5 transmission problems you can't ignore

If your transmission stops working, you could be in for an expensive repair. (Photo by William Coffee).

If your transmission stops working, you could be in for an expensive repair. (Photo by William Coffee).

If you drive a car with an automatic transmission, you may have thought about what would happen if the transmission started to fail.

Here are five signs of transmission problems you should not ignore:

1. Slippage

If you're experiencing automatic transmission slipping, it can feel like you’re driving in a certain gear and then it changes for no apparent reason. The noise from the engine may change in pitch or start to sound like whining.

Related: How much does it cost to repair my transmission?

Your car may also seem like it’s struggling, is suddenly underpowered, or isn’t accelerating like it should.

2. Rough shifts

Your car may feel like it’s refusing to change gears as it normally does, or the gear shifts aren’t very smooth. Sometimes you can feel or hear a noticeable “clunk” or “thud” when the car shifts gears. You may also notice the car has difficultly getting up to speed.

3. Delayed engagement

If this symptom occurs, you’ll notice a delay before the car actually engages into drive and starts moving forward. When you shift out of “P” and into “D,” there may be a long pause where the car revs the engine as you give it gas, but it’s not moving forward as it should.

4. Leaks

Transmissions are generally sealed units that should never leak fluid. If you’ve noticed leak spots on your driveway or garage floor, lay down cardboard under your car in the front and middle to determine if they’re active leaks.

If your transmission is leaking - fluid is bright red, but can also be a dark red or brown - visit your auto service shop. Before refilling any transmission fluid; factory specifications should be followed because overfilling can create a bigger transmission issue.

5. Dashboard warning lights

A warning light alone, like the “check engine” light, typically doesn’t mean you have a transmission problem, but if any of the above symptoms are occurring in conjunction with an illuminated warning, have it diagnosed by a professional. A warning light typically means the computer is generating an error code that can be checked with a shop’s diagnostic equipment. For transmissions specifically, “P0700” is a code that can indicate a general transmission problem.

Transmission repair considerations

Costs related to repairing your transmission can be as little as $150 or so to replace a defective transmission solenoid and up to $2,500 or more to repair or replace an entire transmission. You should definitely research what shops in your area specialize in transmission repair and call or visit them to get an estimate. If your normal mechanic doesn’t specialize in or provide transmission repair, they should be able to recommend a specialist.

If you’re not comfortable driving your vehicle due to transmission issues, have it towed in. Most reputable shops will want to test drive the vehicle to attempt to replicate the issues you’re concerned with, but that may mean they need additional time to diagnose the problem. Any towing and diagnostic fees should be included in your estimate.

Questions to ask of transmission repair shops

Before authorizing any transmission repair, ask if they plan on replacing parts and where those new parts will come from. If they’re rebuilding the existing transmission or replacing it with a new one, ask what the warranty is. An industry standard warranty is 12 months or 12,000 miles (whichever comes first), but you may be able to purchase an extended 24-month/24,000-mile warranty or even a 3-year/36,000-mile warranty.

You can also ask if your transmission specialist is a member of or certified by the Automatic Transmission Rebuilders Association. No matter what, make sure you ask any questions about the repair process before it takes place, and that the shop leaves you with a good feeling about trusting them with what could be a costly repair.

Editor's note: This is an updated version of an article originally published July 26, 2013.

About this Expert: JoAnn Shilling is the office manager for Joe Shilling, Inc., which has been proudly providing automotive repair services in the Wilmington, Del., area for over 30 years. The company, which hires only ASE-certified technicians, is Delaware emission certified, a NAPA Auto Care Center, a AAA approved repair facility and affiliated with the Automatic Transmission Rebuilders Association.

As of July 22, 2014, this service provider was highly rated on Angie's List. Ratings are subject to change based on consumer feedback, so check Angie's List for the most up-to-date reviews. The views expressed by this author do not necessarily reflect those of Angie's List.


I had someone put a speed sensor on my 96lumina and it still want shift in first gear it ribs up the motor and then goes into gear computer says speed sensor is bad could it be a transmission sensor

I have a Lincoln L's its an 01 and while driving it it feels like the transmission is slipping is this something I need to take care of ASAP or can it Waite a few weeks till I get paid again what can happen if I waite

Recently I changed transmission mechanics told me he changed with used one .2 month passed. driving is ok. but if I put rear. car is nat back up .also when I driving hilly speed limited 30 to 40 only also whining sound .if I move my feet from accurate stopped noise .service light never show.

When i go up a hill it wont pull and i had my gas all the way to the floor and still would not go had to pull over and turn it off let it cool down and then it would go until it gets hot and does it again but my check engine light did not ever come on please help

I have 1997 ford explorer wth good running condition..I had no prblem before but when im trying to put on p ( park ) it wont let me instead it stays in between on p ( park) and r ( reverse)..its wont go all the way to the park positon, no problem on shifting it todrive & to nuetral...is this a transmission problem and how muchwill cost me on fixing my car...may car has low malliage...

