Every car uses a transmission to send the engine's power to the wheels. A transmission is a highly complex piece of machinery, which in turn means that purchasing a new one is typically pretty expensive. Transmissions do not normally wear out overnight, but instead fail over a long period of time. Knowing the warning signs that your transmission is ailing can help you possibly nurse it along a little more, or at the very least prepare you for the inevitable.
In a few cases, you can actually avoid big transmission problems by engaging in some easy and inexpensive servicing activities like flushing the transmission or replacing a cable linkage. By being proactive about the situation, you could potentially save yourself thousands of dollars and a considerable amount of heartache.
One sign of transmission failure is that the gears slip. Transmissions should stay engaged in a gear until you or the computer shifts out of the gear and into another. When the engine RPMs start racing and the car stops moving forward, you know the transmission is slipping and is heading toward death.
Sometimes a failing transmission will trigger the check engine light. Nobody likes to see the light illuminate, but avoiding having the engine codes checked by a mechanic can just make the situation worse. Once you know why the light turned on, you can take steps to fix the problem.
If you have a car with a manual transmission, you might notice the clutch starts to drag. Dragging is when the clutch fails to disengage from the flywheel when you push down on the clutch pedal. Any attempts to shift a transmission with a dragging clutch will result in grinding gears. Usually the problem is easy and inexpensive to fix, saving you from having to replace the entire transmission later.
Leaking transmission fluid is never a good sign. Transmission fluid is red and sticky, making it appear like blood. Like blood, transmission fluid leaking can lead to death if not addressed. A qualified mechanic can pinpoint the source of the leak and fix it before it causes damage.
Transmissions can overheat, creating a burning smell that should tip you off that a problem exists. If you smell something or see smoke coming from under your car, park for a while and let the transmission cool off. Check the transmission fluid and top it off to alleviate the problem.
Not being able to put a manual transmission into gear because the stick won't move is a very bad sign. Unfortunately, this means you will be replacing it in the near future.
If your car's transmission is noisy when it is in neutral, at the very least it needs to be serviced. The other possibility is that you will be purchasing a new one before too long. When the transmission makes other strange noises like whining, clunking or humming, either the transmission fluid is low or different parts are wearing it out. A qualified mechanic can tell for sure what can be done at that point.
It might seem obvious, but a transmission that does not respond can be a sign of impending failure. This includes if you push on the accelerator and the car does not speed up for a moment. The other possibility is that the clutch is worn, which is a far more affordable problem to fix.
The final sign that your transmission is failing involves any vibrations or grinding coming from it. A well-functioning transmission should work smoothly and almost silently. Instead of just ignoring the sounds and vibrations, take your car to your mechanic to evaluate what can be done.