6 Symptoms of Low Transmission Fluid (Don’t Ignore These)

When you’re running low on transmission fluid, your vehicle cannot function the way it’s supposed to. This is because transmission fluid lubricates the surfaces and components of the transmission system to reduce friction and prevent them from wearing out.

If your transmission fluid is low or in bad shape, it can cause serious problems to your car’s transmission. Here are some common symptoms of low transmission fluid. Pay attention to these because you may be facing an expensive repair in the future otherwise.

signs of low transmission fluid

See Also: 7 Symptoms of Too Much Transmission Fluid

Common Low Transmission Fluid Symptoms

You’ll find that pretty much all signs of low transmission fluid point to a transmission fluid leak as the cause. If any of the following symptoms show up, the first thing you should do is check the transmission fluid level to confirm.

While you’re at it, check the condition of the fluid. New transmission fluid should appear red and almost transparent. If the color is brown or darker, you may have internal problems. See our transmission fluid color chart to see what the color of your fluid says about its condition.

Related: 9 Car Fluids to Check (Easy, Yet Necessary Maintenance)

#1 – Transmission Fluid on Garage Floor or Driveway

cost to fix transmission fluid leak

This sign that you’re running low on transmission fluid is pretty obvious but often overlooked. When you notice a small puddle or spots of a red or brown fluid underneath your vehicle where your engine and transmission sit, you likely have a transmission leak.

This is usually due to a failed seal or gasket, loose drain plug, or even damage to the transmission pan itself.

Some leaks are incredibly minor, and while you eventually want to fix them, keeping an eye on your transmission fluid level and topping off when needed will get you by. But for most leaks, you want to take care of the issue right away.

#2 – Slow Gear Engagement

set gear to park

With low transmission fluid in your vehicle, you will have a temporary delay after you move the gear lever into reverse or drive. The reason being is that the gear shift cannot take place immediately if there isn’t enough transmission fluid pressure.

With low fluid, it make take up to 2 or 3 seconds to build enough pressure for the gear change. This same symptom will appear if there’s a problem with your transmission valve body so if you confirm the ATF level is fine, that’s another possible cause.

#3 – Trouble Shifting Gears

manual transmission hard to shift

Manual and automatic transmission vehicles both must have transmission fluid that is clean and able to flow freely inside of your transmission. If your transmission fluid is contaminated by dirt or other material, then its response will be very laggy and sluggish.

Once that starts happening, your gear shifting will cause the gears to change too fast or too slow as you’re driving the vehicle. If you are driving a car with a manual transmission, it could be very difficult for regular gear shifts and you may not even be able to get into certain gears at all.

#4 – Strange Noises While in Gear

A properly operating transmission should be silent to the driver. But if you start hearing rattling noises or a rhythmic pounding while in gear and not when in park or neutral, you may have an issue with your torque converter due to the car being low on transmission fluid.

If you hear grinding or clattering while changing gears, it may be another sign that not enough transmission fluid is in the system.

See Also: 6 Signs of a Clogged Transmission Filter

#5 – Transmission Overheats

Similar to how a motor needs the proper amount of engine oil to lubricate all parts and maintain correct operating temperature, the transmission needs an adequate level of transmission fluid to keep it at the normal operating temperature.

With not enough transmission fluid, your transmission will quickly begin to overheat due to excess friction between moving parts. You may notice a strong smell from the burnt transmission fluid or even smoke coming from the area of the transmission.

If you notice either of these while driving, pull your car off the road immediately and let everything cool down for a while. If the temperatures get too high, then you may have serious internal damage and may need a complete transmission rebuild.

Some newer vehicles may even illuminate a transmission temperature warning light to draw attention to the issue. In other cases, your check engine light may illuminate with a code such as DTC P0711 being stored.

#6 – Transmission Gear Slippage

automatic transmission gears

Low transmission fluid could reduce the hydraulic pressure in the system. If you don’t have enough hydraulic pressure, you won’t be able to remain in the current gear that you have selected.

A gear slipping presents itself by the engine jumping to a higher RPM while driving yet the car is not moving any faster. This is often an indicator that significant damage has already occurred to the gear teeth.

