Car problems are often difficult to diagnose for the average driver.
It’s easy to see when you have a flat tire, or if the windshield wipers are no longer cleaning the windshield. But once the problem is tucked up under the hood, and your car starts making strange noises or emitting odorous smells, it’s hard to tell what’s the cause. Signs often can lead in multiple directions. What’s a driver to do?
Yet each system in your vehicle is essential in keeping you safe as you drive. Imagine driving down the mountains after a day of skiing without a brake system. Or driving on the coldest day of the year without a heating system. Not a good thought.
Likewise, the transmission system is essential to keeping you safe while you drive. It’s also one of the most complicated. Without a transmission system, power would never transfer from your engine to your wheels. When a problem starts somewhere in the transmission system, it can take a while for you to notice the issue. The more time passes with a part loose or missing, means more damage can occur internally. And that equates to a more expensive repair down the road.
When you have trouble with the transmission, several signs occur as warning signals. Catch it early, and you can repair the transmission long before it becomes a serious threat.
What is a transmission system?
Today’s cars operate with one of two types of transmissions: automatic or manual.
The automatic transmission is by far the most popular on new car models today. But the manual transmission is simpler to understand, and you’ll still find it a popular choice in sports cars or off-road vehicles that want more control over how they shift and drive.
A manual transmission is made up of a series of gears and an input and output shaft. The gears on the input shaft engage with the gears on the output shaft, which determines what gear the vehicle is in while it drives.
The driver controls what gear it’s in by moving a shift lever. They press down on the clutch pedal to disengage the gears, the move the levers to reengage the gears depending on what gear they prefer.
With an automatic transmission, the same essential process occurs, only in an automatic way. Instead of having a clutch, the automatic transmission uses a torque converter to move the gear set. An automatic transmission also uses a single concentric shaft instead of two, with the gears located inside and around each other in more planetary fashion. Instead of being controlled by a shift lever, the gears move through hydraulics, which are in turn, controlled by an electrical panel.
If the transmission system is working well, your car moves without a hitch. At the first sign of transmission failure, it’s important to bring your car in. What will your vehicle do?
Check Engine Light
Because your vehicle is more automated than ever, the tiny sensors watch for errors within the system. At the first sign of trouble, it will illuminate the check engine light. People often ignore it for a bit because the check engine light can mean many things. The sooner you get your car checked, the more you can avoid bigger problems. This trigger is often so sensitive it can pick up errors long before they turn into smells, noises, or vibrations as you start and stop. And that means you can solve the problem long before it migrates into something bigger.
When a car rolls off the assembly line, the transmission operates without flaw. But over the years, the shifting becomes a little more clumsy, cumbersome, often feel like it’s sticking as it’s moving from gear to gear.
If the transmission feels like it sticks before moving gears, it could be low on transmission fluid. It could have a leak somewhere in the system, or even contamination from a water intrusion. The more the vehicle is allowed to continue at these levels, the more likely your car will overheat, causing internal damage and transmission failure.
Sticking gears isn’t the only way a problem shows. In some cases, the reverse can occur, with the transmission slipping and revving the engine into high gear. This creates undue wear on the internal parts, possibly overheating the system and ultimately causing failure.
If it feels as if the gears struggle to engage at any stage of driving, it’s time to bring your vehicle in for a check up.
Fluid should never visibly leak from your vehicle at any time. And sort of a leak is a red flag it’s time to bring your vehicle in for an inspection.
Transmission fluid is typically red, and will have a sweet smell. You’ll notice the drip from underneath the vehicle in the middle of the car.
A leak is an indicator of a loose transmission pan, a drive shaft out of balance, or worn out seals or gaskets. It can also be a sign of damage somewhere within the system.
Within the transmission system, if the hydraulic fluid is ever low or starts to overheat, it will give off a burning smell. Because transmission fluid starts as a sweet smell, you’ll often notice that first, followed by the burning spell as it becomes too hot. This can often be serviced with a transmission flush and replacement. But if you wait too long, it can damage the entire system.
When you place your car in neutral, do you hear a grinding sound? Any noise you hear that’s out of the ordinary could be a sign of a problem within the system.
The source is usually something simple, like worn out bearings or low transmission fluid. Again, if you act quickly, chances are it will be a fairly easy fix.
Clutch Pedal Changes
If you do have a manual transmission, you can also watch for changes in the way the clutch pedal grabs. Does it engage very low or high in the process? That could signal a problem with engagement, or a hydraulic issue. A simple adjustment may solve the issue, or more likely replacing a worn clutch disk and pressure plate.
If you’re experiencing trouble with the transmission, it isn’t something you can put off indefinitely. The sooner you act, the quicker your car will return to normal, and the safer you’ll be as you move throughout your busy days.
Have a question about your transmission of any other problem with your car? We’re here to help. Give us a call.