Your car's transmission is responsible for taking the mechanical force generated by your motor and transmitting it to the wheels. Whether your car is rear-wheel drive, front-wheel drive, or all-wheel drive, the transmission plays a vital role in making sure that the powered wheels are able to actually get you up to speed. Since automatic transmissions are such complex pieces of equipment, failures can often be frustrating and costly to deal with. One of the most common symptoms of a failing transmission is slippage.
What is Slippage?
If your car has a traditional automatic transmission (as opposed to a continuously variable transmission, or CVT), then it relies on gearing to properly adjust speed for your current driving conditions. When you put your foot down, your transmission should drop to a lower gear to provide more power. At higher speeds and during sedate driving, the transmission should upshift to keep the engine running quietly and efficiently. If your transmission is functioning properly, these shifts should occur smoothly and quickly. A transmission that is slipping will feel as though it is falling (or slipping) out of gear. This may happen when upshifting or when downshifting, and it will often feel as though your car has momentarily entered neutral. If the slippage is particularly severe, you may notice the engine freely revving before finally getting back into gear.
What Causes an Automatic Transmission to Slip?
Causes for transmission slippage can range from fairly mundane to extremely serious. Your transmission contains a fluid that is used to lubricate its internal parts, provide cooling, and ultimately control the ability of the transmission to shift properly. Your transmission requires both enough fluid and enough fluid pressure. If both of these requirements aren't met, then you will experience a variety of symptoms, including slippage. Leaks are one of the simpler and more common causes of a low fluid level. Transmissions may leak from their gaskets or from the transmission fluid lines which run to the cooler. These are relatively minor problems that can often be fixed without requiring a major rebuild. More serious problems can be the result of a failed pump or the failure of pressure control equipment inside the transmission. Rather than a low fluid level, these problems will generally manifest as low fluid pressure.
What Can You Do?
If you suspect that your transmission fluid is low, the most important step you can take is to check the level and top it off, if necessary. Your transmission should never lose fluid, so it is still necessary to have the problem checked by a professional, but allowing the transmission to run low on fluid can cause serious damage. Most likely, this indicates a leak. If your transmission fluid doesn't appear to be low, then there may be a more serious issue that is affecting the fluid pressure within the transmission. Repairing your transmission repair or, if the problem is serious enough, replacement of the entire transmission. It is important to have your vehicle checked by a repair shop as soon as possible to avoid causing further damage.