If you own a Mazda that has developed erratic shifting patterns or are looking to buy one, this article will help you learn about some of the most common problems with Mazda automatic transmissions. 

A lot of Mazda transmission problems such as delayed shifting, engine RPMs rev high, the car won't move in Drive, No reverse etc., are often caused by low transmission fluid level.

If you own a Mazda with an automatic transition that is not shifting properly or not shifting at all, check the transmission fluid level immediately. 

Symptoms

Mazda transmission symptoms 3 5 cx5 cx7 cx3 cx9 5

Common symptoms of Mazda transmission problems: 

  • Harsh shifting
  • Transmission won't engage
  • Shifts are delayed
  • Engine revving at high RPM
  • Burning smell
  • Check engine light comes 
  • Mazda won't move when in Drive or Reverse
  • Stuck in limp mode
  • Won't shift gears

Common Mazda Transmission Problems

Mazda automatic transmission problems

Gear slippage and erratic shifts

Mazda vehicles that use a transverse 4-speed automatic transmission designated as LA4A-EL can experience problems that range from gear slippage to erratic or failed gearchanges. In most cases, this will happen suddenly, and usually when the car is warm. This will trigger a check engine light, and the Overdrive indicator on the dashboard might be flashing. Sometime, the problem will go away after cooling down.

Possible causes and solutions:

  • Failed neutral safety switch, which gives the information about the position of the gear selector. As a result, the TCU has incorrect information about selected gears, which upsets shift patterns. There will be a P0708 code stored in the memory. Replacing the switch solves the issues.
  • Loose connector on the neutral safety switch, or damaged wiring. Performing a visual check will reveal potential issues. 

No reverse 

Mazda MPV models that use a 5F31J 5-speed transverse automatic transmission can suffer from a failure to engage reverse gear. In the most common scenario, this happens after changing the transmission fluid. This will not affect forward gear changes, and there will be no other apparent issues.

Possible causes and solutions:

  • A band anchor stud removed by mistake when changing the transmission fluid. This is quite a common issue because the fill plug and a band anchor stud are similar and close to one another. This sets reverse band assembly free and prevents the engagement of reverse gear. 
  • Fractured reverse drum or worn piston that engages it, which usually happens when driving for a longer time with band anchor stud removed. The free-spinning that happens generates friction and heat, which deteriorates drum and piston assembly. 

Missing 4th and 5th gear or harsh gearshifts

Mazda vehicles that use a 5R55N 5-speed automatic transmission have a fairly common problem with failures to engage 4th and 5th gear. In some cases, this will be followed by erratic and delayed changes in other gears. This issue can be intermittent or constant, and initially, the problem will only occur when the car is cold. It will trigger a check engine light, so there will be corresponding codes stored in the DTC memory.

Possible causes and solutions

  • Broken spring that actuates the pre-stroke valve for the 4th gear. As a result, the transmission will not be able to engage the 4th gear from engaging. There will be P0734 and P0735 codes stored in DTC memory. As this is a very common problem, there are upgraded replacement kits that permanently solve the issue.
  • Excessive wear inside the valve body or sticking solenoid. This causes a loss of transmission fluid pressure and results in erratic and harsh gear changes. This is usually more prominent when cold. However, this problem is not likely to trigger a check engine light.  

No overdrive gear 

Mazda that uses a 4-speed 4R44E automatic transmission in a longitudinal arrangement, suffers from a fairly common issue with the engagement of overdrive gear. The problem manifests itself as a failed engagement of overdrive gear, resulting in a shift to neutral. In initial phases, this will be an intermittent issue that happens when cold, but might progressively get more frequent. This issue will not affect other gears, and will not trigger any warning lights on the dashboard. 

Possible causes and solutions:

  • Worn overdrive servo or excessive clearance within the bore for servo pin. Both of these issues will cause a loss of transmission fluid pressure that becomes worse with time. Replacing both the sealing ring and pin is the best solution. As this is a common issue, there are upgraded pins available (http://www.sonnax.com/system/announcement/76948-29K.pdf)
  • A broken retaining clip that holds the servo. If this happens, the loss of overdrive will be sudden and permanent. The easiest way of identifying this problem is to look for metal parts inside the valve body.   
  • A faulty output vehicle speed sensor may also cause this problem.

Shift flares during acceleration 

Newer Mazda vehicles that have a TF80 6-speed automatic gearbox in front-wheel or all-wheel drive configuration can suffer from shift flares that happen during mild accelerations. In some cases, while braking to a stop, downshifts may be noticeably delayed. In initial phases, this issue will manifest itself only when the vehicle is cold, but becomes more prominent with time. In most cases, there will be no other symptoms. 

Possible causes and solutions

  • Degraded transmission fluid and clogged filter, caused by a lack of fluid changes. This happens as a result of manufacturers' recommendation, which states that this ‘sealed for life’ transmission does not need any fluid changes. However, this can create issues on high-mileage cars that can be solved by a thorough transmission fluid flush. 
  • Excessive wear of bores inside the valve body, which causes intermittent losses of transmission fluid pressure. Being a common and well-documented issue, many transmission specialists offer rebuilt units with upgraded components.

Mazda Transmission Reliability

Mazda high mileage
2015 Mazda CX-5 with almost 200,000 miles. 

At this point you are thinking, that's a lot of problems. So naturally, the question comes to mind "Are Mazda transmissions reliable?".

Mazda vehicles were notorious for automatic transmission problems back in the early 2000s especially the 626, Millenia, and MPV models. From 2005 to 2020, Mazda automatic transmissions in Mazda 3, 5, 6, CX-7, CX-9 have been very reliable with very few transmission issues. That doesn't mean that Mazda transmissions never fail. Mazda vehicles that are not maintained properly or are used for towing have a higher automatic transmission failure rate. 

Today we see many Mazda vehicles, including Mazda 3, Mazda 6, Mazda 5, CX-5, CX-9, CX-3, Miata, CX-30, most of them with the Mazda SkyActiv 6-speed automatic transmission, that go over 100,000 or even 150,000 with no transmission issues. 

Mazda automatic transmsioin high mileage
2013 Mazda 3 High Mileage Over 200,000 - Automatic Transmission

In this article, we covered problems that affect several Mazda transmissions. If you are experiencing problems with the automatic transmission, the first thing you need to do is determine the transmission model number or code. Then you can research and look for issues that affect that transmission. In the end, not all Mazda transmission are created equal. 

Diagnose mazda transmission



If you are experiencing any unusual problems with your Mazda that is equipped with an automatic transmission, always check the transmission fluid level first. If the transmission fluid is correct, next read the fault codes stored in the Transmission Control Unit (TCU) via the diagnostic port under the dashboard with a Mazda OBD-II scanner.