Troubleshooting Dodge Transmission Problems

Vehicle:   Dodge
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In this guide, we will go over common problems that affect Dodge transmissions and how to diagnose Dodge transmission issues yourself with a diagnostic scanner.

The majority of Dodge transmission problems are often caused by low transmission fluid level. Other problems include inadequate transmission fluid cooling, worn gear clutches, transmission software issues, excessive towing, failed torque converter, and neglecting to perform transmission service on time.

Dodge Transmisison Problems due to bad clutches

Dodge cars, SUVs, and trucks can go over 100,000 on the original transmission. With that said, we had seen a few rare cases where a Dodge transmission was replaced twice before the car reached 100,000 miles. 

Keep in mind that certain car problems can be misdiagnosed as transmission issues, including bad engine mounts, faulty mass airflow (MAF) sensor, or low voltage, which can put the vehicle in limp mode. Check if Dodge has issued any Transmission Recalls for your model. 

Symptoms

Common symptoms: 

  • Dodge won't shift into overdrive.
  • Erratic shifting when the car warms up
  • The vehicle won't go in gear or engage.
  • Noise when transmission shifts gears
  • Check engine light comes on.
  • Transmission slips
  • Delayed gear engagement
  • Transmission slips in reverse
  • Clunking noise from the transmission
  • Burning fluid smell
  • Metal shavings in transmission fluid
  • Gears change late or at high RPMs
  • Transmission gets stuck in gear (limp mode)
  • Overheating
  • Delayed or harsh 3-4 or 4-5 shifts
  • Transmission won't shift into 3rd gear.

These symptoms may affect Dodge models such as Dodge Durango, Dakota, Charger, Grand Caravan.

It is crucial to identify the transmission model in your Dodge and research problems for that particular model. These problems don't affect all Dodge vehicles. 

Overall, Dodge makes reliable vehicles, but specific models, such as pre-2000 Dodge Ram 1500 truck and Dodge Grand Caravan vans, had higher than normal transmission failure rates. 

Common Causes

Dodge transmission won't shift due to bad gear clutches

Common issues that cause Dodge transmission problems: 

  • Low transmission fluid level - Can cause delayed shifting or hard shifts.
  • Faulty speed sensor - Vehicle won't change gears, stuck in gear.
  • Faulty valve body/solenoids - The faulty valve body can cause shift delays or bumps when downshifting 2nd to 1st gear.
  • Leaking transmission cooler lines - Same symptoms as low transmission fluid level.
  • Low battery voltage or bad alternator - Vehicle gets stuck in limp mode.
  • Premature gear clutch failure - Won't go in 2nd, 3rd, or reverse gears.
  • Torque converter clutch - Vehicle won't move at any gear, including reverse.
  • Shift motor actuator - Won't be able to put the car in any gear.
  • TCM software issue - Erratic shifting may require an ECU reflash to address this issue.
  • Governor pressure solenoid or sensor (transducer).
  • Output speed sensor - May get stuck in gear, won't shift gears. 
  • Accumulator spring - Issues shifting from 3-4. 
  • Boost valve spring retainer - can break, leading to the boost valve and spring to come out of position. This causes a leak of 4th gear and problems with TCC oil pressure. A common issue with these transmissions: 42RE, 42RH, 44RE, 44RH, 46RE, 46RH, 47RE, 47RH, 48RE, A727, A904

Troubleshooting Dodge Transmission Problems

Troubleshooting Dodge transmission problems requires tools and expertise, but that doesn't mean that you can't check the basic yourself.

In this section, we will go over steps you can perform yourself, such as check transmission fluid level and reading Diagnostic Trouble Codes (DTC) from the transmission module. 

Check For Fluid Leaks

Dodge Transmission Problems are often caused by trans fluid leak

If your Dodge transmission has started to slip or bangs in gear, the first thing you need to do is check for fluid leaks. Park the vehicle outside and let it idle in park for 15 minutes. Check for any oil puddles under the car.

If you notice any significant oil spots, there is a high chance you may have a damaged transmission cooler line or seal, which can lead to transmission leaking all the fluid. 

Check Transmission Fluid Level

Check Dodge Transmission Fluid Level

The next step is to check the transmission fluid level. Even if you don't notice oil leaks, you should complete this step.

If the transmission fluid level is slightly below the minimum, it can cause erratic shifting, transmission slipping, or banging is gear, especially during hard accelerations or when you take off from a stoplight or stop sign. 

Here are the steps to check the transmission fluid level on a Dodge vehicle. 

