Last Updated on April 30, 2020
Imagine traveling at one speed throughout your journey. It’s not an appealing thought. The transmission is the part of your vehicle that helps you change speeds smoothly.
When a specific gear is selected, the transmission controls how much power feeds through to the engine. It doesn’t matter if it’s an automatic or manual transmission; they do the same thing.
What Does a Transmission Do?
The transmission is there to ensure that you have enough power when you need it. The principle is similar to the gears on a bike. Lower gears mean that more power is produced. Higher gears allow you to drive at a higher speed.
There are two types of transmissions in a car—manual and automatic. Manual models have you change the gears yourself. Automatic models use the vehicle to do the shifting for you.
Top 7 Signs of a Bad Transmission
How do you know that your transmission is slipping, or that you have transmission failure? Let’s go over seven of the most common blown transmission symptoms.
#1 – Stain on Garage Floor or Driveway
Another way to check for leaks is to place some sturdy paper or cardboard under your car when you park it for the night. If it is stained by the morning, you’ll be able to see whether it’s oil or transmission fluid.
If possible, take the paper or cardboard to your mechanic, too. They can then confirm what the leak is if you’re not sure.
See Also: Transmission Fluid Color Chart
#2 – Unusual Noises
If any part of your car makes a new type of noise, you must have it checked out. The transmission going out is serious, but it might be nothing more than a whining or buzzing sound at first. Get to a mechanic and have them check out the transmission. If you catch it soon enough, it may not be as bad as it could get.
#3 – Gears Are Unresponsive
Your gears should change easily. It is something that you shouldn’t have to think about, much less struggle with while driving. Gears that are unresponsive could point to a transmission fluid leak, a serious issue that you must address quickly.
#4 – Burning Smell
If you smell something burning, it could be that the transmission fluid has overheated or you are low on fluid. It’s not the end of the world if you notice it soon enough, just pull over and let the car cool down and/or buy a quart of automatic transmission fluid (ATF) at a nearby gas station or auto parts store and top it off.
Often this is enough to allow you to limp home or to a repair shop. You’ll want to diagnose the issue right away before a completely blown transmission requires and expensive rebuild or replacement.
#5 – Grinding Gears
A manual transmission that’s grinding is easier to notice. You’ll hear the noise and feel the gears sticking. It could be a simple matter of replacing the clutch (which isn’t actually that simple but better than the alternative).
An automatic will only emit a noticeable sound—a grating sound. If you’ve been driving a manual car for a while, you’ve probably grated the gears before, so you know the sound. What we’re talking about here is the grating noise that occurs regularly.
#6 – Noisy in Neutral
If your car’s making funny sounds when you’re in neutral, it’s time to have a look under the hood. You can often sort this issue out by adding new transmission fluid so it is full. If it continues after you’ve done so, consult your mechanic to see if more severe transmission damage has occurred.
#7 – Check Engine Light
We know how annoying those warning lights are for servicing your car. They’re particularly troublesome if you’re having a bad month financially. If you don’t want things to go wrong, have it checked out earlier.
Proper maintenance can save you thousands of dollars in expensive future repairs.
Transmission Repair Cost (and Replacement Cost)
Brace yourself; transmission repair and replacement is going to be quite pricey. You can often get a rebuilt transmission for between $1,000 and $6,000. That price will depend on the make and model of your vehicle, and a manual transmission is cheaper than an automatic one.
If you’d like something with more of a guarantee, go for a factory-rebuilt model. You’ll pay more, but the warranty can be up to 100,000 miles or three years. It is easier for a mechanic to install vs rebuilding it and will take a day or two at most.
If the mechanic rebuilds it, the costs are lower, but the warranty period is shorter. It can take three or four days minimum because the damaged module must be removed, stripped, and repaired. Costs vary because you never know what problems might be lurking inside.
Your alternative is to salvage a transmission. If you’re lucky, you’ll pay $200 to $600, but the problem is that you don’t know what you’re getting. Who’s to say that the salvaged model will work for your vehicle?
Speak to the repair shop upfront—some won’t offer this service at all because of the potential risks. Steer clear of used parts, too, unless you know something about the way the other vehicle was maintained.
You’ll also need to be guided by your budget, so when working out if this repair is affordable, factor in towing fees. You could risk driving the car if it’s only a short distance away from the garage. If it’s a fair distance away, call a tow truck instead.
Can You Drive with a Bad Transmission?
We don’t advise it under normal conditions. If you’ve identified a leak, you could get away with it by topping up the transmission fluid regularly. It is a pain because it means checking the fluid every time you climb into the vehicle.
You’ll always need a bottle of transmission fluid with you. If you’re going to try this, be sure that you have the right type of fluid for your vehicle.
If the gears are grating, or you’re not sure what the problem is, rather park the car and have it towed. The potential for damage is high. If the metal in the transmission starts to flake off, and falls into the coolant, you can expect an extremely expensive repair.