What Causes Transmission Shudder? How to Diagnose Problems with the Transmission

If you notice your transmission shudder, jerk, or slip and you’ve got a check engine light, there might be a simple fix. When a transmission has issues performing, we tend to think replacing it is the default fix, and sometimes it’s necessary, but in this article and video we review what you can do if this happens and what part(s) might be the cause.

Causes of a Transmission Shudder, Jerk, or Slip

Mechanic removing a transmission oil pan due to a transmission shudder
  • Transmission fluid leak from a bad oil pan, gasket, and/or filter
  • Shift solenoid failure
  • Clogged filter
  • Worn internal components

What Do I Do If I Notice My Transmission Shudder, Jerk, or Slip?

Maybe you’ve noticed a problem with the transmission shuddering, jerking or slipping and the check engine light is on. If the vehicle’s computer has identified an issue, it will turn the check engine light on since most vehicles don’t have a specific light for problems with the transmission. Here’s what to do if you experience this problem:

  1. If the Check Engine Light Is on, Read the Codes with a Scan Tool

    If the check engine light is on and the transmission shudders, jerks, or slips, connect a scan tool to the OBD II port and read the codes. This will tell you if the problem is related to the transmission and what area of your vehicle to inspect.

  2. Check the Transmission Fluid Condition and Level

    Check transmission fluid level. The steps for this will vary depending on the vehicle. You might need to have an engine running and remove a dipstick, or maybe your vehicle has a plug to pull out.

    Check the condition of the transmission fluid. If it’s dark and has to be changed, it’s possible some internal components have failed.

    If the fluid smells burnt, the smell will be very pungent and there are definitely components that have failed.

  3. Consider Removing the Transmission Oil Pan to Inspect the Transmission

    Most vehicles are set up with an engine in front that’s attached to the transmission. The engine produces power going through transmission to move the gears. From underneath the vehicle, you could possibly remove the transmission oil pan to drain the oil and look at the transmission.

    With the transmission oil pan removed, look inside for clutch material. There may be metal on the magnet, which is normal given the amount of mileage on the vehicle. If there is metal on the magnet, it’s normal to see little specs of metal, but large chunks means you’ll want to look into other possibilities in the transmission with the pan off. If there are little specs of metal on the magnet, clean the magnet with cloth.

  4. Remove and Check the Transmission Oil Filter

    As the transmission is running, it pulls fluid through the screen on the transmission oil filter. If the filter clogs, it will cause problems as there won’t be enough pressure going through transmission. Usually you just have to pull the filter down and a stream of fluid comes out. You want to check and see if it’s dirty. Finding any metal fillings is not a good sign.

  5. Check the Shift Solenoids and Their Electrical Connectors

    The valve body controls the fluid going through the transmission to select different gears. It has fluid pressure inside and different electronically-controlled solenoids that command the valves to open and close.

    Check the shift solenoids’ wiring harness and connectors. In the example in the video featured in this article, we have two solenoids for gears 1-2 and 3-4 that could cause a shuddering shift or no shift at all when shifting between one of those gears.

    More on how solenoid valves work

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Transmission Shudder or No Shift? - Diagnose and Fix - 1A Auto
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Transmission Shudder or No Shift? - Diagnose and Fix - 1A Auto
Find out what causes transmission shudder, jerking, no shift, and other problems with the transmission. With this guide and video, learn how to inspect these parts so you can find out what's causing problems with your transmission
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1A Auto
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