Torque Converter Problems: Symptoms & Replacement Cost

Torque converter problems are sometimes misinterpreted as symptoms of a failing transmission. Unfortunately, this can lead people to think that they need to spend thousands of dollars to rebuild or replace their automatic transmission when the cost to replace a malfunctioning torque converter is considerably cheaper.

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However, diagnosing the cause of a transmission issue isn’t easy. In many cases, the torque converter will not actually be the source of the problem (you might just have a fluid leak!). The purpose of this guide is to simply help you narrow down the possibilities and educate yourself before you get your transmission checked out.

What Does a Torque Converter Do?

In a nutshell, a torque converter is a fluid coupling that transfers torque from the engine to the transmission. It is mounted between the engine and transmission, bolted directly to a ‘flex plate’ which is spun by the crankshaft.

Torque Converter Between Engine Driveshaft

Internal combustion engines create power by burning fuel that forces the pistons to turn the crankshaft located at the bottom of the engine. This rotational force is transferred to the transmission by the fluid pressure inside the torque converter.

Torque Converter Separated

Inside of the torque converter cover lives a series of propeller-like blades called the pump. This assembly spins in unison with the engine crankshaft, forcing transmission fluid onto another blade assembly called the impeller. This second set of blades is connected to the transmission input shaft. The amount of hydraulic pressure that it creates inside the transmission dictates the gear and ultimately, the speed of the vehicle.

The impeller’s speed is regulated by the engine side of this hydrodynamic circuit (ie. speed of the pump blades). When the vehicle is stationary, or the driver applies the brakes, the impeller will slow considerably, while the pump continues to spin. This allows the torque converter to act like the clutch in a manual transmission – it allows the engine to continue running while the vehicle is at a complete stop.

Once the transmission fluid has been hurled onto the impeller blades, it has to return to the pump in order to keep the cycle going. Since the fluid is now flowing in a different direction than the pump, it has to be reversed to avoid slowing down (and stalling) the engine.

To do this, a third finned wheel called the stator is located between the two turbines on the transmission pump shaft. Its blades are precisely angled so that when the transmission fluid hits them, it reverses direction and gets channeled back to the pump. When the vehicle stops, its built-in one-way clutch causes it to stop spinning, breaking the hydrodynamic circuit.

Once the vehicle starts to accelerate from a stop, the stator is once again free to spin. In the split second that the transmission fluid hits the back of the now-released stator, it starts to spin the transmission pump, and briefly multiplies the torque coming from the engine side of the circuit. This causes the transmission pump to force more fluid in the transmission, resulting in movement.

Once the vehicle is in motion, the stator’s one-way clutch allows it to start spinning in the same direction as the other turbines, reversing the fluid flow and completing the hydrodynamic circuit.

After all of the transmission gears have been shifted through and the vehicle has reached cruising speed, the lockup clutch engages, connecting the front cover of the torque converter (aka the pump) to the impeller. This causes all of the turbines to work together in a direct drive/overdrive scenario.

6 Signs of Torque Converter Problems

It isn’t easy to isolate and diagnose a torque converter issue without taking the transmission/drivetrain apart, but there are several symptoms to look for. A few of the signs of a malfunctioning torque converter include: shuddering, contaminated fluid, gears change at high RPMs and strange sounds such as clicking or whirring.

Slipping

Since a torque converter is responsible for translating engine torque into the hydraulic pressure needed to shift gears inside the transmission, a damaged fin or bearing can cause the transmission to delay a shift, or slip out of gear.

Slipping can also be caused by there being not enough or too much fluid in the transmission. You may also experience a loss of acceleration and a noticeable reduction in your car’s fuel economy.
Be sure to check your fluid levels before taking your car to a shop.

Overheating

If the temperature gauge indicates that your car is overheating, it could be a sign that there has been a drop in fluid pressure and there is a problem with your torque converter. If a converter is overheating, it won’t be able to transfer power from the engine to the transmission. This results in poor throttle response, and excessive wear and tear on the internal workings of the transmission.

Low fluid levels or a malfunctioning solenoid can also cause a transmission to overheat.

Shuddering

If the lockup clutch inside the torque converter is starting to malfunction, you may experience shuddering at around 30-45 mph. The sensation is very noticeable and typically feels like you’re driving over a rough road with many small bumps. As the converter switches over to direct drive, a worn lockup clutch can make the transition difficult, resulting in this sensation. The feeling may start and stop abruptly and may not last long, but if you’ve experienced it several times, it’s time to get your transmission checked.

