Bad Torque Converter vs. Bad Transmission

Your vehicle transmission system vs. torque converter is paramount for its effective performance. Yet discerning the differences between a bad torque converter and a transmission system can be challenging.

Many newbies and do-it-yourself enthusiasts cannot correctly distinguish between their overlapping symptoms.

However, understanding the specific symptoms linked to each can make diagnosing and fixing problems easier, saving time and potentially costly repairs.

This article will delve into the key differences between a malfunctioning torque converter and a failing transmission, providing insights to identify issues with these critical components better.

Bad Torque Converter Symptoms

Bad Torque Converter

A torque converter transfers the torque from the engine to the transmission system. When the torque converter gets damaged, it seizes or stops working completely. Below are seized torque converter symptoms.

Loss of acceleration: One of the significant signs of a bad torque converter is a loss of acceleration. As we know, the torque converter supplies the transmission with torque or rotational power.

A significant cause of this is low or contaminated fluid running through the torque converter system. It builds up friction and increases tension within its moving parts, causing the torque converter to fail.

When the torque converter is damaged, rotational power is not transferred to the transmission system. In turn, when driving, there is no increase in acceleration, and in some cases, your vehicle will lose acceleration.

Slipping between gears The torque converter is attached to automatic transmission systems. It is why you do not instantly notice when your vehicle shifts from gear when speeding up. However, when you notice an apparent slip whenever there is a gear shift when accelerating, there is a problem with the torque converter. 

Fluid leak: Transmission fluid is an essential aspect of the torque converter, as it is a hydraulic system. It has a seal within the system that ensures that the fluid is kept in place and pressure is maintained.

After some use, these seals tend to get worn out and give way to leaks. You can find these leaks on the ground when you park your vehicle.

Overheating transmission: Your transmission can overheat due to leaks in the torque converter. When its seals get worn out and leak fluid, it causes a lot of friction in the transmission system, causing a significant amount of heat to build up. It could cause severe damage to the transmission system as a whole.

Contaminated fluids: Another common symptom of a damaged torque converter is contaminated transmission. You will find out that the color of the fluid has changed to a dark or burnt color.

Sometimes, you will notice dirt in the transmission fluids or metal particles. It could be the origin of your damaged torque converter.

Usual sounds: The torque converter transfers rotational power from the engine to the transmission system. It means that the torque converter will engage once the engine starts. Once you have any problem with the system, it makes sounds because it is always moving.

Sounds coming from the damaged torque converter will be significant when you accelerate.

The above is torque converter failure symptoms. However, it is essential to note that it could also come up due to other mechanical failures.

Read Also: How To Flush a Torque Converter?

Bad Transmission Symptoms

Bad Transmission

A transmission system is any component that transfers the rotation from the crankshaft to the wheels. The transmission also controls the power that goes to the wheel, depending on your driving input.

When any component in the transmission system is damaged, it comes with some obvious symptoms, which include the following. 

Unresponsiveness: One of the most common bad transmission symptoms is a refusal to shift into gear. It could be a delay when shifting from drive to park or a complete non-engagement.

A cause of this could be the result of electrical, hydraulic, or mechanical issues. In manual vehicles, it could be a result of the damaged clutch.

Burning smell: The burning smell from the transmission system shows that the system is overheated. Several factors, including low or contaminated transmission fluid and a failing torque converter, could cause it.

When there is little or no transmission fluid flowing through the transmission system, there will be an increase in wear within its parts. It will cause an increasing burning smell due to the struggling parts grinding on each other.

Noise when in neutral: Noise coming from your vehicle when in neutral could be a sign that your car needs transmission fluid or there is a severe mechanical problem in the transmission.

Grinding or shaking: When you grind and shake whenever you shift gear, the transmission system is not being fed enough fluid. The grinding and shaking you experience when shifting gears is extreme friction in gear.

Damaged cooling lines, clogs, low transmission fluid, or contamination could cause grinding and shaking. When you notice this issue, have the transmission fluid checked immediately.

Failing clutch: The clutch is majorly present in a manual transmission. It helps transmit torque from the engine to the transmission.

A common problem is the dragging clutch. When you apply the pedal, the clutch disc disconnects from the flywheel in your vehicle. The issue causes a clash in gear and movement or jolting when the gear is shifted.

Furthermore, a failing clutch is a mechanical problem and can be fixed by replacing the clutch immediately.

Descriptions Bad Torque Converter Bad Transmission
Main Symptoms Overheating, Contaminated fluids, loss of acceleration, Slipping between gears Unresponsiveness, failing clutch, burning smell, grinding, and shaking. 
Main causes
  • Excessive Friction / Increased wear and tear
  • Fluid Contamination
  • Leaks or Low Transmission fluid level


  • Leaking or Low Transmission Fluid
  • Clogged Transmission Filter
  • Clogged lines
  • Clutch Performance while Driving
Fixing Cost (Approx.) $150-$500 $300-$1,500
Fixing Time 5-10 hours 3-5 days

can a bad torque converter damage transmission

Bad Torque Converter vs. Bad Transmission: What Are the Differences

The transmission system serves as the component that ensures that the wheel gets power from the engine to move. On the other hand, the torque converter is the automatic transmission that transfers rotational power from the engine to the transmission.

Looking at what they do, we can say that the torque converter is a component of a type of transmission system.

A bad torque converter will cause difficulty in shifting the gear and sometimes causes the transmission to slip. You could also experience stalling and persistent idling if you have a bad torque converter.

In contrast, a bad transmission causes symptoms such as jerking or lurching when the gear is changed. It will also affect the vehicle’s fuel economy, increasing engine wear and tear.

Read Also: Torque Converter Lockup – A Precise Guide


How do I know if my transmission or torque converter is bad?

If you have a bad transmission system, you will experience difficulties changing gears. Sometimes, you may be unable to change your vehicle’s gear. If you have a bad torque converter, you will have problems with your acceleration and may experience more sounds when driving.

Will a bad torque converter damage the transmission?

A torque converter is a significant part of the transmission system. It will affect other parts of the transmission system if it gets damaged. The torque converter gives the transmission the rotational power it needs to function. 

Does a bad torque converter affect all gears?

Yes, a damaged fin in the torque converter could cause the gear to get stuck and not shift. It will also cause the transmission to slip when changing gears.

Can a bad torque converter cause slow acceleration?

One of the significant symptoms of a bad torque converter is a reduction in acceleration. The torque converter ensures that torque or rotational power is transferred to the transmission, which is then regulated and transferred to the wheel. Once it is damaged, little or no torque is transferred, causing a reduction in your vehicle’s speed.

What does a worn-out torque converter sound like?

A worn-out torque converter will give you a rattling sound whenever you attempt to accelerate. You could also hear a whirring sound coming from the transmission system.

Final Words

Finally, diagnosing whether you have a bad torque converter or a failing transmission is crucial for your vehicle’s longevity. By understanding the unique symptoms of each, you can ensure timely repairs, improve performance, prevent further damage, and save on costs.

Akindayini Temiloluwa

I am passionate about everything automotive. Right from when I got my first toy car as a kid, I developed an interest in the inner workings of vehicles. As I grew up, my love for mechanical stuff became more substantial enough for me to pursue a career in it. My goal as an automotive content writer is to simplify the most challenging concepts for my readers, help them self-diagnose what may be wrong with their vehicles and offer real value for their time.

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