It's never a good idea to overlook signs that your car's transmission is failing or needs repair, as doing so can mean making a small problem worse and even burning up the entire transmission system, so that the system then needs replacement. You may hesitate to take your car into a shop when you know it needs work on the transmission simply because you're afraid of the cost or extent of the work to be done, but note a few common problems that occur with an automatic transmission. This can assure you that the work isn't always as extensive as you assume and can help you note what to discuss with your mechanic.
When you put the car into gear, it should immediately catch and not linger as if it's in neutral, or fail to stop moving forwards or backwards. When it does respond slowly, this can mean that there is not enough transmission fluid. The fluid helps to build pressure in the system so the gears can engage as needed. Low fluid may mean a leak in the pan that holds the fluid and this may need replacing.
However, your car might also have a worn clutch. The clutch is what helps to move the gears into place. You might not think you have a clutch if you have an automatic transmission since you don't have a clutch pedal, but note that a manual transmission simply means that you're engaging the clutch yourself. An automatic transmission system still needs this clutch to move the gears into place and when it's worn, your gears may seem sticky or the car may seem slow to respond to a new gear.
A burning smell from your car can mean a number of problems, but very often it's the result of fluid leaking onto a hot exhaust pipe or another part. If your car is not overheating, this often means that it's the transmission fluid that is leaking. Note if you see any fluid under the car and if it's just plain brown and not shiny like motor oil, as this often signals transmission fluid.
Noisy when in neutral or changing gears
The chains of the transmission system have teeth that work to let the chains move against each other. When the teeth are worn, this means that the car can be noisy when in neutral or when those chains move to change gears. Consider if it's a high-pitched or grinding noise as these both often signal a problem with the chains and gears of the transmission and these may need to be replaced.
If your car shows any of these signs, consider taking it into an auto shop like Gearbox Express.
I've always driven used cars, and when I first started driving, I made some costly decisions and bought a couple of cars that just weren't worth the money I spent on them. I knew I needed to learn how to inspect a car's engine and how to spot warning signs when I was buying a used car, so I started reading everything I could find on the topic, including basic car mechanics and maintenance. I started this blog to share what I've learned over the years, and I hope my tips will prevent other new drivers buying used cars that will drain their wallet and sap the enjoyment out of driving. I hope you find my posts informative and useful.