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The transmission is one of the most critical components of your car’s engine. It shifts gears to control the amount of power that goes to the wheels. Because it is so critical, a serious problem with your 2011 Chevy Malibu transmission can cost thousands of dollars to fix. However, if you recognize the signs of a problem right away and get them fixed early on, they may not cost as much. For this reason, it is important to know what signs to look for.

1. Check Engine Light

There are lots of different things around a vehicle that can set off the check engine light. If it is the transmission, the car will return a P0700 error code when scanned with a diagnostic device. While most of the things that trigger a check engine light are minor problems, that doesn’t mean that you should ignore them. The sophisticated instrumentation inside the vehicle is noticing signs of problems that, at this point, are so minute that you can’t even detect them yet. The check engine light is your early warning system that something is wrong with your vehicle, and heeding the warning could prevent further damage.

2. Strange Smells When Driving

The transmission consists of moving parts and, like all moving mechanical parts, they require lubrication to prevent friction and heat. Transmission fluid is a specific kind of lubricant. If you detect a burning smell while you are driving that seems to be coming from your engine, it could be a sign that the level of transmission fluid is too low. Transmission fluid is not the only possible cause of a burning smell, but if it is the transmission, it is a sign of overheating. Whatever the cause of a burning smell, whether the transmission or something else, it is likely something serious that needs to be checked out right away.

3. Sluggish Gears

When an automatic transmission is malfunctioning, it may seem like the vehicle has to make more of an effort to shift gears. It may be accompanied by a loud clunk, or you may feel a sensation of grinding or shaking which is a disturbing contrast to its usual smooth operation. Sometimes the gears do not change at all, which could be a problem with the transmission fluid or the computer system.

4. Strange Noises When in Neutral

The operation of the transmission is not only smooth but usually silent. If there is a problem with it, you may start hearing strange noises coming from the engine, such as bumps or clunks, as well as whining or humming. The sounds may be most prominent when the vehicle is in neutral. These noises have many possible causes, so you should get them checked out right away.

5. Pay Attention To Leaking Fluid

Transmission fluid is one of six main fluids in your vehicle. When a fluid is leaking, it is necessary to find out where it is coming from. You can check the fluid level with the transmission dipstick after taking your vehicle on a short drive to warm it up first. If the level is low, you may have a leak. You can also recognize puddles of transmission fluid by its sweet smell and bright red color.

While you may require a mechanic to fix serious transmission problems, auto parts stores perform scans of check engine lights.