(Updated on February 24, 2021)
A lot of people take gear shifts in their vehicle for granted. But every time your automatic transmission needs to shift into a different gear, there is a vacuum modulator inside which ensures that the gear shift can be successfully completed.
How Does a Transmission Vacuum Modulator Work?
The vacuum modular is a load sensor inside of the engine which calculates how much of a load is being placed on the engine of your car. Once it detects this amount, it can allow the transmission to shift appropriately.
Older model vehicles used to have cables connected to the throttle valve to accomplish this task. The vacuum modulator has a vacuum line which is attached to the intake valve and calculates the engine’s vacuum amount. Either way, both technologies have the same function.
When we talk about the load on the engine, we are referring to how hard it must work just to maintain its functionality. The load is obviously referring to the weight and pressure placed on the engine as it continues to move the vehicle.
For example, when you drive your car downhill, there is a smaller load on the engine because gravity is helping the vehicle move. On the other hand, when you’re driving up a hill with lots of people in your car, the load on the engine is going to be much greater.
The vacuum modulator measures the amount of this load so that the engine knows how hard to work to sustain the demand being placed on it.
Signs of a Bad Transmission Vacuum Modulator
Most modern vehicles have a vacuum modulator in them. If your vacuum modulator were to become defective, there are certain signs you could recognize right away to help determine this. Here are four of the most common symptoms of a malfunctioning vacuum modulator.
1) Poor Engine Performance
The main symptom you will notice is weak engine performance. If the diaphragm of the vacuum modulator were to have a leak in it, you will have a leaky vacuum and your EGR system will shut off.
If the vacuum leak is too severe, then you will notice less power in your engine as well as acceleration problems. This will ultimately affect the fuel economy and efficiency of your vehicle.
2) Check Engine Warning Light
Another easily noticeable symptom of a bad vacuum modulator is having the check engine light illuminate on your dashboard. The computer of your car will know right away when the modulator sends a bad signal, which will cause the warning light to come on.
However, there are many reasons why the engine warning light can come on besides this reason and you’ll need to scan your car for stored trouble codes to confirm the issue.
So, do not automatically assume it is a bad vacuum modulator unless you are experiencing at least a couple other symptoms as well.
3) Excessive Emission Amounts
If you have excessive amounts of nitrogen dioxide emissions coming out of your vehicle, this may indicate that the vacuum modulator is no longer able to properly regulate these emissions.
Most people find this out when they have an emissions test done on their car, which is required by some states.
4) Shifting Problems
If you’re experiencing all of the above symptoms while having shifting problems too, then you likely have a faulty transmission vacuum modulator.
As you just learned, the vacuum modulator is what allows the transmission to shift properly. Having a bad vacuum modulator will obviously affect normal shifting.
See Also: 8 Parts of an Automatic Transmission
Transmission Vacuum Modulator Replacement Cost
If you end up having to get your vacuum modulator replaced, you will only have to spend between $80 to $160 total.
Depending on the make and model of your vehicle, the cost of the replacement modulator will be around $30 to $80. The labor costs should only be about $50 to $80 because it doesn’t take that long to replace it.