Whether you drive a manual or an automatic, a car’s transmission is one of the most critical systems onboard. You can quickly tell when there’s a transmission problem just by feel. For example, you’ll know the transmission is problematic when it feels sticky shifting gears.
A sticky transmission is caused by the system’s low or dirty transmission fluid. Besides that, a damaged hub sleeve, solenoid, or gears can also cause the same problem, as will clutch issues. Changing your transmission fluid should be the first step, though you’ll likely have to replace any damaged parts immediately.
As you read this guide, you’ll discover the clear signs to confirm that your transmission is sticking. Then, you’ll learn the root causes and how to solve each of them quickly.
How Do You Know If Your Transmission Is Sticking?
First and foremost, you must confirm whether or not you have a sticky transmission and not some other transmission problem. That’s the same regardless of whether you use a manual or automatic transmission.
When you’re sure that you have a sticky transmission, you can troubleshoot the issue more effectively and match it with the best solutions.
Here are the signs that your transmission is sticky:
- Struggling: For starters, a transmission is considered ‘sticky’ when it struggles to switch between gears. That struggle clearly signifies a transmission problem that requires your attention.
- Stiffness: On a manual transmission, you might also feel excessive stiffness in the gear as you drive. That is another sign pointing to your transmission being sticky and needing troubleshooting.
- Erratic behaviors: Lastly, any signs of erratic or unusual behaviors from your transmission are signs that the transmission is sticking.
Whenever you sense one or more of the signs described above, you must troubleshoot your sticky transmission as soon as possible.
Transmission problems are harmful to the car’s overall performance and safety, so they’re not something you should procrastinate on resolving immediately.
Why Does My Transmission Feel Sticky?
Unfortunately, there are several different reasons why your transmission feels sticky. Still, there’s a silver lining: all potential causes are within the transmission system itself. Therefore, you can save time by focusing on the transmission to find and resolve the root cause.
Here are the reasons for your sticky transmission and how you can fix them:
1. Transmission Fluid Problems
One of the most common reasons your car has a sticky transmission is a problem with the transmission fluid. But, aside from being the most common reason, it’s also the quickest to investigate and rule out, if necessary.
So, always start your troubleshooting process by checking the transmission fluid first and foremost.
More specifically, here’s what’s wrong with your transmission fluid causing it to become sticky:
- Low fluid levels: A sticky transmission typically happens because of low fluid levels. For example, you might not have poured enough fresh fluid the last time you replaced it, or there might be a leak in the system you’re unaware of.
- Old and dirty fluid: Transmission fluid is typically changed every 30,000 to 60,000 miles. If you haven’t done that lately, your fluid might be old and dirty. That can also cause the transmission to feel sticky.
- Clogged fluid filter: Lastly, the transmission fluid filter could be clogged, preventing fluid from flowing smoothly.
How to fix it: The most straightforward solution is completely draining your transmission fluid. Then, you’ll have to pour enough fresh fluid to let the system function optimally.
You’ll also want to plug or repair any leaks in your transmission system.
2. Worn Or Damaged Gears
The transmission system consists of several gears and other moving components inside the unit. However, those parts should have no problems working with each other in perfect harmony for many years, especially if you change the transmission fluid when necessary.
Unfortunately, those components can also experience too much wear after many years of use. Other factors, like aggressive driving and shifting habits, can also cause the transmission and its gears to wear out faster than usual.
When that happens, the damaged gears can’t function correctly and will cause your transmission to feel sticky.
How to fix it: Firstly, you’ll need to have the gears in your transmission inspected closely. You can do it yourself if you know how to. Otherwise, you should rely on a professional instead.
Once you confirm that the gears are damaged, you’ll have to replace them with new ones. However, doing so will help your transmission work as it should.
3. Damaged Hub Sleeve
Another crucial component that can cause a sticky transmission is the hub sleeve. The hub sleeve serves a very straightforward purpose: to engage the main gears of the transmission with the hub gear.
Even if all other components are in excellent condition, a damaged or worn-out hub sleeve can prevent them from moving correctly. That will cause the sticky transmission.
How to fix it: Just as before, the solution to this problem is to replace the hub sleeve entirely. However, you’ll want to inspect the sleeve closely to ensure you’re replacing the correct part.
Otherwise, you might waste time and effort replacing the wrong part without solving the sticky transmission problem.
4. Solenoid Malfunction
Modern transmissions, especially automatic ones, rely on more electronic components than ever. A perfect example of that is the transmission solenoid, of which there are several in a system.
These solenoids are controlled electrically to regulate the flow of transmission fluid. So, when it comes time to shift gears, one or more solenoids will be manipulated to allow fluid flow in the correct direction.
As you can imagine, a malfunctioning solenoid will prevent that from happening correctly and thereby cause sticky transmission shifting.
How to fix it: You can solve this problem by replacing the affected solenoid, which is the only straightforward part of this process. Accessing the solenoid and identifying the defective one is quite challenging and time-consuming.
That’s because you’ll have to drain the fluid and remove the pan before working on them.
5. Clutch Issues
Last but not least, the problem causing a sticky transmission could also be a clutch issue instead. The clutch and its components are designed to engage and disengage the transmission with the engine’s flywheel when shifting gears.
There are plenty of moving clutch parts, but the ones that can cause a sticky transmission are the master cylinder and clutch cylinder.
Besides that, the clutch might also be leaking fluids as well.
How to fix it: Sadly, clutch components aren’t serviceable or repairable. So, once they go bad, you’ll have no choice but to replace them with new ones. It’s time-consuming and labor-intensive, but it’s necessary to get your car working again.
The transmission system in all cars is crucial for its efficient performance, especially at different speeds and under various driving conditions. It’s never a good sign when the transmission feels sticky, so you must troubleshoot and fix the problem immediately. A sticky transmission is caused by fluid problems, clutch problems, and damaged hub sleeves or solenoids. Aside from pouring in fresh fluid, you’ll likely have to replace the affected component with a new one to fix the problem.