Transmission Slipping: Causes & How to Fix

In This Guide

A transmission stays in a designated gear until a shift is performed by the driver (manual) or the computer (automatic). If yours is spontaneously slipping in and out of gear (or simply popping into neutral) while driving, I don’t need to tell you that this is a serious safety risk. When you step on the gas to take a turn or pass a car, you need power delivered to the wheels, end of story.

Need a replacement transmission? Quality transmission suppliers can be hard to find. Have your 17-digit vehicle VIN# ready. Free estimates sent via text and email.

picSlipping doesn’t necessarily mean that your transmission is about to fail, but it is a signal that you should get it looked at by a repair shop. The clutch is most often the source of the problem for manual transmissions, while there are many different causes for automatics.

If your car is showing one or more of the symptoms of slipping listed below, you should get it look at as soon as possible. Driving with a slipping transmission is not recommended. In addition to being unsafe, continuing to drive can turn what might currently be a small, easy to fix problem into a much bigger issue (or even transmission failure) that will cost significantly more to fix.

In this guide, we’re going to look at several factors can cause a transmission to slip, the symptoms to watch for and what you can do to solve the problem.

Symptoms to Watch for

Slipping occurs when the transmission tries to change gear, causing it either fall back into the gear that it was previously in, or drop into neutral. Diagnosing the issue can be challenging, but here are the common signs to look for:

Automatic Transmission

  • Check Engine Light is on
  • Transmission tries to upshift, then falls back into a lower gear
  • Transmission refuses to upshift
  • Transmission falls into a lower gear, causing the engine to run at a high RPM
  • You step on the gas, engine RPMs increase, but the vehicle speed doesn’t
  • Reverse won’t engage
  • Strange or burning smell
  • Unusual noises when shifting
  • Hard/rough gear changes

Manual Transmission

  • Transmission won’t go into gear
  • Transmission inexplicably falls out of gear
  • Unusual noises (like grinding) during gear change

8 Common Causes of Transmission Slipping

There are a number of possible causes, but if you can find and fix the source of the problem quickly, you can prevent it from doing further damage to the transmission.

1) Low Fluid Level

An automatic transmission relies on hydraulic pressure provided by transmission fluid to perform gear changes. If there isn’t enough fluid in the system, the transmission pump won’t be able to create enough pressure to engage the next gear. Low fluid levels may indicate a leak and can lead to overheating, and significant internal damage.

What to do: Check the Fluid Level

2) Transmission Fluid Leak

As we just explained, an automatic transmission requires hydraulic pressure to change gears. If yours is leaking, chances are there isn’t enough fluid to shift gears without difficulty.

Sometimes, the problem can be as simple as a bad transmission pan gasket, but it can also be faulty seals, ruptured fluid lines, a leak in the pan or a crack in the torque converter.

Transmission-Fluid-Leak

Check the fluid level and look at the underside of your car around the pan and on your drive for any sign of a leak.

What to do: Seal Leaks With Lucas Fluid

3) Burnt/Worn Out Fluid

Over time, the composition of fluid breaks down, causing it to become thinner, darker and full of contaminants. If it is too thin or burnt it will be ineffective at removing heat from the transmission and won’t be able to keep the bands and clutches properly cooled. This will cause it to overheat, preventing it from shifting gears in a normal manner.

transmission-fluid-color

What to do: Change the Fluid

4) Broken or Worn Out Transmission Bands

In an automatic vehicle, metal bands are used to link the gears together. If one of these transmission bands is worn or broken (often caused by overheating), that particular gear won’t be able to engage properly, causing it to ‘slip’.

What to do: Replace or adjust the band(s)

5) Clutch Problems

Manual Transmission

The clutch is the cause of slipping in manual transmissions 90% of the time (the other 10% can be attributed to leaks). A clutch disc typically lasts from 20,000 to 200,000 miles depending on your driving habits.

The clutch uses friction material (like a brake pad) to grab onto the engine flywheel and basically separate the engine from the transmission during a gear change. If the friction material or throw-out bearing (the metal bit that moves the clutch when you step on the pedal) is worn, you won’t be able to fully engage the clutch and shift gears.

What to do: Replace the clutch

Automatic Transmission

An automatic vehicle uses clutch plates inside both the transmission and the torque converter to engage the various gears. If the friction material on the plates is burnt or wears down, it might not be able to go into gear or smoothly shift gears and it may slip out of gear too.

What to do: Change the fluid and replace plates

6) Worn Out Gears

Worn gears can be caused by normal wear and tear (high mileage), ineffective fluid and overheating. Worn out gears don’t work together properly, and this can cause harsh gear engagement, slipping out of gear, failure to engage a gear, and lots of grinding and clunking.

What to do: Replace gear(s) or entire transmission

7) Solenoid Issue

Solenoids are tiny electrically activated valves that control the flow of fluid inside of a transmission. Controlling the hydraulic pressure is essential to actuating a gear change, so a faulty transmission solenoid can cause many problems, such as delayed shifts and failure to shift/engage a gear. If you’ve already checked the fluid level, then the solenoids should be your suspect. Use an OBD2 scanner to check for trouble codes and narrow down which solenoid is needs to be replaced.

