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8 Signs Your Transmission Bit the Dust

Most drivers understand that transmission issues are dangerous to ignore. However, many drivers don’t know what transmission issues look, sound, or smell like. Should you be concerned about that faint rattling noise you hear? Is that strange scent seemingly emanating from your dashboard cause for alarm? Let’s explore 8 signs your transmission is failing – as well as a few options to consider once your transmission bites the dust.

1. “Service Engine Soon”

These three words, ominously glowing on your dashboard, are universally dreaded. However, they could indicate a serious problem (transmission-related or otherwise), so don’t ignore them. This warning could indicate a dangerously low level of transmission fluid, leading to an overheated transmission. Or it could simply be alerting you to the beginnings of a future issue. Either way, take your vehicle to a trusted shop as soon as possible to get your vehicle scanned so that the fault codes can be researched.  Make sure you go to a shop that has access to industry libraries or databases that provide detailed history reports on codes, so your vehicle issue is more likely accurately diagnosed and repaired.  Try to avoid general online research on fault codes as you could be steered in the wrong direction from sources lacking credibility.

2. Transmission Slipping: Gears and Acceleration

Transmission slipping takes two forms: unwarranted gear shifting and underperforming acceleration. An example of gear slipping is fairly common and easy to identify. For example, have you ever been cruising along when, out of the blue, your vehicle unexpectedly changes gears? If you answered “Yes,” you’ve experienced gear slipping. Underperforming acceleration is another example of transmission slipping. When your car struggles to accelerate or feels week and underpowered, slipping acceleration is occurring.

3. Difficulty Shifting

If shifting seems to take longer than normal or even produces a “thudding” sound or noise, you should see a mechanic. Remember, shifting gears should be virtually unnoticeable in newer vehicles. In an older vehicle, feeling a slight shift is okay however any dramatic shift could indicate a problem is present.  If you find yourself wondering why the RPMs keep rising without getting to the next gear, that’s another indication that the internal clutches of the transmission are worn and the vehicle needs to be inspected.

4. Delayed Movement

Delayed movement is most pronounced when shifting into “Drive” or “Park.” Regardless of your gas pedal engagement, does your vehicle take a moment to respond? This is a clear sign that your transmission is failing.  In some cases a range switch could be the culprit, however only an inspection from your local transmission repair shop will uncover what is actually going on.

5. Odd Smells

If a transmission begins to smell burnt it will give off a strange, often tart odor. Trust your nose. If something smells “off,” something is probably “off.”  A clear sign of an internal failure is the smell of burnt fluid within a transmission.  That smell is the result of internal parts deteriorating within the fluid and ultimately causing contamination.  Once this occurs, the fluid no longer can effectively serve its hydraulic and lubricating purposes.

6. Fluid Leaking

Automatic Transmission Fluid (ATF) is vital to your vehicle’s shifting abilities. Pay attention to fluid leakage outside the body of your vehicle. If you notice dark red or brown fluid pooling outside your car, visit a transmission specialist immediately. Even a tiny leak could point to a much larger issue.  A $5 seal that went bad and caused a leak could easily cause a repair into the thousands of dollars.

7. Grinding or Jolting

Do you feel your vehicle grind, shake, or jolt when you shift gears? For manual transmissions, this grinding is often dramatic. This has more to do with the driver.  A softer jolt is common in vehicles with automatic transmissions.  A knock or jolt is a common symptom of a failing transmission.  It also could be engine or transmission mounts.  Make sure you have your vehicle inspected by an honest team that will accurately diagnose your vehicle’s issue.

8. Humming or Whining

A deteriorating transmission can emit strange sounds, such as rattling, whining, humming, clunking, or thudding during gear shifts or while sitting in neutral or park. Manual transmissions emit a harsh mechanical noise, while automatic transmissions often whine or buzz.  There can be countless causes for this noise including deterioration of the transmission case, a torque converter failure or an internal bearing.  

Next Steps: Sell or Rebuild?

You noticed the warning signs and professionals have confirmed that your transmission has failed. What’s next? What’re your options? We’ve explored your primary choices below:

Sell Your Vehicle For Scrap: Selling your vehicle for scrap value is one post-transmission-failure option. After performing research, you may find that the price of a transmission rebuild or replacement is actually greater than the worth of your car. Commonly, this is the case for older cars burdened with thousands of miles; however, newer vehicles are sometimes worth less than you might expect.  If a vehicle is well-maintained and the owner is comfortable in their vehicle, comparing a transmission repair to a vehicle’s online value is a questionable practice.  After selling a vehicle for scrap, buying a used vehicle can come with a host of its own problems including a transmission problem in its early stages.

Trade-In or Sell Online: Once your vehicle is diagnosed with a transmission problem, its value plummets. Who would want to purchase a vehicle with such a serious issue? Therefore, trading in your car, or selling it on Craigslist, are no longer reasonable options. An individual looking to buy your vehicle on Craigslist will probably purchase it for parts.  The value of the vehicle is going to be similar to scrap value.

Buy a Used Transmission: Initially, purchasing and installing a used transmission seems financially wise. However, choosing a used transmission can be extremely costly in the long run. For example, you never truly know what condition the used transmission is in. It may fail before you roll away from the repair shop, resulting in additional labor and parts costs. This is why in choosing a repair option, you should take into consideration the repair shop’s reputation and warranty, in addition to price.

Have Your Transmission Rebuilt: Having a local specialist rebuild your transmission is a popular option. Rebuilding includes removing and disassembling the transmission. Parts that can be reused are cleaned; necessary new parts are ordered. The transmission is then assembled and reinstalled. The cost of the rebuild process is dependent on which parts can be reused and which must be replaced. Of course, due to the fact that only experienced professionals really know every part inside your transmission, performing your rebuild with a trusted, honest company, known for integrity, is crucial to an accurate price tag.

The options are presented. How can you discern which is best for you? A few questions can help determine which decision to make. First, are you already in the market for a new vehicle? If so, rebuilding your transmission may not be the best option unless it is important to trade in or sell your existing vehicle. However, if your vehicle is new, highly functioning, in good condition, or holds sentimental value, a transmission rebuild is your best option. In some cases, a remanufactured transmission can either save your time or money, however, be cautious of the quality of a remanufactured unit as most national remanufacturers are more focused on their bottom line than customer service. Learn more about why Advanced Transmission Center is your trusted local transmission shop.

Advanced Transmission Center

At Advanced Transmission Center, we are known for integrity and excellence. If you have any questions about your transmission, call us at either of our two locations or fill out our online contact form for a free TrueTest Inspection appointment!

Southwest Metro Denver (Lakewood/Littleton): Call (303) 532-4842
Northwest Metro Denver (Arvada/Wheat Ridge): Call (303) 502-9565

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