6 Reasons Why Your Transmission Slips When Car is Cold

Transmission Slips When Car is Cold

Cold weather harms a cars’ transmission system. During this period, the transmission system will contract and freeze, causing the line fluid to sip through the seals resulting in low pressure. Transmission fluid leaking from the line will also lead to insufficient fluid supply in the transmission system. Low pressure and insufficient fluid supply in the transmission system will then lead to transmission gear failure, thus transmission slip. The recommended temperature for the transmission fluid is 175 degrees add or take away 25 degrees. When it gets too low, the transmission fluid will begin to thicken.

During the hot months, you are told to look out for your transmission not to overheat since overheating breaks the transmission fluid leads to a variety of problems. You can be excused for thinking cold weather has no effect on your transmission. But that is not the case; cold weather affects your transmission and hinders the system from functioning effectively.

Here are some possible reasons why your transmission is slipping:

Low or Worn-out the Transmission Fluid

Transmission problems are often due to worn out or low transmission fluids (view on Amazon). Cold temperatures tend to cause contraction, which can lead to shrinking of the seals, which will then allow the fluids to leak, resulting in low fluid in the transmission. The fluid is a vital component of a transmission. If your car drags, or does not respond completely, check your transmission fluid. If it is burnt out, low, or worn out, this could be the cause of the transmission slip. Get a fluid flush. Adequate fluid should be pumped into the transmission. Low pressure in the fluid line, caused by inadequate fluid, could be the cause of the transmission slip.

Damaged Solenoid

This is an electromagnetic part of the transmission whose main function is to control the transmission fluid flow in the transmission. When you shift your gear, the transmission control module and the engine control module, which is the vehicle’s computer, triggers the solenoid, which then directs the transmission fluid into the valve to prosecute the right gear.

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The solenoid controls the quantity of fluids that flow through the transmission. When the transmission fluid fails, inadequate fluids flow into the transmission, which causes the transmission to overheat, resulting in transmission slip. A proper diagnosis should be done to determine if the solenoid is faulty and have a replacement done.

Worn-out Transmission Bands

Transmission bands bring together the gears in the automatic transmissions. The bands and clutches have to come together and let go of an effective transmission functioning at a specific time. Worn out transmission bands will cause transmission slip. If the bands are not broken or worn out, then you need to readjust them.

Worn-out Clutch

Manual automatic vehicles use clutches. However, automatic transmissions have torque converters in place of the main clutch. The bell housing has a torque converter for automatic transmissions, the transmission, and the engine link at bell housing where they connect with the torque converter or clutch. The clutch and the torque converter require pure transmission fluid pumped at the right time and pressure for the efficiency of the transmission and gear shifts. ‘Healthy’ transmission fluid is vital for the smooth operation of these components.

Worn-out Transmission Gears

Burnt out or low fluids cause wear and tear of the gears. Low fluids will make the gears to run hot, this wear and tears them, causing them not to engage because they cannot connect properly. This will lead to transmission slip and bumpy rides during accelerations. Worn out transmission gears can also be brought about due to poor manufacturing.

Failing Torque Converter

The torque converter (view on Amazon) is a crucial component of the transmission system. If the transmission fluids do not push through the converter, due to low pressure, precisely at the regulated time or the required amount, the transmission will slip. Worn out torque converter also presents some problems, such as jumping gears or gears that are not engaging, smoking, or blowouts.

What Happens to the Transmission System During Cold Weather Periods?


Some components of the transmission system shrink and become smaller. This will cause loosening up of the components leading to the parts getting worn out quickly. Contraction on the seals will result in leaking.

Viscosity Change

The cold freezes the transmission liquid making it thicker. The fluid gets too thick to lubricate the other components of the transmission system, thus increasing wear and tear rate. Synthetic fluid comes into play here since it is less viscous in low temperatures.


If water is the transmission, it will get cold and freeze up to about 32 degrees. When water freezes, it significantly expands, causing cracks on the valve’s body and its case. The crack damage on the transmission cannot be repaired. This will be very costly because you will need a complete replacement

Shifting Problems

Cold temperatures will make transmission shifts significantly harder. Delayed shift points make transmission shifts harder, this piles up pressure on the other components of the transmission system, causing wear and tear, and the consequences will appear later.

Delayed Overdrive

The vehicle’s computer can put off the overdrive functions until the ideal temperature is attained for the transmission. This puts pressure on the other components and speeds up the other forward gears.

Battery Dries Out

The car’s battery is one of the key components; if it freezes, it dries up and turns weak. This will cause several issues to your vehicle. Use a new battery to jumpstart your car or clean out the terminals.