  1. Park the vehicle on level ground. 
  2. Set the parking brakes.
  3. Startup the engine, and while you keep the brake pedal pressed to move the shifter between all gears, including P R N D (1,2,3). 
  4. Move the shift in Park position but leave the engine running. 
  5. Pull the hood release under the dashboard on the driver's side until you hear the hood pop open. 
  6. Lift the hood and secure it with the rod prop or ensure the hood supports are strong enough to keep the hood open. 
  7. Locate the transmission dipstick and pull it out. 
  8. Wipe the transmission dipstick with a lint-free clean cloth. 
  9. Fully reinsert the dipstick and remove it again. 
  10. Determine the transmission fluid level. Make sure to look at the cold range unless you warmed up the vehicle by driving it for at least 20 minutes. 
  11. If the level is below the minimum mark, add transmission fluid level to bring the level between MIN and MAX marks. 

These procedures may vary between models. Some Dodge vehicles do not have a transmission dipstick. See the owner's manual for further instructions. 

Relearn Transmission 

Relearn Dodge Transmission

The newer Dodge transmissions are electronically controlled, which means that the shifting is monitored and adjusted by the Engine Control Unit (ECU). Shift values can get out of range over time, which can lead to erratic shifting. 

To correct hard shifting issues in such cases, you will need to carry what is known as transmission relearn or quick learn.

This procedure needs to be carried with a scan tool capable of accessing the transmission module and can perform bi-directional communication such as Autel MaxiCOM or Launch X431 scanners

In theory, the ECU should automatically learn and adjust the shift patterns as you drive, but this doesn't always work as expected. 

Transmission Fault Codes 

If no transmission leaks are present and the transmission fluid level is correct, the next step is to read the Transmission Control Module's fault codes.

For this procedure, you will need a Dodge Transmission OBD-II scanner.

How to diagnose Dodge transmissions: 

  1. Locate the diagnostic port under the dashboard and plugin your Dodge scanner. Diagnose Dodge transmission won't shift via diagnostic port under the dashboard

     

  2. Turn on the ignition but do not start the engine. Diagnose dodge transmission
  3. Please turn on the scanner and allow it to the community with the vehicle. Diagnose Dodge Transmission Issues

     

  4. Depending on the vehicle, you may have to select your Dodge model. Otherwise, jump to Transmission Module. Diagnose Dodge Trans

     

  5. Select Read Diagnostic Trouble Codes (DTC) from the transmission sub-menu. 
  6. Scroll throw the list of all the fault codes. Pay attention to the codes that have a PRESENT (CURRENT ) status. 

Once you get the codes, you can research the fault code further and even call a couple of transmission shops near you and discuss the fault code over the phone.

You may be tempted to read the fault codes with a basic code reader, but those units can only retrieve generic fault codes from the engine control unit and may not show any fault codes for the transmission.

Dodge Transmission Problems Explained In-Depth

Dodge transmission issues

Slow or improper gear shifts

The most common issue with 46RE four-speed automatic transmission is incorrect or delayed gearshifts. In most cases, this will happen either when going through 1st to 3rd gear or when shifting from 3th to 4th gear. 

Possible causes 

  • If the issue affects gears 1-3, the most likely reason is within the governor pressure solenoid or the corresponding sensor. The solenoid wears out or gets stuck, which prevents proper operation. A faulty sensor or wiring issue will cause incorrect readings on the solenoid position.
  • If the issue affects the 4th (overdrive) gear only, the problem is within the overdrive solenoid, which serves as a pressure accumulator that engages overdrive. With time, it wears out and cannot create adequate oil pressure. 
  • Other possible causes include low transmission fluid level or dirty transmission filter.

Whining or buzzing in reverse only

Some older Dodge trucks with 46RE four-speed automatic transmission can produce a buzzing or whining sound when going into reverse. In most cases, this will be more noticeable when the vehicle is cold. Although usually, no other symptoms are present, in rare cases, there can be issues with selecting reverse. 

Possible causes 

  • A well-known problem, covered by several corresponding Technical Service Bulletins. In some cases, a regulator valve may be faulty, and replacing it with an uprated one solves the problem. 
  • There is a ‘reverse buzz package,’ which includes all parts needed. The procedure involves removing the overdrive unit to replace the rear-band adjustment lever, reaction lever, and strut with upgraded components. It also consists of replacing the regulator valve pressure plug and sleeve.  
  • Other possible causes include cracked pump housings, a torn pump gasket, low transmission fluid level, a dirty transmission filter, restricted transmission cooler flow.

Torque converter clutch or overdrive performance issues 

Dodge trucks with 46RE four-speed automatic transmission after 2000 can suffer from intermittent problems with torque converter clutch or overdrive engagement. In most cases, this will be coupled with an illuminated ‘check engine’ warning light and P1740 code stored in DTC memory. 

