Transmission Overheating Symptoms: Causes and Prevention

Transmission overheating symptoms have sprung so many tall tales among drivers. As a result, many car owners or drivers fail to distinguish the symptoms of transmission overheating from other mechanical faults until it is too late.

Transmission Overheating Symptoms

Nonetheless, acquiring full knowledge of the actual signs of transmission overheating can help you know there’s an issue with your transmission and also help direct you to the right vehicle parts to examine.

Continue reading as this complete guide spells out the common transmission overheating symptoms, causes and preventive measures to avert transmission failure.

What Are the Common Transmission Overheating Symptoms?

The common transmission overheating symptoms include an unpleasant burning or smoky odor, delayed response times or transmission slipping, leaking transmission fluid, grinding noises, and hot engine temperatures. Generally, overheating is a common problem associated with the transmission of aging vehicles.

More simply, transmission overheating occurs when your vehicle is running hotter than usual, and this can lead to severe damage, like transmission failure, if not detected and fixed quickly. However, it is somewhat easy to identify the symptoms of transmission overheating as soon as possible before severe damages occur. Here are the common symptoms of transmission overheating below:

– Unpleasant Burning or Smoky Odor

A burning or smoky odor from the inside or outside of vehicles is one of the most familiar symptoms of transmission overheating. There are mainly two transmission issues that generate a burning odor. In most cases, your vehicle’s transmission is overheating when you perceive a smoky or burning smell while driving or notice this odor just after parking. 

Unpleasant Burning or Smoky Odor

In other cases, the burning smell could indicate that the transmission fluid is old. This is because as the fluid ages, it reaches a stage of oxidation where it produces unpleasant fumes that are often detected inside the car. The smell of burnt transmission fluid provides a clear warning that your transmission may be overheating. To confirm if your transmission fluid is the causative agent, you should check the condition of your transmission fluid with a dipstick under your car’s hood.

– Delayed Response Times or Transmission Slipping

Another common sign of an overheating transmission is delayed response time in shifting gears, also called hard shifting. The transmission system controls a vehicle’s gears and power, thus, overheating results in transmission failure, where your vehicle will stop moving altogether. 

For this reason, the metal parts tend to slip and grind, making them stop working right. So, if you notice that the gear slips when accelerating or decelerating or delays when switching gears, then this indicates that your vehicle’s transmission could be overheated.

– Leaking Transmission Fluid

The transmission system comprises rubber and plastic parts that cannot withstand high temperatures. If you run your overheated vehicle for an extended period, these parts get denatured, causing the transmission fluid to leak. To confirm if your transmission fluid is leaking, check under your parked vehicle and examine for any dripping spots. 

If you notice a transmission fluid leak, then this indicates that your car is undergoing overheating. This is because the transmission fluid intended to lubricate the moving parts that generate heat due to friction in your transmission system becomes inadequate, thus leading to excess heat. So ensure to check for fluid leaks regularly and have them fixed as soon as possible.

A damaged torque converter seal results in fluid leaking. Consequently, insufficient fluid levels cause the transmission to overheat, slip or shudder. To fix this overheating problem, you must identify and replace the damaged seal at once.

– Grinding Noises

The grinding noise produced while accelerating or shifting gears or the knocking noises or sensations that occur when in neutral provide clear signs that the transmission is overheating. Therefore, ensure to always look for these noises to avoid unwanted damage.

– Hot Engine Temperature

The car engine and transmission system work hand in hand with the cooling system, which helps moderate the temperature of both components. That way, if your vehicle’s engine temperature runs higher than usual, your transmission is also overheating.

Most modern vehicles comprise automatic sensors that detect overheating. As such, when the warning light comes on the dash, you can quickly tell that your transmission is experiencing overheating. Once you notice any of the symptoms highlighted above, we suggest you take the necessary action. Overheating causes damage to a vehicle’s transmission if left unchecked for an extended period of time, and this makes most car owners end up with ridiculous repair bills.

What Are the Regular Causes of Transmission Overheating?

The regular causes of transmission overheating include a fluid leak, hot weather, low fluid level, or dirty or old transmission fluid flowing through the system. In addition, too much transmission fluid sometimes creates excess pressure within the transmission to produce extra heat. 

