AAMCO Centers of Southern California


AAMCO Centers of Southern California


When you head out on the road, knowing the warning signs of possible transmission problems can help keep you safe on the highway— and avoid costly repairs. In this article, we will break down the top 6 reasons for transmission failure, and what steps you should take to make sure you don’t end up on the side of the road.

AAMCO Socal  | 11/13/2020  | Transmission Advice

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The automobile is a mechanical marvel: a complex combination of automation and human ingenuity that has given humans the ability to travel great distances that few in the course of history could have ever imagined.

Within each vehicle are many intricate and unique pieces of equipment that keep the car moving safely and efficiently. None is more vital to the overall integrity of your vehicle than the transmission.

What Is A Transmission?

There are two main types of transmissions in modern vehicles - the manual and automatic transmission. Manual transmissions were introduced in the early 1920s, and utilize a gearbox and clutch that allow for shifting between gears while accelerating and decelerating. A manual transmission’s intricacies require a smooth hand and acute timing to ensure the engagement of gears at the right intervals.

The need to manually shift was replaced with the now-common automatic transmission, which uses a complex torque system that moves transmission fluid between the gears and clutch through a torque converter — allowing the engine to seamlessly transition between gears as needed.

The more-advanced automatic transmission system provides greater ease of control while driving, but the complex elements that make up the system can be prone to deterioration and breakdown if not properly serviced. The key to ensuring that a vehicle’s automatic transmission continues to work correctly is by noting the common warning signs of impending failure.

Top 6  Reasons For Transmission Failure

While there are a variety of reasons that transmission failure may occur in any given vehicle, here are the top six reasons for the most common transmission issues:

1. Leaking Transmission Fluid

The automatic transmission system may be leaking fluid, leading to a deterioration of the transmission’s ability to power the torque converter and shift between gears.

2. Old Transmission Fluid

A car’s transmission fluid may not be leaking, but if the quality of the transmission fluid is poor, then it will have difficulty operating at its full potential.

3. Dirty Transmission Filter

For the transmission system to operate effectively, a clean transmission filter is required. A dirty or clogged transmission filter will quickly cause the transmission system to break down and ultimately fail.

4. Worn or Damaged Gears

If the gears of your transmission are old, worn, or damaged, they may have difficulty shifting properly or responding to the transmission torque system when activated. This could potentially lead to broken gears that could damage the transmission and engine.

5. Worn Clutch

The clutch system in an automatic transmission is a complex piece of equipment. Should the clutch begin to wear down or become damaged, then the transmission will not respond properly when engaged.

6. Failing Torque Converter

Similar to the clutch system, the torque converter can also experience issues due to lack of maintenance, age, and other unforeseen damage. Not having the transmission system checked regularly can be detrimental to the torque converter.

Warning Signs of Transmission Failure

Now that you know the top reasons for transmission failure, what should one watch out for when determining if the transmission is going bad? There are several tell-tale warning signs of possible transmission issues:

  1. The Transmission Warning Light or Check Engine Light flicks on.
  2. You notice a consistent leaking of transmission fluid coming from the vehicle. A trained mechanic will ensure that you know what kind of liquid is leaking from the vehicle.
  3. Any unexpected dinging, rattling, or clunking noises. These noises may be a sign of an issue. 
  4. When shifting between gears, you begin to notice that the shifting feels uneven, difficult to complete, or will not shift at all when engaged. 
  5. If you notice any slipping of gears while accelerating, immediately seek professional help to avoid any possibility of damaging the transmission.

How To Avoid Transmission Trouble & Failure

Transmission issues are not a matter of if so much as when they will occur, especially as your vehicle ages or the miles rack up. However, you can take some proactive steps to ensure that your vehicle’s transmission system — and other essential pieces of equipment — experience a long life by taking some simple and essential steps:

1. Never Skip Routine Maintenance 

The best preventative step you can take for your vehicle is to take it in for manufacturer or dealer-recommended maintenance routinely. Your owner’s manual should have information regarding the regularity of recommended service.

2. Watch for Early Warning Signs of Trouble

Take note of the list of warning signs above. By knowing what to look out for, you can prevent problems from getting out of hand early.

3. Practice Responsible Driving

Help extend the life of your transmission system by practicing responsible driving behaviors. Avoid driving with loads heavier than the vehicle can handle, attempting any burnouts, and shifting while the car is in motion.

4. Seek the Aid of a Professional

While there are many how-to and DIY resources available, the transmission in your vehicle is a complicated piece of machinery that should only be serviced by a trained and experienced mechanic. A skilled professional who has experience working with your vehicle can properly identify and address any issues with your car as they arise. You can drive with confidence by regularly seeing a mechanic to ensure your vehicle’s transmission is in top shape. 

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