What's Causing Your Car's Delayed Gear Changes?

Posted on: 21 September 2020


Sluggish behavior in automatic transmissions can sometimes be challenging to detect at first. Since every automatic transmission behaves a little differently, you may not notice if your car takes a few extra moments to shift into gear. In many cases, this behavior is most evident when first putting the vehicle into drive or reverse.

More extreme examples of this problem are commonly known as "slipping." When your transmission slips, the delay occurs between gear shifts. Gear slippage typically causes the engine to rev freely for a moment between gear shifts, giving the impression that your car has dropped into neutral. If you notice delayed engagement when putting your car into drive or reverse, slippage may not be far behind.

Underlying Causes

Your automatic transmission may be the most sophisticated mechanical part on your vehicle, exceeding even your motor in complexity. The internal components of your car's transmission rely on gear oil to operate smoothly and efficiently, so any issues with your transmission fluid can cause performance problems. Old, burnt fluid or low fluid levels are one potential cause for delayed shifting.

If the underlying cause is not your transmission fluid, then a mechanical problem within the transmission may be affecting pressure levels. Since your car's transmission uses fluid pressure to determine when to engage gears, low fluid levels can result in delayed or missed shifts. Worn seals inside the transmission can create these problems as they age or suffer abuse.

Burned-out clutch plates are another potential issue that can cause engagement delays or gear slippage. Unlike a manual transmission, your automatic transmission contains many clutch plates that engage as the car moves from gear to gear. These plates can wear over time, delaying the transmission's initial engagement and creating slippage when the car shifts up or down.

Fixing the Problem

You can usually fix a problem with fluid level or condition by flushing and replacing your transmission fluid. If the level is low, then you must also determine the cause of the leak. Likewise, transmission fluid that appears burnt or contaminated may be indicating a deeper problem, and you should continue to monitor your transmission after a fluid flush.

For more severe issues, you will generally need to rebuild your transmission to repair the problem. The high labor cost associated with opening a transmission housing means that it is never cost-effective to replace individual parts. Instead, a transmission repairs shop will tear down your existing unit, inspect and clean it, and ultimately replace seals and other wear parts.

Since transmission shops will always replace any internal components that seem worn or damaged, rebuilding your transmission is the best way to ensure it functions correctly. Although rebuilds aren't cheap, they can allow you to get tens or even hundreds of thousands of miles from your car.

To learn more, contact a resource that offers transmission rebuild services.