Minds does the same but unfortunately for me my transmission is going out.. But I d think that's the cause of a bad transmission...

My 2002 Frontier with auto transmission will, from time to time, seem to suddenly stall. However, if I shift it into neutral and then back to drive it picks up and continues on. This may happen several times in a row. Some days it doesn't happen at all. Level of speed doesn't seem to make a difference. Is this the transmission slipping?

The weather is really cold here in minnesota my trans goes from park to drive kind of violently its possible i may need to get the fluid and filter changed it has almost 300,000 miles on it will due basic maintenence see if that,fixes it also thought differencial may need some 90 weight added.

I have a ford freestar and I was driving it and all of a sudden it jumped to 500 rpms and then would not pull will start but won't go no where can any one please tell me what it could be

torque converter recal

Put car in park position but dash light says it in reverse. So I have to put park brake on, other than that it shifts fine. What could it be?

I recently had an oil change and the mechanic told me my motor was in good shape a day later I noticed a strange smelly light colored fog coming from under the hood close to the wind shield. Before the oil change my car was driving fine now it seems as if it doesnt want to to drive and shifting to reverse and drive my car just sits there then moves please help with any info

I have a 2007 Pontiac gran pix regular 3800 motor and I was at a light as I press on the gas I heard I thump noise then car wouldnt drive in regular gear I can only drive it in 1st, 2nd, and 3rd gear at the bottom of the shifter did my tranmission go or something else wrong I only have 67000 miles on the dash????? Can u please respond bk and my revese still works fine

Was wondering if u ever found out what was wrong with your car cause this just happened to me

This just happened to me too, but I cannot find any information on it. 2004 Pontiac grand am, but I cannot even drive in reverse.

I have a 2000 grand prix, and this exact same thing happened to me this morning. I'd appreciate it if you guys let me know what you found out so I can decide if the mechanic is being honest with me. Thanks

I have a 2006 Ford Freestyle that whines when it is drive or sitting? It sounds the same when its in drive as in overdrive. the car still runs the same and no jerking or etc. Is this the transmission? What can I do immediately to save my transmission and will the cost be manageable?

Why do you think it's the transmission? Sounds like the power steering pump or another part/pulley that runs off the serpentine belt. Or could even be the fuel pump.

I have a 2008 Ford Taurus. It seems like when my car changes gears it jerks. I took it to a Ford dealership and they told me nothing was wrong with the tranmission. I dont have any check engine lights or anything coming on in my car. I'm not sure if it's the transmission or something else. Please I need advise.

I have a 2000 Ford Windstar van. I read in some blogs that Taurus and Windstar have the same engine. Mine too... the engine Jerks off specially from 1st to 2nd gear, my check engine and transmission "o/d" light do not light up. What I did is a trans fluid and filter changed about 3 months ago and the jerk is almost gone now. Once in a while I still get it but not as bad like before. I put full synthetic transsion fluid instead of the regular Mercon V. Mobile 1 or Valvoline are the good ones. Good luck!

Mine did this occasionally and now I need a whole new transmission

I have a 2007 Ford Freestyle I hear a loud noise when my car is on park and on neutral but stops when I put it in gear. Also when my car is running I hear a like helicopter noise but stops when my car stops. Is it the transmission or something else? Help anyone.

I have just bought a honda stream 2002 and ehen changing from second to third gear it appears to slip....is this serious.. i went back to to see car dealer and he said not to worry about it and just keep on driving it...it has a 12mth mechanical insurance which he said can be used later down the track...does this sound right...

No that doesnt sound right , if your paying car notes , he wants you too pay till your transmission go out , i say take it back ASAP .

The transmission was vibrating. Had an additive addied to the transmission 5-28-2013. Seems to be starting to vibrate again.

Only get reverse ford auto 2000 xlt..they adjusted shifter twice...rebuilt trans 30 months ago..truck..ranger..1300 to rebuild...get second opinion?not a bad estimate..13...but I didn't have many miles since I had it rebuilt....no tow or plow...advice?

These are few important factors which can effect your transmission. These are some noticeable points which we never can't ignore.

Runs forward, Not in reverse. Runs some time and slow down and stop. Again I start as usual and runs for a while and loose the power and stops.

Transmission seems to be sluggish and slow to shift at times, but not consistently. What can be the problem & approximate repair cost. Rest of the car is fine and has 187,000 miles on it. Comments please?

My Yukon keeps turning of everytime i try pushing the gas n it would pull back n forth like if it didn't have any power.

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