Transmission Shift Solenoid: What Is A Shift Solenoid & What Happens If It Breaks?

A shift solenoid can often cause problems for car owners especially if it goes bad and starts to show problems. Car owners can often be confused on what exactly a shift solenoid is and how to repair it when it starts to give them problems.

Because of this, we will show you a guide on replacing it, signs of what a bad shift solenoid looks like, and tell you what exactly a shift solenoid is.

shift solenoid

What even is a shift solenoid?

A shift solenoid helps control the levels of transmission fluid in someone’s car. It is a part of the transmission system and is actually controlled by the computer in the car. The transmission system in basic terms takes power made by the engine and is sent to the wheels of the car, which then will help move the wheels of the car.

Simply put, the transmission system is linked with the engine, with the engine sending constant energy to the transmission system, which then goes to the wheels of the car.

The purpose of the shift solenoid is continuously open, close, then reopen valves in the transmission, which helps regulate hydraulic fluid that would need to be checked in order for it to not continuously flow throughout the transmission, which would obviously cause problems if it did.

The computer part of the car does help with this: the shift solenoid does its job by the computer part of the car. The computer in the car is constantly controlling the transmission’s fluid levels. If it didn’t do this, then you would have functional problems with your car and the shift solenoid, which is what we are going to tell you about next.

Shift solenoid car spare part
Shift solenoid car spare part.

Signs and symptoms of a bad shift solenoid

With any parts of a car. they can easily fail. Luckily, most of these parts can either be fixed or replaced This is also the case for the shift solenoid.. The shift solenoid usually fails for a few different reasons. One reason could be because of grimy fluid that can cause the shift solenoid to permanently stay open or closed.

Another reason could be because of plain electrical or wiring issues with the shift solenoid. Now you know what causes it. here are some of the signs that your shift solenoid could be bad. luckily some of these signs are easy to detect as well and are more pronounced.

1. Clicking Sound

People have said that you could hear a clicking noise if you have a bad shift solenoid. To do this, all you need to do is to turn your key in your car. and if you hear a clicking sound when it goes to start, that could be a problem with your shift solenoid.

However, this does not mean it could be that because one sign could indicate other problems as well.

Therefore, you should make sure to check for other signs as well. When it shows multiple different signs is when you can verify that there is something wrong with your shift solenoid and not something else.

2. Transmission Light

This can be a very easy indicator that something could be wrong with your shift solenoid, or maybe even something else in your transmission. Some cars do have a transmission light.

Checking this could be an indicator of something else being wrong with the transmission though and not necessarily a problem with your switch solenoid. To go one step further, you can read a code that could tell you if it is indeed a problem with your switch solenoid.

Expert Tip: To be able to read the code it is spitting out, you need an OBD2 scanner to be able to read the codes.

You don’t necessarily have to use a scanner though, if you take note of other signs, then the shift solenoid is likely the problem and probably needs to be replaced anyway meaning you probably don’t need to buy a scanner.

3. Check Engine Light

Check engine light on dashboard
Check engine light on dashboard.

A check engine light can be an indicator of many problems. This is actually another easy indicator as well, like with the transmission light. If your check engine light is on. then it could be a sign that your shift solenoid is bad.

This is because the computer in the car continuously controls the shift solenoid and monitors it as well, the way it does this is by having help from the transmission control module. Then when the transmission control module something is wrong, the transmission control module will tell the computer to turn the check engine light on.

But a check engine light could mean many different things, but if you noticed any other problems with your car. especially gear and shifting problems mentioned, then it likely could be your shift solenoid

4. Gears won’t shift

This can be yet another easy sign that something could be wrong with your shift solenoid. When your transmission refuses to shift gears, it could be a problem with the shift solenoid.

Usually, you’ll notice that the gear gets stuck in neutral, which is the case for many people, which means that you’ll likely notice issues with downshifting. This is because the shift solenoid is stuck open usually, and it means there’s likely a problem with the wiring of the shift solenoid

5. Delays when trying to shift

This might be a sign you may not notice at first, because it may happen gradually and over a period of time. As mentioned before, any part of a car can fail at any time, especially if you’ve used the car for a long time, parts will naturally fail as it is an inevitability with wear and tear on the parts.

This indicator happens because of that. You may notice some delays when trying to shift gears, which usually means that the shift solenoid is failing and you probably have to get the shift solenoid replaced, this is because the shift solenoid is failing and not simply dirty or a valve that is stuck open or closed.