Contaminated Transmission Fluid

A torque converter is filled with automatic transmission fluid (ATF). If the fluid is contaminated, it can do damage the parts inside. This can result in worn bearings on the stator, or damaged fins on one of the turbines.

If you notice a significant amount of black sludge/grime/debris in the fluid it could mean that the converter or transmission itself is damaged. In this case, change the fluid and drive around for a while before checking the fluid again. If the problem persists, get your car checked by a professional.

Higher Stall Speed/Gear Engagement RPM

The ‘stall speed’ is the point at which the engine RPMs are high enough for the torque converter to transfer power from the engine to the transmission. In other words, it is the RPM at which the converter will stop the engine speed from increasing if transmission output is prohibited.

If the torque converter is broken, it won’t be able to transfer the engine’s rotational force into hydraulic pressure correctly. This will result in the transmission taking longer to engage the engine, causing the stall speed to increase. Here is how to do a stall speed test. You’ll have to find out what your vehicles stall speed is beforehand (typically 2000 to 2500 RPM).

Strange/Unusual Sounds

It’s not uncommon for the torque converter to emit strange noises as it begins to fail. Some of the sounds you might hear include a ‘whirring’ sound coming from bad bearings, or ‘clinking’ sound coming from a broken turbine fin.

How to Diagnose the Problem

Here is how you can try diagnose the problem yourself. At each step, listen carefully for unusual slipping, shuddering, lurching forward or strange noises:

  1. Start your car and let it run for a couple minutes
  2. Press the gas down lightly several times
  3. Push the brake and shift the car into drive
  4. Slowly shift through each gear
  5. Drive around the block, listening carefully every time you accelerate

Do Not Drive With a Broken Converter

Important to note – a converter can slowly fail over the course of several weeks or even months before it completely breaks down. Driving a vehicle with one that is damaged can be risky as it can completely disintegrate when it breaks down – adding metal debris into the transmission fluid. The contaminated transmission fluid can then make its way into the transmission and cause significant damage or even complete failure, turning what could have been a simple converter replacement into an expensive transmission repair or replacement. To prevent this, pull off the road when it is safe to do so and shut off the engine.

Common Causes of Torque Converter Problems

There are a few reasons why problems can occur. Don’t assume what the problem is until you have your transmission looked at, but here are some general ideas of what it could be.

Bad Torque Converter Needle Bearings

The impeller, turbine and stator use needle bearings in order to turn freely. The bearings separate these rotating components from the converter housing. If these bearings are damaged, you’ll notice reduced power, strange noises and bits of metal in the transmission fluid due to metal on metal contact/grinding.

Damaged Torque Converter Seals

If you notice a transmission fluid leak coming from the bell housing, then you might have a damaged torque converter seal. If your torque converter can’t hold the proper amount of ATF, then it won’t be able to transfer power from the engine to the transmission effectively. This will result in overheating, shifting problems, strange noises, higher stall speeds, and slipping between the gears. The bad seal will need to be found and replaced.

Worn Torque Converter Clutch

Automatic transmissions have a number of clutches located throughout the assembly. A torque converter clutch is responsible for locking the engine and transmission into direct drive.

If the torque converter has been burned by overheating, become jammed/locked up due to distortion or contaminants in the transmission fluid have damaged the friction material on it, then your car may stay in gear even though you come to a stop. The converter can also shake and not lock itself into direct drive if the friction material on the clutch plate has worn away.

Faulty Torque Converter Clutch Solenoid

A torque converter clutch solenoid regulates the amount of transmission fluid that the converter’s lockup clutch receives. If this electronic device can’t accurately meter the fluid pressure, then the lockup clutch will not work properly as a result of too much or too little fluid supply. This can result in loss of the direct drive function, poor gas mileage and engine stalling.

Torque Converter Replacement Cost

If you’ve noticed one or more of the above symptoms, then it’s possible that your torque converter is malfunctioning. The cost of getting it repaired can be higher than simply replacing it, so be sure to have a mechanic/technician take a look.

RepairCost Range
DIY$150 to $500
Transmission Shop$600 to $1000

If you plan to do the work yourself, then you’ll be looking at a repair cost between $150 and $500.
Repair shops will charge between $600 and $1000 to replace a torque converter.

