Your car’s drivetrain is made up of a fair few components, and each one can be prone to failure, if it isn’t maintained. In this article we will address a few of the signs to look for in order to identify issues with your transmission, and other drivetrain parts. We will also suggest a few of the things you can do to ensure a long life for your drivetrain.
Symptoms of a transmission problem
Although it can be quite difficult to determine whether an issue is related to your transmission or to something else, like your engine or suspension, there are a few symptoms that indicate that there’s definitely a fault somewhere in the transmission. Below are a few of the most common ones:
Transmission clunky, noisy or difficult to gear changes
The cause of transmission issues will depend on whether you have a manual or an auto. In a manual, clunky or noisy gear shifts could indicate either an issue with your clutch or an issue with the transmission itself. If your car is an auto, then shuddery or clunky gear shifts could indicate a low fluid level or something more serious, if it is a manual then it could be a worn clutch, damaged synchros or something even worse. Whether auto or manual, the first thing to check should always be your fluid level and quality - top it up immediately if it is low or replace it if it’s excessively dirty and if the issue persists then it could be a sign that your transmission (or clutch) is worn or damaged.
Leaking transmission fluid
If you notice pools of fluid on your driveway then be sure to investigate the source of the leak. A leaking transmission doesn’t necessarily indicate that there’s a problem with your transmission, but if left unchecked it can certainly cause one!
Burning smell when driving?
Similar to leaks, you should definitely have your transmission and any related cooling components checked out if you notice a burning transmission fluid smell. It is often hard to figure out what it is you are smelling, but with a bit of experience, you can usually pick out what it is. If you aren’t sure, have an expert drive your vehicle, and they should be able to determine if it is fluid, your clutch or something altogether different.
Why is my Transmission slipping?
If you find that your automatic has issues with strange gear shifting such as jerky shifts, hesitation or that it seems to change gears for no reason, then it may indicate a number of problems - from minor issues with your transmission controller or sensors, to a serious problem with your transmission itself. If your car is manual, you might notice that it seems to pop out of gear, or that your gears don’t seem to be in the right place. This could indicate a worn transmission, or loose shifter linkages. As with all other transmission issues, it is always prudent to have them checked out and sorted sooner rather than later. The longer you leave an issue with your transmission, the more likely it is to cause further damage!
Transmission whines and other unusual noises
If your transmission makes whining, crunching or clicking noises then be sure to have it checked for damage. Manuals will often make a metallic whirring noise during gear shifts if the clutch throwout bearing is worn or damaged. If the sound stops when you take your foot of the clutch, you can be sure you need a new bearing, and it is wise to replace your clutch at the same time. Whether manual or auto though, any strange sounds can be cause for alarm, even if the transmission behaves normally otherwise, and it’s always better to fix stuff early - who knows what could go wrong further down the track?
Other drivetrain issues
Because the entirety of your drivetrain is fairly complex, there is a lot of room for things other than your transmission to develop faults. Be sure to listen out for strange noises, particularly a clicking or grinding when turning as these can indicate issues with your differential or axles. Similarly, if you have a 4x4 and shift into different ratios, any rough, crunchy or jolting shifts can indicate major problems with your transfer case. A fair few issues can be narrowed down to a lack of maintenance, such as regular fluid changes, but it is common for simple issues to develop into more serious problems if left unattended. The transmission symptoms above all apply to transaxles, and a fair few can also apply to your diff - though obviously ruling out the transmission first is always recommended, since they tend to be a lot more expensive!
How to protect your driveline
As is the case with almost all automotive problems, simple issues with your entire driveline can be avoided through regular preventative maintenance. Checking and changing your fluids, as well as properly flushing your fluid systems can go a long way towards extending the lifespan of your transmission or transaxle, as well as your differential and transfer case if you have one. Be sure to use the recommended fluid for your vehicle, as per your car’s owner’s manual, and be sure to stick to the schedule for fluid changes that is suggested by your car’s manufacturer.
When purchasing important driveline components such as clutches, be sure to select parts that are suitable for the type of driving you actually intend to do. Often clutches come in a variety of “stages” that describe their suitability for particular driving - ordered by intensity. There is no point in going for the most extreme offering, if you only intend to drive your car to work and back, since the daily driving experience will be horrible. Similarly, if you intend to drive in racing or other more intensive environments, be sure to fit a clutch that is up to the task. Remember - this applies to aftermarket differentials, flywheels and even transmissions!
One other aspect of your drivetrain that is often overlooked, but that can be critical to a good, reliable vehicle, is its cooling. There are a variety of aftermarket cooling systems that you can fit to the various components that make up your drivetrain. Transmission coolers are usually fairly straight-forward to fit, and go a long way towards ensuring your transmission’s longevity, and you can also fit coolers to differentials - though it’s a little less common, and usually reserved for racing and hardcore offroad vehicles.
As with everything - prevention is the best medicine, so be sure to get on top of any faults early, and check out the ways that you can protect your drivetrain from future issues.
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