Is Your Transmission Going Bad? Here Are The Signs It’s About To Fail


Picture this: It’s Monday morning, and after shaking off the last of the Sunday scaries, you hop in your trusty car to head to work.

Halfway there, your car starts making a whining noise you’ve never heard it make before. At first, you don’t quite hear it over your music, but as you continue to drive it begins to become noticable in the background.

As you get more nervous, you turn down the music and listen to the sound itself. It sounds like the underbelly of your car is humming.

After a few breathless moments, you decide to ignore it after saying “Well, that’s new!”.

Coming back from work later that day, you feel slightly nervous thinking about the humming/whining sound from earlier. The bills still need to be paid, and the last thing you need is another car repair.

As you head home, your car just isn’t shifting right. Your automatic transmission seems to be fighting you, as your vehicle suddenly surges forward on the highway as the gears engage.

If this sounds like something you’re familiar with, you may have a bad transmission. Unless you want to be stuck on the side of the road, you should get your car checked out if it’s experiencing these symptoms.

Because if there’s a problem with your transmission, things could get expensive quickly otherwise.

If your transmission is acting up, chances are you’re asking yourself some of these questions:

  • What are the signs of a bad transmission?
  • Can I drive with a bad transmission?
  • What causes automatic transmissions to fail?
  • What happens when a transmission goes out?
  • Is it worth replacing my transmission once it goes out?
  • How long should my transmission last?

Today, we’ll answer all these questions and much more. Please note, since most of you reading this drive automatics, we will be covering automatic transmissions only in this article!

What Causes Automatic Transmissions To Fail?

Transmissions are built to last, but they are still mechanical parts that will fail if given enough time. The most common cause of transmission fail relates back to transmission fluid issues.

Common transmission fluid related issues include:

  • Low transmission fluid, often from a leaking or faulty seal within the transmission
  • Burnt transmission fluid
  • A Bad transmission fluid filter
  • Failed transmission solenoid (this is what helps monitor and calibrate transmission fluid flow)
  • Faulty torque converter (this is what pressurizes the transmission fluid properly)

There are other issues that will cause automatic transmissions to fail, which include broken transmission gears, clutch pack issues and a few other minor cases.

But in general, most transmission issues relate back to transmission fluid in one way or another.

What Are The Symptoms Of a Bad Transmission?

When it comes to transmission problems, once it starts to slip, you are on borrowed time. At this point, it’s not a question of if your transmission will need repairs, but when, and how much.

The quicker you are at addressing these issues, generally speaking the less you’ll end up paying at the mechanic.

Of course, if you have a vehicle service contract from Protect My Car, you won’t have to pay for any covered transmission repairs or replacements. Click the button below to learn more about how you can have us pay for your faulty transmission fix, instead of paying potentially thousands of dollars out of pocket.

Be on the lookout for these symptoms of a bad transmission:

  • Slipping Transmission (Shifting not happening immediately / downshifting without warning).
  • A humming/whining/buzzing noise
  • Leaking transmission fluid when parked
  • Strange smells
  • A lit transmission warning light
  • Your check engine light comes on (in some cases)
  • Shifting is rough

1: Transmission Slipping

Your automatic transmission system has a clutch that seperates and engages new gears so you can get up to speed, or slow down when needed.

Over time, this system will wear down and will slip while changing into the next gear.

Transmission slipping is one of the most obvious signs that there’s an issue with your transmission. Be on the lookout for your engine revving when it should be initiating a gear change. It can feel a bit like driving on ice, where your RPM gauge goes way up, but the car does not accelerate the way it should.

If you’re experiencing this, you’re probably wondering how to make your transmission stop slipping.

A lot of things can cause transmission slipping, but one of the more common ones is needing to change your transmission fluid. We’ve written a whole article about how often you need to change your transmission fluid that we recommend you read after this. Because getting a transmission flush can fix slipping.

It’s not garunteed, but it certainly can in some cases.

Even if it’s something more severe, whether that’s the clutch, solenoid, or worn out transmission bands – it’s often something that you can repair, and hopefully not the end of the world.

So to answer that question, the best way we can recommend to make your transmission stop slipping is to take it into the mechanic! Don’t trust a quick fix, do the right thing.

2: A Humming/Grinding/Buzzing Noise

As we mentioned in the introduction, strange noises are often a giveaway that something is not right. With automatic transmissions, there is a range of noises that your car may make.

You may hear humming, grinding, or buzzing. Usually, this is associated with a shaking or rumbling feeling when your transmission is shifting gears.

3: Leaking Transmissions Fluid When Parked

Transmission fluid is red and sweet-smelling, which makes it easy to identify. If you notice some of this stuff underneath your car when parked in the garage or in a parking lot, take your vehicle to the mechanic and get your transmission fluid level checked.

A leaky transmission doesn’t mean that the entire system is compromised, but it should be fixed as quickly as possible as low transmission fluid levels can cause major issues.

4: Strange Smells

Sometimes you’ll notice an acrid burning smell coming from your vehicle when you are having transmission issues. This usually means your transmission is overheating and burning your transmission fluid.

Visit a shop and have your fluid changed as soon as possible if you notice this smell.

5: Your Transmission Warning Light Comes On

The transmission warning light coming on usually does not mean a catastrophic failure – as there are a number of things that it could mean. It could be anything from needing fluid, to a sensor issue, to internal damage.

Regardless, if the light comes on, you can be sure that something is wrong with your transmission.

