There are many reasons why problems with modern automatic transmissions are severe and often costly affairs. An automatic transmission is a highly complex machine, and even the most basic examples contain a dizzying array of individual parts. There are also very few repairs you can make to a transmission without removing the entire assembly from the car.
These factors ultimately make transmission problems some of the most expensive ones you might face as a vehicle owner, but how bad is your problem? Does every transmission issue require a complete rebuild? Keep reading to learn more about the early warning signs of transmission failure and how you can potentially avoid spending thousands on a rebuild.
Recognizing the Signs and Symptoms of Severe Transmission Trouble
Transmission issues can come in several forms, but they typically manifest as sounds, clunks, or unusual shifting behavior. For example, you may hear a grinding or whining noise in certain gears, at certain speeds, or when shifting one gear to another. Clunks that you can feel throughout the car as it shifts are another common issue.
Unusual shifting behaviors can be more challenging to quantify. Slipping is one example, but recognizing it isn't always straightforward. In general, pay attention to signs that your engine is revving too high before shifting or that your engine seems to be revving freely without pushing your car forward. You may also feel a sudden jolt as the car suddenly gets into gear.
These symptoms may not seem severe, but they can be signs of significant underlying trouble with your transmission. In a best-case scenario, you may be low on transmission fluid, or your transmission fluid may be burnt, contaminated, or too old. In a worst-case scenario, these problems may already be signs of substantial interval damage.
Avoiding a Costly Transmission Rebuild
Unfortunately, there's no easy way to tell how bad your transmission problem might be simply from driving your car. A transmission shop will need to pull any computer error codes, examine your transmission fluid, and potentially perform other diagnostics to determine the root cause of your issue. The problem may be as simple as a leak and low fluid level.
However, it's critical to understand that minor problems with an automatic transmission will inevitably lead to more severe ones. Transmission fluid that's too low or that becomes burnt from overheating can impact the operation of your transmission, ultimately leading to increased internal friction and damage. Once the problem progresses to this level, your only option is typically a complete transmission rebuild.
While it's a bad idea to ignore any automotive problem, it's especially crucial to deal with transmission issues as soon as you notice them. Any symptoms that indicate a problem with your transmission may be early warning signs of an expensive failure. Taking your car to a qualified transmission shop for diagnosis may allow you to fix the issue before it becomes a budget-busting problem.