Many drivers prefer automatic transmissions that take care of shifting for them, but while they can make driving easier, they can also be problematic. The sooner you can catch a problem, the better chances you have at avoiding excessive damage. There are a number of things that can go wrong with an automatic transmission. Transmission fluid leaks and clogged filters are common issues that can arise, and each presents symptoms that warn drivers of a problem.
Transmission fluid is essential to keeping the system well-lubricated and the temperature in check. When there is not enough fluid, the transmission could overheat and fail. This is evidenced by grinding noises coming from the front of the car when the engine is running. You can also pop the hood and check the reservoir. If the level is low, add more, but be sure to check the owner's manual to determine the proper grade of the fluid for your make and model. If the level is low again in a few days, chances are that you have a leak, which will continue to cause problems until it is fixed. A clogged filter can also cause transmission fluid to leak.
The transmission filter can also cause other problems if it is clogged, dirty or otherwise needs to be replaced. The recommended interval for changing the filter can vary between different vehicles, and the owner's manual will be able to point you in the right direction for your particular make and model. However, the filter may need to be changed earlier if certain issues arise with the transmission.
The filter is designed to stop debris and dirt from getting into the transmission system, but if it is dirty or clogged, it can also prevent enough fluid from lubricating the gears. When this happens, the transmission could slip. This may cause noticeably rough shifting, shuddering and clunking noises.
A dirty or damaged filter may also allow dirt and other debris to get into the system. You can inspect the transmission fluid to determine if this is the case. The liquid is typically red or brown and should be clear. If it is dark brown or black and contains metal fragments and visible particles, chances are the filter needs to be replaced.