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What does it mean when your car doesn't shift gears smoothly?
Answered by Science Channel
  • Science Channel

    Science Channel

  1. If you've owned a car, you've been there. Whether it's a flat tire, a noisy muffler or a broken power window stuck in the "down" position -- car trouble is as much a fact of life as cars themselves. We love them when they work and curse them when they don't.

    Transmission problems can be particularly unsettling, and possibly expensive to repair. Automatic and manual transmission cars react differently when the transmission may be in trouble:

    • If your manual transmission car makes a grinding sound when you shift gears, or if you feel something strange when you shift, it could be a sign of transmission trouble.
    • If it seems like your automatic transmission car shimmies from gear to gear rather than shifting imperceptibly, it may be a sign of transmission problems. Whenever the car doesn't shift gears smoothly, it's a good sign the transmission needs to be checked.

    If you're pondering what could be wrong, one thing you can check yourself, depending on the make and model of your car, is the automatic transmission fluid -- both its level and its appearance. Just consult your manual to find the location of the transmission fluid's dipstick (some newer cars may not have a transmission fluid dipstick, in which case you'll need to have a mechanic check it for you). After wiping it clean and re-inserting it, check the fluid. It may help to view it against a white backdrop, such as a piece of paper. The fluid can safely appear in anything from a red color (indicating new fluid) to a more brownish appearance. The one thing you should not see is black fluid. Furthermore, it should not smell burnt, and you should not see any metal shavings or flakes in it [source: Samarins]. Any of these problems mean you should get the car in to a mechanic.

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