Why Your Transmission Delays When Shifting Into Drive

transmission delay shift to driveYou get in your car, start the engine, shift into drive, and you’re off…or not. Instead of just taking off, your car paused before actually shifting into drive. This delay is known as Delayed Engagement and it’s actually a pretty common issue amongst automatic transmissions. It’s a type of slip where the clutches, used to make the vehicle move, become slow and unresponsive. 

Pretty much every component on a vehicle is meant to respond instantly to do what the driver desires, including the transmission. Automatic transmissions are complex machines that work as efficiently as possible to adjust to the driver’s preferred direction and speed. With so many mechanisms and components within the transmission, over time, it’s common for a transmission to experience delays in shifting. 

Delayed engagement is described as the lag time that occurs from the driver shifting into gear until the transmission responds. The delay can last as fast as a few seconds and up to one minute. Delayed engagement is a sign of minor trouble and if not attended to, could lead to major problems. Note: If the transmission doesn’t respond after one minute, chances are it’s not going to and should be taken to a specialist for repair.  

How To Fix Delayed Engagement

Shifting delays are often caused by many things but most commonly due to poor maintenance or high mileage. Transmission fluid, in addition to acting as a coolant, keeps internal seals lubricated to help prevent hardening or wearing out. When the fluid is not changed often enough or is not at the correct level, it is unable to protect vital components. 

The first thing to do when you notice a delay is to check your transmission fluid. The fluid will tell you what kind of condition your transmission is in based on level, color, and smell. If the fluid is low, dark in color, or has a rancid smell, the vehicle should be taken to a service shop immediately. If the transmission fluid has gotten to this point, don’t assume a fluid flush will solve the problem, it could actually do more harm than good. 

If the fluid is in otherwise good condition, it may be a good idea to take the vehicle to a service center for an inspection. 

What causes delayed engagement when shifting into drive or reverse? It could be one of a few things. In order to fix what is responsible for the shift delays, a technician will need to look at a few areas of the transmission to isolate which component is responsible for the delay. The Technician will check the following:

Seals and Bands

Automatic transmissions are equipped with a multitude of mechanisms including clutches, solenoids, gears, and bands, all used to shift gears for the driver. After some time, components become worn and may need to be replaced. Delayed engagement, caused by low internal pressure, is often a result of failure in one or more of these many components. 

Shift Solenoids 

Valves used to control fluid flow through the transmission are known as shift solenoids. After a period of time, the small plungers or the electromagnetic coils on the solenoid fail from constant vibrations and exposure to heat, resulting in shift delays. 

Transmission Filter

An obstructed transmission filter full of debris can reduce the transmission’s hydraulic pressure, leading to a delay of gear engagement. A technician will need to remove the transmission pan to access and replace the transmission filter.

Transmission Pump

A failed pump is unable to provide the proper amount of hydraulic pressure. When this happens, the entire hydraulic system struggles, causing internal damage in addition to shift delays.

What You Should Know about Transmission Delays

  • Temperatures can affect shifting. Shifting delays are normal in extreme temperature changes, especially bitter cold temperatures. If you notice the delay is absent in warmer temperatures, there’s no need to worry.
  • Avoid revving your engine during shift delays. You risk further damage to the transmission’s clutches and bands from an increase in friction.

Maintenance Is Your Best Defense

To prevent possible delays when shifting, check transmission fluids often. Lack of fluid and poor fluid quality can do more than cause internal seals to fail, it can result in a multitude of unwanted transmission troubles. Flushing your transmission fluid every 60,000 miles protects your transmission’s internal components by lubricating moving parts and preventing overheating, extending its life.