Mark Stevens


  1. What happens when the gearbox oil runs out
    1.Can it affect the pump after been driven less than 10 miles

    1. I’m not certain but it definitely seems possible. It’s not good to let the transmission fluid run low.

  2. What would cause a car to not be able to go over 5 mph exactly and upon gassing to try to reach 6 mph the car violently and loudly banging and clunking in transmission area begins

    1. I don’t know, but I’d have it towed to a mechanic. Sounds like something is broken or loose inside the transmission. Could be a bad u-joint or issue with the driveline too. If it’s a bad u-joint, driveline, or axle, you may be able to spot the problem by looking underneath the vehicle.

  3. Hello, I have a MB 2016 Sprinter 2.1 Diesel and I get this low pitch whining sound while revving low, it’s been getting worse and it goes away when I gear down to rev higher.

    I brought it to MB but they changed a fan belt that evidently had nothing to do with the problem.

    Could it be low tranny fluid?

    1. I was going to suggest a belt as well. Can you verify that nothing is rubbing up against the fan belt? It could also be caused by a pulley. Was the shop able to verify the noise?

  4. Can someone help me out? I have a Mercedes c300 4matic 2010. Recently I noticed that I can’t go into gear. I can switch gears, and it also shows on the dashboard that I selected or switched to the right gear. However, if I get into that gear it only vibrates a bit and revs and nothing else. No gear works. What could be th problem?

  5. Hi, I have a 2015 Chevy Cruze and all of the sudden when I’m driving the 2,3 gear wobble and then finally change . I added fluid thinking it could be low and it fixed the problem, but 2 days later it starts wobbeling again and doesn’t seem to want to go up a hill fast . So I added a little bit more fluid and it seamed to fix again. I see no leak on the ground . What do you think?? I’m just wondering if my computer could cause this also?

    1. Can you describe this “wobble” in a bit more detail? I doubt it is the computer, but hard to say anything for sure without more information.

  6. I have a 2001 Dodge ram 1500 tapping noise/clunking when in Park but not in drive. Transmission has been rebuilt 5 years ago haven’t changed transmission fluid

  7. I have a 2017 Chevy impala I recently replaced the output speed sensor and now the car does not move. I have tried putting the old one back but still doesn’t move.

    1. Sounds like something unrelated may have gotten bumped while you were in there, or the speed sensors were reinstalled incorrectly. Did you check the connections at the battery?

      Does the car start and idle normally?

  8. Hi
    My car is not engaging the third gear and it makes a grinding noise when I try to put it into the third gear.
    And it once disengaged the fourth gear.

  9. 2014 subaru with a known transmission issue. Extended warranty to 100k miles, I am at 134k and now a transmission issue and a big bill to pay.

  10. Hi I have an 1999 bmw e38 735i it sometimes don’t want to take 4 and 5 gear,could this be transmission oil level low?

  11. I have a Nissan xterra 2008
    If I’m driving and just pressed the the accelerator I hear a sound something spinning in the engine if I going further it stop. But my car doesn’t sound good

    1. Based on the description it’s really hard to say. Perhaps it’s engine knock, valvetrain noise, or a simple heat shield rattle. I’d get it checked out at a shop so you know for sure in case it needs to be addressed relatively quickly.

  12. 2011 Impala 3.5 w/100k miles. Recently I noticed a whine (kinda like a diesel pickup turbo whine, not as loud but getting louder) and here are the details:
    Not throwing any codes. Whine is only in gear, goes up in pitch w/RPMs, zero noise in park/neutral, zero noise when in park turning steering wheel, no noticeable leaks, temperature is perfect, no idiot lights, shifts perfectly, runs/drives perfectly. No other noises. Changed out about 6 quarts of trans fluid with correct full synthetic trans fluid because it didn’t look as good as it should, (just pumped out and replaced) but no change in noise. In park, compressor on or off no noise, and noise does not change in gear with compressor on or off.
    One mechanic put a stethoscope on it and said upper idler pulley. I thought it was a stretch (zero noise in neutral/park) but I figured it could use a serpentine belt so I replaced both. No luck.
    I saw one post that said “No sound in neutral? Does it vary with steering? If it goes away in neutral and isn’t affected by steering, its just a noisy transmission oil pump, common issue that doesn’t really hurt anything.” (?) I have now dropped the pan and replaced the transmission fluid filter because I saw that a clogged filter might make the pump whine, no excessive metal on the magnet, put back a gallon of the old fluid (since it was fresh) and filled the rest of the way with new. No change in noise, still shifts fine. It is now a pretty loud whine. HELP! Thank you.

