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Automatic Transmission Problems

Automatic Transmission Problems
06 January, 2022

Over the last few decades, drivers have opted for automatic transmissions over manual ones.  This trend has changed the relationship many people have with their vehicles.  In the past, drivers using the stick shift were directly connected to their vehicle’s performance through the clutch and the gear shifter.  Despite the evolution toward automatics, this vehicle system is still one of the hardest working and most complex of all the vehicle systems and can develop problems.

Today’s automatic transmissions are built to be tough but are impacted by wear and tear through constant motion and heat.  In this month’s blog, we cover basic transmission problems and ways to stay on top of your vehicle’s transmission health.

Transmission Problems

Your vehicle’s transmission can be pretty telling when there’s something wrong with it – either through sight, sound, sensation, or sometimes smells.

Things you can see:

  • Dashboard Warnings: One of the easiest signs of a problem with your transmission is the Check Engine light or another specific warning that lights up on your dashboard.  These warning should always be handled promptly with a service professional, as they may pose a safety issue to the vehicle or result in costly damages.
  • Fluid Levels: It is advisable to check your transmission fluid level at least once a month.  Dropping levels may be from normal burn off but could also be from a possible leak.  Consult with your vehicle owner’s manual for specific fluid levels.   If you notice consistent drops in fluid level over time, there’s likely a leak somewhere in the transmission.
  • Leaks: If you park in the same spot regularly, it is helpful to keep an eye on the ground beneath your vehicle.  If you notice reddish coloured stains, this may indicate a fluid leak.  Transmission fluid is a vital component of the transmission to protect moving parts from heat and friction.   Healthy transmission fluid is a translucent reddish colour fluid, with a sweet smell.


Things you can hear:

  • Unusual sounds during acceleration or deceleration: The gears in your transmission may become misaligned or damaged from wear and tear.  Many times transmission components make distinctive sounds during operation.  These sounds may include whining, clunking, rattling, humming, or grinding.

Things you can feel:

  • Grinding: When your gears and other transmission components are damaged, or perhaps low on fluid, it will be more difficult to shift gears.  You will feel a jarring or grinding sensation as the vehicle tries to shift.
  • Slipping: On the opposite end of grinding, damaged components may cause the transmission to “slip” or not stay in a specific gear.

How to Keep Your Transmission Healthy

Despite the problems that can arise within your automatic transmission, you can be proactive through ongoing maintenance to maintain the health of your vehicle’s transmission.

Make sure to follow these three steps on a regular basis:

  1. Stay alert to sights, sounds, and sensations. Address them promptly.
  2. Check transmission fluid levels monthly.
  3. For an automatic transmission, you ought to change your fluid every 50,000-100,000 km or every two years.
  4. For manual transmissions, you should change the fluid about every 50,000-90,000 km, however, under intense use, some manufacturers suggest changing it as often as every 25,000 km. The reason for the difference between automatic and manual transmissions is because they take different fluids. Automatic transmissions take –get this– automatic transmission fluid. For manuals, it is a bit more complicated. They might take any of a variety of oils: regular motor oil, heavyweight hypoid gear oil, or even automatic transmission fluid in some cases. Your owner’s manual will tell you which is best for your transmission.

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