I have a 2008 Ford Escape which, up until recently, has been pretty low-maintenance for the last 110,000 miles. Now the transmission has a hard time getting into the next gear and lurches when it finally shifts up. I am very familiar with how the automatic transmission in this car feels, and it felt pretty broken. What causes this to happen, and is it a sign of impending catastrophic failure?
It is possible that this is a sign of impending catastrophic failure but not a guarantee. First, check to see if your vehicle is leaking any fluid and if so, verify the type of fluid. If you find a leak and the fluid found is transmission fluid, that could be part of your issue. Transmission fluid leaks from the transmission cooler lines has been a common failure on some Ford Escapes. If no fluid is found to be leaking your issue could be related to your A/C condenser or an internal problem within the transmission. The reason the A/C condenser is a possibility is because instead of routing transmission fluid through the radiator to cool it, the transmission fluid is routed through the condenser instead. This is perhaps because the condenser is mounted further forward on the vehicle than the radiator and therefore gets more airflow. If the condenser is proven to be adequate, then unfortunately, the problem is likely the transmission itself. Some possible issues within the transmission include a clogged transmission filter, contaminated or wrong type of transmission fluid, or a faulty transmission valve body. I would recommend having a certified mechanic, like one from YourMechanic, perform a full inspection. Be aware of a prolonged inspection period, including a long test drive, for your vehicle so that the mechanic can experience the same faults that you do in your vehicle. After symptoms are verified and an inspection has been performed, then a proper repair can be made.
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