How to spot transmission failure: 4 deadly signs to look out for

The gearbox is one of the most complicated pieces of machinery inside your car. It also happens to be one of the most expensive to repair and replace. Gearbox issues can be fatal, so knowing what to look out for is vital for keeping those repair bills down and keeping your car on the road.

If you’re experiencing engine troubles and looking to get to the root of the problem, or looking for ways to spot transmission problems in a used car you’re thinking of buying, here at Sell Your Problem Car ® we’ve put together a list of the 4 most common signs of gearbox failure to help you identify major gearbox malfunctions before it’s too late.

1. Is the engine light lit up?

The engine light is situated directly in front of you on the dashboard for a reason. Don’t ignore it.

When a transmission fails, you may notice various shudders or vibrations while driving. In the early stages of transmission failure these vibrations may be imperceptible to you, but your car’s inbuilt sensors will pick them up and cause the engine light to come on.

The engine light could have been triggered for a number of reasons, so it might not be a transmission fault at all, but it’s an important indicator that something’s wrong with the engine.

Book your car into a garage and have it checked out. They’ll be able to get to the root of the problem and tell you what’s wrong.

2. Smell burning? Check your transmission fluid

Transmission fluid leaks and low levels of transmission fluid are perhaps the most obvious signs that a gearbox isn’t doing so well. They also happen to be the most common cause of gearbox failure.

Without adequate or clean transmission fluid an engine may overheat, seize up or stop working entirely, so it’s important to check the fluid. The whiteness of a paper towel will help you notice colour changes more easily.

Fluid now comes in a variety of colours, but if it’s clear, free from contaminants and smells clean, it should be fine. If the fluid is old or dirty you’ll need to replace it, since this can destroy a transmission entirely. Be warned, however, that if the fluid is dark and smells as though it might be burnt, it may be too late to save your transmission.

3. Strange noises and sensations

Pay attention to the sounds of the engine. It’s your car’s way of letting you know there’s a problem, and if you pick up on these signals early enough, you might just save yourself a whole lot of time and a whole load money.

If you hear banging or clanking noises when you’re in neutral, there could be issues with loose gears and loose parts in the clutch. The looser these pieces become, the greater the chance of additional (and costly) damage being done to your transmission.

If you have an automatic transmission and you feel the engine vibrating, or if you notice humming or whining sounds, it’s possible that there is a problem with the transmission’s torque converter.

4. Difficulty selecting gear and issues with the clutch

Stiff and stubborn gears that refuse to select are another common sign of transmission failure.

Depress the clutch and try to change gears. If the clutch performs fine, the clutch linkage may be disconnected or in need of adjustment. If the gears only change when the engine is turned off, then the clutch plate may have become worn and will need replacing.

If you’re driving an automatic and you notice that the RPM has jumped straight into the red, this could be a sign that the gearbox is slipping. When a gearbox slips it fails to connect with the crankshaft, which causes the gear to ‘pop out’ while you’re driving.

Remember that a lot of engine issues can be avoided entirely with proper care and maintenance. If you notice any of the above problems, be sure to book your car in for a service to prevent costly repairs.