What do you mean my torque converter has gone bad? …and exactly what does that do again?

A Brief Introduction

My name is Anthony Pisa. I have been an auto mechanic for more than 23 years here on the Kenai Peninsula in Alaska. And, I have been a lover of all things automotive for way way longer than that. If there is anything I can talk about forever and a day, it’s cars …or fishing. But I’ll save my epic stories of that massive king salmon that almost got away for another day.


Here at Anthony’s Transmission & Automotive Repair, we try our best to make sure that you understand exactly what is wrong with your car (if there is a problem) and how we will fix it for you. Even though you may not be a “car guy” like myself or any of my other mechanics, it’s important you truly understand at least the basics about your car. Especially when it comes to maintenance.

Each week on our website, I am going to give you basic information about a part or specific area of your car, define those special “automotive-speak” words related to that specific area of your car for you and hopefully give you a better understanding about the machine you love that gets you from Point A to Point B every day. If you have any specific part of your car that you are just in the dark about and I haven’t talked about yet, please comment below with your suggestion and I will see if we can make that the focus of a future post.

So, for this week, let’s talk Transmissions!


Transmission-related Words

When you are trying to understand something, you want to make sure that you understand the words clearly that you hear or read. I can pretty much guarantee that if there was ever something in your life that you had trouble understanding, it was because there was a specific word that you didn’t understand and not necessarily the topic itself. As long as you have the meaning of and understand the words, you can understand anything.

With that in mind, this is why I am starting with our “automotive-speak” words first. This way when I describe how a specific part of your car works (or is supposed to work), you will understand exactly what it is that I am talking about. So let’s expand your automotive knowledge!

Transmission – The mechanism by which power is transmitted from an engine to the wheels of a motor vehicle.

Torque – A twisting force that tends to cause rotation.

Converter – A person or thing that causes a change in form, character or function.

Torque Converter – A device that transmits or multiplies torque generated by an engine.

Driveshaft – A rotating shaft that transmits torque in an engine.

Driven Parts – The Wheels.

Gear – One of a set of toothed wheels that work together to alter the relation between the speed of a driving mechanism (such as the engine of a vehicle or the crank of a bicycle) and the speed of the driven parts (the wheels).

Automatic – A device or process that works by itself with little or no direct human control.

Automatic Transmission – An automotive transmission that can automatically change gears as the vehicle moves, freeing the driver from having to shift gears manually.

Manual – A thing operated or done by hand rather than automatically or electronically, in particular.

Manual Transmission – An automotive transmission consisting of a system of interlocking gear wheels and a lever that enables the driver to shift gears manually.

Neutral – A disengaged position of gears in which the engine is disconnected from the driven parts.

Clutch – A mechanism for connecting and disconnecting a vehicle engine from its transmission system.

Gasket – A shaped piece or ring of rubber or other material sealing the junction between two surfaces in an engine or other device.

Seal – A device or substance that is used to join two things together to prevent them from coming apart or to prevent anything from passing between them.

gear transmission

The Basics of a Vehicle Transmission

The whole purpose of the transmission in your car is to transfer power from the engine to the driveshaft and the rear wheels. Additionally, there are gears in the transmission that set the speed and torque of the wheels in relation to the speed and torque of the engine.

Transmissions come in two flavors: Automatic or Manual. Perhaps you have heard the term “Stick Shift”? This is another name for Manual.

A vehicle that has an Automatic Transmission is exactly what you think it would be based on the definition above. This kind of transmission automatically changes gears as the car moves with little to no interaction from the driver.

A vehicle that has a Manual Transmission requires 100% interaction from the driver. With the combination use of the clutch foot pedal and the stick shift, the driver manually changes the gears as the car moves.

Your transmission also requires a special fluid to help keep all of its parts working together. And this is a different fluid from oil or gasoline. Those fluids are for keeping other areas working that we will talk about in a future post.

So long story short… it is the Transmission of your car that turns the wheels and keeps you moving.

And as you can imagine, there are a few things that can go wrong with your transmission.

Common Transmission Problems & How to tell if it’s about to Die

Noise is your best friend when it comes to transmissions. A happy transmission literally purrs. You know that sound. It is definitely a happy sound. But a not so happy transmission? Is just like us when we don’t feel good. It whines. It grinds. It gets downright cranky.

A whining or humming noise coming from your car can indicate that your transmission is about to fail. This is typically caused by low transmission fluid levels. AND you could be low on fluid because you’ve developed a leak around a seal or a gasket.

Another type of problem is that your transmission refuses to go into gear or there feels like there is a delay in the car’s movement after you have shifted. This can indicate that the gears are being worn down and you definitely want to find out why.

And the last type of problem that I want to talk about is the dreaded shudder! You find yourself driving along and then all of a sudden your entire vehicle starts to shudder like you are driving on the roughest road ever, even though you are on a smooth highway. Remember the title of this post? That’s right! The dreaded shudder means your torque converter is going bad. It is no longer transferring power from the engine to your transmission. It is now causing your transmission to overheat. It is causing gears to slip. AND it is making your car work way harder than it should be, which, unfortunately, causes it to use more gas than it should.

Quick Final Thoughts

By now you should understand what your transmission is and does for – it keeps you moving. You also have some indicators to watch and listen for in case your transmission decides that it’s not happy. AND you have expanded your vocabulary and can start to talk “automotive-speak.” How cool is that?!

Please comment below if you have any questions or confusions about transmissions. OR, if you have a different area that you’d like me to talk about in a future post.

Next week, I’ll continue with the transmission theme and drive you into some more of the technical aspects about transmission.


Until next time….

Anthony’s Automotive

1 comment

[…] let’s take a slight step back and look at the Torque Converter again (see our first blog here where we first talked about the good ole Torque Converter). Let’s add some new words to your […]

Write a Comment

Fields with * are required