3 Symptoms of Burnt Transmission Fluid (and the Cause)

Last Updated on December 17, 2019

As soon as a car owner or driver notices a burning odor from the engine area, it becomes an issue serious enough that the car should be stopped driving. Even though transmission problems often occur in specific cars rather than in other makes and models, as long as you have driven your car long enough, transmission repair will eventually come up.

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This often presents itself in the form of burnt transmission fluid. But how do you know if your transmission fluid is burnt and what’s causing it to be like that? Here are some common symptoms to look for along with the reason why your transmission fluid is burnt.

Why Your Transmission Fluid Smells Burnt

damaged transmission gears

Overheating is the main reason behind the smell. Transmission fluid performs two main functions: keeping the moving parts of the transmission well lubricated and causing a cooling effect to help in preventing the entire unit from burning up.

If not enough transmission fluid is in the system, overheating and burning up of your transmission can eventually occur. While the smell of burnt fluid doesn’t always mean serious damage has already occurred, you’ll want to refill your automatic transmission fluid asap.

Even if the burning smell of the transmission means the car needs servicing, you should ensure a professional mechanic helps you identify if it needs replacement or repair depending on the period you have driven the car and the extent of the damage.

Luckily, almost all cars have the ability to indicate when their transmission has started to fail. Immediately upon noticing such symptoms, you should highly consider taking the vehicle in for diagnostics with a professional automotive tech. Such a decision can save you from having to rebuild the entire system.

Top 3 Burnt Transmission Fluid Symptoms

Without ignoring the likelihood of burnt automatic transmission fluid, the following key symptoms stand out as some of the warning signs that the vehicle needs transmission repair.

#1 – Burning Odor

burning smell while driving

As soon as you sense the smell of burnt transmission fluid coming from the interior of your vehicle, even without looking at it, that means the transmission fluid is low or needs replacement.

Similarly, when the gears overheat because of too much friction, you will smell some burning odor.

With a sign such as an intense burning smell, the transmission fluid is not normal. You will likely need the transmission examined if the fluid does not have its unique sweet smell and normal bright red color. A sign of dark and smoky fluid is abnormal.

#2 – Leakage of Transmission Fluid

transmission gasket leaking

Any leaks resembling transmission fluid stand out as one of the simple ways of identifying problems with transmission. Having problems such as difficulty shifting gears, indicate that your gears have dried up due some leakage.

Different from the motor oil of your car, the transmission has no capacity of burning up or consuming any fluids in the course of its use. Hence, running out of fluid means that there is a leak somewhere and the entire system overheats due to increased friction.

#3 – Gear Shifting Problems

car won't go in reverse

The integral parts of the transmission of your car are the gears. Most types of anomalies while shifting gears point towards the sign that the transmission needs attention.

When you try shifting the car into Drive and you notice some hesitation as well as the constant shifting of gears while driving, it may indicate that your car needs transmission repair.

Sometimes the gear may slip out when you are driving or jerks constantly when you try to shift gears. Any of the above symptoms should indicate that the car needs the services of a transmission professional.


Solving transmission problems, such as transmission fluid leaks and changing low, burnt or ineffective fluid is not complex. However, you need the services of a professional automatic transmission professional to service your car. He can successfully check and change the fluid as well as fix any leaks on the transmission without causing any future problems.



  1. i bought a 1995 dodge grand caravan and have a transmission issue the guy said it is a seal thats out and im gonna guess he used the same seal it had and didn’t change the seal when he changed the sealinoid B. But that’s it. it runs and drives just fine but don’t know if it’s safe to drive without changing the seal please help me thanks.

  2. My ford f150 stx 4×4 tranny jus wouldn move i change the fluid drove it but still didn have the power so i put 3 more quarts of tranny fluid in an it moved so now it just stopped i took the tranny out does anyone have any options that could help me?

    • Not sure what you mean by overaccelerating. Do you mean too much power is given to the wheels which causes them to lose traction and spin?
      If so, it’s possible but not likely. You’re causing additional stress to the torque converter which can cause failure over time though.
      If it’s wheel hop (tires lose and gain traction in rapid succession), then yes, it can cause a transmission failure from the repeated stress.

    • Check your transmission fluid level. If that’s fine, it may just be some fluid that got somewhere on the case or other part and is simply burning off. It should go away on its own. But I’d mention it to whoever did the swap just to document it in case the smell doesn’t go away.

  3. 4l60e transmission will go into reverse and 1st but has a delay on the other gears. Sometimes it wont even shift but sometimes it will. Tranny fluid is brown also. Truck milage 230k.

  4. 2009 subaru forester thinking of buying , everything seems very good , but transmission fluid is brownish and has a slight burnt smell , anyway to know if tranny going bad or just need a flush

  5. 2007 mazda Cx7. When shifting into 2nd gear the vehicle shifts hard, but only that gear. The “AT” light comes on the dash for the automatic transaxle. Pulled my scanner in and the code PO976 appears for Shift Solenoid B control circuit low. Any suggestions on how to fix this?

    • You may have to replace the shift solenoid. Before you do, check the condition of the transmission fluid. Does it look good, or is it dark and burnt smelling?

      If the fluid checks out, the factory service manual should have a procedure for testing the shift solenoid circuit. If the solenoid fails the test, replace the solenoid. The manual will also have the location of the solenoid and the disassembly/reassembly procedure.


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