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TRANSMISSION WARNING SIGNStransmission warning signs

Using Your Senses to Detect and Diagnose Transmission Problems

...  It Can Mean the Difference Between a Minor Repair and a $2,500 Rebuild

Posted In
Knowledge Center, Articles
6/18/2013   Updated 7/7/2016

Look, Listen - Feel and Smell

Most vehicle problems, including automatic transmission problems, reveal themselves in one way or another, e.g., WARNING SIGNS!  Whether it's a subtle jerk when the transmission shifts into a different gear, a strange smell, the eyesore of leaked fluid ondiagnose transmission problems your garage floor or an unusual noise, learning to recognize these warning signs can save you a great deal of money and vehicle down time.  In this article, we will explain how to use your senses to detect early signs of transmission problems.

look LOOK - Look at your garage floor, driveway or parking spot for leaks.  Transmission fluid leaks are fairly common and they can cause major problems if allowed to continue.  If you have a leak, the first thing you need to determine is the source of the leak.  It could be transmission fluid, engine oil, brake fluid, power steering fluid or engine coolant.  New or clean transmission fluid is red in color and old or dirty transmission fluid is a darker red or dark brown. 

Additionally, if your vehicle is front wheel drive, a CV axles could be leaking grease from a torn or damaged CV boot.  If your vehicle is four wheel drive (4WD) or all wheel drive (AWD) the source a fluid leak could also be the front differential.

How to locate and repair a transmission fluid leak

Another sign of a possible leak (that may not show up on the garage floor or driveway) is seeing any signs of smoke when the engine is running.  Smoke coming from the engine compartment or from underneath your vehicle is likely caused by an overheated engine or fluid leaking onto the exhaust pipes or other hot surface and burning off.  Again, the leak could be water/coolant, engine oil, transmission fluid, brake fluid or power steering fluid.  Being one of the top causes of vehicles fires, fluid leaks should be repaired quickly.

listenLISTEN - Most people drive their vehicles enough to know the different sounds it makes when starting the engine, shifting the transmission into gear, driving down the expressway, braking, stopping, etc.  These are the ordinary sounds that you are familiar with.  So, when you hear something different, you need to take notice.  By different, it could be a completely new sound or one of the same sounds you always hear but maybe its louder than before or it happens more often than before.  The bottom-line is that these sounds may be a warning that something isn't quite right.

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Problematic sounds that an automatic transmission can make include:

Screeching or Rattling Noise
A screeching or rattling noise coming from underneath the center hump in a rear wheel drive vehicle or from the engine compartment in a front wheel drive vehicle while the engine is running and the shifter is in the Drive "D" position is likely a failing torque converter.  A torque converter going bad makes the most noise when the engine is running and the transmission is in gear with the vehicle sitting still.  If you move the shifter to the Neutral "N" position and the noise disappears, the case for a failing torque converter increases.  Also, if the noise decreases as the vehicle begins rolling, the problem is almost definitely a failing torque converter.

Once a torque converter begins screeching or rattling it is only a matter of time before the converter fails.  Sometimes, when a torque converter fails, it literally explodes.  When this happens, bits and pieces of metal are pushed into the transmission, which can cause catastrophic transmission failure.  Replacing a torque converter can cost between $200 to $250 if you do the work yourself or from $500 to $1,000 or more if you have a repair shop do the work.

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