Below are some common reasons why your vehicle’s transmission may be overheating.

– Low or Bad Transmission Fluid Level

Typically, automobile transmissions change gears based on the principle of hydraulic power. In the transmission system, the automatic transmission fluid provides a medium to transmit power between the different components of the transmission. Aside from this, the fluid also provides lubrication and regulates temperature in vital parts of the system. As transmission fluid circulates through the system, it absorbs heat. 

Low or Bad Transmission Fluid Level

At some point, the transmission fluid starts to burn and turn darker due to oxidative forces that increasingly break down the fluid’s internal structure, thus making it less able to reduce friction and absorb heat. Eventually, the fluid degrades to the point that the transmission produces more heat than usual to cause overheating.

At the same time, a transmission has a higher chance of overheating if the fluid level is low. This is because the reduced lubrication causes the gears to slip and grind, creating friction and excess heat. Also, lags often occur while the transmission struggles to enact the desired gear change. If you have noticed such lags in your car, your transmission may also be at a pronounced risk of overheating.

Heavy Towing

Towing vehicles that pull heavy loads over the maximum tow weight capacity weight can make their vehicle’s transmissions overheat. This is due to the additional strain directed to the transmission, causing transmission overheats. This can lead to other damages like warped chassis, tire damage and increased brake wear and tear. 

Defective Solenoid

The solenoid operates by starting the vehicle using electricity from the ignition component to start the engine. It also controls the fluid level that passes through the transmission system. As a result, inappropriate transmission fluid control can occur if the solenoid malfunctions, causing a temperature rise in the transmission system and perhaps in the entire engine block.

– Hot Weather

Sweltering temperature conditions hasten transmission fluid breakdown, leading to overheating. Many transmissions fluid options boil at about 600 degrees Fahrenheit, but hot weather conditions tend to pointedly increase the fluid’s temperature, which results in an overheated system. For instance, automobiles in cities like Louisiana and Texas are more susceptible to overheating during raving hot summer weather.

– Intense Operating Conditions

Frequently, extreme operating conditions cause vehicle transmission to overheat. For example, climbing steep and long hills exert more pressure on the transmission, which leads to overheating. In difficult situations, abrupt stop-and-go driving coupled with bad driving habits can produce excess heat. In other cases, overheating worsens when one combines two or more extreme conditions.

– Radiator and Cooling System Issues

Radiators are essential parts of an automobile cooling system that help eliminate excess heat from the engine when running hot through the circulating liquid coolant. Other cooling system components include the hoses, fan and thermostat that control the coolant temperature. As such, a defective cooling system results in transmission overheating. Make sure to have your cooling system checked and repaired if necessary.

– Faulty Transmission Sensor

Typically, multiple electric sensors are implanted in a modern vehicle’s transmission to control the whole system’s operations. A working transmission sensor uses signals to detect the operating temperature and transmits this information to the control unit. This enables drivers to check their automobile’s transmission temperature. 

Thus, if these sensors malfunction or become faulty, the transmission will not have access to the inputs needed to regulate the system thoroughly, leading to overheating. Most times, sensor issues activate warning lights such as the check transmission or the check engine light.

What Are the Effects of an Overheated Transmission?

The effects of an overheated transmission that is not repaired in time is transmission failure, where your car will stop moving because it has lost its power. Overheating remains the leading cause of transmission failure, characterized by the complete loss of transmission performance that will lead to hefty costs.

Irrespective of the cause of overheating, damages results as your vehicle’s transmission temperature rises above the standard temperature limit of 200 degrees Fahrenheit. With the transmission being a pivotal part of your vehicle, transmission failure will make your vehicle stop moving because the gears will no longer be able to get power from the engine. As a result, the aftermath of overheating leaves most car owners with costly repairs. 

Therefore, it remains vital not to drive further once you suspect your vehicle’s transmission is overheating. The faster you get your vehicle to an expert auto technician, the higher your chances of avoiding an exorbitant transmission repair bill. 

What Are Some Top Tips to Prevent Transmission Overheating?