What might appear to be a slight irritation from your vehicle can eventually turn into a major issue that is very costly to fix. Transmission slipping is not necessarily a transmission failure, but it could be if the warning signs are overlooked or ignored. The warning signs are the symptoms that tell us that the vehicle needs maintenance. The transmission system is very complicated, and for that reason, it will require a meticulous diagnosis of the causes of transmission slip.

What are the symptoms of transmission slip?

  • Clunking and Whining Noises

When your vehicle starts making unfamiliar noises, it is time to get it checked. Motorists usually ignore the noises, but they are often the first warning signs that your cars will display. Listen out to the whining sounds coming from your transmission.

  • Vehicle not Responding

If you step on the gas pedal and get no response or you have difficulties shifting gears, then you have reason to have your transmission checked. No response totally or delayed response is warning enough.

  • Burning Smell

The smell of smoke from your car, transmission area, is another symptom. A variety of reasons can cause a burning smell, but it can also be a transmission slip. When transmission fluid heats up and overheats, it produces a burning smell. Never ignore the burning smell from your car; it is never a good sign.

  • Leaking Fluid

Droplets of fluid where it is not supposed to be, is simple to spot. Identify the parts that you suspect could be leaking. Lay down pieces of cardboards below those areas and give it time. Look for droplets of fluid in any of the cardboard and confirm where you lay it. Share your observation with your mechanic.

  • Grinding Gears

Grinding gears displays itself in different ways in automatic and manual transmission. In manual transmissions, grinding gears could mean that the clutch is worn out and requires replacement. It can also mean the transmission bands are worn out. In automatic transmissions, vibration or shudders could have a number of causes.

  • Noisy Neutral

Bumping sound when your vehicle is in neutral is a warning sign that there is a problem. Replacing the transmission fluid can fix this problem, but if you still hear the noises when your car is in neutral, then it could mean bigger problems. Bumping sound doesn’t have to be a bad sign if the car is not in neutral.

  • Dashboard Light

A car’s engine is controlled by various sensors that can detect even the slightest problem. Dashboard light is the engine sensor’s way of alerting you to impending danger. Do not ignore the lights; have your vehicle checked as soon as you can.

You Need to Know This About Your Transmission

Most vehicle owners understand that a vehicle must be inspected and serviced from time to time, as referred to as routine maintenance. For those who don’t, the likelihood of problems that cause damage to the transmission is extremely high. If the vehicle is not inspected routinely, small problems can escalate to major problems that are much more expensive to fix. This is also true for vehicles which sit for long periods of time.

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To avoid Transmission slip during cold periods, try these fixes;

  • Drive Slowly

This will give your transmission and other internal components time to get the normal temperature before you speed off.

  • Minimize Idling

Some vehicles’ transmission does not lubricate components when they are idle. Cold components running with no lubrication causes them to wear and tear, eventually damaging the internal parts. Do not let your vehicle idle excessively.

  • Minimize Shifting

Avoid excessively shifting gears when your car is cold because it puts pressure on the transmission and can cause internal parts damage.

  • Park in a Climate Controlled Garage

A warm garage will reduce the contraction of the components, thickening of the fluid and freezing. Ensure that your car is parked in a spot that is covered to protect it from the cold.

  • Use an Engine Heater

Investing in an engine heater can save you both money and time. Plug the heater into an outlet on the wall and heat up your engine before you drive away, especially in the morning. Use a timer to check the exact time you take to warm up the engine.

  • Consider Synthetic Transmission Fluid

Synthetic transmission fluids are less viscous because they retain their specs in cold temperatures. Find a synthetic fluid suitable for your car since some transmissions don’t run well with synthetic fluid. Besides managing the temperature, synthetic fluids also mitigate oxidation

  • Change Fluids

Cold temperatures cause all the fluids in your vehicle to thicken up. This interferes with the flow due to low pressure. The thick fluid cannot also lubricate the components properly and may tear seals. Consider changing your fluid to that of a lighter weight that is thin enough.

  • Inspect the Battery

The battery of a car works a lot harder during cold seasons than in the warm season when starting up. Same reason it is designed with a cold cranking amp. Test the capacity of the battery or replace it with a new one. It will help a lot with cold temperatures.

  • Inspect Tire Pressure

Regularly check your tires since they tend to deflate in cold temperatures. Low or high tire pressure when driving can be disastrous and tremendously shorten the lifespan.

  • Avoid Salt

Salt causes rusting and corrosion of the components.

The major reason behind transmission slip when your car is cold is that cold increases viscosity of the transmission fluid, causing it not to flow smoothly in the transmission system. Address transmission slip issue as soon as possible to avoid major transmission repairs that will arise eventually if transmission symptoms are ignored.

Job Guthiri is a freelance writer with 3 years of experience writing for Motorsrun and other established automobile outlets. His focus and key interests are Tacomas and maintenance. Read our Editorial Guidlines and Fact Checking process.