Auto Transmission Repair Guide: Everything You Need to Know

The transmission system is one of the most important parts of your car. Without it, your vehicle won’t move — period. But just like every other system on your car, it can wear out and break.

It’s easy to panic when something goes wrong with your transmission, but knowing the basics of repairing it can help you stay calm. This transmission repair guide will explain how the system works and what you can expect when you bring your car in for service.

How Does Car Transmission Work?

Whatever type of transmission your car has, its basic purpose is always the same. It transfers — or transmits — power from the engine to the axles and wheels to allow your vehicle to accelerate and slow down in a controlled manner.

The system consists of a series of gears housed in a metal case. This is why it’s sometimes called a gearbox. A fitting nickname, isn’t it?

When your car is stopped and the gear is set to neutral, the transmission is disconnected from the engine. This allows the engine to run without turning the wheels and propelling your car forward.

Once you switch into gear, the system connects the engine to the axles by allowing it to rotate one of its gears. The gears have different ratios to transfer more or less power to the wheels, depending on which gear your vehicle is in. This explains why your car can move faster in sixth gear than it does in first gear.

Manual vs. Automatic Transmission

The main difference between manual and automatic transmission is the presence of a clutch pedal and a gearshift. In a manual car, the driver will have to press the clutch to release a clutch disc between the engine and transmission. You can then set your car to a different gear with the gearshift.

Automatic transmission relies on either hydraulics or electronic systems to swap gears on its own. Once your car senses it’s time to swap gears, hydraulic pressure or electronics will trigger a gear change.

Many drivers swear by either manual or automatic transmissions, but both systems have their pros and cons. Automatic transmission makes driving simpler, practically eliminates engine stalling, and can offer faster gear changes. But manual transmission can award you more control over your vehicle.

How Do You Know Your Transmission Needs Repairing?

Whether you have an automatic or manual transmission, it will eventually wear down. That’s just the nature of the beast. The systems rely on physical metal gears that slowly eat away at each other’s surfaces as they come into contact.

But you can’t see inside your gearbox, which can make knowing when you need transmission repair a challenge. Fortunately, there are a few clear signs that indicate transmission issues. If you notice any of the below symptoms, bring your car in for transmission service right away to avoid damaging your car.

  • Check Engine Light: The Check Engine light could indicate any number of problems, including transmission issues. Although many drivers ignore the light, it’s best to listen to your car’s call for help.
  • Grinding, Whining, or Other Noises: Your transmission should be a quiet system. Any kind of unusual noise during gear shifts is most likely a sign of trouble.
  • Dragging Clutch: If the clutch of your manual transmission starts dragging, it means there’s slack in the lines that activate it. This can eventually make it impossible to switch gears.
  • Vibration: Gear shifts should be smooth and effortless. If your car shakes or vibrates during shifting, your gears may be dangerously worn or damaged.
  • Slipping: Worn transmission bands or transmission fluid problems could cause your car to unexpectedly slip into the wrong gear.
  • Burning Smell: The stench of burning can indicate that your fluid is low, causing overheating in the gears which scorch the remaining fluid.
  • Puddles Under Your Car: If you notice puddles of red or pink, sweet-smelling fluid under your car, your transmission fluid is most likely leaking out. This is an emergency and requires immediate repair.

How Often Should You Service Your Transmission?

Even if you don’t notice anything wrong, you should get your transmission checked and serviced regularly. Keeping the system in good condition can save you a lot of money in the long run by eliminating costly repairs.

In general, it’s recommended that you get transmission service every 30,000 miles or two years. But if you drive in extreme or varying conditions — like northern Virginia in winter — it may be a good idea to get the system inspected annually. Check your car’s owner’s manual for more details on recommended service intervals.

Can You Repair Your Transmission at Home?

There are plenty of handy car owners who enjoy working on their cars. They can change tires, swap oil, and even tweak their engine. But should you try repairing your transmission at home?

To the disappointment of DIY mechanics, we can’t recommend trying to repair or replace transmission systems yourself. They are highly complex and require many specialized tools.

If you do start fiddling with your gearbox without complete confidence, you could easily cause more damage than what you were trying to repair. As a result, your attempt to save money with DIY repairs will only cost you more.

Finally, there’s the matter of warranty. You risk voiding your car manufacturer’s warranty if you try to repair the system yourself. Additionally, reliable service shops — like Advanced Automotive — offer full warranties on transmission repair.

If the system breaks again, you can simply bring your car back. You can’t get that kind of guarantee with DIY work.

5 Ways to Maintain Your Transmission

Although you shouldn’t try to work on your car’s transmission yourself, that doesn’t mean there aren’t things you can do for the system. In fact, taking good care of your transmission in safe ways can extend its lifespan by years. You’ll get more mileage out of your car and save money on expensive repairs.

Here are 5 things you can do at home to care for your transmission system:

1. Check Fluid Levels:

Transmission fluid acts as a both coolant and lubricant. Low fluid levels or dirty fluid could cause serious damage to the transmission. You can check the fluid by turning on your engine and using the dipstick under your hood.

2. Don’t Rev the Engine:

Putting the pedal to the metal every time you take off can strain your transmission. Accelerate slowly and gradually to maintain the system’s health.

3. Shift Gears Appropriately

If you have a manual car, learn how to use the clutch right and when you should shift gears. Even owners of automatic transmissions need to pay attention to this. Never shift into drive or reverse without first coming to a full stop.

4. Use Your Parking Brake

You might think you don’t need to use the parking brake unless you’re parked on a slope. But if you don’t engage the brake, your transmission does a lot of the effort of keeping your car in place. Pulling the parking brake helps save your transmission.

5. Monitor Your Car

Don’t ignore any signs of potential transmission damage — the problem won’t get better on its own. Listen to your car and take it in for service if something seems wrong.

How Much Does Transmission Repair Cost?

We’d love to be able to give you a detailed transmission repair cost guide. Unfortunately, there are just too many unknowns in estimating service costs for us to tell you exactly how much it will cost.

Many factors can impact the final price tag of transmission repair, including:

  • Your car’s make, model, and age
  • The type of transmission you have
  • The extent of wear and damage
  • Availability of spare parts
  • Taxes and service fees

Depending on the issue you face, you might pay wildly different prices for repairs. A simple brake fluid flush shouldn’t cost you more than a couple hundred dollars. But if your transmission is utterly broken and needs a complete rebuild, you can expect the bill to climb to several thousand dollars.

It’s a good idea to find a trustworthy and reliable service shop because of the fluctuating prices. Try to find a technician that offers cost-free estimates to make sure you don’t end up overpaying.

Quality Transmission Work in Chantilly and Warrenton

Northern Virginia is a great place to live — unless you’re a car transmission system. Unfortunately, our varying weather is less than gentle on car transmission. Both the hot and humid summers and freezing winters can do serious damage to components and ruin fluids.

At Advanced Automotive, we’ve been helping drivers in Chantilly and Warrenton, VA, for more than 35 years. We offer reliable and affordable transmission repair services for both automatic and manual systems. Our ASE-certified technicians are highly trained and familiar with all car makes and models.

To ensure you pay a fair price, we won’t do any work on your car without your approval. We begin every transmission service with an inspection and give you a free estimate so you can make the right choice for your car. We also offer quote matching and may waive the inspection fee if you commit to a repair.

Book a transmission repair appointment online today, or call our shop in Chantilly at (703) 783-1409 or Warrenton at (540) 503-3335.