Possible causes 

  • The most common cause is the poorly designed cover plate that holds the pressure boost valve in place on the valve body's bottom side. Because the relief orifice is too small, the retaining bracket that holds the lockup pump spring breaks. Installing a special upgrade kit from Superior Solution solves the issue. 
  • Faulty input or output sensor, or even the throttle position sensor that gives incorrect speed reading can affect torque converter clutch performance. Look for other speed sensor related codes and check the reading values using a scan tool. 
  • In some cases, the problem can be with the governor pressure solenoid or the corresponding sensor, as already described. 

Delayed gear engagement

Dodge vehicles with 545RFE five-speed automatic transmission made up to 2006 can have trouble shifting into drive or reverse. Ya noticeable delay with gear engagement when the vehicle is cold or was turned off for a longer time. The problem will be more apparent when outside temperatures are very low. The check engine light may also come on. 

Possible cause

  • The OEM transmission cooler filter is loose or, in some cases, it can even fall out of the thread. This allows the transmission fluid to drain from the torque converter and causes initial delays. Installing a modified filter solves the issue. 
  • Other possible causes include a dirty transmission filter, low level, or improper transmission fluid. 

Difficulties while engaging or disengaging drive and reverse

Newer Dodge vehicles that use a 65RFE six-speed automatic transmission can suffer from issues when shifting in or out of gears. These problems manifest either as clunks or knocks when shifting to neutral or inability to engage drive or reverse. In most cases, there will be no ‘check engine’ light or other symptoms. 

Possible causes

  • Clunk issues can be caused by an incorrect underdrive clutch position. This is a known issue, which can be solved by installing a revised spacer plate into the valve body. 
  • Difficult shifting into drive or reverse is a tell-tale sign of worn low-reverse solenoid assembly, which has a well-documented tendency to fail prematurely. Replacing it with an upgraded item solves the problem.  

Grinding or rattling noise while driving

When the car is in drive, it produces a grinding noise. This may happen when it starts from cold and goes away as it warms up or can be present all the time. The frequency of the noise follows the engine speed. 

Possible causes

  • A torque converter has several needle bearings inside, which can wear out or get damaged due to poor maintenance. In addition to noise, this can create noticeable vibrations during accelerations.
  • Check the transmission fluid level and top it off if needed. If you don’t know when it was changed last time, consider replacing it with a filter. 

What can I do to make a Dodge transmission last longer?

  • Perform regular transmission fluid and filter changed.
  • Use the recommended transmission fluid.
  • Upgrade the transmission cooler and lines
  • Minimize touring heavy loads for an extended time

While most Dodges can go over 100,000 on the original transition without any issue if you are putting highway miles, those who haul with their Dodge truck or VAN may consider buying an extended Dodge powertrain warranty. 

Conclusion

While it is not unusual to seen Dodge car, trucks, SUV, and VANS clock over 200,000 miles on the original transition, there are a few cases where the transmission may start having issues as early as 50,000 miles.

The life of the Dodge transmission can be affected by driving habits and service history. Changing the transmission fluid and filter every 60,000 miles or more frequently is towing regularly can help your Dodge transmission last longer.

Transition problems will still develop no matter how well you maintain your Dodge. When servicing a Dodge transmission, it is crucial to use the recommended Dodge transmission fluid listed in your owner's manual. Using the wrong transmission fluid can wear the transmission prematurely. 

Dodge Transmission Won't Shift Due to Bad Torque Converter

Fixing a Dodge transition can be as easy as correcting the transmission fluid level or clearing voltage related fault codes that have put the car in limp mode. In other cases, the problem can be an internal clutch pack or torque converter failure, which can end up costing thousands of dollars to repair. 

Over the years, Dodge has had many transmissions, including:

  • 4-speed (45RFE ) automatic transmission from 1999–2003,  
  • 5-speed (545RFE ) automatic transmission from 2001–2011, 
  • 6-speed (65RFE) automatic transmission from 2012–2017,
  • 6-speed heavy-duty (66RFE) automatic, 2012–present
  • 8-Speed  (845RE / 8R70) ZF Automatic Transmission was installed in many 2014 and newer models.

The early Dodge models had issues generally when cold. The most common issue where the transmission will shift hard between 1st to 2nd or bump when downshifting. In recent years, the 8-speed Dodge transmission made by ZF has improved to the point that it has become one of the most reliable transmissions on Dodge vehicles. 

By YOUCANIC Automotive Experts
Nov 2020

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