Some top tips to prevent transmission overheating include implementing a regular maintenance schedule, being familiar with the warning signs and symptoms of overheating, and adopting good driving habits. An overheating transmission usually indicates issues with the transmission fluid or the aftermath of other damages to the internal system.

With this in mind, sustaining your transmission’s performance and health starts with proactive maintenance, decent driving habits and preventive actions. Here are some tips to prevent your vehicle’s transmission from overheating while you head down the road.

– Implement a Regular Maintenance Schedule

Most vehicles are designed to withstand a bit of wear and tear, but even the most rigid parts break down over time, justifying the need for frequent maintenance. So, to ensure that your vehicle’s transmission stays in good shape, keep track of the routine maintenance proposed by the manufacturer. In most cases, the user manual contains the instructions and schedule for proper transmission maintenance.

– Get Familiar With the Warning Signs of Overheating

The faster you notice the symptoms of transmission overheating, the lesser the damages inflicted on your vehicle’s transmission will be. Becoming familiar with these symptoms will help you identify and take care of such issues when they pop up. Even so, make sure to hightail the vehicle to the nearest auto repair shop every once in a while for a complete diagnostic check to prevent further transmission problems.

– Make Sure Your Auto Technician Knows Their Stuff

A modern vehicle’s transmission maintenance and repair require the mediation of skilled and steady hands, so don’t leave your transmission repair and maintenance to just any auto technician. Before you hand over your vehicle, go the extra mile to check that your mechanic is well-trained and experienced in dealing with transmissions.

– Adopt Decent Driving Habits

Decent driving helps prevent many common issues that affect the vehicle. This guide will help you drive responsibly:

Adopt Decent Driving Habits

  • Do not leave your car idling for long periods
  • Accelerate and decelerate at rational speeds
  • Completely stop the car before shifting gears

How Can You Reduce Transmission Temperature To Stop Overheating?

You can reduce transmission temperature to stop overheating by refilling or changing the transmission fluid or installing a transmission cooler. If you miss the early symptoms of transmission overheating and find yourself with a transmission hotter than usual while driving, the first step to take is to stop driving.

If you drive long distances with an overheated transmission, you risk costly or irreparable damages to your vehicle. Therefore, you should be aware of the signs and possible reasons that can cause transmission overheating. If your transmission gets too hot to handle, then it is vital to leave it to an expert to diagnose the problem accurately.

With your automobile parked in a safe spot, here are some ways to help the transmission cool down.

– Refill or Change Transmission Fluid

Low levels of functional transmission fluid often lead to transmission overheating. Thus, refilling or changing the old fluid can help reduce transmission temperature. But take note that the various car models from different automobile manufacturers use specified transmission fluids for their optimal operation.

Refill or Change Transmission Fluid

What you’ll need:

  • Appropriate transmission fluid
  • Clean paper towels or rags
  • Long funnel or hose

These are the steps to take to refill a car’s transmission fluid:

  1. Ensure the vehicle is in parked gear (P) with the emergency brake set.
  2. Open the hood to loosen the engine block.
  3. Remove the transmission dipstick and position the small opening of the long funnel or hose into the hole.
  4. Pour enough of the recommended transmission fluid into the opening, but ensure that you add the fluid slowly.
  5. Clean the dipstick with a clean paper towel or rag and insert it into the opening. This procedure allows you to check if you applied sufficient fluid to the transmission system.
  6. Fix the dipstick in place and close the car’s hood after refilling the transmission fluid.

A typical car’s transmission takes 30 minutes to an hour before it cools to a reasonable temperature. But take note that factors like atmospheric temperature can affect a transmission’s cooling time as well.

– Purchase a Transmission Cooler

Automobile manufacturers recommend installing transmission coolers for vehicles in locales with hot weather. Also, cars that frequently undergo harsh conditions may need an auxiliary transmission cooler to rapidly reduce the transmission temperature. 

But before installation, you must ensure that the transmission cooler is compatible with your vehicle. This is because some specific automobile models have mounts that may not fit the frames. 