What to do: Check & replace the solenoids

8) Torque Converter Issue

A torque converter is a hydraulic circuit that transfers engine power to the transmission through hydraulic pressure. If it is damaged, there won’t be enough pressure to operate the valve body and change/engage gears. A bad torque converter can also cause the engine to stall or slip out of the overdrive gear.

What to do: Check & replace the torque converter

How to Fix Transmission Slipping

If the slipping is being caused by ineffective fluid or low fluid level due to a leak, then you may be able to fix the problem yourself by checking and changing the fluid or by repairing/plugging the leak.

Fixing more serious problems such as worn or broken bands, clutches and gears require removing and taking apart the transmission. These procedures should only be attempted by those with significant auto repair experience.

Torque converter and solenoid replacements should be left to professionals.

Low Fluid Level – Check and Top-Off

transmission-fluid-level-largeOne of the easiest ways to prevent problems is to regularly monitor your fluid level. Once a month (every two weeks if you drive a lot), open the hood, locate the transmission dipstick, and check the ATF level. Always do this with the engine running, because the internal pump has to be running in order to get an accurate reading.

If the fluid appears dark, unusually thin, dirty, or has a burnt smell, have it changed immediately. If the it is below the optimum level indicated on the dipstick, add more fluid immediately to prevent further damage.

There are several different types of ATF, so check your owner’s manual to ensure that you get the correct type of fluid (using the wrong kind of fluid can actually cause serious damage). Typically, you add fluid to an automatic transmission by placing a funnel into the dipstick tube. If you’re unsure, refer to your owner’s manual.

Click here for a complete tutorial

Burnt or Worn Out Fluid – Drain & Refill

If your automatic transmission fluid needs to be changed, you can either do it yourself, or have a repair shop do it for you. It can be a messy job, and it does require a bit of mechanical experience to do properly.

You can get step-by-step instructions in a Haynes-type shop manual which are available at your local auto parts store, but the process goes like this:

  1. Jack the vehicle up and unbolt the pan. The ATF will drain as you do this, so place a catch pan and a tarp underneath it
  2. Remove and replace the filter
  3. Scrape off the old transmission pan gasket and replace
  4. Bolt-on the pan and fill with ATF
  5. Start the vehicle and check for leaks
  6. Use copious amounts of kitty litter to cleanup the mess that you’ve just made

Click here for a complete tutorial

Fluid Leak – Replace Part(s) or Take it to a Shop

If your transmission is leaking fluid, you need to find the source. Experienced DIY-ers can usually research the vehicle-specific symptoms, replace the offending parts and fix the problem.

If you’re not comfortable fixing the problem yourself, find a repair shop immediately. Otherwise, that little transmission leak could wind up creating a much bigger, more costly problem.

If All Else Fails

If none of the solutions above work, then it’s time to replace your transmission (you can use the guide below for pricing) or take your car to a trusted transmission repair shop

Fair Remanufactured Transmission Cost by Vehicle

  1. Use the Year / Make / Model lookup tool to determine what transmission your vehicle has.
  2. Find your transmission model in the table below for fair prices from reputable suppliers and fair labor for local installation at an auto repair shop.
  3. Get a quote on a remanufactured transmission by email.
[transtar]

Fair Remanufactured Transmission Price Ranges by Transmission Model
Updated May 1, 2018

Download Printable Full Pricing Table PDF

How to Prevent Slipping

Many transmission problems are easily preventable by following routine checks and maintenance procedures. Worn out fluid is usually the root cause of a slipping transmission, so have your fluid and filter changed every 30,000 to 50,000 miles or every two years – whichever comes first. In addition, check the fluid quality and level often to make sure it will keep things cool and perform gear changes effectively.

What to Read Next

How to Check Transmission Fluid
How to Change Transmission Fluid
10 Most Common Transmission Problems
Find a Transmission Shop

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

We’re interested to know – is your transmission slipping? What other symptoms have you noticed? Let us know by leaving a comment below!

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Glen

Change the fluid filter have a slippage promblem use lucas still slippage somegrease i believe still causing slippage no codes should i change it again

Justin

2006 Dodge Durango SLT 2wd 5.7L Hemi
I need a little help please…?
When driving the vehicle it has a hesitation on accelerating about 50% of the time. The engine sound increases while the RPM’s remain normal, but when the engine speed drops down the engine drives exactly like it is supposed to. I have tried to rule things out but I can not narrow it down so that I am willing to put money into it. Thank in advance for any and all help.

Semper Fi,
Justin

Paul Zulu

l have a Mitsubishi Mirage automatic at first it was jerking when driving for some time then stops.I replaced the fuel filter and the fuel pump but the problem got worsen such that when you put in D the engine stalls even in R.In P and N the runs smoothly, What could be the problem?

John B.

