Home Diagnosis and TroubleshootingGearbox and Transmission Low Transmission Fluid Symptoms – How To Recognize Them?

Low Transmission Fluid Symptoms – How To Recognize Them?

by Jordan Harris
Low Transmission Fluid Symptoms

Are you experiencing some weird symptoms caused by your transmission and you are trying to learn the low transmission fluid symptoms? If that is the case, then you are at the right place because there will be a lot to cover on this topic.

Having the right amount of fluid in your automatic transmission is a key thing. You just don’t want to run something this sensitive without fluid. And trust me, automatic transmissions are really sensitive when it comes to the fluid they are using. In fact, their work is based on the amount and quality of transmission fluid. If these two factors are not met, you can expect the low transmission fluid symptoms to develop.

And not only symptoms but a real problem can be caused by this situation if you decide to run the car with low transmission fluid. The car will not be happy with this type of work and the internals of the transmission will suffer. Causing damage that is worth thousands of dollars to repair in some situations. And you don’t want that, you need to have a good and reliable transmission. And we are going to help you out with that.

First, we are going to learn what is automatic transmission and how does it work. Then we will discuss what is transmission fluid and why it is so important. Later on, we will cover the low transmission fluid symptoms and causes. After, we will move on to solving the issue and the cost involved in this work. So, if you want to learn more about his problem, follow along.

What Is Automatic Transmission?

So, before we delve into more complex topics like the low transmission fluid symptoms, let’s first discuss what is an automatic transmission in general terms. As you could probably assume not everybody who reads this text is a transmission expert so it is worth introducing the topic. If you are well prepared you can jump to the symptoms. If not, keep up with us for a while.

Nevertheless, an automatic transmission is basically a big energy converter that is installed in your car. The idea about a transmission in cars is old as the cars are. Since cars without a transmission are almost unusable and will not deliver the desired performance.

The first transmissions were basic and the driver needed to manually go through the gears to get the desired one. And manuals are still trendy even nowadays. There isn’t anything else like a manual transmission that connects you to the car and gives you that power to go to any rev range you desire.

Low Transmission Fluid Symptoms

But this article is about automatics, so let’s focus on them. Automatic transmissions came after the manuals and instantly became one of the most widely used types of transmissions in the US. There is just not anything else more popular than automatic transmission.

But these transmissions carry the complexity. Since they are doing all the job for you, meaning that they go through the gears by themselves and this requires a lot of precision and craftsmanship in production and also maintenance. So, when you run the transmission with low transmission fluid, you will start to experience low transmission fluid symptoms. And more on this in a bit after we understand how the automatic works.

How Automatic Transmission Works?

Now let’s see how the automatic transmission works before we dive into the low transmission fluid symptoms.

As we already told you, the transmission is one big energy converter. This transmission has a specific role to convert the rotational energy of the crankshaft into torque. And the torque is the thing that moves your car.

The crankshaft of the vehicle on average spins at 2000 RPM and this rotational force needs to be converted to torque so the energy is distributed to the wheels.

As you know, the transmission is connected to the engine. In RWD cars, the transmission is pointing to the rear and is powering the rear differential through the driveshaft. In FWD cars, the transmission is on the right side of the engine bay where it is placed into a unit called a transaxle. This transaxle is very compact and most front-wheel-drive cars are using it nowadays.

In the transmission, there are helical gears and these gears are the ones that spin to deliver the right amount of torque at any gear selected by the driver.

In automatic transmissions, everything is done automatically. But how this is made possible? Well, this is made possible by the transmission fluid. The transmission fluid is the one that builds hydraulic pressure in the transmission and helps change the gears. In the following chapter, we will discuss the transmission fluid and later on, we will cover the low transmission fluid symptoms.

What Is Transmission Fluid And How To Check The Transmission Fluid?

Now before we dive into the low transmission fluid symptoms, let’s learn what transmission fluid is and what is its main role in transmission work.

As you probably know the transmission fluid is also known as ATF, this abbreviation stands for automatic transmission fluid. But generally speaking, this fluid is basically a hydraulic fluid similar to the one your power steering and other components are using. But with a little twist.

The transmission fluid is red in color and it is easily distinguishable from other fluids in its family. This fluid has some additives that make it perform well and is intended solely for automatic transmission use.

The important thing for you is to learn how to check this transmission fluid. So, how you can do it? You can do this by checking the transmission fluid dipstick. This dipstick is usually near to the firewall and is quite longer than your average motor oil dipstick.

But even if you check the transmission fluid you will assume that you suffer from low transmission fluid symptoms. This is the case because transmission fluid is not checked when the transmission is cold.

You need to drive your car for a while to disperse the transmission fluid around and then you check the fluid level. This is the best practice if you want to get the best possible reading.

