8 Problems With Automatic Transmissions (Most-Common Issues)

As simple as it might seem, automatic transmissions are very complex systems in a vehicle. Aside from just changing the gears, this system is responsible for the motive force required to move your vehicle.

However, this system could be problematic sometimes and unless you’re less concerned about it, you might have experienced one or more of its common problems.

In this article, we discuss some common problems with automatic transmissions and tips on what to do when you encounter some of the issues. Manual transmissions also have problems of their own.

1. The System Might Fail To Engage or Respond

The gear-changing process is very easy in an automatic transmission. A single shift into the drive will allow the vehicle to move forward while the system changes the gear level on its own.

However, this isn’t always the case. The transmission system might refuse to engage or respond sometimes after changing the gear. This won’t just happen unless there’s an underlying issue with the transmission system.

The transmission fluid could have lost its efficiency or become thicker than manageable. When this happens, you might even find it difficult to engage or change the gear.

Sometimes, there would be no issue with the transmission fluid. It could be the vehicle’s computer system that fails to sync properly with the transmission system, causing its failure to respond.

In this case, you can simply reset the vehicle’s computer system by disconnecting and reconnecting the battery after about 30 minutes.

Note that other factors, such as the torque converter, brake bands, and clutches, could also cause this when they become defective. So, you may need to get your vehicle checked by a professional to fix the issue.

2. The Gear Could Be Grinding and Shaking

The transmission system works with a certain fluid that allows smooth friction between its components.

If the fluid becomes too low, contaminated, or full of debris, you could experience a grinding or shaking sensation in the gear.

Unless there’s a leak somewhere, having to deal with low transmission fluid is very uncommon. This is because the fluid doesn’t easily get low as you drive through miles.

Notwithstanding, you should check if the fluid is at an optimum level, and top it up with the right substance if needed.

If, however, the substance is adequate in its reservoir, you might be dealing with a contaminated fluid. To fix this, drain the fluid and replace it with a good one.

Mind you, the gear could even become worn out of constant use. Thus, you might simply need to replace the gear to fix the issue.

Note that the gear will only work appropriately and effectively when you have the right clean transmission fluid in the system. These problems are so common that there are many cars with transmission issues today.

Thankfully, there are still many other popular cars without transmission problems.

3. It Could Give off a Clunking Noise, Especially When You Shift to Neutral

Aside from shaking gear, another very common problem with the automatic transmission system is the clunking noise generated by the transmission system.

Many drivers have claimed that this is more prominent after switching to neutral. Again, it is another issue that emanates from moving with low or bad transmission fluid.

The transmission components, including gears, springs, and bearings, would lose proper lubrication and cooling when the fluid becomes too low or too poor to work with the system.

While this makes it difficult for the system to work unhindered, it sometimes leads to clunking noise as the components struggle to function effectively. You may require a professional to diagnose the system to correct this.

Another common cause of clunking transmission is a loose or broken transmission mount. This could happen if you often drive the vehicle on rough terrains.

If you can pay attention to the noise, you may be able to trace it to the downside of the car. Still, you will have to call the attention of a professional to diagnose the vehicle and fix the issue.

The vehicle’s computer sensor could also cause clunkiness. This is because the sensor sometimes sends incorrect speed information, leading to improper regulation in the transmission system.

4. The Gear Could Be Slipping 

This problem is now relative to the vehicles that use the shift gear. Owners of new vehicles that use the knob gear shift may not be able to relate to this issue.

Slipping gear is a very common problem with the automatic transmission system. It happens most especially when the transmission clutches and bands become worn or faulty.

Worn transmission clutches and brake bands are responsible for holding and driving the transmission components whenever there is a need for a gear shift.

While contaminated or low transmission fluid could affect their function, transmission pressure could also make them weak over time.

Also, the transmission system works with a valve body that comprises valves, solenoids, and temperature sensors.

These components work together to channel the required fluid to the clutches and other components whenever you use the gear.

Depending on your transmission system, these valves are either controlled by the vehicle computer system or by the shift stick.

