Few things are as important to the operation of a car as being able to shift it into gear. Making sense of whether you need to take your ride to a transmission shop can be confusing. Here are three things every transmission repair technician wants their customers to know.
"Check Engine" May Mean "Check Transmission"
One of the great conveniences of modern auto maintenance work is the OBD-II scanning system. Every car built this century should have an onboard diagnostic port that allows you to get readings from the vehicle any time the check engine light comes on. The port is usually located between the bottom of the dash and the pedals, typically near the bottom of the steering column.
If you don't have an OBD-II scanner, most major auto parts chains will scan your car for free. They also offer rentals, although you may want to just buy one, especially if you have several older vehicles.
As it turns out, the check engine light doesn't just tell you things about the engine. Transmission codes will also be flagged, and this can give a technician a head start on figuring out what's happening.
Seeing Red Fluid Under the Car
Transmission fluid is almost always dark red, although it's worth noting that some power steering units also use automatic transmission fluid. If you suspect there's a leak, try to park the car on a clean spot and let it sit for a day. Small amounts of fluid mean the vehicle is probably drivable enough that you can take it to a transmission shop as long as it's still capable of shifting through all its gears. A large amount should be concerning, even if there aren't problems with shifting yet. It may be best to have the vehicle towed or hauled to the shop to avoid risking damage to the transmission.
Slipping, Delays, or Loss of Gears
One of the ugliest indicators of trouble is losing gears, experiencing delays in shifting, or having slips. Slippage is more common in manual transmission systems. Delays usually occur in high-mileage vehicles. Delays of less than a second can be tolerated, but anything more than that probably deserves professional attention. Loss of a gear can occur in both automatic and manual systems, and it can occur at any time. If you want to verify an issue, problems are usually more noticeable on hills, ramps, and other types of grades.