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2 Signs You Have Transmission Trouble (And What You Can Do About It)

Basically, there are 2 signs that let you know you may have transmission trouble: your vehicle won’t go, or it’s not running smoothly.

Repairing a vehicle’s transmission can be a daunting task. Most people don’t know anything about their transmission—a fact many repair shops take advantage of. To avoid getting hosed at the shop, it’s important to know a few transmission basics, starting with the main transmission parts.

Manual Transmission Parts

  • The bell housing is a metal, cone-shaped case that holds your clutch or torque converter and is mounted to the engine block.
  • Gears keep the transmission moving, whether you drive a manual or automatic. They’re greased-up and can be classified in 2 types: main and planetary.
  • Transmission fluid is incredibly important to your transmission system. It is usually red and has a fairly light consistency for most vehicles.
  • Then, there is the transmission filter, which keeps transmission fluid clean.

2 Simple Fixes

Now that you know the basic parts, let’s talk about 2 fairly simple fixes. Whether your vehicle refuses to get into gear, slips gears or delays during shifting, check the following things first before talking to your mechanic:

transmission dipstick

Fluid Level: Is your manual transmission fluid or automatic transmission fluid at the right level? In most vehicles, checking transmission fluid level is as easy as using a dipstick. Correction: it is using a dip stick.

  • First, find your vehicle’s transmission fluid reservoir, unscrew the cap and the dipstick should be attached.
  • Now, wipe the dipstick clean, re-dip and pull it out again (your vehicle should be idling in most cases).
  • Is the fluid red and fairly thin? Does it cover the space between the low and high lines? Then you’re probably okay.
  • If your transmission fluid is brown or black, it has probably overheated and needs to be replaced.
  • If there’s not enough fluid, you need a little top-off.

Running with low transmission fluid can cause poor shifting, which eventually leads to major (and expensive) tranny damage. If you seem to be losing fluid frequently, you may have a leak. Check under your vehicle and in your driveway. If you see red spots or stains, note how much and what part of the vehicle it came from. This will give your mechanic a better idea of where the problem is (plus makes you more knowledgeable—and less likely to be ripped off).

Clogged Filter: If you have an automatic transmission, it is VERY important to check for a clogged transmission filter before talking big repairs with the auto shop. Most people never change their automatic transmission filter, and many transmission problems can be solved by simply replacing this part. If you’ve had your vehicle for a few years, changing the transmission filter just makes good sense. And, since you know what you want done, it’s easy to walk into the repair shop with confidence—and walk out with a relatively small bill.

If, by some unfortunate fate, these quick fixes don’t work and your transmission needs to be rebuilt, be prepared to shell out major cash. Transmission rebuilds are expensive, though ultimately less than buying a new car. But, when you’re armed with some basic transmission knowledge, you have a better chance of detecting foul play, and you can usually avoid an unnecessarily bloated bill.