10 Common Signs Your Automatic Gearbox is Failing
If you are reading this, chances are you are just beginning to experience some minor issues with your automatic gearbox. We understand your concerns but the world is not ending just yet. Driving with an automatic gearbox is a sensational experience but it does come with a set of challenges. If your automatic gearbox has not been properly and regularly serviced, certain symptoms can slowly creep in and eventually lead to a complete failure. Because we aren’t as physically connected to the gearbox as in a car with a manual transmission, some of these symptoms can go unnoticed for quite some time.
You are in the right place! We listed some of the common signs of a failing automatic gearbox that will ease your mind and hopefully persuade you into booking a service appointment as soon as possible.
Don’t wait and hesitate: It will only get worse!
Before we dive into the symptoms of a damaged automatic gearbox, we have two recommendations that we acquired through experience:
Do not waste time!
The moment you start noticing strange behaviour from your automatic gearbox is the moment you should visit a professional servicing centre. Thinking that these symptoms will “go away on their own” is the worst thing you can do. Some issues can be resolved much quicker and with less cost if they are caught early.
Only trust professionals!
We highly recommend that you only trust your automatic gearbox to a professional. For example, a professional servicing centre will be able to diagnose an issue with a certain automatic gearbox just based on the model of the gearbox. Times, where all automatic transmissions were basically the same, are over. For example, a professional service expert will immediately know what common issues to look for in Audi’s Multitronic transmission, the Volkswagen’s DSG transmission or the AF40 gearbox by Aisin Warner that is used in the Opel Insignia. Trusting your transmission to someone who doesn’t know the exact specifics of the gearbox they are working on is a bad idea.
Signs of a failing or damaged automatic gearbox
Jerking, shaking or grinding
Ideally, your car should be changing gears smoothly and effortlessly. Once you start noticing rough gear changes, grinding or any kind of shaking, it clearly indicates serious problems that need to be inspected as soon as possible.
Gearbox refuses to engage a gear
This problem can occur out of nowhere and there are several reasons behind it. This might happen because of low transmission fluid, a shifter or shifter cable problem or it is a problem with the valve body of your automatic gearbox. This issue can either be fixed just by replacing your transmission fluid or a simple valve body reset but sometimes a more complex procedure is required. This is a serious safety issue so a visit to a workshop is required as soon as possible!
Sudden occurrences of weird humming, whining or clunking sounds indicate an underlying issue within your automatic gearbox. While this is not a signal for panic, it must not be ignored. Most of the time, the reason behind it is a lack of transmission fluid or the transmission fluid lost its lubricating capabilities. The automatic transmission fluid or ATF has to lubricate all the moving parts in the gearbox. If there is not enough ATF or if the ATF is not viscous enough to lubricate those moving parts, you will most likely hear some unpleasant sounds.
There are other reasons why unordinary sounds may occur so we definitely recommend a visit to a service centre.
Low or leaking transmission fluid
We already mentioned that the transmission fluids job is to lubricate and cool all the moving parts of an automatic gearbox. It is only logical that any amount of transmission fluid below the minimum is going to represent an issue. Automatic gearboxes are usually well-sealed but leaks do occur so pay attention to any leaks below your car. Make sure to identify the source of the leak as soon as possible and avoid transmission or engine issues!
Some automatic gearboxes have a dipstick that allows you to check the ATF level but most of them don’t. We recommend you have your ATF fluid level checked regularly.
It smells like something is burning
This one is serious. A smell of something burning is usually an indicator of a fluid leak or a burning clutch that is caused by an insufficient amount of transmission fluid. If you can, check the level of transmission fluid by yourself or visit a service centre immediately.
The gearbox shifts up too early or too late
If gear changes are made too early, the software version on the gearbox control unit should be checked. The adaptation data may be incorrect or the gearbox control unit is defective. Other reasons may include sensor errors in other assemblies (engine or ABS electronics) or a gearbox pressure issue.
Automatic gearbox goes into “limp” mode
If the automatic gearbox suddenly switches to emergency or “limp” mode, it may be due to an internal mechanical transmission fault, a problem with the transmission electronics or a defect in the speed sensor. Sometimes all that is needed is a simple reset but this issue should never be ignored.
The automatic gearbox is slipping
If the automatic gearbox does not take on the gas and slips, the cause could be torque converter damage. Wear of the clutch plates in the transmission is also possible. This is only going to get worse as time goes on so a visit to a workshop is recommended.
The automatic transmission has no drive
If there is no longer any frictional connection, the car no longer drives and suddenly the drive is missing. There may no longer be a connection between the torque converter and the input shaft of the transmission – this could have been torn off. It is not uncommon for the turbine wheel in the converter to be defective or for the oil pump to be damaged.
Other unusual behaviour
When it comes to automatic gearboxes any behaviour that seems out of the ordinary is reason enough to consult a professional. Due to the complex nature of automatic gearboxes, it is hard to list all the exact signs of potential problems.
Reading this article might give you the impression that automatic gearboxes are weak, brittle and prone to failure. This is far from the truth. Even though modern automatic transmissions are very complex, they are also very durable and most importantly, good at what they do. The number one factor for gearbox longevity is the correct and regular maintenance. If you stick to the maintenance plan, your automatic gearbox will easily serve you for many years to come.