Is It Safe to Drive a Car with a Bad Transmission?

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Safety of Driving a Broken Transmission

Your transmission experiences the most wear out of any other party of your vehicle. Having a good functioning transmission is equally as important to the engine. The transmission in a car works to convert the power from the engine into motion. The transmission then multiplies the engine torque into usable power in order to spin the wheels, essentially it pushes the car to move.

There are two types of transmissions,  either automatic or manual transmission. Manual transmissions must be put into gear using a gear shift, while an automatic transmission changes the gears for you. Most drivers are unaware of the symptoms of a broken transmission which can be dangerous. Even though it might be easier to ignore problems, it will only make problems worse once you are forced to face them.

So can you drive with a bad transmission? If you want to risk transmission locked up while driving then yes, but if you want to be safe, you should avoid it at all costs. Even when there is a transmission fail-safe, it is not completely safe to drive.

Safety of Driving a Broken Transmission | Signs of Bad Transmission

No Response to Pedal

If your car refuses to shift into the right gear then it is a sign of trouble with your transmission. This might be an electric, hydraulic or mechanical problem. Having no response can appear as a delay when you are moving from park into drive and is very obvious in automatic cars. This also shows itself in the revving of the engine’s RPMs versus the vehicle speed. It will seem that the expected acceleration is lower than what the engine sound would imply. This is commonly known as “slipping.”

Weird Sounds

Although all cars sound different, there are sounds you should look out for. Especially if you have never heard a sound before, or it seems off. These might include:

  • Humming
  • Buzzing
  • Whining
  • Clunking

These are the common words that are heard when describing the failure of transmission. Because there are so many parts in your transmission (100s), if one small part has an issue it can cause failure. These noises are dangerous and although may not fail right away, will eventually lead to transmission failure while driving.

Although humming, buzzing, and whining is common with automatic transmissions, the manual transmission usually clunk. These can relate to the engine, driveshaft, wheel bearing, or even the exhaust system. You should always get your vehicle looked at as soon as you hear any odd noises.


One of the easier ways to diagnose a broken transmission is by leaking fluid. There is never a time when leaking transmission fluid safe to drive. In an automatic transmission, the fluid decreases friction and prevents overheating. It also works similar to a hydraulic fluid which allows the gears to engage.

Is it safe to drive with a transmission fluid leak? When an automatic transmission fluid has a leak, it will continue to operate but with low fluid. This leads to the chance of overheating and is one of the easiest ways to break down. The best way to diagnose a leak is if you see red fluid underneath your car. If you see this you should bring your car into the shop immediately. Especially if it is dark brown or black with a burnt smell. This means that it is burnt and that there is some type of internal failure. This can be very dangerous.

Another case might be that the pan gasket is cracked. In this case, a flush or repair might be able to quickly fix this issue. The safe transmission temperature range will far extend beyond what it should be if you have a leak.

Grinding, Jerking, or Shaking

Two easy signs of a broken transmission are shaking and jerking. Gear grinding is a very common symptom in manual transmission cars. Broken automatic transmission cars can also show some hesitation with gears shifting, but this is called slipping that can lead to trembling or shaking. Manual engines are known for clunking and jerking between gears as a sign of being broken. The only way to truly diagnose this is to bring it to an expert and avoid further damage.

Burning Smell

Similar to leaked fluid smelling burnt. If there is a burning odor and no leaked fluid, then you may have a transmission that is overheating. This can be due to clutch debris within the fluid. It will contain metallic components and sludge. If transmission fluid has not been flushed for a while or serviced ever on a car with over 100,000 this is common.

Burnt transmission fluid smells like burning rubber rather than oil. You may even see smoke if it becomes extremely hot. Once this happens it can no longer lubricate the parts of your car that it needs to, nor help to shift the gears.

Unable to Shift into Gear

If you have ever sat in your car with the engine on but unable to move, it might seem like a bad dream. This is your transmission not going into gear. If it happens in the middle of the street, it can be a dangerous situation.

There are a few reasons why this might be happening:

  • Wrong fluid type
  • Shift cable in wrong position
  • Mechanic failure
  • Dirty and clogged filter
  • Bad clutch linkage
  • Failing solenoids
  • Malfunctioning sensors
  • Malfunctioning computer system

Service Engine Light

The check engine light is usually a pretty common sign that there is a problem. Although many people continue to drive with this, it can be a sign of a broken transmission that you may not want to drive on. The service light can sense things like vibrations that you might not be able to. Instead of allowing it to begin grinding and trembling (when it might be too late to repair) pay attention to the check engine light.

Repair shops are able to run your car through a computer system and get a diagnostic code. This will allow you to know what minor repairs you need, to avoid a broken transmission in the near future. This can also allow you to know whether or not you need a rebuild or a replacement.