But if you already determined that your transmission fluid is low and you are looking for the low transmission fluid symptoms, you are at the right place. In the following chapters, we are going to discuss precisely where we will learn all about these low transmission fluid symptoms.

Low Transmission Fluid Symptoms

We covered the basics of automatic transmissions, now let’s focus on the low transmission fluid symptoms. Since that’s why we are here in the first place.

First, we will cover the low transmission fluid symptoms and then we will focus on the low transmission fluid causes where we will cover every possibility of why you are having low transmission fluid symptoms and problems with your transmission. So, if you want to learn more, follow along.

1. Drops Of Fluid On The Ground

The first in our list of low transmission fluid symptoms are the visible drops on the ground. If you notice how there are drops underneath your parking place in your driveway or in your garage.

Low Transmission Fluid Symptoms

Make sure that you inspect the leaks, if the leaks are red in color, then this is 100% a transmission fluid leaking from your car. Also, check the oil pan for leaks with a flashlight. That’s how you will be sure that your transmission is leaking fluid and is causing these low transmission fluid symptoms. Now let’s move on to the rest of the low transmission fluid symptoms.

2. Warning Light On The Dash

Another in our list of low transmission fluid symptoms is the warning light on the dash. Some car manufacturers are including this option to inform you whenever there is something wrong with the transmission.

Not all cars have this option. Some will pop up the check engine light. But every light that indicates a problem should be a red alert for you. Whenever you notice something flashing you will need to diagnose the issue.

And if you diagnose the problem on time, you will get away with something simple like topping off the transmission fluid. But if you wait and do not diagnose the issue, things can get worse and the transmission could get damaged. That’s why low transmission fluid symptoms should not be ignored and you should make sure that you solve this problem as soon as possible. Now let’s move to the next low transmission fluid symptoms.

3. Difficulty Shifting/Slipping Gears

When we are talking about low transmission fluid symptoms we cannot avoid discussing the difficulty in shifting and the slipping of gears.

These symptoms will be quite prominent whenever there is a lack of transmission fluid in your vehicle. But why is this the case?

Well, the answer is simple, your vehicle needs transmission fluid to be in good shape and shift gears. If there is not enough hydraulic pressure buildup in your transmission the vehicle will not shift gears as it should.

It will not want to go in higher gears and also could slip gears. All this is because of low hydraulic pressure and lack of transmission fluid. And if this symptom doesn’t alarm you, I don’t know what will because this symptom is a dead giveaway when you have low transmission fluid in your vehicle. Now let’s move to the other low transmission fluid symptoms.

4. Transmission Shudder/Vibrations

Another in the list of low transmission fluid symptoms is the transmission shudder. But what is transmission shudder in general?

Transmission shudder usually refers to the vibrations that the transmission is producing whenever it is not performing as it should.

So, when you are having low transmission fluid, you can experience a shudder. This shudder will be the constant vibrations whenever the transmission shifts into gear and these vibrations will basically never stop while you drive the car. So, whenever you notice weird unusual vibrations in the cabin while the transmission is shifting, you should be aware this is one of the low transmission fluid symptoms. Now let’s move on to the next in our list of low transmission fluid symptoms.

5. Humming Sound

Another in our list of low transmission symptoms is the symptom when the transmission is producing a humming sound.

This is a sound that can be really unbearable because you know when something is humming it will eventually break down. And frankly driving with this feeling is definitely something that you don’t want to live with. Whenever there is a humming sound when the transmission is idle. You know that there is something to go down.

In this case, your top priority is to check the transmission fluid level and its condition. If the level is low top it off. If it’s dirty flush the fluid with a brand new fluid. Either way when these noises happen means that your transmission is due for a rebuild. But it also can be considered as low transmission fluid symptoms since they also develop when the transmission is run on low fluid for a while.

6. Burning Smell

When we discuss low transmission fluid symptoms we cannot forget the burning smell that knows to happen. The burning smell happens whenever there is a leak for a transmission fluid line or leak from the transmission oil pan.

So, what happens is that when the hot fluid comes in contact with hot components like the transmission it starts to burn. Thus, developing a strong burning smell that is often a common consequence when you are experience leaks.

If you start to feel a strange smell like something is burning from the bottom of the vehicle. Then this is highly likely a transmission fluid burning and causing you this distress. When this happens is to acknowledge that this is one of the most common symptoms of the low transmission fluid symptoms and top off your transmission fluid is low. Now let’s move to the last in our list of low transmission fluid symptoms.

7. Transmission Is Overheating

And the last symptom in our list of low transmission fluid symptoms is the symptom when the transmission is overheating. But why is this the case? What has the overheating issue to do with the low transmission fluid?

