A car’s transmission is meant to channel the power generated by the engine to the vehicle’s wheels. Also, it must switch gears quickly based on your input at the transmission stick. When it takes too long to respond to your input, that’s called ‘delayed engagement’.
Delayed engagement is when the transmission takes too long to switch gears after you’ve shifted the gear stick. That happens due to dirty or low fluid levels or anything else that prevents transmission fluid from flowing. For example, faulty shift solenoids, a clogged filter, or freezing weather can all cause delayed engagement by restricting fluid flow.
Delayed engagement can be inconvenient, but fixing it is pretty straightforward. Read through this guide to discover its 5 common causes and what you can do to fix them.
What Is Delayed Engagement In A Transmission System?
Delayed engagement is a condition in transmission systems where it takes too much time to switch from Park into a gear such as Drive or Reverse.
Under normal conditions, a car’s transmission system will instantly change gears the moment you move the gear stick to Drive or Reverse. However, that process is considered ‘delayed’ when the system takes several seconds or more.
In a worst-case scenario, a severely faulty transmission can cause that delay to last up to a minute or more before eventually engaging your chosen gear.
When the delayed engagement is still a minor issue, you might find it to be annoying or inconvenient. Still, you should not ignore the problem instead of taking it to your preferred mechanic.
That’s because delayed engagement suggests that the transmission system is experiencing a problem. It’s always best to troubleshoot problems like this while it’s still small before it grows in severity and leads to more expensive repairs.
So, if you notice your gears taking a little longer than usual to engage, drive straight to your preferred mechanic or workshop for further checking.
Why Is My Transmission Experiencing Delayed Engagement?
Delayed engagement can happen for several reasons. So, troubleshooting is necessary to identify the root cause and match it with the most effective solution.
Here are the 5 most common causes for transmission delayed engagement and how you can fix them:
1. Low Or Dirty Transmission Fluid
Whenever you experience transmission problems in your vehicle, the first thing you must troubleshoot is the transmission fluid. Of course, that applies to delayed engagement or any other erratic behavior from your transmission.
In many cases, you’ll find that the issue is caused by transmission fluid that’s too dirty (because it’s been too long since you’ve replaced it) or because there’s just not enough of it (i.e. levels are too low).
Remember that the fluid is necessary so the transmission system can function correctly. Not only does it lubricate moving parts, but it also serves as a hydraulic fluid to move the transmission’s various components.
When there’s not enough fluid, or it’s too dirty to flow, the transmission will move slowly and delay switching gears.
How to fix it: Suppose the root cause of your transmission’s delayed engagement is low or dirty transmission fluid. You can solve that by draining everything out and then replacing it with fresh transmission fluid.
Doing that will restore the transmission system to optimal functionality, allowing it to switch gears without delay.
2. Clogged Transmission Filter
Wherever there’s fluid, there’s usually a filter. That’s certainly true for the transmission system with a filter built into it.
The filter’s purpose is pretty straightforward: it removes dirt, debris, and other impurities that might be in the transmission fluid to ensure that none of it clogs the system.
Unfortunately, dirty transmission fluids can cause the filter to become saturated with impurities. A dirty filter will restrict the flow of fluids, which is why it takes longer for the system to engage your chosen gear.
How to fix it: The solution to this problem is simply to replace the transmission filter with a new one. Of course, if the fluid is dirty or lacking, you must replace it with fresh transmission fluid.
You can prevent this problem from happening again by changing the transmission filter regularly. Manufacturers typically recommend doing so every 30,000 miles or after two years, whichever comes first.
3. Worn-Out Bands Or Seals
Transmission systems, especially automatic ones, are complex in terms of their design and functionality. There are so many ways that fluid can flow in the system, which is why it requires plenty of seals and bands to make everything work.
The problem arises when those bands and seals wear out. When that happens, leaks will form, and the transmission fluid pressure will drop.
As a result, the system can’t drive the fluid to where it’s needed when you shift gears, resulting in delayed engagement.
How to fix it: Worn-out bands and seals cannot be restored or repaired. That means the only practical solution is to replace them with new ones. The sooner you do that, the healthier your transmission system will be.
4. Faulty Shift Solenoids
As you read above, an automatic transmission has many different channels or pathways through which it’ll drive its fluid. That’s only possible thanks to shift solenoids which are electrically controlled valves that determine which direction the fluid will go.
Over an extended period and after plenty of wear, shift solenoids can fail. That will prevent fluid from flowing correctly as you shift gears, which then causes the delayed engagement condition.
In this case, it’s not a lack of fluid or dirty fluid but rather the solenoids’ inability to channel the fluid where it’s needed.
How to fix it: Firstly, you or your mechanic must identify the problematic solenoid. That will require opening up the transmission system and inspecting it closely.
Once the solenoid is found, you’ll have to replace it with a new one. Given how critical the solenoid is, you’ll want to invest in a high-quality replacement.
Doing so will also ensure that the new solenoid lasts a long time, and you won’t have to repeat this experience in the future.
5. Extreme Temperatures
Lastly, extremely low temperatures are another common reason for delayed transmission engagement. This, of course, is most likely to happen if you live in a cold climate or during the winter months when temperatures drop too low.
When that happens, the transmission fluid won’t circulate smoothly throughout the transmission system. As a result, shifting gears will take much longer than usual, at least until the vehicle warms up.
How to fix it: In these situations, it’s best to let your car warm up sufficiently before shifting gears. The warmth will restore the fluid to its optimal state, allowing your transmission to engage gears at its normal speed.
The most important lesson to remember about a car’s transmission system is just how critical its fluids are. Low or dirty fluids will undoubtedly lead to problems, as will anything that prevents those fluids from circulating throughout the system.
Delayed engagement in the transmission is caused by transmission fluid not moving to where it’s needed. That can happen when fluids are low or dirty, but it can also occur when the transmission filter is clogged, or the shift solenoids aren’t working.
Lastly, extremely low temperatures can also cause the same problem as they prevent the flow of transmission fluid.