How to Recognize a Delayed Engagement and What You Can Do About It MILTA Technology

How to Recognize a Delayed Engagement and What You Can Do About It

We said it once, and we will say it again; being able to recognize common automatic gearbox issues and knowing how to take action is half the battle. The problem at hand is called a “delayed engagement”. There is nothing worse than shifting into drive or reverse and getting no immediate response from your gearbox. Your automatic gearbox is supposed to respond instantly so any hesitation is a sign of trouble. Don’t worry, we got you covered!

What is “delayed engagement”?

A delayed engagement is a term used to describe the lag that occurs from the moment you shift into gear and the moment your car actually moves. This type of delayed engagement occurs when the clutches and bands inside the gearbox do not operate instantly. Clutches and bands should allow the vehicle to move in an instant so any hesitation is called a delayed engagement. It is a fairly common automatic gearbox issue that only gets worse with time.

The delayed engagement can last only a second or even up to a whole minute. To prevent further and bigger damage we recommend you visit an automatic gearbox specialist as soon as you notice the first signs of delayed engagement.

How to recognize delayed engagement

If you owned an automatic transmission before, you know that the moment you shift into drive or reverse, your car should start pulling away. Recognizing the first signs of delayed engagement requires nothing but some attention. As soon as you get the feeling that your car does not feel like pulling away at the moment you shift into gear is the time to start paying attention. Once you recognize that this issue is not going away is the right time to take preventive action.

If you just bought your first car with an automatic transmission (possibly a used car) do not think or believe that this shifting delay is a normal occurrence. Every automatic transmission in the world should engage immediately and with no hesitation.

The only time when a slightly delayed engagement is “normal” is in extreme cold. Once the weather warms up, pay attention to your transmission and see if the delayed engagement is gone.

How to prevent delayed engagement

Delayed engagement usually occurs on vehicles with high mileage and unregular service history. Here are a few things you can do to prevent delayed engagement:

Regular maintenance!

We can’t stress enough how important regular maintenance is for automatic gearboxes. Flushing your transmission fluid and ensuring that the fresh and clean transmission fluid is lubricating and cooling the internal parts of the gearbox, is key to keeping your automatic gearbox healthy.

Check transmission fluids regularly

If there is a possibility to check the transmission fluid on your own, we recommend you include it in your “check-up” routine. If your automatic transmission does not have a dipstick, ask your mechanic to check the fluid level at every service.

Transmission fluid pump inspection

If your car is not new, we recommend you have your gearbox specialist inspect the transmission fluid pump. If the transmission fluid pump fails to assure the correct fluid pressure, the hydraulic system of the gearbox fails and causes delayed engagement and other internal damage.

Only trust professionals!

Do not trust your automatic gearbox to a non-specialist and never do home DIY repairs for delayed engagement you found on Google. It is not worth it, we have seen it before.

How to fix delayed engagement

Once you notice a delayed engagement when shifting into gear or between gears, it is best to book a servicing appointment with a professional immediately. A simple transmission fluid flush will not fix the problem so the gearbox technician will have to take his diagnosis further and inspect the following items:

Transmission filters

Clogged transmission filters have a big effect on the transmissions hydraulic pressure. If the hydraulic pressure isn’t correct, one of the results can be delayed engagement between gears or when shifting into gear.

Transmission pump

We already mentioned the transmission pump and we are listing it again as it is a common suspect when diagnosing delayed engagement.

Shift solenoids

Shift solenoids act as valves that control the flow of the transmission fluid through the gearbox. If these shift solenoids fail, a delay in shifting is a common result.

Seals and bands

Time and irregular maintenance take a huge toll on the seals and bands inside the automatic gearbox. Bad seals can lead to transmission fluid leaks which is a fast way towards a delay in shifting and all kinds of other problems.

After a complete checkup, a replacement of the part responsible for shift delays will need replacing which is often a simple procedure. To avoid bigger problems and more expensive repairs, visit a service centre as soon as you detect delayed engagement.


We want to end this article with a piece of advice: if you ever experience delayed engagement, allow your transmission the time to engage in order to prevent unnecessary damage. You also want to avoid revving up the engine in case of a delayed engagement. Increased engine rotations produce more friction and can damage the clutches and bands when the transmission engages.

It is also worth noting that delayed engagement or delayed shifts have been connected to several sudden acceleration incidents and accidents which is why you should never neglect or ignore this issue. A quick visit to an automatic gearbox specialist like us, will ease your mind and solve the underlying issue before it becomes a big problem.

  1. My ‘94 Ford E350 box truck seems to be slow in taking off when I D. After it speeds up it seems to run fine.
    Is this normal or does it indicate an issue?

    1. Doug, I’m just looking into this myself. I have a 2012 Acura RDX with 132k miles. When I start it and shift from Park into Drive, it pauses for about 1.5 seconds then engages. From that point on, everything is fine. I keep the brake pedal engaged until it goes into Drive. It’s been like that for as long as I can remember, doesn’t get any worse. The way you describe your situation sounds a little different. When you say “slow in taking off”, does that mean it starts moving right away, but slow or like mine, hesitates a little then engages and it’s fine? Either way, I would check the automatic transmission fluid (ATF) as this article describes. I had my ATF changed around 110k miles. That would be a good step if you haven’t done so. All the best.

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