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Bad Torque Converter Symptoms – Here’s Everything You Need To Know

Your torque converter uses the power of your engine with rotational energy. When the pump inside the torque converter fails, transmission fluid will not feed through the pump inside the converter. This will cause many different torque converter problems, so you should keep an eye out for the following symptoms:

  • Dirty transmission fluid
  • Transmission slippage
  • Problems with your gear shifts
  • Vehicle speed issues
  • Vehicle vibrations at low speeds
  • Unusual noises

In the remainder of this article, we will detail what to look for with these issues. If you plan on doing any DIY repairs, be sure you have the following setup beforehand:

  • The parking brake is on
  • Wheel immobilizers are set
  • Battery is disconnected

What Does A Torque Converter Do?

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A torque converter uses power from the engine in an automatic transmission to change gears. Think of it as the clutch in a manual transmission. Each time you move between gears, you have to press down and slowly release the clutch. The blade assembly inside of a torque converter controls the flow of transmission fluid. 

The torque converter does this for you, allowing you to move between different gears from the engine to the transmission. That’s why a damaged torque converter is often confused with faulty transmissions, as the two have similar problems. 

Six Of The Most Common Torque Converter Problems

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#1: Dirty Transmission Fluid

Checking your transmission fluid should be part of your routine maintenance activities. Remove the dipstick from your transmission fluid and drip it onto a paper towel. 

If your transmission fluid is red with no floating particles, that means your fluid is clean. If you have particles floating around in it and it is darker in colour, that means you need to flush.

Flushing the system allows you to narrow down the potential issues. This is especially important if you notice that the particles are shiny and metal, as that is a sign that your transmission, or torque converter, might be tearing itself apart. 

 

The flush determines whether or not it’s an ongoing issue. Recheck it after a week; if you still see floating metal particles, it’s time to get it looked at by a mechanic. 

#2: Transmission Slippage 

Transmission slippage happens when you are receiving too much or too little transmission fluid. When your transmission slips out of gear, that typically comes from not having the right amount of liquid. 

 

Of all the car issues you could have, this one has the most straightforward starting point. Locate your container near the oil dipstick. It typically has a coloured handle, making it easy to spot. Pull up the transmission fluid and check the dipstick. If the liquid seems low, that means you need to top off the transmission. 

Other signs of transmission slippage are a low fuel economy. So check to see if your fuel has been used up a bit faster than usual. Either way, you may need to take it to a mechanic who will tell you whether it comes from torque converter issues or your transmission.

How Much Is The Replacement Cost On Transmission Issues?

Depending on the severity of the issue, costs behind transmission problems come in one of three categories:

  • Topping off the transmission fluid won’t cost more than $20. This typically includes a funnel if you don’t already own one. You won’t use much of the bottle in this situation.
  • Having a dealer perform a transmission flush can cost anywhere from $100 to $250.This will depend on the year, make, and model of your vehicle. 
  • Replacing an entire transmission will cost you anywhere from $1000 to $4000. This is far more expensive than replacing a bad torque converter, so go through this whole list before assuming that it’s a transmission problem.

#3: A Rough Gear Shift

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When your torque converter is working correctly, your gear shift should be smooth as butter. When you have a bad torque converter, transitioning between different gears will feel rough and choppy. 

A rough gear shift is more of a problem when you move at lower speeds. You can prevent this issue from happening by ramming down heavier on the accelerator. The increased RPMs will power your torque converter’s output, creating a smoother ride. 

Remember, you will only find torque converters in an automatic transmission. The lack of control makes it easy to forget, so it will slip into neutral without you noticing. Either way, this is a sign that you need to head to a mechanic, as this is one of the more prominent symptoms of a bad torque converter.

#4: Unusual Vehicle Speed Issues

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While we’ve already somewhat mentioned it to some degree, it is essential to emphasize that a substantial cause for a bad torque converter comes from unusual speed fluctuations. When your torque converter doesn’t work, your engine is going to be all over the place. 

Your gears will suddenly shift from one to the next, you will feel the vehicle drop into neutral without your control, and your throttle won’t be consistent given the uncontrollable changes in hydraulic pressure. 

At this point, you need to contact a repair shop and set up an appointment. Stick to side roads where no vehicles drive. Do not go onto the highway, as this can increase your potential for an accident. Instead, do not drive as often as you can and consider purchasing a bus pass. 

#5: One Of The Strongest Symptoms Of Torque Converter Failures: Shuddering At Low Speeds

If there is one thing that makes you want to hit that brake pedal faster, it’s the feeling of your car shaking. When you have a bad torque converter, you may feel like you are driving along a bumpy road, even if you are on a paved street. 

Car vibrations are no joke, so pull over and call for roadside assistance if you can. This typically means there is an issue with the blade mechanism inside your car torque converter, meaning that you are receiving an inconsistent amount of transmission fluid. You can also relate it to other potential issues, but you need to get your car checked out in either case. 

