Transmission leaks are among the most common and solvable problems you're likely to face with an automatic transmission. While many transmission issues can lead to costly rebuilds or replacements, technicians can often repair leaks without removing the transmission from the car. Transmission pans and their gaskets are a typical source of leaks across many makes and models.
No matter the ultimate cause, you should treat any transmission fluid leak as a severe problem. Your transmission relies on its fluid for cooling, hydraulic pressure, and lubrication. A loss of fluid can impact its operation, increase wear and tear, or even cause a catastrophic failure. Keep reading to learn what you should know about this common source of leaks.
Understanding Pan and Pan Gasket Failures
Like your motor, your transmission contains a sizeable amount of fluid that circulates through its internal components. The pan covers the bottom of the transmission to keep fluid safely contained within it. Manufacturers typically use steel or aluminum to cast their pans, with a flexible gasket to prevent fluid from seeping out along the mating surfaces.
Any gasket on your car can wear out over time. This wear can occur due to contamination, but it often doesn't take much more than age and repeated heating and cooling cycles. Rubber gaskets can plasticize, which causes them to become brittle and hard. Over time, a plasticized pan gasket can crack and allow small amounts of fluid to seep out.
Unlike the gasket, the pan itself should not wear out with age. Instead, pan failures are usually the result of physical damage. Small rocks, road debris, or other objects can damage transmission pans, and it's easy for relatively minor punctures to go unnoticed. Given enough time, even slow leaks will lose enough fluid to harm your transmission, however.
Recognizing the Signs and Symptoms of Leaks
The key to solving any leak before it causes additional damage is recognizing the signs as early as possible. Not all transmission fluids are severe enough to leave puddles on your garage floor, and this can be especially true with the types of leaks that develop from the pan. Since a small loss of fluid can noticeably affect your transmission's operation, it's crucial to pay attention to any changes in behavior.
In particular, always listen for grinding or clunking sounds when your car shifts gears, especially if a noticeable jolt accompanies them. Low fluid levels can also cause your transmission to slip between shifts. These symptoms can be a sign of serious trouble, so always minimize the time spent driving and have your car evaluated by a professional as soon as possible.
Repairing Pan Leaks
Fortunately, pan and gasket leaks are relatively straightforward to repair. Most shops should be able to replace the pan or gasket in only a few hours. Addressing this problem as quickly as possible will ensure that inadequate lubrication and cooling do not destroy your transmission's internal components.
If you're having issues with your car's transmission, consider seeing a transmission repair specialist near you.