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What Can Go Wrong with an Automatic Transmission?

Common Transmission Problems, Symptoms, Causes, Repair and Cost Information


transmission problems

Common Transmission and Transaxle Problems

Symptoms

Causes

Repair Information and Approximate Cost

 

READ THIS BEFORE CONTINUING...  Anytime you experience a transmission problem, always check the fluid level and condition first.  Low fluid or old, dirty and/or oxidized transmission fluid is the most common cause of transmission problems and failure.


Transmission Problems, Symptoms,
Causes, Repair and Cost Information

  CONDITION: LOW TRANSMISSION FLUID (ATF) LEVEL
SYMPTOMS:
Transmission slipping, Delayed Gear Engagement, Hard or Erratic Shifts, No Shifts, Overheated Transmission, Transmission Failure
CAUSES: Transmission Fluid Leak  (See Transmission Fluid Leak below)
REPAIR: Add Transmission Fluid 
REPAIR COST: Expect to pay between $5 and $8 per quart for ATF at your local auto parts store.  If you have a repair shop or car dealership add ATF, you will pay a higher price for the fluid, normally between $8 and $12 per quart.
 
  How to properly check transmission fluid level
   


CONDITION:
TRANSMISSION FLUID (ATF) LEAK
SYMPTOMS:
Low fluid level, leaked fluid found underneath where vehicle is parked, the smell of fluid leaking onto hot surfaces and burning off.
CAUSES: Damaged transmission oil pan, damaged or deteriorated pan gasket, damaged or loose oil cooler line, dipstick/fill tube O-ring, damaged or loose sensor, transmission side cover or front seal, shifter lever/linkage seal, drain or fill plug, if equipped and axle seals in front wheel drive transaxles.

REPAIR: Locate and repair fluid leak.
REPAIR COST:  Most transmission fluid leaks are external and can be repaired without removing the transmission from the vehicle.  At the repair shop, the cost can range from as little as $25 to replace an O-ring up to $150 or more to replace a leaking transmission oil pan gasket.  The DIY cost for these same repairs ranges between a few dollars and $40.

To repair a internal transmission fluid leak the transmission must be removed from the vehicle, which can be quite costly.  Depending on the vehicle, the cost to repair an internal transmission fluid leak can range from a low of $500 up to $1,000 or more.  Approximately 90% of the cost is for labor.  The DIY cost range is $35 to $100. 

CONDITION: TRANSMISSION FLUID LEVEL OVERFULL
SYMPTOMS:
Too much fluid will cause the fluid to foam, which may cause shift problems and possibly slipping.  Increased pressure may damage internal seals and leaks.  When the transmission heats up, fluid may overflow through the oil filler tube.
CAUSES:
Incorrect amount of fluid added to the transmission.  Water/coolant entering the transmission.
REPAIR: Reduce fluid level until the dipstick reads in the "Full Range".
REPAIR COST:  Repair shop cost to lower fluid level: $50 to $75.  DIY Cost: $0.

Note: If water/coolant is the cause for the fluid level being overfull, internal transmission damage has already occurred.  If the transmission is still working, get the watered down fluid out of the transmission immediately and refill with clean fresh fluid.  This is the only chance you have of salvaging the transmission, if it is salvageable? 

IMPORTANT: You must also identify the cause of water/coolant entering the transmission and repair it at the same time or else it will happen again.

CONDITION: OLD, DIRTY and/or OXIDIZED TRANSMISSION FLUID
SYMPTOMS:
Transmission slipping, delayed gear engagement, hard or erratic shifts, no shifts, transmission overheating, transmission failure
CAUSES:
Transmission not properly serviced, transmission overheated, clogged filter
REPAIR: Fluid and filter change or transmission flush
REPAIR COST: Fluid/Filter Change-Repair Shop: $140 to $300+  DIY Cost: $45 to $85 
Transmission Fluid Flush - Repair Shop: $190 to $350+  DIY Cost: $65 to $110

Note: Oftentimes, oxidized "burnt" transmission fluid means some internal transmission damage has already occurred.  Checking the transmission fluid pan for excessive metal and clutch debris will provide more information about the condition of the transmission. 
  Transmission fluid and filter change DIY Procedures 
  Transmission Flush DIY Procedures 
 
 
CONDITION: TRANSMISSION SLIPPING
SYMPTOMS:
Engine RPMs rev higher than normal but vehicle speed lags behind (especially during takeoff), delayed/sluggish gear changes, transmission overheating
CAUSES:
Low fluid level, old, dirty or oxidized fluid, worn friction clutches, faulty or stuck solenoid(s), fluid level overfull
RECOMMENDED ACTION: Diagnose cause of slipping
DIAGNOSTICS COST:  Repair Shop: $75 to $125   DIY Cost: $0 

Note: The cost information shown above is for diagnostics only, not the repair. A correct diagnoses may require a transmission scan be performed at a repair facility.

