Something just isn’t right with your car. You can feel it. There are some other noises and weird symptoms, too. It can be hard to know where to go to get it diagnosed correctly, and who to trust to do the job right. It’s normal to wonder, how should I know when to take the car to my mechanic? Or, when should I visit a transmission shop?
Auto repairs can be expensive, and no one wants to take their vehicle to the wrong shop. If you call and ask, a quality shop will tell you if the symptoms you describe are engine related or transmission related.
Even better is if you know which symptoms lead to engine repair and which mean a transmission repair is needed.
Symptoms of Engine Problems
These symptoms are good indicators that you should be taking your vehicle to your mechanic for evaluation. When you get there, make sure you tell them any sounds, leaks, smells, when and how often they happen, and when they began. Then, take a seat while they look at your car, and be patient.
Backfire: It sounds so much like a gunshot, you might actually duck and look around. It comes from the engine or tailpipe.
Bottoming: When going over bumps, it might feel like the bottom of your vehicle hit and scraped along the ground, creating noise inside the car and/or vibration in the steering wheel.
Bucking: This one is tough as it can be a symptom for both, happening when the engine hesitates or when the transmission slips gears. Lurching of the vehicle when this happens is more likely to mean it’s an engine problem.
Dieseling: When the engine continues to run for a short time after the car has been turned off.
Hesitation: When you accelerate and the car loses power for a moment, then returns.
Knocking: A fast rattle when accelerating.
Misfire: A quick pause or hesitation when one or more engine cylinders don’t fire correctly.
Shimmy: A side-to-side motion felt inside the car, through the tires or steering wheel.
Sluggish: When your car feels tired and doesn’t want to accelerate smoothly or confidently. In some cases, this can be transmission-related if shifts are not timed correctly. In other cases, it could be a clogged exhaust system.
Surge: When your car increases speed significantly without warning.
Symptoms of Transmission Problems
While it’s certainly possible to misdiagnose car symptoms and take your vehicle to the wrong place, reputable shops will redirect you if it’s not something they do. However, if you go to a general mechanic and they diagnose a transmission problem, you should then take your vehicle to a transmission repair shop rather than risk a sub-par repair job because the shop didn’t specialize in transmissions.
Below are common symptoms of transmission problems that will help guide you if your car is having transmission trouble. If you have any of these problems, take your vehicle to a reputable transmission shop right away.
Odd Shifting Habits: erratic shifts, skipping gears or being stuck in limp/safe mode can all point to a transmission issue. The problem could be either mechanic or electronic. It can also be a product of low or deteriorated fluid.
Burning Smell: If something smells like it’s burning, and you see no flames, chances are good it’s your transmission fluid overheating and breaking down.
Delay or No Response When Put in Gear: If your car doesn’t respond when you shift it into drive or reverse, or if there is a long delay before it responds.
Grinding or Shaking: Grinding or shaking while in gear, or when shifting gears, is not normal transmission behavior.
Low or Leaking Transmission Fluid: If you’ve seen a liquid on your garage floor or driveway where you park that is bright red or a dirty brownish-red, it probably means you have a transmission fluid leak. Some makes and models use transmission fluids that are other colors such as blue or even clear.
Makes Weird Noises: Weird noises such as whining, humming, clunking when driving or a car that is clunking or noisy while in neutral are not normal.
Slipping Gears: If your vehicle feels like it’s slipping in and out of gear, and you must give it gas to get it back in gear, or switch between neutral and drive to get it to engage, that time while it’s not responding can seem like an eternity and it’s scary. This can be a safety issue; don’t ignore it.
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If you are in the southwest Denver, Colorado, area, come
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