Here’s why the automatic transmission shifts to neutral while driving

As an automatic transmission car owner, you may have a question that you need an answer to if your car is not acting in a normal way.

I did too as a first-time owner of an automatic transmission pickup truck and I had to do some research to get an answer. I once approached a supposed mechanic in my neighborhood and asked him this frequently asked question;

Why is my automatic transmission shifting to neutral while driving? But the guy falteringly gave me a very hilarious answer—that the problem was simply being caused by my driving habits. I have to admit that I still laugh at it up to date.

To answer the above question, several issues can cause the problem of automatic transmission shifting to neutral while driving. Low transmission fluid, overused transmission fluid, damaged gears, worn-out transmission bands, and clutch issues are some of the major culprits.

Causes of Automatic Transmission Shifting to Neutral While Driving

1. Low Transmission Fluid

Transmission fluid plays a very critical role in your automatic transmission system. It’s what produces enough hydraulic pressure that your engine needs to engage the gears.

Over time, your TF levels may drop due to leakage that can be occasioned by many issues, including ruptured fluid lines and faulty seals. If that happens, your engine will not receive sufficient hydraulic pressure to properly engage the gears.

That can cause the problem of automatic transmission shifting to neutral while driving. You can tell if your transmission levels are low by using the transmission dipstick to check.

Possible Solution: If you find that your car is low on transmission fluid, top up the fluid. Typically, the fluid costs between $8 and $20 per quart, and your car will need about 5-15 quarts.

2. Overused Transmission Fluid

Did you know that your automatic transmission fluid is meant to be changed after every given number of miles? Well, most fluids are designed to be replaced after every 60k to 100k miles.

If you continue to use the fluid even after hitting the maximum mileage limit, your automatic transmission system will not be efficient, and one of the components that will be affected is your gearbox. The car will keep on shifting to neutral when moving.

Possible Solution: Change your transmission fluid if it’s due for a change. Depending on the car and where you seek services, it will cost you approximately $80 to $250 to have it changed.

3. Damaged Gears

The gears of the automatic transmission system can sustain damage, leading to a barrage of problems with the above problem being one of them.

A lot of issues can cause this damage including low, overused, or bad transmission fluid, and lack of or insufficient lubrication with gear oil.

Also, natural wear and tear, frosting, overheating, as well as shifting from reverse to drive or vice versa when the car isn’t completely stopped can break the gears.

Possible Solution: In this case, replace the damaged gear components that are replaceable, or the entire gearbox, if they aren’t. It costs between $1800 and $3400 (inclusive of labor) to have a new automatic transmission gearbox installed into your car, depending on where you seek services.

4. Worn Out Transmission Bands

Located around the crankshaft, transmission bands are another important component of the automatic transmission. Their job is to keep gears locked together for the smooth operation of the gears.

If worn out, the normal operation of the transmission system can experience different problems including transmission or gear slipping. Automatic transmission shifting to neutral while driving is one aspect of this problem.

What can cause transmission bands to wear out? A lot of things, including natural wear and tear, insufficient or lack of lubrication, and over-tightening of the bands around the crankshaft,

Possible Solution: Replace the damaged transmission band(s). New transmission bands go for as little as under $50. These are readily available in local or online stores dealing in car parts.

5. Clutch Issues

The clutch performs two crucial functions in an automatic transmission car;

It triggers the transmission to channel the engine’s power to the wheels to get the car in motion or increase speed.
It stops the transmission from channeling the power to the wheel so that the vehicle can stop moving.

Just like other components of your car’s automatic transmission system, the clutch can become faulty and stop performing its duties either properly or at all.

Natural wear and tear and insufficient or lack of lubrication of the metallic internal components of the clutch are some of the reasons your clutch may break.

Besides transmission or gear slipping, other signs signifying a possible bad clutch include smoke signals, burning odor, and sticking or oversensitive clutch. If you notice most or all of these symptoms at once, that’s a surefire sign that your clutch is broken.

Possible Solution: Replace the damaged component(s) of the clutch that is replaceable, or change the entire clutch, the components aren’t replaceable.

The cost to replace a clutch can range between $900 to $1800, depending on the car. That’s an average of $1300.

How Do I Get Rid Of the Slipping Problem?

As you’ve seen, the slipping problem is usually caused by low or overused transmission fluid, damaged gears, worn-out transmission bands, or a faulty clutch. Getting rid of the problem requires fixing any of the above issues that may be causing it.

How Much Does It Cost To Fix This Issue?

The answer depends on the cause, and as you can see, there are different causes. In general, however, you should expect to part with between $40 and $3400.


Slipping can be a nerve-wracking problem in an automatic car that can be either cheap or very expensive to fix. It all depends on the cause of it.

However, no matter how cheap or expensive the solution can be, one thing is for sure; you don’t want to cruise with a car that has a slipping transmission.

It can be very very dangerous—imagine you are in the middle of overtaking only for the gear to slip to neutral on a busy highway!

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