What Are The Symptoms Of A Bad Torque Converter?

There are two types of transmission you will find in cars: automatic transmission and manual transmission.

If your car has an automatic transmission, you should have at least fundamental knowledge about torque converters as they are an essential internal component of your car’s transmission.

Without going into deep what a torque converter is here, you can assume the converter is the clutch of an automatic transmission.

The main difference, however, is that it utilizes fluid to deliver power to the automatic transmission. It prevents the car from slowing down and allowing the gears to shift automatically.

You experience this stalling while changing gears in the cars with a manual transmission as there is no torque converter there. Read on to know more about this torque converter, the secret element of your automatic car.

What Are The Symptoms Of A Bad Torque Converter?

A torque converter keeps the engine’s power around its optimum spectrum by multiplying the torque at low revolutions per minute (RPM).

It stays between the engine and the transmission. However, this torque converter can sometimes experience some issues only a professional mechanic can let you understand.

But this doesn’t mean you can’t identify these issues by yourself. For this, look for the following symptoms of your bad torque converter.

Slippage

If there is any problem with the converter’s fin or bearing, you will notice a delay in the gear shift or the torque converter slipping out of the gear.

Also, due to excessive or insufficient fluid in the transmission, the gears will act unexpectedly.

For instance, one of these unexpected behaviors is slipping, which gets justified by your acceleration loss or your car’s degrading fuel economy.

The transmission is overheating

In some cars, particularly modern cars, a separate transmission temperature indicator triggers when the transmission is overheating.

Though this may happen for various reasons, however, if your transmission goes into a failed date or doesn’t shift gears or keeps moving on the same gear, the torque converter is at fault here.

If this is the case, you should immediately get the converter examined by the mechanic as overheating will lead to wear and tear of the other transmission components.

Besides, the converter will not transfer power from the engine to the transmission as it should.

The car is shuddering

When you’re driving very fast, you will notice that the car is shuddering, i.e., shaking or vibrating. However, the car can also shudder while going slow, and it’s another symptom of a bad torque converter.

Contaminated transmission fluid

As said initially, a torque converter uses fluid (called automatic transmission fluid (ATF)) to transfer power from the engine to the transmission.

It’s this fluid that is responsible for its smooth and long-lasting functioning. However, with time, the fluid gets contaminated with substances like dirt, grease, debris, etc.

If this happens, the fluid can harm the transmission parts and the converter’s parts, like its bearings and fins.

You should know that just like your engine fluid, ATF is available under different categories and types. Hence, always top your car’s torque converter with high-grade fluid that’s less prone to getting contaminated.

The damaged torque converter seal

If the torque converter seals are not in good shape, fluid leakage can take place.

It means that not enough power is getting transferred from the engine to the transmission. It affects the way the transmission will work after that and is harmful to the engine as well.

The stall speed has increased

First, let’s understand what this stall speed is. Stall speed refers to the high enough RPMs when the torque converter can transfer power from the engine to the transmission.

The lower is the stall speed, the better. However, if the torque converter is in a bad state or damaged, the stall speed can increase, and in such a case, the transmission will consume more than the usual time to engage the engine.

Abnormal sounds

Inside the torque converter, there are two elements: bearings and turbine fins. These two usually undergo the maximum wear and tear.

Due to this, strange sounds like that of clicking or whirring comes out from the torque converter. So, if you can hear such sounds, you’d examine the torque converter at the earliest.

So, these are the top 7 common symptoms of a bad torque converter.

What does the torque converter do?

In simple terms, a torque converter is a donut-shaped component present in the cars having an automatic transmission between the engine and transmission.

Inside it, there are two oppositely facing curved blades (imagine two fans facing each other). And it’s the space in the converter that stores the automatic transmission fluid.

Since this fluid is responsible for the smooth working of the transmission, it ought to have good quality and viscosity.

It is because this fluid is what that transfers power from the engine to the transmission. Hence, in idling, less fluid is being pumped, so lesser is the power and vice-versa.

It’s worth noting here that a torque converter’s proper working is only understandable if you have enough knowledge of fluid mechanics and engineering fundamentals.

Can a bad torque converter damage transmission?

Yes, a bad torque converter can damage the transmission. Let’s find out how. This torque converter operates between the engine and transmission, i.e., it is a pathway between the two.

Now, if there is an issue with the torque converter, say contaminated fluid, shuddering, strange noises, or anything else as mentioned above, it’ll affect the transmission as well.

Besides affecting its internal components like bearings and fins, a bad converter can lead to transmission problems like increased friction, overheating, etc.

In other cases, if the condition of the torque converter degrades further, it can even lead to a complete transmission failure.

Hence, it would help if you always heeded the ATF and torque converter’s condition to avoid such incidents in the future.

What happens when the torque converter goes bad?

The following are the common issues you’ll encounter when the torque converter goes bad.

  • If the torque converter is bad, it will either pass excessive fluid or inadequate fluid into the transmission. As a result, the gears will become slippery, and the acceleration of the car will reduce. It will hamper the fuel economy as well.
  • A bad torque converter will make the gears shift roughly and abruptly instead of softly and crispy. Plus, you will also experience a slight delay in gears shifting. To avoid this, you can increase the car’s RPM and consequently the torque converter’s pressure.
  • You will also notice the car vibrating even at slower speeds. These vibrations will come and go suddenly, yet it’s a wise decision to get the car, especially the torque converter, examined by a professional.
  • Strange noises like that of the engine whining, etc., will come when you start the engine.
  • If the situation worsens, even the entire transmission unit can take a backseat due to an ignored and bad torque converter.

Replacing a bad torque converter can cost you anything between $600-$1000, depending upon its brand and the car model.

However, even you can undertake the replacement job with some bit of knowledge, which will cost less than $500.

How to Fix the Torque Converter Issues?

So you are facing bad torque converter problems and looking to fix them all?

Fixing a bad torque converter is a better option than waiting for the entire engine or transmission to walk out.

Though it’s a time-consuming process, the below tactics will help you fix the above torque converter issues.

  • For fixing shuddering or slipping of the transmission, the higher are the chances of an inadequate fluid level in the torque converter. So, your first step is to check the fluid level. You will notice an insufficient fluid level, or you’ve topped the wrong fluid type in the torque converter.
  • If there is less fluid in the torque converter, check if the converter seal is fine or broken. As even a small fluid leak can drop the fluid levels, and consequently, it will give rise to overheating of the transmission. If the seal is in bad shape, replace it.
  • Another issue you may encounter is contaminated automatic transmission fluid. If you can notice foreign substances like grime, dirt, or debris in the fluid, you will have to drain the contaminated fluid and refill fresh and pure fluid. To do so:
    • Slide under the car.
    • Place a large pan under the transmission, unbolt the sump, and drain out the fluid.
    • Once done, tighten the bolts and refill the transmission fluid to its optimal level.
    • Start the engine and check the fluid is in sufficient quantity.

Conclusion

The torque converter is a necessary power transferring element in cars having an automatic transmission.

Since it lies between the engine and the transmission, its working is the same as of clutch in manual transmission.

However, there is the automatic transmission fluid (ATF) in the torque converter responsible for transferring power from the engine to transmission.

However, if it has issues like the ones discussed above, both the engine and transmission can suffer.

Hence, it would help if you immediately fixed the bad torque converter by following the above fixes or heading to any nearby garage.

The entire process won’t cost you much, and it’s around $600-$1000 in the latter or under $500 if repaired by self.

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