6: Your Check Engine Light Comes On (In Some Cases)

Many of you reading this may be conditioned to ignore your check engine light – but ignoring it can cause issues down the road. With that said, transmission issues can cause your check engine light to come on in some cases, but there are a lot of different things that can do the same.

If your check engine light comes on and you are experiencing other symptoms of a bad transmission, then it probably is the transmission. But if it’s just a check engine light, it probably is else entirely.

7: Rough Shifting

If your transmission is fighting back as your car needs to shift into gears, it’s probably time to take it in to get looked at. You may also notice this issue when attempting to shift from park to drive.

If you notice your car is not responding or responding roughly when you try to shift, it’s almost guaranteed there is a transmission issue of some kind that needs to be fixed.

Can You Drive With A Bad Transmission?

If you notice any of the above signs, then you probably don’t want to be driving your car anymore. Driving a car with a bad transmission is not reccomended for 2 reasons.

Firstly, it’s a safety hazard. When your transmission is on the way out and it’s slipping gears, it could shift into another gear which may cause you to impact another vehicle, your surroundings, or god forbid a pedestrian.

Secondly, the longer you ignore the symptoms of a bad transmission the worse the damage can get, especially if it’s related to bad transmission fluid. We’ve seen it happen where a perfectly good transmission is destroyed (which can cost up to $6,000 to repair) because the fluid wasn’t changed when it was clearly going bad.

If you’re hesitating to take your car in to get looked at because you don’t think you can handle the bill, get a vehicle service plan from us. We can help you pay. Click the button below to get a free quote.

How Much Will It Cost To Fix Your Transmission?

How much your transmission repair costs will depend on how quickly you realize there’s a problem, and how quickly you take your vehicle to a repair shop to have the problem fixed.

Often times we’ve encoutered issues that esclated from what could have been solved by a simple transmission fluid change.

Transmission issues should always be addressed as soon as they are discovered. The longer you wait to address it, the more it’s going to cost to fix.

A transmission fluid change or flush will most likely cost you between $200-$300 dollars, which is not cheap by any means.

But a full transmission repair, rebuild, or replacement can cost you anywhere between $2,000 and $6,000 dollars if you don’t have a vehicle service contract.

So it makes sense to take your vehicle to the mechanic as soon as possible.

Which leads us into our next point…

Is It Worth Replacing Your Transmission?

The right answer is a big fat maybe. It really depends on your situation.

One of our team members had a transmission failure on his Honda Accord not too long ago. The total cost to replace the transmission was going to be about $2,800 dollars – which was more than his vehicle was worth.

You really have 3 choices when it comes down to it:

  • Pay to repair or replace your transmission
  • Try an “alternative transmission fix” and hope it works
  • Sell your vehicle – whether that’s for parts, or as a whole, or as a trade-in on a newer vehicle.

So here’s what we reccomend you do.

1: Figure Out How Much Repairs Will Cost

Before you panic, start by taking your vehicle to a qualified mechanic (not your Uncle Steve, or your Brother-in-law who replaced his headlights once) and then get an estimate for the repair.

In our experience, the most stressful part is not knowing what it’s going to cost. Once you know how much it’s going to cost to replace (or fix) your transmission, you can move ahead.

2: Figure Out What Your Vehicle Is Worth

Then, take a look at how much your vehicle is worth using KBB. Get a quote on the vehicle’s value in poor shape, and then one with it in good shape.

The “poor shape” quote will reflect the price if you choose not to fix the transmission, while the “good shape” quote will give you an idea of what your vehicle is worth if you fix it.

If the cost of the repair is worth more than the vehicle itself, you have a choice to make. Generally speaking, if the cost to repair your vehicle is worth more than the vehicle itself, chances are the vehicle is older and probably has other problems.

If you were already looking to get another vehicle, this may be a good time.

On the other hand, if your vehicle is in good shape and fixing the transmission is all that’s required? Go for the fix – it will be cheaper than buying a newer vehicle in almost any case.

You Wouldn’t Have To Do Any Of This Worrying If You Had A Vehicle Service Contract

A lot of transmission issues can be solved by simply changing your fluid regularly, even if your vehicle maintenance schedule suggests otherwise.

Changing your transmission fluid on a regular schedule is good for your transmission, even if your vehicle maintenance

But your transmission can still fail, and that’s costly. As we mentioned earlier, a transmission replacement can cost anywhere between $2,000 – $6,000 dollars OR MORE.

Can you imagine having to pay for that out of pocket? For most people, that means putting it on an expensive payment plan, or that high APR credit card.

But if you have a vehicle service contract from Protect My Car, that transmission repair doesn’t have to break the bank. You see, a vehicle service contract from Protect My Car covers repairs to your transmission so if it breaks down you won’t have to sweat paying the repair.

An extended warranty from Protect My Car means that your vehicle repairs are covered, as long as you do your regular vehicle services.

If you don’t want to be on the hook for an expensive transmission repair and want to get lots of other great bonuses including:

  • 3 Free OEM Oil Changes Per Year (A $200+ dollar value)
  • 2 Free Tire Rotations Per Year (A $100+ dollar value)
  • Free 24/7 Roadside Assistance (A $100+ dollar value)
  • Over $150 in rewards cash to your favorite stores and resteraunts EACH MONTH.

Click the button below to get a free vehicle service contract quote and learn how easy it can be to protect your vehicle and your wallet from expensive transmission repairs.

About Protect My Car

Protect My Car is an extended auto warranty company. Our goal here at Protect My Car is to eliminate your worry of being financially responsible for an expensive mechanical breakdown. With our extended auto warranty, you don’t have to worry about being fully burdened with the cost of a covered repair.