How To Deal With Failed Gears & Transmission When Driving

Last Updated: 10/05/2022

Suffering mechanical issues with your gears when driving can be incredibly problematic, however, as with most things mechanical, often you can spot the signs that a bigger issue is manifesting by taking notice of some of the smaller changes in your vehicle’s behaviour.

Your transmission is a vital aspect of how your cars run.

Gears essentially control the delivery of power from the car’s engine to the driveshaft.

This is why your different gears allow you to travel at different speeds.

The higher the gear, the higher the speed.

The lower the gear, the lower the speed.

Shifting to a lower gear can also help you to manage your speed without using your brakes and even slow the car down in the event of total brake failure.

This would not be possible without the transmission and the vital role it plays.

Unsurprisingly, the transmission system in a car is a complex mechanical process involving a lot of moving parts.

Therefore, sadly, the scope for issues developing is much broader than with something like your steering, for example.

When you have had a car for a period of time and driven it regularly, you become used to how it feels and how it drives.

This is invaluable when it comes to identifying potential issues developing and transmission is a key area for this.

Without your gears, you won’t be able to drive your car anywhere, whether it’s automatic or manual.

What You Will Learn

Once your gears have failed and you cannot change gear, you essentially cannot drive the car anywhere.

If this happens to you, you should read our guides about how to deal with a breakdown.

It’s going to be a case of getting your car off the road as safely as possible.

Therefore, this guide will focus more on identifying when your transmission may be developing a fault and thus preventing a complete failure of gears before it occurs.

Our step-by-step guide will give you a list of potential issues to watch and listen out for.

To make sure we stay consistent with our other guides, we have split this up in to the following sections:

  • Step-By-Step Guide
  • Hints & Tips
  • Useful Information
  • Final Thoughts

Step-By-Step Guide

To help prevent a costly and potentially dangerous complete failure of your transmission, here is a step-by-step guide/list of the types of signs which may indicate that serious issues are developing.

You Cannot Get In Gear:

A sure sign that problems are afoot is when you cannot get the car in gear.

This could indicate problems from any part of the process from the clutch to the gearbox itself.

Try pumping the clutch a couple of times to see if that helps it ease into gear.

You Hear Noises When In Neutral Gear:

As odd as this sounds, you can have issues with the gearbox making weird noises when the engine is on but no gear is selected (neutral).

This may be a simple case of topping up the transmission fluid to keep things moving smoothly.


If you smell burning from your car, it could be the gearbox.

It may be caused by something as simple as the transmission fluid has leaked out or run out, causing the temperature to rise.

The only solution here is likely a mechanic.

Leaving it too long can cause it to get worse and become more problematic/expensive to remedy.

Dragging Clutch:

A dragging clutch is when you have the clutch depressed but still cannot change the gear.

This may be something simple causing it, such as too much slack in the clutch cable itself.

If so, it’s a relatively cheap fix which can prevent further damage along the line.

Slipping Gears:

If your car keeps slipping out of gear, then it’s a sure sign that something is not right.

It could be caused by several different things, but the best solution here is to have it checked by a qualified and experienced mechanic.

Check Engine Dashboard Light Is Illuminated:

If your ‘check engine’ or any other unfamiliar light illuminates on the dashboard, then it could be a sign that there is an issue with the gear box.

Having the car checked diagnostically at a garage is often a simple way of identifying the issue.

Grinding Gears:

If you feel, or hear, a grinding in the gears when you’re shifting from one gear to the next, then it’s worth getting it checked out.

It could indicate one of several issues, and once again, these range from relatively cheap and quick fixes to things more serious and costly.

Odd Or Unfamiliar Noises:

As we spoke about earlier in this guide, you should know your car and the noises it makes.

If you begin to hear noises which are unfamiliar, then it’s probably time to get it checked.

It may not be transmission related, unless that is those noises occur when you change gear.

Hints & Tips

Here are a few more hints and tips which can help keep your transmission in full working order.

Transmission Fluid:

As we have alluded to above, transmission fluid is key when it comes to the transmission and gear changing process in any vehicle.

You can usually monitor this yourself under the bonnet of your car and add more fluid when required.

To be sure of which part contains the transmission fluid, how to identify when the level is low and which fluid to use, you should always consult your vehicle’s owner handbook/manual.

This will answer all of those points as well as offering information about other vital maintenance tasks.

Watch Your Clutch Spring:

Something else to be aware of when it comes to your transmission is the clutch pedal in the footwell of your car.

This has a spring beneath it which is vital for pushing the pedal back out once you have depressed it.

It’s fairly common that these can snap, so try to be as gentle as possible when using your clutch and if you feel or hear a clicking sensation when using the clutch, this may be the best place to look first.

Sometimes, your spring may literally be hanging off!

Useful Information

In addition to the maintenance tasks we have mentioned, another great way of taking care of the transmission on your car is to practise smooth gear changes.

Gently depress the clutch pedal, only change gears when the revs are suitable to do so and generally try to drive your car in a considered way.

The less wear and tear you place on the car, the less likely that transmission issues will arise.

Final Thoughts

Transmission is crucial to any car and so if you suspect anything may be wrong then it’s always best to take a look at it or better still, refer it to a mechanic.

Our step-by-step guide above lists some of the common signs and indications that you may witness if a wider transmission issue is developing, so don’t ignore them.