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Car Jerks When Shifting Gears with an automatic transmission: 8 Causes & Solutions

Car Jerks When Shifting Gears with an automatic transmission: 8 Causes & Solutions

Have you ever been driving and noticed your car jerks when shifting gears? This can be a sign of something more serious than just an uncomfortable ride.

Jerking while changing gears is usually caused by low transmission fluid levels or a clogged filter; however, there are other potential causes. The jerking may be due to a worn clutch, low engine oil, or an issue with the ignition coils. In some cases, your driving style could lead to your vehicle experiencing random jerkiness while changing gears.

If the problem persists, it may be time to take your car in for a checkup. Let’s go over some of the potential causes of this issue so you know what to look out for. 

So here are 8 causes & solutions of why a car jerks when shifting gears with an automatic transmission :

No.CauseShort DescriptionSolution
1Erratic Driving StyleQuick, erratic gear shifts.Gradual gear shifts, monitor RPM.
2Low Transmission FluidInsufficient fluid can cause jerky shifts.Maintain recommended fluid levels.
3Clogged Transmission FilterDebris blockage in system.Inspect/replace filter. Change with fluid.
4Low Engine OilIncreased friction due to low oil.Maintain oil level. Change oil regularly.
5Clogged Fuel InjectorsClogged injectors disrupt fuel supply.Use cleaning kit or replace if needed.
6Worn Out Clutch PlatesWorn plates cause pressure changes.Mechanic inspection and replace if needed.
7Worn Out Spark Plugs Or WiresDamaged plugs/wires affect ignition.Inspect and replace if damaged.
8Faulty Ignition CoilsBad coils cause incomplete combustion.Use OBD-II scanner. Replace/service if needed.

1. Erratic Driving Style

erratic driving style
Photo by: Envato Elements

One potential cause is if you’re changing gears erratically or too quickly. Shifting quickly between gears can cause the engine to jerk or shudder as it attempts to adjust to the sudden change in speed. This issue will be more prevalent if you are used to driving an automatic transmission vehicle and decide to switch to a manual.

To prevent this from happening, gradually accelerate when shifting from one gear to the next. Also, if switching from an automatic to a manual transmission, take your time until you get used to the different speeds of each gear. Pay attention to the rpm needle on the dashboard to ensure you stay within the recommended range for each gear.

2. Low Transmission Fluid

changing transmission fluid
Photo by: Pixabay

Low transmission fluid levels can cause your car to jerk when shifting gears. This is because the transmission needs enough fluid to provide lubrication and cool down parts prone to overheating during operation. If there isn’t enough fluid, components like the clutch plates could overheat and wear out faster than usual, leading to jerking during gear changes.

Ensure your transmission fluid is at its recommended level before attempting other repairs. If the fluid levels are low, you can add more but make sure not to overfill it, as that can cause other issues.

3. Clogged Transmission Filter

transmission filter
Photo by: Wikimedia Commons

Another potential cause is a clogged transmission filter. The filter helps trap dirt, rust, and other contaminants from the system by trapping them in its mesh-like structure. Over time, however, these particles can build up and block off essential pathways within the system, leading to low pressure and jerking during gear changes. 

To check and see if the filter is clogged, you can remove it from its housing and inspect it for any signs of contamination. If it is clogged, you should replace it immediately to avoid further damage. You should change the transmission filter at the same time as the transmission fluid to ensure optimal performance.

4. Low Engine Oil

engine oil
Photo by: Pixabay

Low engine oil levels can also lead to jerky shifts due to increased friction between moving parts inside the engine compartment. Without enough oil, components will start rubbing against each other, causing resistance and resulting in unpleasant jerks when changing gears.

Ensure your engine oil is at its recommended level before attempting other repairs. If the oil levels are low, you can top off the oil and check for leaks. Changing your engine oil every 20,000 miles or so is best to keep your car running smoothly.

5. Clogged Fuel Injectors

fuel injector
Photo by: Wikimedia Commons

Clogged fuel injectors can also contribute to jerky gear changes. If the injectors are clogged, they won’t be able to deliver the right amount of fuel into the engine, which can lead to hesitation and jerking when shifting gears.

You can use a fuel injector cleaning kit to check for a clog in your fuel injectors. This kit will help you remove any dirt and buildup clogging the system. If the injectors are severely clogged, they may need to be replaced.

6. Worn Out Clutch Plates

clutch plates
Photo by: Pexels

Worn-out clutch plates can cause jerking when shifting gears. Over time, the friction between the clutch plates and other components within the transmission will cause them to wear out or get damaged. This can lead to hesitation and jerking when shifting gears as the system has to compensate for this sudden change in pressure.

You can have a professional mechanic inspect the system to check for worn-out clutch plates. If any plates are worn out or damaged, they should be replaced immediately to avoid further damage.

7. Worn Out Spark Plugs Or Plug Wires

spark plugs
Photo by: Pixabay

Worn-out spark plugs or plug wires can also contribute to jerky shifts. Spark plugs are responsible for igniting the engine’s air/fuel mixture; if they’re worn out or damaged, this process won’t be as effective. This can lead to hesitation and jerking when shifting gears as the engine struggles to keep up with the changes.

To check for worn-out spark plugs or plug wires, you can visually inspect them for any signs of damage. If any of them are worn out or damaged, they should be replaced immediately to ensure optimal performance.

8. Faulty Ignition Coils

changing ignition coil
Photo by: Unsplash

Faulty ignition coils are another possible culprit behind random jerks while shifting. Bad ignition coils could result in incomplete combustion, which leads to reduced power and jerky shifts. This is due to misfires occurring when more power should be delivered for forward movement. 

To check for faulty ignition coils, you can use an OBD-II scanner to read any fault codes present within the system. If any codes are present, you may need to replace the faulty coils or get them professionally serviced.


Is It Safe To Drive A Jerking Car?

If you keep an eye on the issue and do not drive the car for extended periods, it’s typically safe to drive a jerking car. However, if the jerking is becoming more frequent or intense, it’s best to get your car checked out as soon as possible to avoid further damage.

How Often Should Transmission Fluid Be Changed?

It’s recommended that transmission fluid be changed every 50,000 miles to ensure optimal performance and prevent any possible damage. Consult your owner’s manual to see what the manufacturer recommends for your specific car. If your transmission fluid is dirty or contaminated, it should be changed more frequently.

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