Bumps and Quakes

One easy test of your transmission is to place it in neutral and see if it makes unusual noises. If you can sense your transmission bumping or quaking, then you may need to add fuel or other small changes. Chrysler, Dodge, and Jeep brands often require a fluid inspection in neutral.

Slipping Gears

Slipping gears is not only bad for the vehicle but also extremely dangerous. To avoid a dangerous situation with slipping gears you might find yourself slamming on your brakes or accelerating quickly. When this happens you may feel like your car does not respond. If this happens it can be more dangerous than a fully broken transmission, meaning you need to have it checked out and should not drive the car. Some transmissions now have a safe mode to prevent this, and allow you to drive to the shop where the car will only operate in 3rd gear, but be sure to check this before driving.

Dragging Clutch

When it comes to a manual transmission a dragging clutch often occurs. This can make it hard or impossible to change gears. It occurs when the clutch disc and flywheel don’t disengage properly when pushing the clutch pedal. In some cases, a manual transmission is also known to fall out of gear which may also include a grinding noise. Then the cylinder will need to be inspected to ensure proper diagnosis and repair.

Can I Drive With a Slipping Transmission?

Can you drive a car if the transmission goes out? What happens if transmission goes out while driving is very dangerous. Having said that, you should never drive with a slipping transmission. This can be extremely dangerous. There are plenty of reasons for a slipping transmission that you might not even realize such as simple noises or changes in pitch. This usually occurs while driving, and can be a dangerous situation. In some cases while driving with a slipping transmission the car can even start shaking or clunking.

Clunking or a thud may be heard while going up and down in gears. You might even have problems accelerating or getting to the proper speed while it goes through the different gears. The third sign of a slipping transmission is a delay before the vehicle moves. You might press on the gas pedal and have a pause between when the car actually goes. You simply will not move anywhere.

Driving with a slipping transmission is never recommended because it can be dangerous to you or the people around you. If you see these signs you must take your car into a shop to repair or replace it as soon as possible.

Transmission Repair Costs

Transmission issues should never go unattended or be left without fixing them because it can lead to a completely blown transmission that requires replacement instead of a simple repair. In this case, you should have a mechanic give you a quote on a repair. There is an extremely wide range of costs for a transmission which includes a simple maintenance job to a full replacement. If you choose to DIY this project then you might spend only $90 in parts for the transmission fluid change. This would even include the gasket, filter, and fluid.

If you are not comfortable repairing your transmission then you can bring it into the shop, or even sell it, but before taking this step you should know the cost of what your car is currently worth. Then you can decide whether to fix it or sell it.

Used transmissions range from anywhere from $800 to $1500, while a rebuilt transmission ranges from $1100 to $2800, and a remanufactured transmission usually costs between $1300 to $3400. The labor to remove and replace a transmission is also very expensive and can be anywhere from $500 to $1200 because it can take many hours.

Habits That Can Damage Your Transmission

Pressing Hard on the Gas Pedal

Pressing hard on the accelerator is bad for more than just your wallet with fuel costs. This can also put pressure on your transmission. This is because extreme acceleration creates too much torque, and your transmission will need to be able to cool off or it will overheat.

Slam on the Brakes

Pressing too hard on the brakes can also make your transmission prone to damage. This can be dangerous. Although sometimes it's impossible to avoid hitting the brakes hard, you should try to avoid it if you can.

Forgetting to Use Your Parking Brake

If you forget to set your parking brake it puts more stress on your transmission than necessary. This is also true when you are parked at a slope.

Skip Transmission Maintenance

When transmission maintenance is delayed, there is more of a chance that the friction will cause some of the parts to wear down. This can lead to expensive repairs being needed.

Can I Drive With a Broken Transmission?

The answer to this question is no. You should never drive with a broken transmission. It is very dangerous, and can also lead to the transmission having much worse problems. This can occur simply because you ran out of transmission fluid, or because you have a part that has fallen out of place. Regardless, running out of transmission fluid it’s like running out of your engine oil you will hurt your vehicle and pay for it in the long run. The next time you sense any type of trouble with your transmission take it into the shop immediately before things get worse.

Repair or Replace?

In some cases, it is worth it to repair your transmission, but oftentimes because the labor is so expensive, it is better to replace it altogether, or even buy a new car. Repairing small parts of your transmission might be worth it, but as a general rule, if the repair estimate is more than a rebuild, you should go with a rebuilding service. If the replacement cost is less than a repair or rebuild, then the replacement is the best alternative.

Transmission replacement and repair can be incredibly expensive, so sometimes it is worth it to buy a new car. In this case, many garages will purchase your car for parts, including your broken transmission. Rather than try to sell your transmission and find a replacement, you can sell your car for cash on This can provide you the opportunity to get the most for your vehicle as possible, and then buy a new one with minimal additional costs involved.

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