    1. It sounds plausible that it could be the transmission fluid pump, but I really don’t know. I would have a technician you trust take a listen in person and see what they think your next steps should be. Walk them through all the steps you’ve described that will make it whine or not whine.

  13. #6 – Transmission Gear Slippage:
    1.) Nice photos, but #6 appears to be of a manual transmission.
    2.) Auto Trans “slippage” may be caused by improper shift actuation, likely due to lack of fluid pressure. The gears themselves would only slip if their teeth were trashed, which would make a horrible grinding noise. …Fairly unlikely.
    3.) GM’s 4L60E can present “Low Fluid” symptoms even with proper fluid level, due to a clogged filter. Its filter apparently includes fine batting or felt rather than just a simple screen, and once clogged with clutch or other fine material, can cause loss of fluid pressure resulting in all kinds of symptoms ranging from erratic or “modulated” TCC engagement to lack of forward and/or reverse gear engagement, accompanied by a noisy (fluid-starved) internal pump. These problems may be worse in colder weather until the drive train heats up. …Way past time for a filter change at that point!

  14. Hi:
    I experienced a problem on my Ford Territory. It travels only up to 40km/h. It does not exceed that speed. When I put it on Drive, it moves fast then stops at 40km/h.
    The other problem is that the gearbox oil dipstick. My mechanic do not know where the stick is situated to check the oil level.

  15. I pulled my gear lever into neutral without clutch while standing outside car, now lever is out of gear but transmission is stuck in gear, didn’t actually go to neutral. Big problem. It is stuck in 3rd gear and hard to change gears

  16. My Automatic Dodge caliber is failing to shift up drive gears .It was once serviced with a wrong transmission fluid and later drained it to top up with the correct cvt about 5litres and its short something like 3litres.
    Could this shortage be the cause of the problem or possibly a gearbox fault?

    1. It’s possible the root cause is low transmission fluid. Driving with low transmission fluid can overheat the transmission and not provide enough lubrication to the internal components. The added heat will also accelerate wear.

  17. I have a 2001 Pontiac sunfine 2.2 it will start and run good for like 5 minutes till engine warms up thsn it wont stay running and it loses power and wont shift right wont go apast 2 or 3 rpm and there is no check engin light on help me please

    1. It would be best for you to take your car to a local mechanic to get it checked out. Diagnostic fees run anywhere from $100-200, and they should be able to quickly tell you why your car is losing power.

    2. Possibly Change fuel filter. When it sits fuel can build up in filter when it needs more it cannot get it.

  18. I have a European manual transmission 1995 Audi A4 B5 that suddenly stopped catching into gear. I came to a stop, then when I went to continue none of the gears worked. The gear shifter can go in and out of gear without pushing the clutch with no problem. I think the clutch is bad, any ideas? Thank you in advance.

  19. I have 2008 Lincoln MKX in December 2019 I changed my 4 tires into snow tires. Since then I have been having this issue with my transmission low in fluid and I have get it checked with mechanic no leakage. Could it be the tires?

    1. Tires would be unrelated to a transmission leak. It would be best to get under the car to investigate the leak.

  20. My new Vauxhall viva 1.0 2018 always lights up with low engine oil lamp sign and goes away after I’veturned the engine on. Weirdly enough, sometimes the 3rd and 4th gear is hard to select or if I do to 3rd it will push into 1st. ( I do put theclutch fully down whilst selecting gears) I’m wondering if that oil sign is normal whilst the car isnt on and if its connected to the gears?