The torque converter itself is relatively inexpensive (between $150 and $350, depending on the vehicle), but 5-10 hours of labor is involved since the transmission must be removed in order to replace the torque converter.

The fluid should also be flushed/changed at the same time, which may or may not be included in the price a shop gives you.

A repair shop will be able to determine whether or not the problem lies in the transmission itself or the torque converter. Finding a reputable shop is very important because as we have mentioned, the symptoms can be very similar and a transmission replacement is considerably more expensive.

Fair Replacement Transmission Cost by Vehicle

  1. Find your transmission model in the table below for fair prices from reputable suppliers. Also fair labor cost for local installation at a local auto repair shop.

  2. Get a free estimate on a remanufactured transmission by email.

Fair Remanufactured Transmission Price Ranges by Transmission Model Updated July 2018

transmission repair cost
Download Replacement Transmission Cost Guide PDF

Over to You

What problem do you think your torque converter has? What symptoms is your car experiencing?

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Bob

My Ford F-250 keeps breaking flexplates I think it’s the torque converter

Russ

I have a 2011 Chrysler Town & Country. It feels like the torque converter locked up when I slowed to a stop at a light; it shuddered and stalled. The engine would start but stalled when put in gear. I managed to back up then rolled forward enough to shift into drive, it shuddered but kept going and was able to get home. It seemed to drive fine but it stalls when I stop.

Karen A

I have a 2005 trailblazer, my check engine light came on codes p0894 and p0741 i checked my fluid BONE DRY not reading on dipstick at all. i put 4 and a half quarts in now reading perfect but check engine light still on. do u think the torque converter solenoid the problem still?

Troy

I just replaced the torque seal in my 03 VW Passat now it won’t engage in gear no reverse or drive could it be my torque converter

Mike d

I have a billet torque converter in my 07 5.9 cummins.48re trans. It’s a high stall converter. My EGT temps are running higher than normal. Stock trans.. I’m thinking the upgraded Tc is forcing the motor to work harder than it should.. truck is slower now. Shifts perfectly but is my torque converter too much for the trans and motor?

Bart

“97” Mazda B4000 with 318,000 miles. No movement in Drive or Reverse. Rebuilt transmission less than 21 mths ago still under warranty and they are repairing the truck at this time. Based on what I’ve read so far it sounds like the torque converter. Any comments greatly appreciated. Thanks…

James Hughes

Just bought a used 2000 chrysler 300m. Was told at emissions that there was a problem with the torque converter solonoid

Edgar Aviles

we replace conplite buik rainier 2005 transmisson, the engine turn on correctly. but dosnt walk, neitger, back and forward. any advise?

Steven Paige

I have a 2005 cadillac srx 6cyl awd. The transmission is a 5l40e. My torque converter seized and caused me to have to replace it along with the flywheel that it had torn apart. While removing the transmission i noticed the cooler lines didn’t empty any fluid out of them (i do not know much about transmissions so i didn’t know if this was normal or not so i continued). While the transmission was out i replaced the torque converter, the flywheel, the trans oil filter, emptied the fluid (the fluid was a dark gray), cleaned the magnets (covered in thick sludge) and put in about 4.5 quarts along with about a half quart to the new torque converter that already had some in it. I also had to replace the shifter lever from the transmission to the gear shifter (the line that goes from the transmission gear shifter to… Read more »

Dave

I have a 62 Chevy II Nova 301/302 Chevy with a 350 turbo. Took off in 1st gear at around 5500 rpm I pulled into 2nd gear and I heard what sounded like a fork dropped into a garbage disposal. Randomly will make the noise in each of 3 gears I do not have a drive gear. It also does it in reverse. At idle in gear the noise is coming from the torque converter flywheel area. Any suggestions. No metal in the fluid doesn’t smell burnt or hot still shift great.

