Bad Transfer Case Symptoms: What are the Solutions?

Bad transfer case symptoms are not always hard to miss, but it’s important to keep them in mind as this can affect your driving quality. With a faulty transfer case, you won’t be able to shift to all-wheel drive or four-wheel drive, making it hard to drive over rough terrains.

What Can a Bad Transfer Case Do With Car

Based on this, you can see that transfer cases are essential components of vehicles, providing super traction and powering the rear wheels. In this guide, we will look at the symptoms of a damaged transfer case so you can fix it before it causes further damage.

What Are the Bad Transfer Case Symptoms?

The bad transfer case symptoms are difficulty in changing gears, weird noises, difficulty in engaging or disengaging, or staying in a four-wheel drive, fluid leaks under the transfer gearbox, the automatic transmission light coming on, and a burning smell coming from the transmission.

If you notice any of the symptoms of a bad case, you should get it repaired quickly. Leaving it for too long would make it hard to change gears, or it can automatically change gears for you while driving. In the worst case, this could lead to an accident.

Difficult to Shift Gears

The main sign that you have a defective transfer gearbox is trouble shifting gears. When driving, you might notice that you have to use more force to shift your gears. This goes for both manual and automatic transmissions. This can be because of insufficient fluid levels, causing the transfer case to work roughly.

Gear Manual Transmission From Top View

With a faulty transfer gearbox, your car might get stuck in rough terrain or in neutral. It would also reduce the amount of power it is giving to the wheels. The stiff gear shifting leads to poor driving performance.

You Can’t Change Gears At All

If there is significant damage to the case, whether it’s the mechanics or electrical system, you won’t be able to shift the gears at all. A car with a transfer gearbox that isn’t operating might not drive at all. If it does drive, it would be rough and difficult.

Driver Try to Change The Gear

Weird Noises

Another sign of transfer case damage is hearing strange noises while driving. If you are hearing weird noises from the transmission, it could be because of internal damage to the transfer gearbox, like bent shafts and worn-out bearings. In the best situation, it could be because of insufficient fluid.

The gears or bearings would grind while you’re driving, which would produce a loud and annoying noise. If you hear this, you should check the case out immediately.

Hard to Engage or Disengage 4WD

If you find that your car won’t engage the 4WD system, or it’s already engaged, and you’re unable to disengage, there is a problem with the transfer gearbox. The 4WD will be working perfectly if the transfer case has a problem.

This symptom causes the four-wheel-drive to get stuck in one position, or it would engage when you didn’t engage it. You might lose transfer case control while driving and get into an accident. If you notice this problem, you should get it checked out immediately rather than avoiding it. This can protect you and prevent further damage to the car’s system.

Hard to Stay in 4WD

Your car is meant to stay in four-wheel drive until you change the settings, so if it automatically disengages from 4WD, there is something wrong with the transfer gearbox. A defective case would have issues with keeping the car in 4WD. So, it would switch between different gears, and you would lose control.

The Automatic Transmission Warning Light Comes On

If you notice that the automatic transmission warning light is illuminated on the dashboard, this is a sign that you are driving with a faulty transfer gearbox. There might be a lack of pressure in the transfer case, which would affect the performance of the car. If the light is on, contact a mechanic to figure out the cause.

Fluid is Leaking Under the Transfer Gearbox

If the fluid is leaking from under the case or transmission, then you should get it checked out immediately. The lack of fluid could also be causing the rough gear and grinding noise.

Mechanic While Repairing The Gearbox

Leaking fluid shows that the transfer gearbox and its other components and seals are damaged, so you should check it out as soon as possible.

Burning Smell

If transfer case fluid is leaking from your car, the moving parts would be grinding against each other with no lubrication. It would cause a smell of burnt metal, along with a loud grinding noise. If you notice this smell, you should stop driving immediately as the transfer gearbox is completely damaged.

How Can You Inspect a Faulty Transfer Case?

You can inspect a faulty transfer case by sliding underneath it and looking out for any leaks, visual damage like cracks and dents, and metal shavings in the transfer gearbox liquid. A visual inspection is the best way to determine that your case is faulty.

If you don’t have the tools to look under your car, you should visit a mechanic. But if you do, check your owner’s manual for the location of the transfer gearbox and follow the steps below:

  1. Set your vehicle up on a flat and even surface.
  2. Inspect the transfer case for leaks, dents, and cracks.
  3. Drain the fluid from the transfer gearbox. You can do so by putting a container under it and removing the drain plug.
  4. Inspect the fluid for metal shavings. If you find shavings, it might be because the case is worn out, is not getting lubricated, or a part of it has broken.

The best solution is to replace your transfer gearbox, as repairing it might not be cost-effective. You should contact a mechanic to replace the case for you.

