Tech The Top 7 Signs of Transmission Trouble  

Richard Rowe
7 items

Transmission repair can be the most expensive repair of your car ownership experience. This kind of cost can be devastating, so be sure to recognize the signs of transmission trouble before it's too late.  

If your transmission starts slipping, it might be time to take your car in for a tune-up. Your car may feel like it's struggling or changing gears for no reason, and your engine might start to making whining sounds. If your transmission fluid is giving off a slightly burnt smell, that's a sign that you could definitely be in some trouble as well.  

You can't rely on your check engine light to tell you when your transmission might be having some issues. Sometimes, no light can actually prove that there's something wrong. Recognizing these signs of transmission failure can help you save a ton of money in the long run, so be sure to check out this list of signs of transmission trouble below, and be sure to let us know what you think in the comment section.  


Slipping is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list The Top 7 Signs of Transmission Trouble
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One of the classic signs of transmission failure is slippage. When your transmission slips, you might feel your RPM rising without any acceleration, almost as if the engine wasn't connected to the wheels. 


Whining is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list The Top 7 Signs of Transmission Trouble
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"Cavitation" (or "whine") happens when air bubbles get mixed into the transmission fluid. Those air bubbles burst in the torque converter with millions of tiny, constant sonic booms. That's the whine you'll hear when your transmission fluid is low, or when the torque converter is malfunctioning and churning the fluid. Overheated transmission fluid will thin out and cause cavitation as well, and a malfunctioning pump will trap fluid in the converter and cause it to heat up. More often than not though, whine (especially accompanied by slippage) is due to low fluid levels. 

Burnt Fluid

Burnt Fluid is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list The Top 7 Signs of Transmission Trouble
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When you check your transmission fluid, it should be viscous, red, or reddish brown, and smell more or less like motor oil. But if its runny, brown and smells like burnt toast, there's a possibility that your transmission is almost "toast" as well. Overheated transmission fluid loses its lubrication, and will fry your clutches if left in. Change it ASAP, but do NOT do a full transmission fluid flush. The new fluid won't mix with the burned fluid soaked into your clutches, and the transmission may self-destruct within 50 miles of driving. 

Hard Shifting

Hard Shifting is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list The Top 7 Signs of Transmission Trouble
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Hard shifting usually happens for one of two reasons: Either the transmission is shifting too high in the RPM range, or there's something awry with the shift circuit itself. Most cars these days use electronic shift solenoids, so tracking down a bad shift circuit is usually pretty easy if it's only one gear. But if your transmission seems to shift at a consistently higher RPM than it should, check out your wheel speed sensor(s), crankshaft/camshaft position sensors, and throttle position sensor. Something might not be recording the right speed or throttle application.