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Simple Tips for Troubleshooting Automatic Transmission Problems

Automatic Transmission Problems
Following some simple tips, like using the correct grade of transmission oil during the transmission oil change, will help you keep automatic transmission problems at bay. And that, mind you, can be of great help as these transmission problems don't just come heavy on your car, but also make a hole in your pocket!
Kevin Mathias
Last Updated: Mar 19, 2018
Car models with automatic transmission produced initially were very simple, as they were more dependent on their mechanical components. The new breed of automatic transmission cars, however, depend on a host of components - mechanical, hydraulic, and electronic - all working in perfect synchronization. In fact, this perfect synchronization is the key to your car transmission, and disruption of the same is what causes your automatic transmission to falter.

Diagnosing problems with the transmission is much more easy when it is a manual transmission, as rough shifting of gears is the most obvious symptom of the same. When you try to shift gears manually, the ease with which you shift will tell you if the shift is smooth or not. You immediately take the car to an authorized mechanic where the fault is rectified, causing a minimum dent to your pocket. Unfortunately, this is usually not possible with an automatic transmission, which is considered to be a disadvantage of this transmission type.
The symptoms of transmission problems in this type only become obvious after considerable damage is done - which can be a bit too late; chances are that the damage can be major and cost you a hefty sum in repairs.
Common Problems With an Automatic Transmission
Noisy Transmission
Portrait abaout a beautiful woman, car defect
It changes from car to car, due to the brand and the make, and your mechanic. But one thing is certain: if your car makes any kind of whining, whirring, buzzing, or clanging noises, there is something wrong with the transmission. Ignoring these noises only gives them a chance to grow louder.
Most transmission-related sounds occur at transition speeds. It happens during acceleration or deceleration in most cases, and idling in bad ones. The intensity determines the problem. It could be anything from a low amount of lubrication to chipped gears.
Vehicle Not Moving
Woman in trouble
This one is a little tricky. The worst possible problem is a broken transmission system, because the only way to fix this is a transmission overhaul. But a transmission dying out instantly, without giving any warning, happens very rarely. So if the problem occurs without any other signals (like noise or jerking when the gears change), chances are it could be something else, like the drive shaft, the cable connection to the gear shifter, or a broken bushing.
Loose Transmission/Uneven Changing of Gears
If your car is not going into gear, or can't stay in it once shifted, it could be another sign of transmission failure. Another symptom is a jerk that you get when the gears shift. In harsh cases, it feels like you've been rear-ended every time the car shifts gear.
Leaking Transmission Fluids/Foul Odors
Sad broken down cartoon car
This is one of the most common problems with any transmission system. The source of the problem can be found out by calculating the last time you changed your car's transmission fluids. If it was fairly recent, the leak could be because of loose joints or bolts around the drain plug or filters. If your car is old and the fluid hasn't been changed for quite some time, the problem could lie in the filters or the gaskets. They tend to get worn out after long-term use and start malfunctioning.
A slightly more rare cause is damage to the transmission housing by external factors such as rocks, speed bumps, potholes, or the sidewalk.
The Check Engine Light
Check engine
Never ignore it. You'll just be inviting more trouble if you do. There are two ways to assess the code. One is to check it online, through a legit code book. The book will only tell you which sensor is relaying the specific code, implying that the problem is related to that sensor. The other way is to get it checked directly at a mechanic's.
The light warns you about any problems with the engine and the transmission. Usually, P0xxx is the standard code that you might get. It refers to most cars and makes. If the code starts with P1xxx, then it's a brand-specific code, and you'll have to refer to their specific code book.
Note: If you notice any of these problems in your car, it is strongly advised that you show your car to a trusted mechanic. Transmission problems always get worse with time, and the cost of repair increases quite fast too.
The synchronization of various components of an automatic transmission is important; without it, you are bound to experience a rough ride. The automatic transmission on the latest automobiles consist of planetary gear sets, the hydraulic system to control and activate the clutch, the torque converter, which acts as a clutch allowing the vehicle to come to a standstill with the engine running and in gear, the governor and throttle cable monitor that senses when to shift gears (in older models), and the on-board computer which senses various parameters thus facilitating precise gear shifting, and giving you the freedom to choose between settings for high power or better mileage.

Smooth shifting happens when you can't hear it, but instead feel it when at the same acceleration your power suddenly drops down but speed increases. There is something wrong when you can feel the gear changing, but at the same time also hear a clinking noise from the gearbox. Furthermore, there is something really wrong when you feel a shudder with each gear shift. You should also keep an eye for transmission fluid (oil) leak, as well as its color and odor, if you are to diagnose transmission problems before considerable damage is done.
Taking Care of an Automatic Transmission
Since you do not have any role in gear-change when using a vehicle with automatic transmission, the chances of the gears getting faulty due to human error are next to non-existent. The main ingredient that will keep the automatic transmission performing like new is the transmission oil. You know how important changing the engine oil on time is, and the serious damage that can occur in case you don't. Same is the case with changing transmission oil, but this is one area that is very often neglected, thus resulting in sudden and serious damage to the transmission.

If you get your vehicle serviced at a company-specified service outlet, you don't need to worry about the various oil changes that your car requires. In all likelihood, your vehicle's entire service details will be maintained, and all the required changes and servicing will be done on time.

The problem is that most will go to such service outlets only when their vehicles are new. The general assumption is that once the vehicle gets old, even the local mechanic will do. This is one reason why you must keep a maintenance record of all servicing and oil changes made - right from the day you bought the vehicle.

Engine oil change is a regular feature and will be done at every servicing. You should know when this oil was last changed and, more importantly, when it has to be changed next.

Refer to the car manual, and always follow what your vehicle manufacturer suggests. They have done a lot of research and development to know what suits your vehicle best, and how often you have to change the transmission fluid to avoid problems. If your manufacturer suggests that you change your automatic transmission oil after every so-and-so miles, do it on time.
When a Problem is Noticed, Act Immediately
As you get used to the transmission smoothly changing gears, you will be able to notice even the slightest change when the unit performs undesirably. Do not wait for later; instead visit your mechanic as soon as possible and ask him to do the needful. It could be something very minor that can be solved immediately, but by ignoring it you are likely to spell trouble for yourself as the underlying problem is likely to get more serious, and eventually affect other components of the car. If ignored for a long time, even small problems can lead to major malfunctioning, which may require a total overhaul in return.

It is always good to be alert and wise. The moment you notice something amiss, you should resort to professional help. It doesn't only apply to your automatic vehicle's transmission, but applies to absolutely any vehicle, and absolutely any component. Minor issues are known to snowball into major problems. What can be solved in a few dollars when done on time, can cost you a fortune later. The more time you take to address the problem, the deeper the hole in your pocket will get!