Over time, the transmission valve body becomes weak and it could even wear out, especially when you do not maintain proper use of the vehicle.

When this happens, transmission fluid could move to the wrong components and it could cause the gear to slip.

The Solenoid, an electro-hydraulic valve that controls the amount of transmission fluid needed to pass through the transmission system, could also be the cause.

This is because the component could also become weak or faulty, failing to control the unit of fluid needed to pass through the shifting passage.

5. It Might Give off a Burning Sensation

A burning smell from the transmission is another common issue with the automatic transmission system because the system regulates itself while you focus on driving, its components are constantly in action.

So, when you feel a burning smell, especially if it’s the scent of transmission fluid, you should know that the transmission components are getting overheated due to friction caused by a lack of lubrication.

Mind you, transmission fluids do not only keep the transmission components lubricated, but they also build a cooling effect.

So, when the flow is bad or not enough, the transmission component may overheat or burn up.

Sometimes, the fluid is not overheated and the burning sensation could just be a result of your use of a bad fluid. If this is the case, just drain the fluid and replace it with the right one.

Otherwise, you’ll have to examine the transmission to diagnose the real cause and get it fixed as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, find out if automatic or manual cars are faster.

6. The Transmission Fluid Could Be Leaking or Become Insufficient

Again, it is uncommon for the transmission fluid to become insufficient. However, when you have a faulty gasket, leaking hose, loose pan bolts, or broken seal, this could be inevitable as the substance leaks out of its chamber.

The fluid leak could be very dangerous, especially if the leaking fluid drops on a hot pipe. So, you should be seriously mindful of this issue.

Moreover, when there’s a leak in the transmission component, the system will overheat and cause friction. This might make it difficult to shift the gear.

Before you can fix the leaking transmission fluid, you’ll have to determine its cause. You might simply need to replace the gasket, change the seal, or tighten the pan bolts to stop the ugly occurrence.

7. There Could Be a Delay in the Transmission Response

Several factors may cause an automatic transmission system to experience delayed gear shifting. In most cases, the transmission fluid is also a significant factor responsible for this problem.

When you have issues with leaks, you’ll definitely experience low transmission fluid issues.

This could also lead to a buildup of heat in the transmission components, causing major damage to one or some of the parts.

Moreover, the transmission fluid could also become contaminated due to a buildup of debris in its chamber.

If you often drive in a wet climate or on watery terrains, watery substances could intrude into the transmission chamber and interfere with its functions.

These are the factors that might cause a delay in the transmission response.

On a more complex level, a delay in transmission response could be a result of an issue with the torque converter. The torque converter helps to channel rotating power to the transmission from the engine.

While this component also works with solenoids and valves, it could also fail or malfunction and when this happens, the transmission could be delayed with its response.

You’d really want to know why automatic cars are more expensive despite these problems.

8. It Might Trigger the Check Engine Light

Virtually all modern vehicles work with a sensor that checks if the car’s mechanical and electronic components are functioning well. If otherwise, the engine control module (ECM) will activate the check engine light to keep you on alert.

The transmission is not spared from this alert. It’ll also come on whenever the sensor detects a problem with the transmission system.

The following are four transmission problems that could trigger the check engine light:

  • Low transmission fluid
  • Failure of the transmission control module
  • Defective solenoid
  • Clogged cooling lines

Pros and Cons of the Automatic Transmission System

The fact that the automatic transmission has some common problems doesn’t make it a bad system. It just consists of different mechanical and electrical components that aren’t completely immune to defects or issues.

That said, here are some of the advantages of the automatic transmission system:


  • It is easier to use
  • It reduces muscular strains, especially on the lower limbs
  • An automatic transmission system enhances driver safety on the road
  • Vehicles with an automatic transmission system are easier to drive


Aside from the common problems we’ve highlighted above, the automatic transmission system has some downsides as well. Check the three prominent ones below.

  • Vehicles with an automatic transmission system are more expensive
  • The transmission system is less interactive than the manual variant
  • It requires more maintenance
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