Olivier Coune

I have a 2003 Honda Accord ex and had the atf shift control solenoid replaced and now car slips into high rpm after 20mph and then goes to different gear. When I make a turn it sips after about 10 seconds and I have to downshift to 1st gear and work my way back to dtive. The d starts to blink. What do I do

Rick

I have a 2011 2500 hd chevy 4×4 trans went bad has shop rebuild and put a new converter on the trans us back in and it slips in forward gears barely moves in reverse transmission is 6l90e?

michael pocasangre

have a 2006 hyundai sonata 3.3 when i put in drive or reverse the car feels as if im power braking/ under severe load. engine pings like wants to stall. had torque converter rebuilt. any suggestion are appreciated thank you

Daniel

Hi. I have a 2006 Honda Odyssey with 292000 km on it.
When I reach the 80-90 km/h I start to have a vibration starting that is shaking the whole car till about 120km/h.
When I take the foot off the gas Paddel it’s almost completely gone. Could that be my torque converter, the transmission or the drive shafts. I spend over $5000 in parts because I’m doing all the labor myself. The van was just paid off and a just can’t afford to go and buy a different van right now. Please help me.
Thank you

Paul S Aguiar

Did you fix

Wesley

I have a 2004 nissan titan 5.6 liter v8 2wd if i start the truckput it in gear it will move then after a few min or a stop then try to move again it just revs engine won’t go anywhere. If i turn truck off and wait about ten min i can restart and put in drive truck moves again but if i stop or put in park and back to drive i get nothing no movement just the engine reving……what is going on?

TonyZ

When my Toyota did this, I just needed a filter and fluid change. $60

Could also be something electronic or mechanical. Take it to a reputable shop. Continuing to drive it could create more damage

bob

all you have to do is remove the pressure line from the radiator, if there is a line on top and on bottom the bottom is the pressure side and top is return to trans, or if they are both along bottom then passenger side is pressure, so, remove pressure line, hook hose up to line to drain into a pan, have someone help if possible, start the car and let it pump out the fluid until it starts bubbling, shut it off, remove pan, clean and replace filter and put pan back on, leave pressure line unhooked and hose left on, add fluid back into the transmission 2 quarts at a time until its around the full mark, if alittle high, no problem, start it up again and let it pump out the fluid until bubbles, shut it off, if fluid is still dark then do it again until… Read more »

John

1999 Ford ranger xlt 3.0 2wd
I recently got into an accident and it would be totaled by the insurance companies standards. Bumper, radiator, trans cooler, ac condenser, header panel, fan clutch, core support, tie bar, hood, fender, and headlight were all replaced. I’m not sure if it tore the motor mount, but it was torn and I replaced it as well. Since successfully doing my repairs, my truck vibrates when I’m only in gear and idling (stopped at a red light). It goes away when I accelerate. I have cleaned the throttle body and replaced pcv as well. I’ve been told that it may be the torque converter. I had the transmission (4r44e) rebuilt less than a year ago. The pan is full and the fluid is right. Could the tc be the cause of this issue?

Dale W. Tuott

I would replace the other motor mount and transmission mount. As vehicles age the mounts will get weak, sag and transfer vibrations to the vehicle. When you had the accident, the engine may have been shifted making the problem worse.

Steve

Check your balancer on the front of the engine.
sounds like everything in front of it hit it. probably ruined the balancer.

Mary Woodruff

1991 ford explorer 4wd. driving down road slowed to go on curve and went to speed up a little and not drive coasted over to side of road. No drive and reverse. wouldn’t even go in 4wd till husband put it in with low range and revved it up and took off fast with a swooshing sound went maybe a mile to home and it kicked in gear. but later tried to go in reverse and forward nothing. Is it the torque converter or something else has fluid and no leaks. had seals replaced yr ago. small leak then nothing now no sounds when it stopped.

Dale W. Tuott

The transmission in your explorer has the 5 speed transmission that has a big problem with the apply servos that like to wear the bore it rides in oblong due to sharp edges on the shaft and either leaks fluid when applying the bands (this has 2) burning up components or jamming them on again burning components. You are most likely looking at a transmission rebuild or replacement. There is a kit that can be installed that has 2 bronze bushings that is pressed in after the worn bores are bored out repairing the problem. If you go with a “good” used on (if you can find one) have the servos replaced with the aftermarket updated servo piston assemblies that help alleviate the problem.

Gregory Watson

I just motor rebuild in my 95 Chevy pick up we for test drive may about two miles down the road it sounded like singing shared of in the trans it stopped pulling checked it couldn’t find so took trans out tried to remove convertor wouldn’t come out a hour later with a lot of hard work I finally remove it the two slots in the shaft of the convertor one had a lip where it has made a lil lip tht was keeping it from conferring out and real bad scarring a round the the of the convertor think the trans made still gud looks like if the pump was removed all the metal shaving could be clean out and a new convertor it may still work and tell me wht it made it do tht and think a new convertor would work times out hard spent way too… Read more »