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Transmission Slipping: Symptoms, Causes and Solutions

Transmission slipping is the feeling that your car is not responding to the accelerator
Transmission slipping is the feeling that your car is not responding to the accelerator

If you often ask yourself why is my transmission slipping, it might be time for radiator repair.

Transmission slipping is the feeling that your car is not responding to the accelerator. It can happen to both manual and automatic transmission. The transmission should stay in gear until you perform a gear change. If it changes to any other gear spontaneously; this is what is referred to as transmission slipping. It is a serious problem that could have safety implications.

What Transmission Do I Have?

You can either have manual or automatic transmission. Manual transmission slipping will mostly be caused by clutch wear. Automatic transmission slippage is the more common problem.

Transmission slippage symptoms

Diagnosing transmission slipping is not very easy for the average motorist. It needs a qualified technician to expertly make the diagnosis. However, there are some symptoms you should look out for when driving.

Manual Transmission slipping symptoms

  • Gear won’t engage
  • Gears go back to neutral
  • Grinding noises during the gear change

Automatic transmission slippage symptoms

  • Check engine light turning on
  • Delay in acceleration
  • Transmission failing to upshift
  • High RPM of over 3500 when you step into the accelerator but speed doesn’t increase
  • Reverse gear doesn’t engage
  • Burning smell
  • Strange noises when gear shifts

What Causes a Transmission to Slip?

There are different possible causes of transmission slipping. Early diagnosis helps in fixing the problem quickly to avoid further damage to your transmission. Common transmission slipping causes are:

  • Low fluid levels

This is the most common cause of automatic transmission slipping. If the fluid levels are very low, overheating will occur. There will be no enough hydraulic pressure to engage the gears. It is common to hear motorists complain of automatic transmission slipping when hot.

  • Transmission fluid leaks

Closely associated with low fluid levels is fluid leaks. If transmission fluid leaks, you’ll have low fluid levels which can then cause slipping. Leakage can happen anywhere within the transmission system. Leakages are easy to spot underneath your car.

  • Burnt/ineffective fluid

When used over time, transmission fluid gets worn out. It becomes darker and thinner and loaded with contaminants. Hence, it becomes ineffective. It won’t work well in controlling heating within your transmission which will, in turn, prevent the gears operating normally.

  • Clutch issues

For manual transmission, clutch issues are the most common causes of transmission slipping. The clutch dicks get worn out over time leading to slipping. For automatic transmission, clutch plates to get worn out.

  • Solenoid problems

Solenoids are electric hydraulic valves that control the flows of fluid into the transmission system. So any damage to the solenoid will lead to either inadequate fluid or fluid leakage. Low levels of fluid will lead to overheating and low hydraulic pressure. This will cause slipping, and problem shifting gears.

To troubleshoot solenoid problems and identify the culprit valve, an OBD2 scanner will come in handy.

  • Torque convertor

A torque convertor transfers engine power from the engine to the transmission through hydraulic pressure. If the torque converter gets damaged, there won’t be enough hydraulic pressure to shift gears. A damaged torque convertor may also lead to transmission slips.

  • Worn out gears

Gears wear out over time. High mileage, infective fluid, or overheating can accelerate the wearing out of gears. Worn out gears won’t function as intended. They are likely to lead to slipping and grinding noises or failure to engage.

How to Fix Transmission Slipping?

Some of these transmission slippage causes can be fixed without going to the garage. However, for more serious ones, you need help from a qualified mechanic.

Low fluid, burnt, and ineffective fluid can be simply fixed by checking the fluid and changing it.

For causes such as clutch issues, worn-out gears, unexplained leaks will require dismantling the transmission. However, if you have a diagnostic tool with the transmission, you could first check to be sure where the problem is, before having a professional check.

How much does it cost to fix a transmission slipping?

Transmission repair is one of the most expensive repair jobs. In other words, mechanics charge quite a tidy sum for it since the transmission is a complex and essential part of your car. So depending on the cause and damage suffered by your transmission, costs will vary.

But if it is just a fluid change, the costs will be much lower. If the clutch and gears are worn out, costs will rise considerably. Replacing the entire transmission system will be quite expensive.

Can you drive a car with a slipping transmission?

It is not recommended to drive a car with slipping transmission mainly due to safety reasons. Car changing gears unexpectedly, failure to engage the gear, failure to reverse or delay in acceleration, for instance, are not ideal conditions for driving in a highway.

In other words, driving your vehicle in this state will further damage transmission increasing the cost of repair. Once you encounter the symptoms we had earlier discussed, it’s time to have the transmission checked.


In conclusion, transmission slipping a major problem that should never be ignored. Get it fixed right away. If your car has any signs of slipping, call your mechanic immediately.

In short, the best way is to prevent rather than repair. Regular maintenance will go a long way in preventing transmission slipping. Checking fluids levels frequently and topping up if low is highly advisable. Your mechanic should advise for a transmission fluid change every time you do a filter change.

Speaking of transmission, you can read more about 7 signs of Automatic Transmission Problems.

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