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

What Transmission Do I Have?

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.

What Transmission Do I Have?


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.


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.


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 above 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.

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

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

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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1 year ago

I have a 2011 Malibu I got a new transmission 6 weeks ago and when I go to get on the highway I noticed its bin shifting high I brought it back to the shop and the guy is saying it’s my engine that’s causing this? What’s your opinion please

Ricky Walker
1 year ago

i have a 2012 dodge avenger se that i put in drive and start to go it wont change out

1 year ago

I have a 2002 Honda accord ex, automatic transmission with 272,000 miles . The transmission is slipping as it takes a few seconds to kick into gear and is more noticable when i accelerate and feels like stalls and then kicks into gear
It’s been like this for several months or longer.

scott chubey
1 year ago

i have a 1998 chevrolet silverado 2wd ext 5.7 lt 4l60e ; the trany has 48.000 km it jerks after the 3rd shift once in awhile not exactly sure where the fluid should be on the dip stick when fist starting it up and running about 15 mins. right now sits at the top line of hot or do i need to drain and have it at the line after add going into warm cross hairs thank

Jimmy Hanson
1 year ago

I have a 2010 scion tc. Everytime it shifts from 1st to 2nd gear it slipps bad but it only does it when i first crank it and leave but after i drive it for about 05 minutes it shifts fine what could cause that?

Cody Hendley
1 year ago

I have a 07 4r75e that will not go into 1st on its own. And it feels like it binds up in 1st but shifts fine into all the other gears any ideas would great

Pete fredericks
1 year ago

Automatic trans slips in high gear. Shifts fine. When gas is given in high gear engine revs and speed does not increase.
1992 mustang, 5.0

1 year ago

2006 Chevy Equinox AWD
Bought when it had 139,000 miles a year ago. Used for business travel and kept routine maintenance. At 179,000 miles there was no issues with tranny. It was time for service so 2 months ago I took this vehicle to a Chevy Dealership to have tranny fluid change.The vehicle history shows 1 time service of transmission fluid being replaced At 87,000 miles and nothing mentioned about the filter replaced, differential fluid change or what type of service was done in replacing the fluid. So I requested tranny fluid change, filter change and diff fluid change. At that time the mechanic on duty said he wasn’t sure of charge until he knew for sure if he was able to drop pan to change filter or not but I would be informed before final charge. No call was made except to pick up but that’s besides the point. Turns out all he performed was a flush and replacement of fluid which was fine and he explained why filter couldn’t be changed. All is good for a week driving on daily basis highway and stop and go basis. It was pretty warm out so I assumed the reason for a slight slip as I took off from a light was due to the amount of miles and time spent driving. One time thing until a week ago it started shifting hard and slipping between gears. Slips when cold and shifts hard after warmed up. Ive heard that when this new flushing service and technology used that tranny damage or failure occurs. So I ask, is it true that after a flush service does more damage than good?

1 year ago

2007 Chevy Malibu.
It was stuck on third and I changed the 2 shifting solenoids. When I road tested it. I can see it shifting normally through gears until it tried shifting to 4th gear. It revs up to 7000 rpm then goes back and transmission would jerk then revs up again.
Would it be that I put too much fluid? It doesn’t have a lipstick to check.

1 year ago

2014 ford escape. Will not go into drive…nothing happens when I try to accelerate. Nothing is coming up on computer scan.

1 year ago

hey guys i bought a 1994 chevy s10 4wd 5spd 4.3l and the issue im having is when i go to accelorate in any gear it chatters realy bad and doesent accelorate any faster in the same sense as a slipping clutch but it feels like the trans but im not sure… the gears feel fine on the stick and doesent seem to have any problems shifting or going into or out of any gear and i do know the clutch is slipping a little, but i dont know if the issue im having is just from the clutch not engaging all the way or if its the trans itself…its an nv3500… if anybody has any thoughts i would love to know

1 year ago

can 4×4 be repaired while transmission is slipping

Daniel Brown
1 year ago

Slipping in 2nd gear

1 year ago

Hi, My 1998 Honda Accord 3.0 started slipping when I’d start from a dead stop (first turning on or from a stop light) but intermittently. I was told it was the solenoid which was replaced but then it would get to about 15mph and go no faster. They worked on it again and it now will pass first gear but only if I hit the gas to high RMP, let off the gas then hit it again it goes. If I continue driving with no stops it seems to drive fine, but if I stop it starts all over again. I called the shop again and they said I just have to drive it again and let the system work its way through but I’m afraid I’ll get stuck 50 miles from home at work. Any advice is welcome.

1 year ago
Reply to  Dawn

i can almost garuntee its the trans itself

Jamaal n Gill
1 year ago

I just brought a truck put transmission fluid in it and slip fluid and it shift out in second speed around 50 I have to step on the gas in order for it to change out.. can you please tell me what is it

1 year ago

My transmission slips when I am pulling out and then it’ll catch? I’m driving it’s fine it’s just the initial getting going?

1 year ago
Reply to  Kk

When I come to a stop & try to immediately start going again the transmission slips out of gear sometimes. It never does it while just driving & it doesn’t do it all the time.

R Steffens
1 year ago
Reply to  Vorach

forward clutch packs most likely worn out or burnt out. only going to get worse. time for rebuild,. you may get away with some good seal conditioner additive if its shrunken valve body seals, but only temporarily. shift solenoid may be failing also. it needs service work regardless. at least.

1 year ago

Is there any way for someone to mess up the transmission by loosening up some bolts under the car?

1 year ago

Wats best way to flush a 4l60e transmission been sitting in truck in weather broke down ten yrs

1 year ago
Reply to  Stanley

drain it, replace filter, fill, put in gear and cycle thru gears for a long while then repeet untill it works

1 year ago

i have an 07 hemi ram 1500. trans is losing fluid slowly but no leaks and no extra fluid in transfer case. also have code po734 .where is the fluid? any thoughts? thanx

My name is Greg
1 year ago

We can’t figure out what is keeping my transmission from shifting into high gear, we changed the fluid and filter, and also changed shifting solenoids

1 year ago

Tourqe converter

2 years ago

My 1997 Chevy C2500 drives fine untilmy speed gets to about 40mph, it will then slip back, the rpms go up and the engine revs up. I have to put it in 3rd gear to drive it without the slipping.

2 years ago
Reply to  Glenda

Also, I was told the overdrive was going out.

R Steffens
1 year ago
Reply to  Glenda

time for rebuild. these 4L60E transmissions have expected average life expectancy of 130k miles, according to transmission repair shops. and less miles than this if was not maintained properly,. fluid pan drops replacements periodically, etc.

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