What Are the Causes of Bad Transfer Case Signs?

The causes of bad transfer case signs include worn-out components, excessive wear and tear if the transfer gearbox is old, poor repairs or installation, impact or accidents, rust and corrosion, low pressure, and low level of fluid. If you drive on rough terrains often, it can cause symptoms.

Worn Out or Damaged Components

The components of the case include the seals, gaskets, and bearings, and these are mechanical parts that would wear out eventually. When they become worn out or damaged after a while, they affect the transfer gearbox.

Rusted Damaged Parts of An Engine

Poor Installation or Repairs

If you recently installed a new transfer case or serviced your car and you notice that your transfer gearbox is no longer working, it might be because it was done wrong. That is why it’s important for a trusted professional to replace your case to prevent further problems. Transfer case repair might also be ineffective, so it’s best to replace it.

Accidental Damage or Impact

One common reason for a transfer case working wrong is accidental damage. For instance, you might hit it against a rock while driving, causing damage. Driving off-road might also cause damage to your transfer gearbox, getting into an accident, or even just dropping or hitting the case while maintaining your car.

Rust, Corrosion and Wear

Like every other part of your car, the transfer gearbox would get rust, corrosion, wear and tear as it gets older. Age and environmental-related damage like dirt and salt getting to the transfer gearbox would lead to rusting, and this can cause leaking fluid and other defective transfer gearbox symptoms. It’s best to replace your case to prevent damage.

Low Pressure or Fluid

If there isn’t enough fluid in the transfer gearbox or it is not providing the right temperature, it can lead to different problems and eventually damage the case. When maintaining your car, it’s best to check the transfer gearbox fluid to make sure it is enough and maintain the correct pressure.


If your car is overheating regularly, the excessive heat will cause the bearings, seals, and other components in the case to fail. This can cause a faulty transfer gearbox and other problems in your car.

An Overheated Engine With Steam Rushing Out of It

Stressing the Transfer Case

Putting a lot of pressure on your transfer gearbox, especially by off-roading, driving on difficult terrains, and lifting heavy loads, can cause your transfer case to get damaged. You should avoid overheating the transfer gearbox and replace the fluid regularly.

How Much Does Transfer Case Replacement Cost?

Transfer case replacement costs between $2500 and $5000 depending on the make and model of your car, the mechanic you visit, and the extent of the damage. Some modern vehicles might also cost over $5000. It’s best to work with a reliable mechanic to replace your transfer gearbox.

If you’re changing your fluid, a container costs between $100 and $130. You would have to change it every 30,000 miles or two years, depending on your usage. Also, the encoder motor ring usually fails in a transfer gearbox, and it costs up to $70 to buy it, and the labor costs are up to $700. Labor costs for repairing transfer case problems are usually expensive because you have to remove different components to fix one part.

Can a Defective Transfer Case Cause a Faulty Transmission?

A defective transfer case can cause a faulty transmission, which is why it’s important to replace it once there are signs of damage. The transfer gearbox is a part of the transmission, and if it’s rusted or worn out or lacks fluid, you can get transmission problems.

If your transfer case fluid is leaking, it might also get into the wrong components and lead to further car problems. You should inspect your car and visit a car repair shop as soon as possible if you suspect a faulty transfer gearbox.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Can You Check if the Fault Is in the Transfer Case or Transmission?

You can check if the fault is in the transfer case or transmission by putting the car in neutral and listening for a grinding noise. If you hear it, it’s due to the transmission. Problems with the transfer gearbox start and stop when you turn the car on and off.

Can There Be a Hole in Your Transfer Case?

There can be a hole in your transfer case, and this is identified by leaking fluid. If there is a hole in the case, it might be because of an accident or impact. Most drivers weld a pinhole to cover it, but you should consider a replacement.

Are the Symptoms of a Bad Transfer Case Similar to a Bad Rack and Pinion?

The symptoms of a bad transfer case may share some similarities with the 7 symptoms of a bad rack and pinion. Both issues can cause abnormal noise, difficulty in turning, and vibrations. However, it is important to note that each component operates independently and serves different functions in a vehicle. Therefore, it’s crucial to have a professional diagnose the problem accurately.


It’s important to act fast when you notice bad transfer case symptoms in your car to prevent an accident or further damage. Here’s a summary of our article before you go:

  • The symptoms of a bad transfer case include difficulty in changing gears, staying in 4WD, engaging and disengaging from FWD, and unusual noises.
  • Transfer cases get damaged due to worn-out components, improper repair or installation, impact or accidents, wear and tear, and low fluid levels.
  • It’s best to contact a mechanic or visit a car repair shop to replace your case.

With our complete guide, you know the signs of a defective transfer case. You should work with a reliable car expert to replace it.


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