10 Symptoms of Low Transmission Fluid (Manual and Automatic)

The transmission is basically what allows the driver to control the power of the engine in a vehicle. It is what allows the driver to change gears and determine the direction and motion of the vehicle.

Whether you have a manual transmission or automatic transmission, there needs to be transmission fluid that lubricates its internal components. This fluid also serves as a coolant for these components as well.

If the transmission were to have a low level of fluid, then it would cause a lot of symptoms and driving problems. Once you recognize these symptoms, you should immediately check the transmission fluid level and top off if needed and get your vehicle to a mechanic if the problem doesn’t go away.

Related: How to Add Transmission Fluid

Top 5 Low Manual Transmission Fluid Symptoms

Below are five of the most common signs of low transmission fluid (or gear oil) in a manual transmission vehicle.

1) Shifting Difficulties

hard to shift

A low level of transmission fluid will make changing gears feel more sluggish and difficult. As time goes on, the gears may do the opposite by changing too quickly instead of too slowly.

Either way, this will make it dangerous to drive because you won’t be able to change gears at the appropriate time necessary.

2) Slow Engagement

If you try to change gears from Neutral to 1st or Reverse with the shifter, there may be a small delay if the vehicle has a low level of transmission fluid.

The transmission requires a certain amount of fluid pressure to change gears and if the fluid level is low, this pressure will take longer to build up.

See Also: Transmission Won’t Engage In Any Gear? (Here’s Why)

3) Vibrations

shifter vibration

When you shift gears with a manual transmission, the process should be smooth and pleasant. But if you have a low level of fluid or gear oil, you will feel vibrations in the shifter as you change gears.

This will usually indicate to an experienced stick shift vehicle driver that it needs more fluid in the transmission.

4) Lurching

If the entire vehicle suddenly moves backward or forward as you’re driving it, then a low level of transmission fluid could be to blame. This is due to the transmission making inconsistent movements because there isn’t enough fluid to allow it to move without restriction.

5) Stuck Clutch Pedal

stiff clutch pedal

The clutch pedal has a spring which allows it to return to its original position after you press down on it. But if you have low transmission fluid levels, then the pedal might get stuck. Either that or it will move abnormally.

Top 5 Low Automatic Transmission Fluid Symptoms

Below are five of the most common signs of low transmission fluid in an automatic transmission vehicle.

1) Darker Fluid

check transmission fluid hot or cold

If you have low levels of automatic transmission fluid or just old fluid, it will change from its normal pinkish color to a very dark color like black or brown. The fluid may even smell too.

This is clearly a sign that you need to have the old transmission fluid flushed and replaced with new fluid.

2) Difficulty Shifting

If you notice that you’re having difficulty shifting to a different gear, then a low level of fluid could be slowing down this function in the transmission. It is best to have this checked out anytime you feel shifting problems as you drive.

3) Fluid Leak

automatic transmission fluid leak

A transmission fluid leak could occur if any number of components get damaged. Leaks commonly take place with the gaskets, seals, loose pans, and transmission lines. Not only will you have low fluid levels, but the fluid will leak out onto other components and possibly cause problems there too.

4) Overheating

A transmission that overheats will make driving impossible because the components of the transmission will fail. Remember that transmission fluid lubricates and cools down these components.

If they get too hot from a low supply of fluid, then they will no longer run smoothly.

5) Slipping

gas pedal hesitation when accelerating

Transmission slipping is when the vehicle fails to accelerate when you step on the gas pedal. If you have a low level of transmission fluid, then transmission slipping is bound to happen at some point.

If that occurs, you will need to pull over and have your vehicle towed to a mechanic because it won’t be safe to drive anymore.


4 thoughts on “10 Symptoms of Low Transmission Fluid (Manual and Automatic)”

  1. If a Lube & Oil shop detects that I may have a leak, and an auto mechanic thinks there might be a leak (twice), does that mean there’s a small leak? If there isn’t any oil spots under the car (as it sits for a few days) does that mean there is no leak? This is important to me. I am on a budget and my ’06 Honda Accord is my only transportation. Thank you

    • You could be seeping oil, but not enough to leave spots on the ground. Or perhaps it evaporates before you leave a puddle.

      If you’re on a tight budget, a little oil seepage without spots on the ground is probably fine to leave alone for a while. Defer to the mechanic who saw your car, though.

  2. This site was very helpful and full of needed info. Now I know the reason why my gear stick is stuck and want go in any gear while the vehicle is running but when I turn it off it will go in every gear easy.


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