My sister in law has a 2011 Jaguar xjl 80000 miles that started having transmission slipping after driving for a while on the road. She took it to a mechanic who said it was the transmission, but had no idea what it was causing it. I suggested a Jaguar mechanic who checked out the transmission and the fluid was fine,not burned or low and no leaks. He drove it and it ran fine. Now she drove it home and two days and it has not slipped. Is itvpossoible it only happens when the transmission gets hot after car is driven for longer periods and not when cold ? But either way what is the problem and why is it not slipping now. I can’t agree with the mechanic that it is fine. It was pretty bad so how did that disappear ? I am baffled.Any ideas? Thanks,J.

james ellenor

some times after stopping a clunk shifting into gear as you take off also upon easy acceleration 2nd to 3rd rpms are steady but you can feel a slight surging motion so going to try lucas in the tranny first time trying an additive i dont really believing in them hope it makes me a believer ‘ already replaced filter and trans oil 140 km on it

Heidi Bookenstock

I took my car into the shop to have my spark plugs repaired and when I left, the check-engine light came back on only a few days later. I figured I just needed an oil change, but even after that, my check-engine light is still on. I really appreciate the information in this article, I was able to find out that my transmission fluid was low.

Marni Pringle

I have a 4L80 e automatic in a 2003 silverado 2500 hd crew cab with a 6.0 vortec gas motor. I bought it used 3 years ago and shift from 1st to 2nd seemed hard if I didn’t let up off the gas when it was fixn to shift. And even sometimes then it bangs a little hard. Then out of nowhere on my way to store I just barely pulled out of complex and was about to 40-45 mph when it like popped out of drive the engine revved up for about 2 seconds and the engaged itself back into drive I wasn’t really sure what was or why it happened it never had before, only going 5 minutes up the street to the store. On my way back just about home it did it again when I was slowing down for light and when time to take off… Read more »

Gary Benton

I have a 1995 4-wheel drive Chevy Suburban. About 6 months ago the transmission began to on occasion start slipping out of 4th gear. Was able to continue driving at higher RPMs. Had the transmission looked at/serviced by the GMC dealer and the problem continued to occur at times. Inconvenient but I could always cause it to stop slipping just by stopping and giving it a rest for about 5 minutes. Then it would continue often for the rest of the long road trip without slipping. Last month I had to have to have the GMC dealer take care of a “Service Engine” light because it was time for the registration Smog check. They found that the problem with the Service Engine light was some vacuum lines that some rodents had chewed through. They replaced the vacuum lines and the Service Engine cleared. BUT THE BEST Thing is that apparently… Read more »

Jim D Sr.

I am not sure if I have a transmission problem, but driving along steady roughly 40-60 MPH sometimes if cuts out for a split second. Sometimes 2 or 3 times. It never slips out of gear. No leakages found and fluid looks and smells good. The is a year 2000 Dodge Dakota pickup truck with 180,000 miles with everything working except for this issue sometimes. I just drove it 90 miles with only slight cutout once or twice. This seems strange. Can you supply any direction or guidance?

Tommy

My car jerk when i shift in to reverse and drive than when i drive it shift rough from first gear to second gear just did new fuild Changed and shift solenoid Changed and still the same thing

Kevin Northrup

I reboot my transmission in my 4 l60e 8 months ago. I replace a torque converter with a new one twice. Torque converter looks like it got hot as a paint change colors. I put a new radiator transmission cooler in the truck. The transmission now when you come to a stop seems it doesn’t have fluid. Couple of seconds and it will begin to move. It also now has a slight vibration. The transmission has always shift from first to second hard. I also now have an 1870 code. Am tired of taking it in an out. What do you think.

Missy

I bought a car that was just barely showing signs of slipping. Within a week, it wouldn’t go into third gear without “coaxing” and I don’t have a lot of money to put into repairs. Should I try changing fluids before I sell it?

tarni

Just got the gearbox for my car reconditioned after putting it back in and making sure my transmission fluid was full i took it for a drive. It went from first to second great but wont get out of second and just over revs itself any ideas one what it could be ?

Roland Cruz

I have an ’87 ford f150(2wd,AOD).all shifts felt like neutral .Replaced fluid(destroy ll)and filter..Now 1st,2nd,and rev work ok.wont shift into Drive.if I start in Drive starts ok but if I let off gas when I reapply foot on gas to accelerate makes shinning noise loose power unless I shift into 2nd.Any clues?Suggestions?

James I Bowlds

I backed out of my driveway in my dodge grand caravan, put it in drive, and it wouldn’t move. After reving my engine a few times, it started moving. Worked perfectly the rest of the day. Checked the fluid level and it was overfilled. Would that make my transmission slip?

AREZ

2007 Buick Terraza Transmission “Slipping”
First symptom was: car was hardly going forward when put on D and that was only Up hill on my driveway.
After 5 seconds “clunk/shake” & gears were in – I was driving. While on flat road all was going smoothly.
Mind you: All fluids level were always full, there is no leak, no smell. Clear colors.
Gears are changing smoothly. Pedals work smoothly. We drive very gently.
Car doesnt’ even have 100,000 miles on it.
Car just not pulling on D any more, not even on flat surface. It’s still pulling on Gear 2 and 1 & Reverse.
Please help. We don’t have so much money for new/rebuild transmission 🙁