The transmission is a vital component of your car or truck. The transmission makes sure that the wheels receive the correct amount of power from your engine, and also plays an important role in gear shifting.

Problems with your transmission should always be addressed swiftly.  The longer you leave transmission problems, the more damage can occur and the more expensive repairs can become.  Transmission problems can also be dangerous for you the driver, if the clutch keeps slipping for instance that can fast become problematic when you’re on a high speed road.

Transmissions are pretty hardy, they can last for several years without problems, so it’s easy to become complaisant and not think about them.  Neglect and lack of knowledge are perhaps the biggest causes of transmission problems.  So with that in mind, what is most likely to ruin your transmission and what can you do about it?

1. Forgetting to service the transmission

Like most parts of your vehicle, the transmission needs lubricating and keeping clean of dirt and contaminants to work at its best.  A health check up and service is one of the best proactive things you can do to increase it’s lifespan.  This will help to prevent the build up of dirt and debris that wears the transmission down, makes it sluggish and can lead to overheating (another risk factor for transmissions).

General advice is to have your transmission serviced every 30,000-60,000 years (roughly every 2-5 years depending on how much you drive and your style).  This can involve flushing and replacing the transmission fluid, replacing the filter, checking the condition of components and providing repairs/replacements where needed.


2. Not keeping the transmission fluid topped up

Low transmission fluid can lead to serious problems and fast.  It’s also important to keep the fluid and the transmission filter as clean and clear from dirt as possible.  Over time transmission fluid succumbs to heat, becomes thinner and less effective. You can check your transmission fluid level yourself, ideally at least every 6 months, or if you prefer take your car to a transmission shop as part of a regular service.  Here’s a helpful guide for checking your transmission fluid from


3. Ignoring overheating

Transmissions are particularly vulnerable to excess heat.  It’s estimated that 90% of transmission failure is caused by overheating.   Transmission fluid works best at 175 degrees – beyond 200 degrees and it becomes less effective, reducing your transmission lifespan by half for every 20 degree increase thereafter.

  • 220-degrees = varnish forms on metal surfaces
  • 240-degrees = seals harden
  • 260-degrees = transmission bands and clutches begin to slip
  • 295 degrees = seals and clutches burn – call a tow truck

If you have low fluid levels the problem can quickly escalate as there is nothing to cool the transmission down.  What causes bad overheating for transmissions?

  • Dirty transmission fluid
  • Low transmission fluid
  • Heavy towing (especially beyond manufacturer recommendation)
  • Regular hilly/mountainous driving
  • Frequent start/stop driving – Try to adapt driving style to reduce the amount of stops and starts, for instance timing your approach to signal changes so that you can continue on rather than stop.


4. Ignoring warning signs

When signs of transmission problems come up, avoid them at your peril.  It’s important to get repairs done as soon as possible to prevent further more expensive damage.  You can’t always know exactly if it is the transmission that is at fault, though some signs are clearer than others.  If you are unsure take your car to your local repair shop, and if you notice several of these signs, definitely take it in for an inspection.

  • Gear slipping
  • Burning smell
  • Unresponsive when shifting gears
  • Struggling to change gears
  • Unusual noises when in neutral
  • Gear not disengaging when you press clutch (in manuals)
  • Grinding or shaking when shifting gears (common in automatic transmissions)
  • Fluid leaking – You can’t mistake leaking transmission fluid, it’s red and smells sweet, there are no other vehicle fluids this color.


5. Using the wrong transmission fluid

Not all transmission fluids are the same, and each vehicle has it’s own requirements of fluid viscosity and additives that allows for optimum performance.  Using the wrong type of transmission fluid can mean insufficient cooling, improper hydraulic pressure and insufficient lubrication for your transmissions parts.  Whether you’re adding transmission yourself, or someone else is doing it for you, make sure the correct fluid is being used.  If in doubt consult your manufacturers handbook.


For the most part, your transmission should look after you for a long time, it’s not delicate until things start to go wrong.  You can reduce the chance of that happening by regularly caring for your transmission with proper servicing, ensuring the fluids are clean and topped up, and paying attention to warning signs and your driving style.

If you would like to schedule a transmission checkup and service in the West Haven, CT area, give Fred’s Auto Center a call: 203-934-7251.

Fred’s Auto Center has been trusted for transmission repair and all other kinds of auto services since 1996 and has amassed a solid reputation in the local area from hundreds of satisfied past customers.  To find out what some have to say, simply search “Fred’s Auto Center” in Google and read the many past 5 star reviews.

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