5 Symptoms of Burnt Transmission Fluid

(Updated on November 12, 2019)

A transmission fluid is a special type of lubricant that is formulated to keep the moving components of a vehicle’s transmission running smoothly. There are different types of transmission fluids available, especially for automatic transmissions and manual transmissions.

An automatic transmission needs fluid that not only lubricates its components, but also keeps them cool and brings power to the transmission from the engine. If transmission fluid is old or not adequate enough to do its job properly, then it is going to burn.

Sometimes it could be a problem with the transmission itself in which case you would have to get it rebuilt or replaced. But, in most cases, you can simply replace the transmission fluid with new fluid that is formulated to serve your particular vehicle’s transmission.

See Also: How to Check Transmission Fluid Condition

Top 5 Symptoms of Bad Transmission Fluid

If you were to keep driving your vehicle while the transmission fluid is bad or burnt, then it will eventually end up ruining your transmission if it hasn’t been ruined already.

To increase your chances of saving your engine, you need to recognize the symptoms of burnt transmission fluid, so you can do something about it as soon as possible. Here are five common signs of burnt transmission fluid.

1) Burning Smell

One of the first symptoms you will recognize is a burning smell inside your vehicle that is coming from your transmission fluid. This burning smell is caused by all the extra friction being created from the gears, which causes them to overheat and burn.

The result is a burning smell that becomes stronger the longer it goes on like that. This is certainly not normal for transmission fluid to be doing that. Transmission fluid should smell sweet and not like it’s burning.

2) Leaking Fluid

If your transmission is leaking fluid, then it will cause the remaining fluid to burn more because there is not enough of the fluid to adequately lubricate the components of your transmission. This means they will overheat faster as they’re not being adequately cooled down.

3) Trouble Shifting Gears

The transmission is what allows you to change gears. If you have burning transmission fluid, then it will cause more hesitation when you try to change the gears. To make matters worse, the gears may change themselves as you’re driving.

Sometimes you won’t be able to shift gears at all. Regardless of the case, you need to get your car checked over by a professional right away. Your fluid might be burnt or you may be very low on fluid.

4) Smoke

If the temperatures of the transmission fluid start to get very hot, then you may even see smoke coming out of the transmission. This should be a clear enough warning sign that something is wrong and that you need to get it looked at immediately. Don’t continue driving.

5) Transmission Overheated

The worst symptom of all is an overheated transmission. This is the symptom that will cause all the other symptoms to happen. There are different stages of an overheated transmission that you need to consider, based on how hot it gets.

If the temperature gets to 220°F, the metal components of the transmission will have varnish form on them. If it gets to 240°F, then you will have hardened seals. At 260°F, there will be slippage with the transmission bands and clutches. If you let it get to 295°F, then your entire transmission will fail and it will need to be replaced.

Related: Average Cost to Change Transmission Fluid

2 thoughts on “5 Symptoms of Burnt Transmission Fluid”

  1. Car hard shifts then quits a while. Yesterday it did in short 4 mile trip but hadn’t for 5 months prior. Then all of a sudden thick smoke startsbrolling out of tailpipe. What happened?!

  2. Wow, it would never have occurred to me that if the transmission of a vehicle gets too hot it will need to be replaced. I imagine that the coolant system of a car probably plays an important role in keeping the transmission at a lower temperature. It would be interesting to learn more about how the essential pieces of a vehicle’s engine are kept cool.


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