Can Low Transmission Fluid Cause Jerking? Signs and Causes

Every engine is designed to offer optimal performance, and every gear shift should be smooth. But this is not always the case. If your vehicle has transmission problems, you’ll experience several issues like hard gear shifting, rattling, clicking, grinding noise, transmission slippage, transmission overheating, jerking, etc.

Since low tranny fluid is the common cause of transmission problems, most folks often ask, can low transmission fluid cause jerking? This article will explain that and other related questions as we progress.

jerking transmission

Can low transmission fluid cause jerking?

The transmission fluid is responsible for cooling and lubricating internal tranny parts. To carry out this responsibility effectively, it should always stay at the recommended level. If the fluid becomes low, it’ll cause transmission jerks while driving, especially when shifting gears.

However, several factors can cause jerking when idling or driving. But if you notice a jerking transmission when you change gears, you likely have a bad engine/transmission mount or low transmission fluid due to leaking. Meanwhile, you can conclude you have low transmission once you confirm it is the leading cause.

You should watch out for low transmission fluid symptoms to prevent running low on low transmission fluid for long.

Symptoms of low transmission fluid

It’s essential to know the tale-tell sign that shows you are running on low transmission fluid to avoid causing a catastrophe in the unit. Do not undermine these signs for any reason.


As explained earlier, transmissions are expected to shift smoothly between gears, and there should never be any noise or grinding in the unit. Noises from the transmission indicate low fluid in the unit.

Some tranny brands make some specific noise when they are low in fluid, and aside from this, tranny noise depends on the type of transmission you have. For instance, automatic transmissions make humming or whining noises when shifting gears, while manual transmissions make grinding or loud clunking noises.

Always check your transmission fluid whenever you hear these noises from the unit. But if the liquid is at the right level, contact a mechanic to run a proper diagnosis.

Transmission leaks

Another notable sign of low transmission fluid is fluid leaks. The tranny fluid is meant to stay enclosed and should never leak. If leakage occurs, there will be low fluid in the system.

Fluid leakages are commonly caused by worn-out, brittle, or damaged seals or gaskets. All you need to fix the leakage is to replace the faulty seal with a new one. The leaks can also emit from a cracked or loosened component.

I recommend you fix all leakage earlier to prevent it from causing catastrophic damage to the system. The longer the leak stays, the more it worsens.

Slipping gears

If you are asking, will low transmission fluid cause slipping? The answer is yes. Low fluid levels will cause gears to miss, resulting in a grinding sensation while driving. At first, the slippage will occasionally happen, which will seem like nothing. But if you ignore it, it’ll increase and cause further damage.

Burning smell

Do not take any burning smell lightly. Any burning smell from your car should direct you to your mechanic. Several factors can cause a burning smell on your vehicle, including;  rubber touching the exhaust, overheating transmission due to low tranny fluid, and more. 

If there’s low transmission fluid, higher friction will occur between the internal parts when the transmission becomes too hot. This will invariably cause a burning smell and corrode the internal components. If this continues for a long, it’ll cause severe damage to the transmission.

Gears engaging slowly

Transmissions with low fluid levels typically have low pressures, causing them to engage gears slowly. If you notice your gears are engaging slowly, check the fluid level. It could be the fluid is below the recommended mark.

Poor accelerating or jerking

If your car jerks when shifting gears or accelerates poorly, it could mean you have a low transmission fluid. If your vehicle accelerates poorly or jerks, contact an experienced mechanic to inspect the car because several factors can cause the problem.

Causes of transmission jerking

Several other factors can cause transmission jerking aside from low transmission fluid. Other causes of car jerking while stopped or driving includes;

Faulty Transmission Control Module (TCM)

The TCM is responsible for controlling the transmission’s shifting and can malfunction, causing jerking or hesitation. Other symptoms of a faulty TCM include erratic shifting and the check engine light turning on.

Worn Clutch Components

In a manual transmission, worn clutch components can cause jerking when shifting gears. This can be due to a worn clutch disk, pressure plate, or release bearing. In an automatic transmission, a slipping clutch can cause similar symptoms.

Electrical Issues

If your transmission jerks when put in gear, it could be you have electrical issues that need close attention. The transmission relies on electrical signals to shift correctly, so any issues with the electrical system can cause problems.

Dirty or Clogged Transmission Filter

The transmission filter is responsible for keeping the fluid clean, but over time it can become dirty or clogged, causing a decrease in fluid pressure and jerking during shifting. Regular transmission fluid and filter changes can help prevent this issue.

Malfunctioning Torque Converter

The torque converter transfers power from the engine to the transmission. If it malfunctions, it can cause jerking or shuddering during acceleration.

Contaminated Tranny Fluid

Contaminated transmission fluid can also cause jerking. It can damage transmission components. Regularly checking and changing the transmission fluid can help prevent this issue.

Defective Shift Solenoids

The shift solenoids control how the tranny fluid flows, and it can malfunction, causing jerking or hesitation. Symptoms of a defective shift solenoid may include delayed shifting or harsh shifting.

Broken or Loose Transmission Mounts

The transmission mounts hold the transmission in place, preventing it from moving or dangling. If they are broken or loose, the transmission can move around, causing jerking or vibration.

Failing Engine Components

Failing engine components, such as spark plugs or fuel injectors, can also cause jerking. If the engine is not running appropriately, it can affect the transmission’s performance and cause jerking or hesitation.

Transmission Overheating

Another significant cause of jerking transmission is overheating. Overheating can cause damage to the transmission, leading to jerking or other issues. This can be caused by towing heavy loads, driving in extreme temperatures, or other factors.

However, you need to understand that the exact cause of transmission jerking can vary depending on your vehicle’s make and model and the transmission type.

How do you fix a transmission jerk?

An old adage says, when fixing something, start with the least expensive and the simplest fix. In this case, you gauzed it right; check the transmission fluid level. Firstly, start with the transmission fluid. Check the fluid condition and level. If the fluid is low, top it up and see if that will address the jerk.

But if the fluid has a burning smell or looks burnt, it means the tranny fluid needs to be changed. Go ahead and replace the transmission fluid. If the vehicle is automatic, remove the crankcase and the oil filter and wash them thoroughly before filling in the new oil.

Check the transmission mount if the fluid is not the problem. Inspect all the mounts and replace damaged ones. If none of these are the root cause, contact your mechanic to inspect and address the issue. Several factors, including engine issues, can be the problem.

Fix Transmission Jerking YouTube

Final words

Can low transmission fluid cause jerking? Low transmission fluid can certainly cause jerk in your vehicle. Transmission fluid plays a vital role in ensuring the gears shift smoothly; without sufficient fluid, the transmission can experience problems. If you notice any jerking or hesitation while driving, it is essential to check the transmission fluid level and add more if necessary.

This simple maintenance task can lead to more severe issues and costly repairs in the future. It’s always best to keep your transmission fluid levels up and ensure your vehicle runs smoothly and efficiently to avoid any inconvenience or safety hazards on the road.


Mr. Shafiqule Islam is a graduated Mechanical Engineer and has more than 15 years experience of repairing and maintenance of different brand vehicles like Toyota, Mitsubishi, Ford, Mercedes, BMW etc. He is also giving training to Mechanics. He has started writing to share his practical knowledge to Vehicle Owners, Drivers and Mechanics to keep their cars at best fit.

Recent Posts