Why do I have a slipping transmission?

transmission slippingHaving a slipping transmission can be a frustrating thing.  You’ve been driving your car for a while now and you’ve come to expect it to shift a certain way.  It’s comfortable and you’re a better driver because you can predict when your car will shift and how it will feel.  It’s a very strange feeling when you go to pass someone on the freeway or take off from a stop light and when your car shifts you feel your engine rev up but your vehicle doesn’t accelerate like it usually does.  This can be caused by a slipping transmission.

Automatic transmissions work very differently than manual transmissions and not just because they are automatic, but because they use an entirely different system to create different gear ratios.  To help understand why your transmission might be slipping, we would recommend looking through Jalopnik’s in-depth article about automatic transmissions specifically, the section on planetary gear sets.

What causes transmission slipping?

This planetary gear set is the reason why automatic transmissions can start slipping.  The design of the gear set requires multiple clutches and bands to effect gear changes.  The bands in an automatic transmission are the usual culprit when it comes to slipping as a worn band can allow parts of the transmission to continue to rotate for a few seconds after the gear change.  This will allow the gear change to feel sloppy, your engine to rev up during a gear change and the feeling of slipping as your car loses speed.

Besides a worn band, there are some other reasons your transmission might start slipping.  The gear changes in a computer transmission are actuated by shift solenoids to allow transmission fluid to pressurize different components in your transmission causing things to move and the clutches and bands to disengage.  Besides the clutches or bands being worn out, there could be a problem with the solenoid or a low or high pressure in the system causing things to shift strangely.

The trouble with having a slipping transmission in your car is that it’s very difficult to tell what is going on inside without special tools or without tearing the transmission apart to look for worn or damaged components.  Computer controlled transmissions have error codes just like your engine does when the check engine light is on, but you often need specialized equipment to connect to the transmission to read the error codes or check sensor data to try and diagnose the problem.

As the owner of a vehicle, the only thing you can do to diagnose why you have a slipping transmission is to check the transmission fluid level and condition.

How to check your transmission fluid level?

On many vehicles, you can check your transmission fluid level through a dipstick in your engine bay.  Your transmission dipstick will look a lot like your oil dipstick but should be marked as “TRANS” or be red in color.  The transmission dipstick is often at the rear of the engine bay near the firewall.  The transmission fluid level should be checked on level ground with the engine running and warm.  When you pull out the dipstick, check the fluid condition.  What color is it?  What color should it be?  You can use a white cloth to clean the dipstick to help you get a better idea of the color.  You can also hold the fluid up to a bright light and look for suspended particles and metal shavings in your transmission which would indicate internal transmission damage and might help point you in the direction of a rebuild.

Can low transmission fluid level cause my transition to slip?

In short, yes. You should also check the transmission level as a low fluid level can cause low pressures in your transmission leading to a slipping transmission.  If you discover your transmission fluid is low you should top it off with the manufacturer’s recommended type of transmission fluid.  Also, the only way your transmission fluid level is low is due to a leak which should be fixed before you lose any more transmission fluid.  You can quickly and easily seal any transmission fluid leak by adding BlueDevil Transmission Sealer to your transmission Fluid.  BlueDevil Transmission Sealer will quickly and permanently seal the leaks in your transmission by restoring the seals and gaskets to their original condition.
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19 responses to “Why do I have a slipping transmission?

  1. A bit doubtful at first,but used blue devil trans fix in my 87 vw vanagon auto trans and then drove it 7 yrs with no problem(warm up required of course).I’m a believer now.

  2. 19995 Mercedes Benz SL500, car must run about a 1/4 mile to warm up before shifting into 2nd gear. The transmission then stall’s between 1st and 2 gear, what’s the likely problem?

    1. Fitzpatrick-

      Thanks for your question about your ’95 Mercedes. With any transmission problem, the first thing to do is make sure you have been keeping up with changing your transmission fluid and filter. If it has been more than a year since you have changed those, try that first and see if it fixes your problem. When refilling the transmission fluid you should make sure it is filled to the proper level.

      Thank You!

      -BDP

      1. So if your experiencing slipping all of a sudden, its a good idea to try to change filter and fluid to see if that does anything?

        1. Matt-

          Yes, it would be wise to change the transmission fluid and filter just in case you are experiencing the symptoms from dirty or old fluid.

          Thank You!

          -BDP

  3. Thanks for sharing this advice on getting your car’s transmission problems fixed. I had no idea that a slipping transmission occurs when the gears become too worn. However, that could explain why my car has a little trouble decelerating. It feels like my car takes an extra moment to shift into the right gear. Either way, I should probably have my car inspected before I go and buy a new part immediately.

