Car Transmissions

What Causes Transmission Slip When Cold?

Mike Cross
Updated Sep 15, 2022

Your car's transmission is a key component. It is the part of the vehicle that is activated when you do what most people call to put the car into gear. This is when you take it from park and put it into reverse or drive.

Then, as you are driving the transmission switches in different size gears into the drivetrain to get the most efficient power from the engine to the wheels.

Sometimes though when you put your car into gear or when it tries to shift gears it will shift hard or not correctly. This is what most people call slipping.

In this article, we will look at signs of a slipping transmission and also talk about why it may be happening when it is cold outside. Read on to learn everything you need to know about the reasons a transmission might be slipping when it is cold.

What causes transmission slip when cold?

How to Tell Transmission is Slipping?

For some people, their transmission works fine unless it is cold. We will cover why this might be short, but before that, we will talk about the signs of a slipping transmission.

Knowing the signs of a slipping transmission is important because if you catch the problem early enough, then you can fix it before major damage occurs.

The first sign of a slipping transmission is hesitation when you put it into gear. What is meant by this is when you put the car from park or neutral into drive or reverse it takes longer than a second.

This delay is a sign that there is an issue with the transmission. When changing gears, the transmission should switch pretty much instantly as you move the gear shift.

The next this is if there is a clunk or jolt when changing gears. This means there is an issue with the gearbox and needs to be looked at right away. This is also the case if you notice hard shifting while driving and the car is switching gears.

The next sign is high RPM (Rotation per Minute) of the engine before the car shifts. If your vehicle gets much above 3500 RPM before shifting, then that is a sign for concern, especially if it happens regularly.

This lack of shifting quickly enough can also cause delays with your acceleration. This is a bigger issue than you might think because it can put you in harm's way while driving.

How to tell transmission is slipping?
How to tell transmission is slipping?

Also, high RPMs may occur when the car downshifts if you have transmission issues because it might downshift sooner than it should.

Lastly, if you notice any odd smells while driving such as burning oil and it is accompanied with the hard shifting, clunks, grinding, or more noise while driving, then this is a major indication that the transmission has an issue.

One last thing to pay attention for is a check engine light because most vehicles will put off codes if the transmission starts to go bad. The best bluetooth obd2 scan tool can find error in your transmission.

Issues When Cold

Some of you though may only have these mentioned issues when it is cold out. This is the point where we will start covering why that is.

The main reason why that might be is that you have low transmission fluid. Like the engine and its oil, the transmission has fluid that helps keep it lubricated.

If the fluid is low, then it may not move thru the transmission fast enough when it is cold out to do its job properly.

This is because the fluid gets less viscous or thicker when it is cold and if it is too thick, then it can’t move thru the transmission lubricating it and reduce hard shifting or slipping.

That is why if you experience any of the mentioned signs, especially if it is only when it is cold out, that you check the transmission fluid level and make sure you have enough transmission fluid in the system.

The next thing that can cause slipping, especially when it is cold out is that the transmission fluid is old and deteriorated. As you drive and the fluid circulates thru the transmission, it gets hot, and when it gets hot, it starts to break down.

Over time this breaking down will eventually cause the fluid not to work right. It might make it get thicker than normal, especially when cold, or it might make it too thin.

Old fluid can also end up burnt. So, if you have enough fluid when you check the fluid levels if you are noticing problems, then the next thing to do is look at the quality of the fluid.

If it looks old and burnt, then you might need to replace it. You can also buy a kit to test the fluid quality, and this will let you know for sure if the fluid needs replaced or not.

The next reason that can cause slipping, especially when it is cold out is that the transmission fluid is old and deteriorated
The next reason that can cause slipping, especially when it is cold out is that the transmission fluid is old and deteriorated

But old transmission fluid that is worn out can cause the transmission to slip, and it might be more noticeable when it is cold because the cold is affecting the broken down fluid more than heat does.

The last thing that can cause your transmission to slip when it is cold is old or dirty oil. Oil also runs thru the transmission and like the transmission fluid if it is old and it is cold outside, then it might be getting too thick to move correctly thru the system.

That means if you have checked your transmission fluid level and the age of the transmission fluid and know that it is good, but you are still having issues of a slipping transmission when it is cold out, then you should check the oil next.

If you have old, burnt, or dirty oil, then you should have it changed or change it yourself, and this will not only help your transmission shift better but will also extend the life of your engine and help it run better.

Oil should be changed fairly regularly at scheduled intervals that depend on the vehicle, but it is important to stay on top of changing your oil to make sure everything in your car will run smoothly.


So, now you know why your vehicle’s transmission might slip only when it is cold outside. You know that the transmission fluid level might be low or the transmission fluid might be old.

You also know that if the transmission fluid isn’t the issue, then it might be your vehicle's oil. Outside of the reasons why you also know the signs of a slipping transmission.

It is important to pay attention to these things and get your transmission looked at before things become worse. This is especially true if you start noticing the issues all the time and not just when it is cold.

That is because if it starts happening even when warm, then the transmission may have bigger issues, than just not enough or bad fluid. Now you know all you need to know about transmission slipping when it is cold outside.

Mike Cross
Life is too short to drive with stock audio

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2 comments on “What Causes Transmission Slip When Cold?”

  1. It slips every 6 months goes away they said it was the coil but rplaced it... today slipped hard after a 3 hour wait [retty bad 2nd time it did not slip bad. What could be other causes ? I spent over a grand on repairs last week cant afford more.... could it be oil pressure? please advise when u can tnx

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