If your car won’t move, the transmission might be blown.

There are many signs your transmission is blown, but there are also many reasons a transmission will fail.

Poor design and manufacturing will doom any transmission.

There are many reasons your transmission might fail. Poor automotive design is one of the most difficult to come to terms with, because it can cost you a lot of money to maintain and inevitably repair, even when you did not do anything wrong. Along with the design comes poor manufacturing on the automaker’s part, as well as cheap parts and little to no quality assurance on the production line.

Poor maintenance is a poor excuse for a failed transmission.

image of transmission fluid color chart

Even a poorly designed or manufactured transmission will suffer from poor maintenance. Things such as wrong fluid types or incorrect amounts of fluid (too little or too much) can make or break or transmission. And incorrect fluid levels usually result from a poor or nonexistent maintenance schedule. If you do check the transmission fluid regularly, and have it changed or flushed according to the manufacturer’s recommended maintenance schedule, then you should not have much to worry about. If you check the fluid yourself, be aware of not only the levels, but the colors. Here’s a handy chart:

Neglecting to be aware of the simple things that can help or hinder your transmission will speed its demise.

Related: Maintaining a Healthy Transmission

Driving habits can destroy your transmission.

Driving conditions and even driving habits all affect the health and lifespan of your car’s transmission. If you drive mostly in stop-and-go city traffic, that has a different impact on your transmission than highway driving with long distances and steady speeds. Stop-and-go traffic is tough on any car – and it takes a toll on pretty much every part of the car, especially the transmission.

Related: What is a Severe Driver Maintenance Schedule?

Here are some signs your transmission is blown, fried, cooked, or just plain broken.

Vibrations, sounds, and poor performance

If your car suddenly starts giving off vibrations and strange noises like grinding or whining, the transmission is saying, “Drive me to a mechanic.” You’ll also experience gears slipping – when the engine speeds up or revs, but your car doesn’t accelerate very quickly, or move at all (that’s a really bad sign). Whining sounds accompanied by hesitation in starting from a stop, lack of acceleration or extreme slowness, or even sudden surging, are not only unsafe and make your vehicle unreliable and dangerous to be on the road, they are signs you’re about to be paying for transmission repairs, rebuild, replacement – or a new car.

image of person shifting gears person driving stick shift hand on shifterDifferent or unexpected shifting

Different shifting performance, such as a sudden, hard “clunk!” shifts that jolt the car, or constant chugging and shaking, are symptoms of a failed or failing transmission. If the car jumps gears without warning, slips in and out of gears while you’re moving (at any speed), or refuses to go into any gear, the transmission is failing or has already failed. It is unsafe to drive your car with any of these problems. Even the gear shift in your car is a good indicator of problems with the transmission. If it’s difficult to get into gears, causes grinding noises, or just won’t move at all, the transmission is dying or has died. An automatic transmission should shift smoothly and noiselessly, so vibrations, changes in performance, and/or strange sounds, are all indicators of transmission trouble.

Extreme heat from the transmission

For rear wheel drive cars, the transmission transfers power and heat along the length of the vehicle, to get the power to the rear wheels. If the transmission overheats, you can feel the heat coming into the passenger compartment through the bottom of the car, from the transfer case. In front wheel drive cars, the heat might be felt in the hump or gear shift housing between the driver and passenger seats. The temperature gauge on the dashboard might indicate abnormal engine temperature. You might also smell the odor of burning transmission fluid (some say it’s like burned toast). An overheated transmission does not have to be an end-all, but it needs to be checked immediately. It could just be that the fluid is low or there is a leak – both fixes that cost a lot less than larger repairs or transmission replacement.

Think about your driving.

sethsetuffSudden changes, extreme conditions all affect the transmission.

If you experience a sudden, unexpected transmission failure, think back and try to remember any rough driving you might have done – rough roads, bad weather or other conditions, lots of stop and go traffic or really high speeds. Anything out of the ordinary that you might have had to put your car through could be a cause of transmission issues. Did you tow a heavy load? Pack your car full of anvils and drive through the mountains? Sometimes it’s a matter of not having checked the transmission fluid, so it’s dangerously low, and then going on a long drive through vastly different terrains and weather. You might get to your destination, and even home again, only to have the transmission start to clunk, slip, and whine as you drive to the grocery store.

Driving habits affect the whole car, but are especially hard on the transmission.

Related: Transmission Problems You Should Not Ignore

You also need to seriously consider what kind of driver you are – aggressive, defensive, severe, careful. Are you rough on your car, or careful and gentle? If you’re always running late and stressed out about your schedule, chances are you tend to be on the aggressive side of driving. Accelerating hard and racing from stop light to stop light puts a lot of strain on the transmission, because it has to take the power of the engine and smooth it out before going to the wheels. It has to do a lot of shifting through gears in short, rapid succession because the distance between the stop lights is short; but the speed you’re accelerating to is fast (maybe above the limit). Then the green light you were racing toward – the one you were certain you were going to make it through – turns red. You have to stop. It’s too far to run, unless you want to risk killing yourself and others – and you’re not that extreme (or stupid) behind the wheel, right? All of this translates to wear and tear on your transmission, and other parts of your car.

Being a severe driver is not terrible. Your requirements just tend to be different than some. Some of the factors you might consider in creating a regular maintenance schedule to avoid transmission disaster are:

  • Frequent mountain trips
  • Drive in extreme heat or cold
  • Drive in rough, dirty, dusty terrain and climates
  • Frequent short trips
  • Drive in stop-and-go traffic
  • Tow or carry heavy loads
  • Drive more miles than average in a given timeframe

Determine when, where, and how you drive and you’ll be on your way to a solid regular maintenance schedule. Know the signs of a struggling transmission, learn how to maintain your car regularly, and it will save you money in the long run and help your car run safely and reliably.

AAMCO Colorado – Your Transmission Experts

Visit an AAMCO Colorado transmission repair and total car care center near you. When larger issues arise and you need transmission repair, rebuild, or replacement schedule an appointment before it’s too late.
If you have questions about your car’s road readiness, or about car repair and maintenance topics, AAMCO Colorado can help. You can also go online and use the AAMCO Colorado Ask a Mechanic feature to submit your auto repair questions. They will be answered by a real AAMCO Colorado mechanic as soon as possible.