  4. I have a 2004 chevy impala ss with a 3.8 super charge motor…. my question is when I first start driving my car it shifts fine but after warming up my car does not wanna shift and my rpm just go higher while I’m driving…. it accelerates but it doesn’t want to kick in gear so the rpm can go down… I checked my fluid and it’s reading fine on the dip stick…. any suggestions would really help if I can find a cheap way to fix this…. thanks

    1. Christopher,

      Thanks for your question about your 2004 Chevy Impala. It sounds like your transmission is having trouble building enough line pressure to shift once it gets warm. You can check this if you have a performance shift option. If shifts work better with that performance shift option switched on then this may be the case for you. This may be due to a clog somewhere in your system so you could try having your transmission flushed and the filter changed to try and see if that helps.

      If that doesn’t help then you may have to go as far as changing one or more of the shift solenoids. Getting to these in your transmission can be quite the job so usually a whole “valve kit” will be installed replacing all the solenoids while you’re in there.

  5. My 1999 Ford exploer takes about 15 min in drive before it will go into gear with a jerk. I have to rev to get it into gear. Can I do anything other then buying new tranny I can’t afford. Out of work.

    1. Penny,

      Thanks for your question about your 99 Explorer! Unfortunately, when it comes to automatic transmissions, there isn’t much you can do besides checking the fluid to make sure it is at the proper level and is clean and bright. On your Explorer, that dipstick is at the back on the engine bay on the passenger side with a black handle. You need to check the level while your truck is running and in park. If you find a low fluid level, use BlueDevil Transmission Sealer (available here: http://store.gobdp.com/transmission-sealer-00236/) to stop the leak. Then add the correct type of automatic transmission fluid to the proper level and you should be back on the road!

      If your fluid level is good and the fluid is red and bright then your problem probably runs deeper in your transmission and your only option would be to take it to a transmission specialist.

  6. Hi there,
    I recently change my transmission fluid and filter 3days ago. Before the change there was an issue on shifting the car is jerking, after I change the fluids the jerking issue but now its slipping when changing from the 3rd to 4th gear which I’m not experiencing before. Any idea what is the issue and how van I fix it. My car is corolla 2010 automatic trans.
    Thanks and regards.

  7. A slipping transmission can be dangerous if you try to shift gears and your car doesn’t respond how you expect. My car is an automatic, so I didn’t even know it could get a problem like this. I’ll have to tell my husband to look for discount transmission parts so we can fix it soon.

  8. I have a 2002 chevy cavalier with an automatic transmission. When I pull off at a stop light the transmission starts sticking then the rpm goes high. Then it stalls the car. I start the car back up and then it works fine. It does this randomly. Please help

    1. Sid-

      Thank you for your question about your Cavalier. Sabrina-

      The best place to start would be to change your transmission fluid and filter and then double check to make sure the fluid level is correct. If you are still experiencing the hard shift and stalling after changing the fluid and filter then you may want to have your Chevy looked at by a transmission specialist.

      Thanks!

      -BDP

  9. Hey hope all is well. I have a 2005 Chevy Silverado 5.3L and I am having transmission problem back in march I had my transmission rebuild and in July I had my transmission line came lose and lost fluid. Now when I was coming from work yesterday the transmission starting acting up whenerver I get to 40 or 50 mile per hour it start rev up so I pull on the side on the road check the fluid and it was empty. I put a quart of fluid in the truck got up this morning and checked it still full of fluid and still doing the same thing. Please help me out.

    1. Henry,

      Thanks for your question about your Chevy Silverado. If your transmission is full of clean fluid and is still slipping at 40 or 50 mpg, then it is most likely that you have some sort of internal damage in your transmission, possibly from running low on fluid. Without pulling the transmission apart, it can be hard to tell the extent of the damage or wear so you may consider bringing your track back to the shop that originally rebuilt it to see if they’ll take a look under warranty for their rebuild.

      Thanks again for your question,
      -BD Auto Pro

  10. Hi I have a 2001 Pontiac grandprix and I recently just started having problems with my transmission when I get in my car I can go into reverse but my car Won’t shift into drive I have to put it down to the lower gears to get it to go I can’t afford a new tranny so if you could help me that would be nice

    1. Dante,

      Thanks for your question about your Grand Prix. Unfortunately with automatic transmissions, all you can do is check the transmission fluid color and level. If the fluid is clean and bright and at the proper level you most likely have a bigger issue with your transmission and will need a GM dealer or a transmission specialist take a look at it.

      Thanks again for your question!
      -BD Auto Pro

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