Common Volkswagen Transmission Problems

It may not be easy to diagnose a transmission problem, but you know when it’s not running properly. An ignored transmission can develop problems that can become costly. As soon as you detect a problem, you need to determine the cause and get it resolved.Here are some of the most common transmission issues and what you can do about it.

VW transmission


If you find that your vehicle is hesitant or won’t go into gear, you have a problem. In an automatic transmission, there should be a smooth shift between Park and any other gear. A delay signals a glitch. A manual transmission can have the same issue, but it’s typically a clutch issue as opposed to a transmission problem.


There shouldn’t be any whining, humming or clunking coming from your transmission. Automatic transmissions that are making abnormal noises need attention.

A manual transmission may sound like mechanical humming when it has a problem, but clunking sounds are usually associated with CV joints or differentials.

As soon as you notice a strange noise coming from your transmission, get it checked out.

Fluid Levels

Automatic transmission fluid (ATF) is red. If you see this on the ground under your vehicle, you have a leak. The fluid is necessary to lubricate all those moving parts, and if they can’t get lubricated, they will grind together and become damaged, which can cause your engine to seize up.

If your ATF fluid is red, even if it’s leaking, there’s nothing mechanically wrong – you just have a leak. However, if the fluid is dark or smells burnt, get the fluid changed. You may need to do repairs as well.

Your ATF level should never be low. It’s not burned off, so a dropping level indicates a fluid leak. Check the level by driving your Volkswagen around the block and park it on a flat surface. Take the dipstick out and read it. Top off the fluid if it’s low, and then figure out where the leak is and repair it.

A manual transmission’s fluid is checked at the transmission case through the fill plug.

Shaking and Grinding

You should never hear grinding noises or be jerked around by your car. These symptoms mean there’s a problem with the gears. A manual transmission will make grinding noises while shifting when things are going wrong. It can mean replacing a clutch if it happens when you engage the clutch and shift. It can also mean that gear synchronizers are worn out.

Automatic transmissions will be harder to shift, but they will not grind. They may instead shake or jar into gear.


The fluid is needed to lubricate all the transmission parts, and if it gets too hot, it can burn. The loss of fluid causes all the parts to overheat and break down. It also increases the debris and sludge that can accumulate in the transmission. This may mean that you need to replace the entire transmission.

Will Not Shift

If you can’t shift your transmission and the fluid is at the right level, you may be using the wrong type of fluid. A fluid that’s too thick can keep it from shifting. You may also need the shift cable or clutch linkage adjusted. Another possibility is the computer may not be operating properly. You can reset the computer by disconnecting the battery for 30 minutes. Reconnect the battery and let the Volkswagen’s system reset itself. If that doesn’t work, you may need to take the vehicle to your nearest dealership.

Check Engine Light

The CEL comes on any time the computer in your Volkswagen determines that something isn’t working properly. The transmission has sensors on it that transmit information to the computer, and if there’s a problem, it will let the computer know. The computer lets you know by triggering the light. Don’t ignore this!

You need to be able to read the code in order to determine what the problem is, so you will want to take your vehicle to someone to diagnose unless you have the diagnostic tools to read the code.

If you do your own diagnosis, plug your diagnostic tool into the driver’s side instrument panel and read the code. It will tell you where the problem is located. Again, do not ignore this light.

Neutral is Noisy

A transmission that thumps when it’s in neutral may just need a little more fluid. If that doesn’t work, get the transmission fluid changed and check for worn parts like bearings, reverse idler gear or worn out gear teeth.

Slipping Gears

Your gears should not change on their own, so if you have gear that slips, you have a worn or broken linkage that holds the gears in place. Repair this immediately.

Dragging Clutch

A manual transmission that has a dragging clutch probably has a clutch disk that is failing to disengage from the flywheel when you press the clutch pedal. You may hear a grinding sound as well. It may be caused by a clutch pedal that has too much slack. The linkage between the pedal the clutch disk is unable to pull the clutch disk off the flywheel.

These are a few of the more common transmission problems. The most important thing to remember about your transmission is that you should always keep it properly maintained. Replacement transmissions are not cheap, and by paying attention to the sounds and smells of your Volkswagen, you can prevent some expensive repairs.