lights can save you money on repairs by letting you know when something is wrong with your car.

If the automatic transmission warning light on your car is on, it usually indicates that there may be a problem with the fluid level, pressure, or temperature.

Check your owner's manual to learn what a warning light means and what you should do if you see one. Ignoring a warning light could cause major problems.


Knowing what to do when you notice some of these signs of a bad transmission may be challenging. But thankfully, it's simpler than you might imagine. If you notice any of these typical indications of a bad transmission, take your car into the shop for a full diagnosis and repair.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Louise