  21. Have a 2004 Jetta! New battery and camshaft sensor. Car gears slipping. Has transmission fluid but dont have dipstick to check fluid level! What do i do?

    1. You check the fluid level manually there should be a fill plug either on top of transmission fill it until it runs out hole and replace.

  22. I have recently noticed a “thunk” noise which seems to be from my transmission when I am having to brake for a red light and going from 45 mph to a stop. It doesn’t occur if I am stopping more gradually. It seems to be only when down shifting a bit more rapidly. I am not prone to screeching halts, however, just normal traffic. Is this a fluid problem?

  23. i have a 2010 GMC Sierra 4×4 automatic transmission, and there is a whining noise from what seems like the transmission area. This noise occurs when in park, neutral and gets louder in reverse. When i put it in drive, there is no noise. When the truck has been sitting overnight and is cold, the noise isn’t present until it warms up. Any ideas as to what this could be? PLease don’t tell me my transmission is falling apart.. i just replaced it with a used one a year (49,000km) ago.

  24. i was driving and my car suddenly stopped. what’s the cause? could it be the gearbox oil need to be replaced/lesser oil left? i noticed thatvfor the last 3-4 weeks, black oil underneath the car.

      1. I have a 2006 Crown Victoria Police Interceptor p71 and I found out that I have a major leak in the tranny pan so in the car is on and idling all I see is tranny fluid dripping out and then is smells like burnt tranny oil and then it starts smoking

        1. You’re definitely going to want to get that leak fixed sooner rather than later. Running the transmission out of fluid will destroy it.

  25. I lost 3 / 4 gears on my 4l60-e tranny because a hole developed on a high pressure line and lost fluid. I took it to shop and told them that i repaired the bad section of the line with a short piece of rubber hose so i drive it to the shop. The shop repaired the transmission but did not replace the bad high pressure line even after i told them to replace it if necessary? They did not replace the line and it leaked fluid again from the temp repair i made with the hose and some clamps. I drove it for 500 miles and took it back to the shop as required by the shop for a check up and to not void the warranty. All they did was “scan it for any error codes AND added tranny fluid!!? They did even do a visual inspection underneath of the tranny, if they did they would have seen fluid everywhere. When i left the shop after they gave it the” ok”. I drove it all day as it is my work truck and 2 times i smelled a burning tranny smell from mo fluid im sure!!!!when i checked the fluid level at the end of the day it was dry. I had a freind drive me to the autoparts store yo get fluid. It took 3 qts to bring it back to the correct level. I also tightend the clamps on the hose repair i made to stop the leaking. I know this will only leak again surely!! The shop charged me $3000 to overhaul my tranny and is probably ruined now because they didnt even bother to replace that line after i told them about it , when it happened and was the reason myvtranny went out in the 1st place!!!! What should i do at this point!! ?

    1. What did the shop say when you told them the tranny fluid was completely dry and you had to add 3 qts? Keep all records. I would insist on them at this point to replace the line (you pay for parts and they take care of labor) or you will be forced to leave negative reviews online, contact the BBB, or even submit a chargeback if you paid via credit card.

  26. It’s good to know that red or brown fluid in your garage or driveway can indicate a problem with your transmission. I have noticed some leaking under my car lately, but I can’t tell if it’s brown enough to be transmission fluid. I will have to take my car into a mechanic soon so they can figure out what the issue is.

    1. On some Chargers, the transmission fluid is intended only to be services by dealers as the transmission is real finicky. The tool used for measurement goes from 0-100 centimeters (measured from the bottom of the pan). The amount of transmission fluid that goes in is dependent on the temperature of the fluid.


    1. Transmission fluid or engine oil? Either case is very bad. Glad you found it soon enough before major damage occurred.

  28. 2013 kia soul 124k mi on it makes a tic tic tic sound while driving it, mostly after it’s heated up,& mistly wen idling at a stop light, or driving thru city limits. On the freeway i dont hear it. Does anyone know wat that could b?

    1. Could just be your PCV valve working properly. You need to change it and your spark plugs about every 50 thousand miles.

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