What you’ll need:

  • Transmission cooler kit
  • Power drill
  • Brake line flare tool
  • Utility knife
  • Wrench

The steps below will help you with installing the right transmission cooler type.

  1. If your transmission cooler doesn’t include pre-drilled holes, use a power drill to make the openings on the core unit. Make sure to follow the guide on the cooling module or the manufacturer’s manual for this step.
  2. Drill holes on the car’s transmission channel, but make sure the holes match the ones on the transmission cooler.
  3. Use a wrench to detach the soft line from the hard line of the transmission cooler.
  4. Connect the metal part that looks like a small pipe to the opening on the transmission system.
  5. Using the brake line flare tool and the wrench, flame the other end of the transmission line to prevent the cooler from sliding while in use.
  6. Attach and secure one end of the kit’s hose to the transmission cooler. You can use the utility knife to cut the hose if it is too long.
  7. Link the other end of the hose to the vehicle’s transmission system.
  8. Now you may need to refill the car’s transmission fluid after the step above due to the loss of fluid that usually occurs while loosening some of the transmission system’s parts.

Above all, keep in mind that you can always let experts handle this installation process if you don’t have the skills or know-how to install the cooler. This is because tampering with your vehicle transmission system without sufficient expertise can result in expensive mistakes.

What Are the Transmission Systems That May Experience Overheating?

The transmission systems that may experience overheating include automatic transmissions, CVT transmissions, and manual transmissions. These are the most common transmissions found in vehicles, and each system comprises distinct features that determine their respective applications and drawbacks. All of these transmissions can experience overheating.

Check them out below:

Automatic Transmission

This transmission system is the most common type of transmission. As the name suggests, automatic transmissions do not require the driver to change gears manually. Instead, they employ a series of gears that transmit force from the engine to the wheels.

Aside from this, automatic transmissions are more fuel-efficient than manual transmissions, but they can be more expensive to repair.

CVT Transmission

Continuously Variable Transmission, or CVT for short, is a type of automatic transmission. Unlike the typical automatic transmission that uses gears, the CVT utilizes a belt and pulley system that transfers the power from the engine to the wheels. 

To a large extent, CVTs are becoming increasingly popular because they’re more fuel-efficient than conventional automatic transmissions. But then again, CVTs can be very expensive to repair and are not readily compatible with all car models.

– Manual Transmission

This type of transmission system employs a series of gears to transfer power from the engine to the wheels after the driver manually changes gears. Most people prefer automatic transmissions because they’re simpler to use, but many experienced drivers prefer manual transmission systems because it grants them more control over their car’s performance. However, their application in the automobile industry has declined in recent years.

Frequently Asked Question

1. How Much Does Repairing Overheated Vehicle Transmission Cost?

Repairing an overheated vehicle transmission costs an average of between 500 to 1,200 dollars. Severe transmission problems may require specific replacements that cost about 1,800 to 3,400 dollars, depending on the parts. This is why it is of utmost importance to quickly repair an overheated transmission.

Are Transmission Overheating Symptoms the Same as Car Overheating Symptoms?

Transmission overheating symptoms and car overheating symptoms are different. While car overheating can be caused by various factors, such as a faulty thermostat, low coolant levels, or a malfunctioning radiator, transmission overheating is usually due to issues with the transmission fluid. To prevent both types of overheating, regular maintenance, timely car overheating thermostat fixes, and monitoring fluid levels are essential.


We discussed the symptoms of transmission overheating in this article. We are optimistic you can now identify the common signs of transmission overheating, as well as the causes and preventive measures to take. Here are some of the vital points we mentioned in this article:

  • Transmission overheating symptoms include a burning smell, grinding noises, transmission slipping, etc.
  • Transmission overheating occurs when your vehicle is running hotter than usual, and this can lead to severe damage, like transmission failure, if not detected and fixed quickly.
  • Transmission overheating often leads to transmission failure.
  • Rapidly cooling down a transmission may only require refilling or changing the transmission fluid.
  • Installing a transmission cooler provides a long-term solution for overheating in hot weather.

Before engaging any part of your transmission system, make sure you have enough expertise to tackle the pending issue and avoid unwanted mishaps.

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