WARNING: In some instances, a slipping transmission can be repaired without removing the transmission from the vehicle and without great expense.  However, the window of opportunity to make the repair is relatively brief as slipping wears heavily on clutches and generates tremendous heat, which can quickly damage seals and other internal components.  When this happens, the transmission must be rebuilt or replaced. 

CONDITION: HARD SHIFTS, ERRATIC SHIFTS, SHIFTS INTO WRONG GEAR
SYMPTOMS:
A variety of shift problems
CAUSES:
Low fluid level, old - dirty - oxidized fluid, open electrical circuit, failed shift solenoid
RECOMMENDED ACTION: Diagnose cause of shift problems.
DIAGNOSTICS COST:  Repair Shop: $75 to $125   DIY Cost: $0.

Note: The cost information shown above is for diagnostics only, not the repair. A correct diagnoses may require a transmission scan be performed at a repair facility.
 
CONDITION: NO AUTOMATIC SHIFT - DOES SHIFT WHEN MANUALLY OPERATED
SYMPTOMS: Only shifts gears when manually moving shifter lever
CAUSES:
Open circuit in electrical system, failed PCM/TCM, faulty or stuck shift solenoid, failed speed sensor.
RECOMMENDED ACTION: Diagnose cause of no automatic shifts
DIAGNOSTICS COST:  Repair Shop: $75 to $125   DIY Cost: $0

Note: Cost information is for diagnostics only, not the repair.  A correct diagnoses of an electrical transmission problem, including computer and sensor failures, almost always requires a transmission scan be performed at a repair facility. 

CONDITION: INTERMITTENT SHIFT PROBLEM
SYMPTOMS: Transmission downshifts randomly then corrects itself
CAUSES: Electrical fault, failed speed sensor, failed throttle position sensor, failed transmission range sensor

RECOMMENDED ACTION: Diagnose cause of intermittent shift problem
DIAGNOSTICS COST:  Repair Shop: $75 to $125   DIY Cost: $0

Note: Cost information is for diagnostics only, not the repair.  A correct diagnoses of an electrical transmission problem, including computer and sensor failures, almost always requires a transmission scan be performed at a repair facility.  
  Learn more about Transmission Solenoids

CONDITION: SLIPS OUT OF GEAR WHEN WARM
SYMPTOMS: Transmission slips out of gear intermittently when engine warms up
CAUSES:
Internal seals or valves allowing fluid to pass causing pressure loss
REPAIR: Transmission rebuild or replace
REPAIR COST: Rebuild Trans - Shop Cost: $1600 to $3500+   DIY Cost: $400 to $700
REPAIR COST: Replace with Remanufactured Trans: Shop Cost: $2000 to $3800+  DIY Cost: $1200 to $2800+
REPAIR COST: Replace with Used Trans: Shop Cost: N/A   DIY Cost: $350 to $1300+

Note: Repair shops and car dealerships will not typically install a used transmission.

CONDITION: TRANSMISSION OVERHEATING
SYMPTOMS: May not show symptoms right nut expect slipping, erratic and delayed shifts, no shifts and transmission failure.
CAUSES: Low transmission fluid level, old, dirty and oxidized fluid, engine overheating, towing, rocking vehicle back and forth when stuck in mud or snow.
 
RECOMMENDED ACTION: Replace burnt transmission fluid immediately with clean fresh ATF.
DIAGNOSTICS COST: Repair Shop: $75 to $125  DIY Cost: $0
REPAIR COST: Fluid/Filter Change - Repair Shop: $120 to $225   DIY Cost: $45 to $60
REPAIR COST: Transmission Fluid Flush - Repair Shop: $140 to $340  DIY Cost: $65 to $90

CONDITION: NO FORWARD GEARS
SYMPTOMS: Transmission has no forward gears - reverse gear may work
CAUSES: Problem with valve body or other internal problem causing pressure loss
 
RECOMMENDED ACTION: Diagnose Problem
DIAGNOSTICS COST: Repair Shop: $75 to $125  DIY Cost: $0
REPAIR COST: Replace Valve Body: Repair Shop: $375 to $1000+  DIY Cost: $250 to $1000+
REPAIR COST: Rebuild Transmission: Repair Shop: $1600 to $3500+  DIY Cost: $400 to $700

Note:
Diagnosing a valve body problem typically requires a transmission scan be performed at a repair facility.  Most repair facilities will waive diagnostic charges when the shop makes the repair.

