When you start your car, shift into gear such as drive or reverse, you should expect your vehicle to engage and begin moving. If this doesn’t happen and instead you are met with a pause before the transmission engages, it’s known as delayed engagement and it is one of the most common issues with automatic transmissions. A delayed engagement is actually a type of slip that occurs when the clutches that allow the vehicle to move, become sluggish and do not operate on cue. Here’s what you need to know about delayed engagement and what to do if it happens to your car.
What Is Delayed Engagement In Automatic Transmissions?
When it comes to engine and transmission operation, things should happen smoothly and rapidly. Automatic transmissions are very complex mechanisms that work hard to shift at the correct time to adapt to the driver’s desired speed or direction and operate most efficiently. Because of all the many components and pieces that are part of the transmission’s makeup, it’s possible for a transmission to encounter difficulties, including a delay in engagement.
Delayed engagement is the period of time, or delay in response that it takes from shifting from park into a moving gear such as Drive or Reverse. The delay can be as fast as a few seconds or last up to a minute. However, if your vehicle fails to engage after a minute, it’s highly likely it’s not going to and the transmission is in serious condition. Delayed engagement is a minor inconvenience but if not addressed, it can lead to bigger, costlier problems.
How Can I Fix Delayed Engagement?
In order to determine how to address the delay in engagement, you’ll first need to understand what often causes the delay. Delayed engagement can be caused by a variety of things but most often by internal seals that have worn out or hardened due to little fluid or poor fluid quality from lack of maintenance. Here’s what should be inspected and repaired if your vehicle is experiencing delayed engagement:
- Fluid – Your transmission fluid can clue you in as to the state of your transmission. If the fluid is low or the coloring is dark red, brown, or black or has a foul smell, it’s best to have the transmission checked. Having a fluid flush at this point may actually result in further damage.
- Transmission Filter – A clogged transmission filter can affect the transmission pressure which can cause a delay in engaging the gears. Determining whether the filter is clogged may prove difficult, though, as it isn’t accessible without first removing the transmission pan.
- Worn Seals or Bands – Automatic transmissions are more complicated than their manual counterparts as they are chockfull of gears, clutches, solenoids, and bands that handles the shifting for the driver. Over time and with so many miles, it is common for them to begin to fail and require replacement. A surefire sign of wear on any of these internal components is delayed engagement often caused by low internal pressure.
- Shift Solenoids – Transmission solenoids are valves that control the flow of fluid throughout your transmission. A faulty shift solenoid can cause a delay of engagement into any gear. Over time the shift solenoid’s tiny plungers may fail or the electromagnetic coils fail due to constant heat and vibration. If the coils fail, the solenoid is unable to open or close to assist in engaging the subsequent gear.
Do’s and Don’ts for Delays in Shift Engagement
It’s common in extreme temperatures for a delay to occur in the transmission, especially in frigid temperatures. If you observe that the delay goes away as the temperatures warm up, you may not need to be concerned. Here’s what you should do to prevent delays and what you should not do when you experience delays in gear engagement:
Do: Check fluid levels often. Lack of fluid or old, spent transmission fluid can cause internal seals to wear or harden. Ensure your vehicle is getting the correct fluid recommended by your vehicle manufacturer. The wrong transmission fluid could cause shifting problems or complete failure of your transmission.
Do: Have your transmission fluid flushed every 60,000 miles to ensure the fresh, clean fluid is in your transmission. Not only does transmission fluid lubricate moving parts, but it also acts as a coolant to prevent components from overheating.
Do: Have an experienced and knowledgeable transmission technician inspect your transmission filter and replace it when clogged to prevent irreversible damage to the transmission.
Do: Have the transmission fluid pump inspected for proper operation. If the pump fails to provide sufficient fluid pressure, the hydraulic system will fail and likely cause delayed engagement and possible internal damage.
Don’t: Rev your engine. When delayed engagement occurs, the transmission’s clutches and bands do not operate instantly. Many drivers don’t recognize the issue and may rev the engine to encourage the car to move. However, this could result in severe damage as an increase in speed in your engine creates friction that may further damage clutches and bands.
Don’t: Attempt to repair a delay in engagement yourself. While ensuring your fluid levels are correct and the color is acceptable, for any further inspection or repairs, take your vehicle to a transmission expert.