Getting this problem fixed will help any potentially dangerous situations you could be in with a bad shift solenoid.

6. Weird Shifting

Woman driving a manual transmission car
Woman driving a manual transmission car.

This is a huge red flag that you may need to replace your shift solenoid replaced immediately. You’ll eventually notice that your vehicle may make an unexpected shift to a higher or lower gear.

Expert Tip: This is a sign that your shift solenoid is faulty and needs to be replaced quickly. This can be a dangerous situation for anyone to be in if the gears automatically shift without expecting it to do so.

This problem and/or the problems mentioned in number five are both problems indicating that the shift solenoid needs to be replaced and are dangerous situations for anyone to be in.

7. Gears start skipping

This is another problem with shifting and gears, which is what the shift solenoid does- you have at least one shift solenoid for each gear. You’ll notice as time goes on that your car will simply just skip a gear.

This is because it has problems engaging in the gear it is supposed to be at. then it will just skip it then go to the next one. This is very likely a problem with a shift solenoid and why it is important to replace it when you are having problems. This can also be a dangerous situation to be in.

8. Limp Mode

Limp mode is a very interesting thing that happens to your car and it requires a bit of explaining. Limp mode basically means that your car is automatically set at a lower RPM when there is something wrong with either the engine or transmission.

The RPM limit is usually set at 3000, and you’ll notice when it does go into limp mode, that it almost never goes above that. This is because the feature is a safety and money-saving feature, which means that it does this to avoid blowing up other car parts. This could make it more dangerous and less affordable if your car didn’t have a limp mode.

Expert Tip: This is a feature that cars do so you can get it repaired without having further issues. Limp mode itself can be caused by a number of its own issues from transmission issues to engine issues.

Usually, limp mode has some of the signs mentioned here as well, outside of the lower RPM limit. This can be the check engine light, reduced engine power, and stuck in a gear. Some of the signs alone can indicate limp mode and may also not necessarily mean a problem with the shift solenoid.

But if you had noticed any other problems with your car, it can be a clear sign something is wrong with the transmission which would likely mean that there is something wrong with your shift solenoid and you should probably get it looked at by a professional and diagnosed sooner rather than later.

If not then you could have more costly and problematic repairs in the future. This also begs the question, can you drive with a bad shift solenoid, and how much does replacing a shift solenoid cost?

Is it possible to drive your car with a bad shift solenoid?

This may be dependant upon your personal situation. If you can’t afford to replace your shift solenoid, and shift solenoids can be somewhat pricey(more on that in a second), you may have to drive your car until you can get it fixed.

Since problems with the shift solenoid are usually more pronounced in shifting problems, it can lead to a multitude of problems that could further add wear and tear to your car.

Though, the car can still be driven. We would recommend driving your car less if this is the case. You can get away with driving your car for a short period of time if need be.

Is it possible to drive your car with a bad shift solenoid

Possibly a few weeks or a month at the most is what you could get away with without adding much more problems (if at all) to your car or transmission, you really do not want to put more stress on your transmission, which is why you shouldn’t go more than a month if you have shift solenoid problems.

But, it still isn’t a good idea to keep driving a car with shifting problems, since it can lead to dangerous situations and more costs down the road. This also means no more family road trips until it is fixed.

Cost of replacing a shift solenoid

When it’s time to replace your shift solenoid you may want to keep costs low, especially if you don’t want to spend an arm and a leg on it. When looking, it can cost upwards of 450$. The lower end is usually 125$ maybe 150$. That is including labor alongside the cost of buying the shift solenoid Many, many mechanics would recommend not doing it yourself either.

This is because it is a difficult job for inexperienced people to do on their own. You really don’t want to add more problems to your car than there already is. You do not want to add more repairs to your car than needed, especially since it costs a good amount of money to repair many parts of the car.

Unless you are an experienced mechanic who KNOWS what they are doing, we would definitely recommend being seen by a mechanic that is experienced in changing shift solenoids and diagnosing your car.

Wrap up

We talked about how to replace your shift solenoid and how much it costs (and why you shouldn’t drive your car when having gear and shifty solenoid issues). We also gave you some of the signs that show up in a car with shift solenoid problems, usually being gear and shifting issues because of the transmission. If you do have any questions, ask us in the comments section!

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About Matthew Webb

Hi, I am Matthew! I am a dedicated car nerd! During the day, I am a journalist, at night I enjoy working on my 2 project cars. I have been a car nerd all my life, and am excited to share my knowledge with you!