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.

Need a replacement transmission? Get an estimate for replacement transmissions and local installation. Look up your transmission model by vehicle make and model.

What Transmission Do I Have?

A local auto 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.

In This Guide:

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.

Need a replacement transmission? Get an estimate for replacement transmissions and local installation. Look up your transmission model by vehicle make and model.

What Transmission Do I Have?

Over to You

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

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Leave a Comment

David S

Driving my 99 Ford F250 7.3 S/D (213000 miles) to work this morning, I accelerated normally from a stop….
the tranny abruptly went to its NEW neutral. That’s it, all done. Game over.
Hitching a ride to work at 5am is tough.
After I got the truck towed home this afternoon, I checked a few things. With motor running, there’s no forward gears and no reverse. Driveshaft was not spinning either(in case you were wondering).
Here’s the surprise … I checked the fluid, and there was none on the dipstick. I remember looking on the road and where it was parked…nothing. Nothing dripping from underneath. Where did the fluid go??
One mechanic(over the phone) said it sounds like the torque converter. How could that fail without any symptoms leading up to it?

Murph

I have a 2001 GMC Sierra 1500 with the 4l60 e, the transmission was rebuilt 2 years ago and had done well. Last winter coming back from vacation it started this thing where it shifted very hard into every gear, shut it off and wait a few and it would be fine for days, even weeks. Gradually this became more prevalent until for the last couple months it’s a daily thing. It may take 2 hours or 20 minutes before doing this , shut it off and wait a few then it’s fine. Last weekend I bought a rebuilt valve body and filter from WITT , installed it and torqued the bolts to spec, changed what fluid I could and drove fine Saturday night, long drive Sunday I thought it was fixed till turning on the road I live on and back to hammering gears. The torque converter clutch solenoid is part of the wiring harness and so it wasn’t replaced. Check engine code is. P0741 torque converter clutch solenoid circuit performance or stuck off but my ATSG book doesn’t describe that as a Symptom

Paul R

02 Chevy Trailblazer, when in reverse the car will shudder, revs drop to 200-300 car stalls. In drive when coming to a stop, car shudders, revs drop to 200-300 car stalls. Engine sounds like it is under a lot of pressure. Otherwise, whilst driving it seems fine, MPG is way down…
Torque Converter issue?

Dean Warpula

I have a 05 chevy 2500hd and it started shifting hard though all the gears no noise just violent shifts like break your neck could this be tourqe converter?

Ernesto

My 2000 Toyota Tacoma sr5 check engine light came on recently I took it and it read shift solenoid e was bad. It was a little low on fluid so I added some and noticed what I had in the truck was dirty. It would also start to make a noise like when your power steering is going out when the truck idled. Eventually it started leaking tranny fluid from the bottom of the bell housing. I had a mechanic change out my front main seal and he said when he took the flywheel off it was hard to remove and there was a thrust bearing stuck to it. He changed the front main seal and put the transmission fluid in my truck but when he turned it on it leaked even more! What do you think it is?

Jimmy

Car goes into neutral while driving at any point in time but shifts fine….either let off throttle or give it throttle and goes back n gear

Robert Thompson

1 n’ a half years n’ my new colorado’s torque converter blew, its been a month with no real answers… i use this as a work truck in a solo company and am totally screwed at the moment. Will never buy diesel again… no parts anywhere, will never buy colorado again. Service vans only, at least they can get parts within a day…not month. Here’s to climate change morons forcing the auto industry to change everything yearly now… NUCLEAR power IS carbon’less green energy you idiots… After all this stress, im waiting for the first climate changer to open his f’in mouth near me…. im going to beat the living shipt out of them… idiots are starting to really affect my life… wanna lower the carbon footprint… stop letting people into our countries and if you really care, become a nuclear engineer, otherwise shut your f’in mouths.

Jared

had just replaced all the seals on the transmission by taking it apart with my uncle who is a mechanic, took it to shop and had every seal replaced except the torque converter seal(S), got a good deal on it. even pressure tested it, said torque converter and trans was good to go, we reinstalled it in the specific manner that the certified trans mechanic told us too, ran great for about 2 days, then i got home one night took a look under my vehicle as i do every single day, couldn’t believe my eyes…..trans fluid leaking out of the same exact spot as before, i thought before was bad because it was losing about a quart a week, but this time is was losing just about everything it had in it in a matter of seconds, i walked quiet a while tracing my trans fluid track going all the way until i couldnt look at it anymore, it is leaking out of the port, between the engine and bell housing and out of the bell housing view thingy mig jig….im thinking about selling it, its a 2001 chevy silverado 1500 4×4 5.3L with about 155k miles. and the thing is, the transmission is not even a year old which really pisses me off, i had a warrenty on it, and the business went out of business.. tomorrow ill be spending the day deciding weither i want to sell the pile of…. diy it…AGAIN….or let some shop jam me up a few grand for a replacement… im sick of it highkey…

John Hart

If it’s leaking out of the bell housing port just change your front pump seal

Janice

If my check engine light is on and i get a p0741 code can i. Get the transmission fluid changed any ways. ?

Janice

When pulling out of my drive on occassion the car just cuts out and when coming to a stop at a light the car feels as if i am on. A bumpy road and it will shutter for 3 to 5 seconds .. to me it seems like it is shuttering for 3 to 5 seconds .the check engine light come on yesterday i took it to auto zone to get the problem diagnoised it said it was a torque selenoid clutch . I get the transmission fluid changed every 50,000 miles . Is it ok to get the fluid changed first before i replace the torque converter clutch. ?

Eddie

I’m having the same problem.

PAMELA LOWE

I have a 2007 Ford Taurus I was driving down the road and all of a sudden no warning no noise nothing it just quit pulling wouldn’t go in reverse drive neutral anything except Park what is my problem

Brian B.

Sounds like torque converter to me. I had the same issue and my mechanic literally just performed a diagnosis on my vehicle.

Jimmy

Transmission gone

Jerry Cunningham, jlcham4@ aol.com

2004 Chevy S-10. At a cold start-up, there is a grinding sound coming from the transmission area. After warm-up, the sound goes away. The grinding sound is much like the sound of a failing clutch on a standard shift transmission. Is this a problem with the torque converter? Except for the unusual sound I do not notice any unusual vehicle operation. Any ideas?

Hummer boy

Everytime when i turn 2007 hummer h3 on and switch gears from park 2 reverse and back to drive..in between i am feeling like someone rear ended me it is a harsh shift and when i takeoff from a red light or complete stop i feel a shifting pulling on me i keep thinking it is slip yoke idk i got motor mounts replaced pressure control solenoid replaced internal wire harness replaced still same ol issue any help hummer brothers and sisters???

Charly

When I’m driving close to 40 or 50 mph my car starts to kind of shaking, and when I reach an stop light, it turns off by itself. My car is a pathfinder 2000.

Karaar Kendricks

Won’t go in reverse and won’t go pass 1st gear

Jared

trans needs to be rebuit, that means something is blocking it from shifting, or could be as simple as your shifter malfunctioning..:)

Nichole

Whirling sound

Nichole

2008 Ford escape,stalls when put in gear and around 20 or 25 mph or when slowing down makes a whittling sound

K

You mentioned the faulty torque converter solenoid. But then you failed to say how much just replacing the solenoid would cost. And just jumped right into the cost to replace the whole torque converter. No. How much is replacing the torque converter clutch solenoid? Its a $70-$80 part vs a $400+ part.

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