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CONDITION: NO REVERSE GEAR
SYMPTOMS: Transmission has no reverse gear - forward gears may work
CAUSES: Problem with valve body or other internal problem causing pressure loss
 
RECOMMENDED ACTION: Diagnose Problem
DIAGNOSTICS COST: Repair Shop: $75 to $125  DIY Cost: $0
REPAIR COST:
Replace Valve Body: Repair Shop: $375 to $1000+  DIY Cost: $250 to $1000+
REPAIR COST: Rebuild Transmission: Repair Shop: $1600 to $3500+  DIY Cost: $400 to $700

Note:
Diagnosing a valve body problem typically requires a transmission scan be performed at a repair facility.  Most shops will waive diagnostic charges when the shop makes the repair.

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CONDITION: TORQUE CONVERTER GOING BAD
SYMPTOMS: Shudder, sluggish/delayed/soft shifts, delayed gear engagement that progresses to no gear engagement, whining sound at start up, vehicle moves but engine revs higher than normal and then gets better as the engine and transmission warm up.
CAUSES: Old/worn out torque converter, wrong torque converter installed, vehicle used for heavy towing and/or harsh driving conditions.
REPAIR: Replace torque converter
REPAIR COST: Repair Shop: $600 to $1000+  DIY Cost: $145 to $250

Note:
When a torque converter fails it will sometimes disintegrate internally. When this happens you will hear a loud grinding/clacking sound coming from the area of the transmission. This is your signal to shut the engine off immediately to have any chance of saving the transmission.

WARNING:
A torque converter can be in the process of failing for weeks or even months before it completely fails.  Continuing to drive a vehicle with a "failing" torque converter is risky as the converter may disintegrate internally when it finally fails.  When this happens, unless the vehicle is shut off immediately, metal chards from the disintegrating converter parts will mix with the transmission fluid and make their way into the transmission.  In this case, a rebuild or transmission replacement would be necessary.

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CONDITION: SHIFTER LEVER LOCKS IN THE PARK POSITION
SYMPTOMS: Shifter lever becomes locked in Park - can be intermittent.
CAUSES: Blown fuse, faulty brake light switch, faulty shift interlock solenoid, faulty ignition switch, lodged parking pawl, open circuit in electrical system.
RECOMMENDED ACTION: Diagnose Problem
DIAGNOSTICS COST:
Repair Shop: $45 to $75  DIY Cost: $0
REPAIR:
Replace blown fuse, faulty brake light switch, faulty shift interlock solenoid, ignition switch or repair open circuit.
REPAIR COST: Replace blown fuse - Repair Shop: $15  DIY Cost: $2
REPAIR COST: Replace brake light switch - Repair Shop: $45 to $65  DIY Cost: $10 - $25
REPAIR COST: Replace shift interlock solenoid - Repair Shop: $135 to $250  DIY: $40+ 
REPAIR COST:
Replace Ignition Switch - Repair Shop: $125 - $200   DIY: $35 to $50
  How to release a shifter stuck in Park - DIY Procedures

CONDITION: VEHICLE ROLLS AFTER PLACING SHIFTER IN PARK
SYMPTOMS: Vehicle rolls after placing shifter in Park
CAUSES: Excessively worn or broken parking pawl, bad U-joint (Rear Wheel Drive)
RECOMMENDED ACTION: Diagnose problem
DIAGNOSTICS COST:
Repair Shop: $40 to $60  DIY Cost: $0
REPAIR:
Replace Parking Pawl - Repair Shop: $400 to $1000  DIY Cost: $45 to $90
REPAIR COST: Replace U-joint - Repair Shop: $55 to $85  DIY Cost: $15 to $25

Most shops will waive the diagnostics fee when the shop does the repair.


Note: Replacing a U-joint is applicable to rear wheel drive vehicles only.
 
 

   

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