Well, it has a lot to do with it. Namely, the fluid is not only there to deliver proper shifts but also to cool off the transmission. The transmission fluid moves in and out of the transmission. More specifically to the transmission cooler (for additional references, check out our transmission cooler line diagram and the Ford F-150 transmission cooler line replacement). Which is a sort of a radiator that cools off the fluid.

So, if there is low transmission fluid, it means that there will be little or no fluid that will travel to the radiator to cool off. Resulting in overheating of the transmission.

If the transmission overheats too much, it could even destroy itself. And you don’t want that. That’s why you need to be aware of these low transmission fluid symptoms that know to happen and ruin your driving experience and hurt your transmission in the process. But what are the causes for these symptoms? Let’s elaborate on them in the following chapter.

Low Transmission Fluid Causes

We covered the low transmission fluid symptoms, now let’s discuss the causes and learn why this happens in the first place?

And the short answer is because of leaks. There are a number of places where the transmission could leak.

Some of them are very obvious. Like the torque converter that when it fails starts to leak. Also, another possibility is the oil pan gasket of the transmission. This is the gasket that is located between the oil pan and the transmission. This gasket can deteriorate and cause several problems like these low transmission fluid symptoms.

Other possibilities can include leaks caused by foreign objects. If you have impacted a sharp rock or some hard object it could have penetrated the transmission oil pan.

Other possible causes are the oil lines and fittings that can fail when exposed to great amounts of heat. Although these lines are extremely durable they can still fail and cause this problem and make you experience low transmission fluid symptoms.

Another thing that can often fail is the axle seal. This axle seal is located at the end of the transmission where the transmission is connecting to the driveshaft. Meaning that this seal prevents the fluid to flow outside of the transmission. Unfortunately, this seal can deteriorate and cause many issues and also make you notice low transmission fluid symptoms on your car. But how you can diagnose a transmission fluid leak? Let’s find out next.

How To Diagnose Transmission Fluid Leak?

We covered the low transmission fluid symptoms, now let’s learn how you can diagnose the problem. In other words how you can diagnose a leak on your transmission?

In order to pull this off on your car, you will have to get underneath your car. And this will require securing your car in the air or getting your car on a lift.

This will give you the space needed to diagnose leaks because the transmission tunnel is in the center of the vehicle.

Meaning that you need to get close to the transmission to diagnose a problem like this. And for the diagnosing process, you only need a flashlight.

Turn on your flashlight and see from where the leaks are coming from. Based on the leak, you should look for a proper solution.

Meaning that if the leak comes from the drain bolt you will need to replace it. If it comes from the gasket, you will need a new gasket, etc.

But more on how to deal with the low transmission fluid symptoms and how to solve this problem in the following chapter where we will elaborate more in-depth.

How To Fix Low Transmission Fluid Problem

We learned the low transmission fluid symptoms, now let’s learn how you can tackle this problem.

When it comes to leaks from the transmission pan gasket, you will be needed to get a new gasket, a new filter for the ATF, and also new ATF fluid. Not to forget the RTV silicone for the gasket to seal.

The first thing you will need is to lift your car and slowly unbolt the bolts of the oil pan. Not a lot of oil pans have drain bolts and this can be really tricky to deal with. So, be careful and place a big bucket under the transmission for the fluid.

The next thing you will need to do is to give everything a good cleaning. Makes sure that everything shines, both the oil pan and the transmission where the gasket seals. Do not forget to replace the filter for the fluid.

When putting everything back together make sure that you use RTV silicone to prevent further leaks. Top off the fluid and you are good to go. No more low transmission fluid symptoms. In the video above you can check the detailed guide on how this is done.

Cost To Fix Transmission Fluid

The cost for fixing the leaks and living without low transmission fluid symptoms can greatly depend on the cause.

If it’s something simple like the oil pan gasket or the axle seal at the rear you can get away with $200 or up to $400 in the worst case.

Low Transmission Fluid Symptoms

But if it’s the torque converter that is leaking, then you can expect to pay up to $1,000 for this repair. And frankly, this is a lot of money. But the price has to be paid sometimes, even though we don’t like it. Now let’s conclude our article on the low transmission fluid symptoms.

Conclusion To Low Transmission Fluid Symptoms

In this article, we have covered a lot about the low transmission fluid symptoms. First, we learned what is automatic transmission and how do automatic transmissions work. What fluid they use and how you can check the fluid level.

Then we covered the main low transmission fluid symptoms and these are the visible leaks on the oil pan. Transmissions usually leak from the oil pan. Other symptoms include weird noises and vibrations that will be felt in the cabin. Overall, not a pleasant feeling.

Lastly, we covered the diagnosing process of how this problem is diagnosed and sorted out. And of course at what cost this can be performed on your car.

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