7 Signs Your Car’s Transmission Is in Trouble

A mechanic working underneath a vehicle that is raised on a lift.

From solenoids, catalytic converters, and head gaskets, there are plenty of components within a vehicle that you most likely have heard of but may not be sure what they do. Similarly, many drivers don’t know exactly what a transmission does, despite it being a critical component.

Every day car owners across the country are unaware of the warning signs that their transmission may be in trouble. And, failing to identify potential transmission issues before they occur properly could leave you facing upwards of nearly $5,000 for a replacement.

Before diagnosing any problems with your transmission, it’s vital to understand what it does and what type you have.

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What Is a Transmission and How Does It Work?

While many drivers believe their vehicle’s engine is the only thing that helps make it move, that’s not the case. Along with the engine, your vehicle’s drivetrain is needed to make your car drive. Along with other components such as the differential, driveshaft, axles, and wheels, your transmission is one of the critical parts of your car, truck, or SUV’s drivetrain. That’s because, without a transmission, the power produced by the engine would have nowhere to go, resulting in overheating or other severe damages.

Acting as the “gearbox” for your engine, your car’s transmission is what converts the power produced in the engine to the wheels helping to move your vehicle forward (or backward). To do this, your transmission shifts “gears,” which allows your vehicle to control the amount of power going to the wheels when driving. Lower gears allow your vehicle to get the power needed to move from a complete stop, while higher gears allow your vehicle to move at higher speeds with less resistance.

Types of Transmissions

There are two main types of transmission found in vehicles automatic and manual transmissions. Manual transmissions are the most basic type of transmission as they utilize a clutch pedal and a shifter (sometimes referred to as a stick shift) to allow drivers to shift gears manually. This type of transmission requires being constantly aware of their vehicle, as failing to shift gears or incorrectly shifting could damage your vehicle.

On the other hand, automatic transmissions are often much larger and are more expensive to repair despite being easier to use. This is because automatic transmissions have more working/moving parts that allow you to bypass the need to manually shift gears, resulting in a higher chance for wear and tear damages or other issues to occur. Some newer vehicles with automatic transmissions allow you to manually switch gears without using a clutch by using paddle shifters found on their steering wheel.

Protect yourself and your vehicle from transmission failure with an Endurance auto protection plan. Cover your vehicle from unexpected breakdowns and costly repairs bills outside of your regular auto insurance coverage. Each Endurance plan can help protect your vehicle’s most vital components — including your engine and transmission.

What Are the Warning Signs of Transmission Failure?

Staying up-to-date on your vehicle’s essential maintenance is one of the best ways to avoid any potential transmission issues. Not only that, failing to maintain your vehicle properly can result in voiding your factory warranty, vehicle service contract, or extended warranty. Recognizing the warning signs of potential transmission issues can also help you avoid expensive repairs in the future.

To help you be better prepared, some of the more common signs of transmission trouble to look out for include:

1.   Transmission Will Not Shift Gears

One of the most common transmission problems you can diagnose occurs when the gears do not shift properly, or they fail to shift at all. If you have an automatic transmission, you will notice this when your engine begins to “rev” higher than usual when it should be shifting to a new gear. For manual transmissions, you may not be able to put the vehicle into gear at all, which can cause your car to feel like it is lunging forward or kicking back.

2.   Leaking Transmission Fluid under Car

Finding fluids under your vehicle is never a good sign. Identifying what color fluid is leaking under your car will give you a quick indication of potential culprits. When it comes to transmission fluids, you will notice a red or brown fluid similar to engine oil. The red hue comes from a dye that manufacturers add to the fluid so that you can easily distinguish it from engine oil.

3.   Check Engine Light Turns On

Check Engine Light

A check engine light is always an indicator of an issue in your vehicle. Using your owner’s manual will allow you to quickly determine what each light means on your vehicle’s dashboard. When a check engine light comes on, you should take your vehicle to a certified repair facility or ASE Certified mechanic for a diagnostic exam.

Save on the cost of your next diagnostic exam with an EnduranceAdvantage™ auto protection plan. Along with providing comprehensive breakdown protection for your car’s mechanical components, each EnduranceAdvantage package comes with up to $3,500 in regular maintenance coverage. That means you can get routine services like engine diagnostic exams, tire rotations, alignment checks, and more covered — at no additional cost.

4.   Vibrations Felt in Shifter While Driving

A manual stick shift.

While more common in manual transmissions, vibrations felt in the shifter are usually an indication of a problem with your drivetrain components. This can be anything from a worn-out transmission mount to a loose component within your drivetrain. If you are noticing vibrations in your shifter, have your vehicle looked at by a professional immediately.

5.   Burning Smell Coming from Transmission

Any burning smell coming from your vehicle should be inspected immediately by a certified mechanic. If possible, stop driving the vehicle and have it towed to your local shop to prevent even more damage. A burning smell coming from your transmission usually indicates that something is not being lubricated properly. This can be from a lack of transmission fluid or two components rubbing up against each other with no fluid.

6.   Transmission Shakes While Being Driven

Similar to feeling vibrations in your shifter, if you notice that your transmission is shaking while being driven, there is most likely a problem. This can be caused by various issues and will require a certified technician or repair facility to diagnose and repair as soon as possible. 

7.   Transmission Is Noisy

If your transmission becomes noisy, you need to have it checked. Worn-out or damaged transmissions can whine, clink, clunk, rattle, and screech when components start to wear or break. Most transmission noises will occur when the vehicle is being driven or when you are shifting gears.

Keep Your Transmission Running Smoothly with Endurance

If you can identify the signs of potential transmission issues, this knowledge can help you avoid unexpected and costly repairs. Following your vehicle’s recommended maintenance schedule can also ensure your car’s most vital components stay running smoothly for longer.

With an EnduranceAdvantage vehicle protection plan, you can stay up to date on your car’s maintenance needs and avoid costly repair bills caused by unexpected breakdowns and other wear and tear damage. Each EnduranceAdvantage plan offers up to $3,500 in maintenance services, including diagnostic exams, tire rotations, alignment checks, and more. You can even receive special, one-time services like a complete battery replacement for even more coverage and savings.

For more information about an Endurance protection plan that fits your needs and budget, request a free quote. You can also call 866.918.1438 to speak with a knowledgeable representative to find the right plan for your vehicle, no matter the make/model, year, or mileage. 

A Vehicle Service Contract (VSC) is often referred to as an “auto warranty” or an “extended car warranty,” but it is not a warranty. A VSC does, however, provide repair coverage for your vehicle after the manufacturer’s car warranty expires. A VSC is a contract between you and a VSC provider or administrator that states what is a covered repair and what is not. Not all vehicles qualify for coverage; Endurance does not offer VSCs in California.