Transmissions are complex, expensive devices that most of us know very little about. So how do you tell when your car is having issues with its transmission, and how to separate those issues from other possible problems?
It's a difficult field, and one that many mechanics have spent a lifetime learning the intricacies of, but with a little bit of attention paid in the right spots, anyone can know enough to take their car in for transmission work.
First of all, it's important to know what a transmission does, in its most basic sense: it sends the engine's power to the car's drive wheels. If the transmission isn't working at all, your car won't go anywhere.
Some of the most common issues with automatic transmissions (the most common type of transmission) include a reluctance or inability to go into gear, a reluctance or inability to shift from one gear to the next, or a failure to transmit power in one or more gears. As with any complex system, there are many other things that can go wrong, too, but these three basic categories cover the vast majority of transmission problems.
So how do you recognize when your car is having a transmission issue? Ask yourself if you notice any of these signs:
Does your car refuse to go into gear?
Is it difficult to get your car out of gear?
Does your car make unusual or excessive noise when in gear/moving?
Does your car make unusual or excessive noise when stopped/in neutral?
When you apply more throttle, does the car accelerate, or does it simply grow louder as the engine revs climb, without accelerating proportionately?
Is there fluid (typically pink or red) leaking from your car?
Is there a "service engine soon" light on accompanying any of these other problems?
Does your car vibrate more than it used to, or more than it should?
If your car exhibits any of these problems (let's hope it's not most of them, and definitely not all of them), it may have a problem with its transmission. Fortunately, most transmissions can be serviced for considerably less than the cost to replace them, so you should be sure to take your car to a competent mechanic at the first instance of any of these signs of potential improper transmission function or transmission failure.