Picture this: you’re driving down the road and everything is going great. Then, suddenly, something feels a little “off.” The vehicle starts rumbling and making funny noises – holy cow! There’s smoke coming from under the hood, or your vehicle suddenly stops moving forward. What just happened? It might be your transmission. Here’s how to spot the signs of a failing transmission and what to do about it.
A Slipping Transmission
If your transmission won’t stay in gear, this is a very bad sign, but it isn’t always a serious transmission problem. Sometimes, the issue is the torque converter or the clutch. These are wear items and are designed to be replaced over time. Basically, the clutch or torque converter contains a disc made of friction material. This material is constantly in contact with a flywheel which connects to axles and eventually to your wheels which propel your vehicle forward. Eventually, the disc loses its ability to “grab” onto the flywheel. When that happens, the disc will just spin and spin, and you won’t go anywhere.
If your vehicle has a lot of kilometres on it (over 100,000), expect to replace the clutch or torque converter, depending on whether you have a manual or automatic.
But, if your clutch or TC is new, then you may have other problems that need the eyes of a trained transmission specialist.
You See Pink Fluid On The Ground Under The Engine
Over 90 percent of all automatic transmission failures happen because of an overheating transmission. Usually, the underlying cause of that overheating is because there’s a fluid problem. Fluid level problems can be caused by any number of things, but the most obvious is leaking.
When you engage a gear with a manual transmission, you should not have any problems getting it to go into gear. It should be relatively smooth. Some transmissions are a little “notchy,” but this is perfectly normal. If the transmission won’t stay in gear, however, it may be time to look under the vehicle.
Put it in neutral, and engage the parking brake. Pop your head under the chassis and look around. Do you see anything dripping?
Try to roll the vehicle out of the way (don’t forget to disengage the parking break), and see if you see a pink fluid on the ground. If you do, this is transmission fluid. It’s the sign of a leak. You’ll have to take your vehicle to a repair shop and have some seals replaced.
A note about additives: There are a lot of companies out there right now selling additives promising to stop leaks with a simple bottle of stuff that you pour into your transmission fluid fill line. The long and short of it is that these fluids are a gamble. Anecdotes aside, there’s no real solid data showing that they work over the long-term or at all. You could be wasting your money and, more importantly, the only real fix is to find the seal that’s leaking and replace it.
A burnt smell coming from your engine could be either oil from the engine or transmission fluid. If you have an automatic transmission, this is easy to check. Pull the transmission fluid dipstick out of the transmission from under the hood and give it a whiff. If it smells burnt, then it’s time to add transmission fluid and take it in to a shop for an inspection.
If you have a manual transmission, inspection is a bit trickier. You may have to get under the vehicle, unscrew a fill bolt, and check the fluid that way.
An Engine Light Comes On
When the engine light comes on, it can mean any number of things. One of those things can be a transmission problem. The only sure-fire way to diagnose a check engine light is to take it in to a shop to have a diagnostic tool read the error being sent to the vehicle’s computer. If a transmission problem is found, it can be fixed. But, leaving it go will only cause more problems down the road – usually, those problems will be more expensive than if you had just taken care of the transmission issue immediately.
Cooper Metters is a self-confessed car fanatic. When he’s not tinkering on his own vehicle, he’s writing about it on the web. You can read his informative and entertaining posts on many online blogs and websites.