It’s the phrase every car owner dreads. But never fear; we’re here to help. Read on for signs of transmission failure to prevent damage from occurring and to keep your transmission running like new. Consistent transmission maintenance could save you $1000s.

What is a transmission?

A car’s transmission directs power created by the engine to the drive wheels, which in turn, rotate the wheels. Without a transmission your car doesn’t move. There are roughly more than 800 parts to an automatic transmission, each intricately placed and dependent on each other. Often when one part goes, the whole transmission goes. Hence, the soaring prices to repair a faulty transmission.


Your transmission relies on automatic transmission fluid for cooling and lubrication. If you take care of your transmission fluid, your wallet will thank you later.

How to maintain an automatic transmission

First, there are steps you can take to dramatically reduce the risk of transmission failure. Regular maintenance and a vigil eye for warning signs can prevent signs of transmission failure from popping up.

  • Check the level and color of your transmission fluid every few months. Some cars have dipsticks for easy access, but others are closed systems and require a few tools or a mechanic. Refer to your owner’s manual.
  • Change your automatic transmission fluid every 30,000 to 60,000 miles. Make sure the transmission fluid pan is removed, cleaned, and a new filter is installed. Use only manufacturer recommended fluids and fill amounts.
  • Never switch from drive to reverse, or vice versa, while the car is still moving.
  • Accelerate smoothly to allow gears to change at the correct times.

While car repairs are inevitable, following these maintenance tips before any signs of trouble can at least help avoid the more costly ones.

Signs of transmission failure

Deciphering between a failing transmission and a multitude of other ailments your car could have is difficult. Signs of a wearing or under-performing transmission are often hard to miss, since the transmission plays such a vital and noticeable role in the actual movement of your car. The fix could be as simple as adding automatic transmission fluid. But if you notice any of the symptoms listed below, your best bet is to talk to a mechanic as soon as possible.

  1. Burnt or low transmission fluid. Transmission fluid should be a clear red or brown. If it is very dark or thick, have it changed immediately. If your transmission fluid is burnt you may also notice a sweet burning smell.
  2. Slipping or delayed response when accelerating. This can feel like your tires are spinning on ice or you will notice the rpm’s going up without your car moving. Gears should lock in immediately. If you notice a delay when applying pressure to your gas pedal, it is a sign of trouble.
  3. Stalling or refuses to move. This often means that a transmission or another vital component is on its last leg. Your car is unsafe and needs maintenance immediately.
  4. Leaking transmission fluid. If you notice a red liquid on the ground, get it looked at immediately. Low transmission fluid will lead to major transmission wear.
  5. Hard shifting. Automatic shifting is built to be smooth and nearly unnoticeable. If you feel a jerk or shake every time your car shifts, you need someone to inspect your transmission.
  6. Weird sounds when revving and shifting. Wearing transmissions sometimes give off a whining or clunking sound. This means metal is rubbing on metal. Not good.

Do not ignore the above mentioned signs of transmission failure. Early detection is your only chance to save your transmission.

Think Rawhide when it’s time to move on

A broken transmission is often a death sentence for most well-used cars. Costs of transmission repairs and replacements range from $1,000 to $8,000. When the time comes to cut your losses and move onto a more reliable and cost efficient ride, keep Rawhide in mind. We take vehicles in any condition to fund our at-risk youth treatment programs. Your old car can help transform a life at Rawhide.