Why Is Your Transmission Overheating And What Should You Do?

Your vehicle most likely has a temperature gauge to tell you if your engine is running too hot, but what about your transmission? This critical component also needs to remain within a relatively tight temperature range, and overheating can cause drivability symptoms and severe damage. Recognizing the signs of an overheating transmission can help you keep your car running smoothly.

However, not every manufacturer makes it easy to know when there's a problem. While some trucks include transmission temperature gauges or displays, many cars and SUVs do not. This guide will help you understand the causes, symptoms, and potential remedies for overheating so that you can save your transmission from the scrapyard.

Why Do Transmissions Overheat?

Just like your engine, your transmission can overheat for numerous reasons. Since your transmission uses its fluid for hydraulic pressure, lubrication, and cooling, fluid issues are some of the most common reasons for a transmission to overheat. Low fluid levels or old, dirty, and contaminated fluid can stop your transmission from keeping itself cool.

Driving habits are another potential cause of transmission temperature problems. A modern transmission in good health should stand up to abuse, but a few behaviors can go too far. For example, repeatedly brake launching an automatic car can strain the transmission. Exceeding your vehicle's rated towing limits (especially on heavy grades) is another easy way to overwork your transmission.

Finally, internal problems with the transmission can potentially cause it to overheat. Unfortunately, there's rarely any solution to an internal engine failure other than replacing or rebuilding the transmission.

How Do You Know If You're Overheating?

An overheating transmission will produce the usual issues found in ailing transmissions, including grinding, slipping, and vibrations, especially when shifting gears. In severe cases, the vehicle may refuse to go into gear or skip over gears. Most cars will also alert you to a problem with a warning light, which should look like a gear with an exclamation point or temperature symbol.

What Should You Do?

If you suspect that your transmission is overheating, it's crucial to stop driving the car and get transmission repair as soon as you can. Any of the above symptoms combined with a noticeable acrid or burning smell is a surefire indication of an overheating transmission. While not all overheating conditions are fatal, driving your car with a transmission that's running hot can quickly cause much more expensive damage.

Remember that modern automatic transmissions are highly complex, and any issue you notice may have multiple, hard-to-diagnose problems. Taking your car to a transmission repair shop is the best way to get to the bottom of the problem without risking further damage to your car's delicate (and expensive) internal transmission components.