Drivers know that unless your transmission is working properly and well maintained, you aren’t going to be travelling very far. A bad transmission can lead to damage to your car that is well beyond repair. While most drivers would think that an automatic transmission would mean that they’re free of worrying about extensive wear and tear on their transmission, the truth is that your automatic transmission can be subject to wear and tear as well and it’s important to make sure that you know what signs to look for that indicate that your automatic transmission isn’t working properly.

Signs of automatic transmission issues

    • Transmission is Slipping– You may begin to experience your transmission feeling underpowered and not accelerating like you’re used to. Or if it suddenly changes to a gear on it’s own with no reason and you hear a high pitch whining coming from the engine, then there’s a chance the transmission is slipping as it may be having trouble staying in gear reliably.


  • Rougher Shifting– It may start to feel like your car isn’t changing gear like it would normally or when it does shift, it’s not very smooth. You may even begin to hear or feel a clunking sound like a “thud” with each gearshift or notice that your car is struggling to get up to speed.
  • Fluid Leak– Your transmission is a sealed unit that shouldn’t leak fluid under any circumstance. If you begin to notice spots under the car, put a piece of cardboard or something under your car and check to see if fluid is leaking. Good transmission fluid is usually either bright red or sometimes brown so if you notice that leaking from your vehicle, seek out the help of a professional auto service shop immediately.
  • Transmission Warning Light– Obviously this is the first sign that something may be going wrong but just a check engine light alone doesn’t necessarily signal that the transmission is slipping. When the check engine light is on, it’s important to have it checked by a mechanic with the proper diagnostic tools to determine what error code is causing the check engine light to be on. If you notice any additional symptoms of a failing transmission and the check engine light is on however, then you can be pretty certain that something is wrong and have your vehicle looked at immediately.
  • Strange Smells– Transmission fluid generally has a sweet smell to it and if you begin to smell it then get your car looked at immediately as this is a sign of a bad leak of transmission fluid. If your transmission fluid is burnt badly then it could also mean that the transmission is burning as well and may need a complete rebuild. Having your vehicle looked at as soon as you notice any faint smell could help you prevent needing the transmission rebuilt.
  • Check Your Dipstick– One of the fastest and easiest ways to help maintain your transmission is by checking the transmission fluid dipstick. Check your fluid’s color as good transmission fluid should be almost clear with a pinkish hue to it, so if you see it looking brown or having a bad smell to it, then it’s time to have it changed before it can cause any damages to the transmission. You can also use the dipstick to make sure that your fluid levels are where they should be as well, and if there isn’t enough fluid, you can add more while being sure to not add too much. Most dipsticks will have a fill to line which is important to acknowledge because if you add too much fluid, it can actually lead to an increase in temperature and make the engine run hotter which is also not advised.

Cross section of a modern six speed automatic transmission isolated on white


Staying ahead of issues with your transmission will help make sure that your vehicle is well maintained and performing properly. Drivers know that the transmission is one area where repairs range from just $150 all the way to over $2,000 should your transmission need to be completely rebuilt. Knowing and recognizing the proper signs of a failing transmission will help you keep the cost of maintenance down and will make sure your vehicle’s life is extended as much as possible.

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