#6: Weird Noises

A whining noise coming from your torque converter signifies that the pump inside it may not be functioning. It is also a sign that the blade assembly is not receiving enough fluid, causing everything to run together. 

This typically comes with a rattling noise that comes from shuddering while you are at low speeds. Again, without knowing much about vehicle repair, you probably know that this is a sign you need to stop driving your vehicle. 

Can You DIY Repair Your Torque Converter? 

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DIY repairs are a great way to save money. This can be especially concerning if you believe that it may be related to torque converter problems, as the cost of those can go as high as $4000 when going back to our transmission.

Given the number of mistakes one can make when repairing such a thing, this requires specialized tools and knowledge of the torque converter. As a result, it requires a certain amount of mechanical experience. 

If you want to know how to do it yourself, we recommend checking out this video: 

Don’t Forget To Grease Your Torque Converter.

The metal tube that connects the transmission to your torque converter needs to be greased slightly to keep things operating. Given that these are moving parts, this small amount of grease will allow your torque converter to move adequately. 

You can also say the same about the pump seal, but these are typically lubricated by the person who initially built and installed the transmission. If this wasn’t done correctly, you have much bigger issues on your hands. Also, put some oil inside of the torque converter as well.

Torque Converter Replacement Cost

The cost of replacing a torque converter falls into two different ranges:

  • If you feel comfortable with a DIY repair, the replacement cost is between $150 and $500
  • If you need to hire a professional mechanic, it will cost up to $1000. 

When compared to transmission replacement, the cost of this is much cheaper. If you are unlucky, both parts will need replacing.

Why Can’t I Repair The Original Torque Converter?

While replacement cost is typically lower when you know how to do repairs, you can’t say the same regarding transmissions or torque converters. That’s because even some of the most ambitious gear heads aren’t a big fan of rebuilding these components. 

Is It Safe To Drive With A Bad Torque Converter? 

No. A lousy torque converter can cause significant speed fluctuations and sudden stoppage of your vehicle. Every time you decide to drive with a bad torque converter, you work on ruining the rest of your engine components. 

This can get particularly expensive with the car’s transmission. Even the cost of a new torque converter is out of most budgets. 

What Should I Do If I Suspect I Have A Bad Torque Converter? 

First of all, check to see if you hear any loud noises coming from your car. You may also see a check engine light indicating a significant error. First of all, park your vehicle in the garage so you can reduce the wear and tear. You may cause a broken engine, transmission, or other parts that may fail when driving your car unnecessarily. 

After you get it home, you can begin to call around to see about prices. Make sure to have it inspected by a well-known mechanic with high reviews available. If you need help finding someone who can handle torque converters locally, a transmission shop typically delves in that area.

Bad Torque Converter FAQs

What Is Transmission Fluid Degradation? 

Your transmission fluid’s quality is a significant tell for finding out what is going on with your torque converter. Whether it be metal shavings or something else, lousy fluid can reduce the shelf life of your transmission and converter. 

Degradation happens when you leave your fluid inside of the car for an extended time. That means it has been through multiple oil changes, creating conditions for bad transmission fluid. 

If you want to be sure your fluid isn’t too old, change it out each time you make an oil change. This removes having to keep track of another car maintenance issue, combining two activities into one. 

Will A Bad Torque Converter Generate A Code? 

If your car computer senses a problem with your vehicle, it will give you a code that you can find on your scanner. This is most common when you have bad car shuddering, which can damage other sensors and heavily affect your vehicle’s performance. 

To avoid throwing off your check engine light, do not drive your vehicle while it is shuddering. 

Will A Torque Converter Fill Itself On Startup?

Yes, while it is a good idea to put a bit of oil inside your torque converter to start, it will fill up almost immediately with transmission fluid. This will allow you to quickly determine if there are any leaks, which is not a sign of a bad torque converter. Be sure that the fluid coupling is aligned before you start your car. 

Why Aren’t Torque Converters On Manual Vehicles?

Torque converters would fulfil the qualities of your clutch if you were driving a manual vehicle. In an automatic car, your clutch is your torque converter. It would be needless to have a manual car with a torque converter, as that would be having two of the same objects. 

Conclusion

As a reminder, here is our list of bad torque converter symptoms: 

  • Dirty transmission fluid
  • Transmission slippage
  • Problems with your gear shifts
  • Vehicle speed issues
  • Vehicle vibrations at low speeds
  • Unusual noises

While it is easy to confuse transmission problems with torque converter problems, a professional mechanic will discern the difference. Make sure you find someone you trust, though, as they may be apt to replace your transmission, given that it is more expensive. 

Be sure that you avoid driving the vehicle while it is exhibiting any of the symptoms. If you try and push your converter, you may end up needing to buy a whole new vehicle by the end of it. Instead, it might be time to invest in a bus pass or sell the old car before it causes any further issues. Whatever you decide, just stay safe. 

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