What does transmission slipping feel like in an automatic transmission?

Do you think your automatic transmission is slipping?

A slipping transmission is a certain sign that your automatic transmission needs either service or a repair.  It’s important that we point out that when your transmission gears are slipping it does not always mean your transmission if failing, though.

What does slipping feel like?

Most people say a slipping transmission feels like you drove over an ice patch.  You can hear the engine revving up, but you’re not getting any traction from the car.  This can sometimes happen when you have a heavy load and you’re going up a hill.  If you hear or feel a clunking this can also be related to the slipping and signifies you certainly need to get your transmission inspected.

Another example could be that your engine revs up to around 3000-4000 RPMs.  If you car has a tachometer gauge in the dash, you can look down and see this pretty easily.  If you don’t you’ll feel the engine rev up abnormally high before the car jerks into gear as the car jumps forward.

Other Symptoms of slipping transmission could include a delay in acceleration, an inability to put the car in reverse, difficulty shifting into different gears (maybe at a slow or high speed), strange noises coming at around the time the car is shifting, any burnt smell or other unusual smell, among others.

What could be the causes of a slipping transmission?

The most common causes are poor maintenance to the automatic transmission.  Often a transmission service which includes flushing out the old fluid and any metal shavings in the transmission resolves this issue.  The role of your automatic transmission fluid is to keep the gnashing of metal-on-metal gears inside of your transmission from damaging itself due to friction.  The fluid also acts as an anti-corrosion agent.  There are other components inside of your transmission that could be causing these symptoms too, but your first stop is to check the fluid. Additional causes can include a clogged transmission filter, broken gears or bands, low transmission fluid or burnt fluid.

Transmission fluids stop protecting the transmission with time and mileage

With each year and mile, your transmission fluid’s protective properties diminish which invites trouble into your transmission.  Friction builds up and starts shaving metal away from the gears inside.  Once this starts to happen, the process accelerates because it causes more friction, which causes more heat, which causes your fluid to break down even faster.  If you catch this in time, you can prevent a major catastrophe.  Transmissions in some cars can cost more than a new engine.

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How do I tell if the automatic transmission fluid is okay?

Your starting point to see if your fluid is giving you the protection you need is to check its color.  Clean and fresh transmission fluid is usually a red color, while worn or burnt fluid is dark brown or almost black.  You can check this yourself by locating your transmission dipstick (if your car has one, some newer models have sealed transmission so you can’t check), then pulling it out and wiping the fluid on a white paper towel.

If your fluid is dark, you may have metal shavings inside the transmission that are causing damage too.  This can be checked usually by removing the transmission filter which is an involved job and is most often done by a shop like ours.

In summary

If you are experiencing any trouble with your transmission slipping, you should tend to the problem RIGHT AWAY.  Ignoring this trouble could lead to one of the most expensive and inconvenient repairs your car may ever have.  Often, though, just having a qualified service technician inspect your transmission and perform a fluid exchange can solve many problems like this.  It’s best to find a shop like ours where your service person is an ASE Certified or Master technician because they have the experience and training to know the difference between a small problem and a large one.  You DON’T WANT an inexperienced mechanic recommending a new transmission when it’s not needed.

Littleton, CO Transmission Service

Thank you for reading our article about transmission slipping.  If you live in or around Littleton, Colorado, come visit our shop.  We have significant experience and training in Automatic transmissions.  Plus, we are the “FRIENDLIEST AUTO REPAIR ANYWHERE!”