Transmission fluid is the lifeblood of your transmission. If the transmission fluid is low, there are any number of problems that can develop. A transmission system has many moving parts and the fluid plays a vital role in providing lubrication, hydraulic pressure and cooling properties between all the key components. And like engine oil, transmission fluid (also known as transmission oil or automatic transmission fluid/ATF) can simply go bad over time. Even if you have a full fluid level, the fluid itself may be burnt, cloudy, dirty or full of contaminants that build up through time and use. Old, nasty transmission fluid can be just as bad—if not worse—for your transmission as low fluid levels.
So, what can you look for to let you know that you might be low on transmission fluid and/or are overdue for a transmission service? Here are 6 common signs of transmission fluid issues according to the Central Valley transmission experts at Ralph’s Transmission:
1. Transmission Slipping
When we say a transmission is “slipping,” that means it is having trouble staying in certain gears. Sometimes, it will shift up or down abruptly or slip out of gear while you are driving. This is often a sign that the transmission fluid is low.
2. Fluid Leaks
One of the most obvious signs that you are probably low on transmission fluid is when you notice a fluid leak under your vehicle. Transmission fluid is typically a bright red color, so it is fairly easy to identify compared to engine oil, transmission coolant or brake fluid. At the first sign of a transmission fluid leak, you will want to get your vehicle inspected by a transmission specialist before it develops into major transmission damage.
3. Delayed Shifting
This usually happens when you start the vehicle and try to shift into drive or reverse. There may be a delay (often as long as 2-3) seconds before the gears engage and you can start moving. This means there may not be enough fluid pressure to actuate the gear change.
4. Transmission is Overheating
Your dashboard console (or digital display screen) has a warning signal that monitors transmission temperature. A transmission can overheat just like an engine does, and it’s usually a clear indicator that there is a fluid issue.
5. Shifting Difficulties
Beyond just delays and slips between gears, you may find the vehicle is struggling to shift. The gears may grind or the shifts may be abrupt and feel jarring. Or, the vehicle may not even shift into gear at all. When the transmission fluid gets too low, nothing will work properly within the transmission. This is often what leads to major internal transmission damage, and then you may be faced with replacing or rebuilding the transmission entirely.
6. Fluid Check
Most vehicles will have a dipstick or some other equipment that allows you to check your transmission fluid. You can measure the level and also look at the quality of the fluid itself. Cloudy fluid might mean that water is seeping into the system. Dark, dirty or burnt-smelling fluid are signs that the fluid is old and no longer effective. Your transmission filter likely needs to be replaced, and there could be other issues worth getting looked at by a professional mechanic.
At the first sign of any automatic transmission fluid problems like these, you don’t want to wait until it develops into something much worse. Getting your transmission fluid replaced periodically is a common maintenance procedure. A standard transmission service will also involve cleaning the transmission pan and replacing the transmission filter (which helps keep the fluid clean) and pan gasket (which helps prevent fluid leaks).
If you are experiencing any transmission issues or fluid leaks, call Ralph’s Transmission today at 209.526.1909 or schedule your service appointment online.