Troubleshooting Volkswagen Transmission Problems

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Don’t panic if your Volkswagen transmission is no longer shifting, shifts hard, or is stuck in gear.

You will learn about transmission problems such as faulty transmission range sensor, reset Volkswagen transmission adaptive settings, check transmission fluid level, and retrieve transmission diagnostic trouble codes from the Transmission Control Module (TCM).

Common Problems with VW Transmissions

Here are some of the most common problems with Volkswagen transmissions:

  • VW transmission won’t shift.
  • Stuck in limp mode
  • Harsh shifting
  • No reverse
  • Transmission won’t go into gear.
  • Stuck in 2nd
  • Not shifting into 3rd
  • Noise such as whining, humming, or clunking.
  • Won’t shift out of Park
  • Stuck in Park or Reverse

Volkswagen transmission problems such as erratic shifting, limp mode, no shifting, no reverse can be due to something as simple as low transmission fluid level.

These symptoms can also indicate a serious problem: faulty valve body, clogged transmission filter, bad solenoids, bad VW mechatronic unit, and faulty torque converter.

Possible Causes

Common problems that affect Volkswagen transmissions:

  • Transmission Range Sensor (F125) Volkswagen transmission range sensor serves many functions to determine the gear the driver has selected ( P R N D ). The transmission range sensor then sends the signal to the Powertrain Control Module (PCM). The transmission range sensor can fail, causing many issues such as the vehicle going in limp mode, transmission not shifting when placed in Drive or Reverse, and the engine may not start because the PCM can not detect the shift Park.
  • Low transmission fluid level — Low transmission fluid level can cause many issues, including erratic shifting, no shifting at all, delayed shifting, strange grinding noises, limp mode, and in some cases, check engine light comes on.
  • Faulty Torque Converter — Can cause VW transmission to slip in all gears, shuddering, and overheating.
  • Worn Bands — Can cause delayed shifting, shifting at high RPM, harsh shifting, VW won’t move, and no reverse gear. A more common issue on high mileage VW vehicles.
  • Shifter— A faulty shifter or shifter cable can cause the transmission to get stuck or not go in the selected gear.
  • Mechatronic Unit / Valve Body — The valve body is complex and can fail in many ways; the most common symptom is that your VW won’t shift or go in gear. Depending on the competent that fails, it can cause limp mode, check engine light, the transmission may not shift past 2nd or 3rd gear or harsh shifting between gears.
  • Vehicle Speed Sensor — If your Volkswagen has developed a harsh shift between gears or is stuck in emergency mode (limp mode), the vehicle speed sensor (VSS) may be the problem. A signal from the VSS is sent to the Powertrain Control Module (PCM), and the loss of the signal can cause one or more problems.
  • Brake Light Switch — A faulty brake light switch can prevent the shifter from moving out or back in Park. The shifter can not be moved; the transmission won’t go into gear. Manually override the shifter and move the gear selector to Drive. If VW transmission shifts properly when you manually release the shifter from Park, the problem in most cases is the brake light switch or the shifter module itself.
  • Low Battery Voltage — In rare cases, the low battery voltage can trigger Volkswagen automatic transmission to get stuck in limp mode. This issue affects mainly newer VW models.
  • PCM / TCU / ECU Software Issue — Software issues can cause erratic shifting or downshifting issues. Volkswagen transmission may shift late, or transmission may downshift unexpectedly. Volkswagen has issues with PCM software updates that fix such shifting problems for models where this is a common problem.
  • Wire harness — Damages wire harnesses from ECU / PCM to the transmission housing can cause shifting problems. For example, your Volkswagen may not shift at all or go in gear. A costly problem to fix, but luckily it is not a common problem with VW transmissions.

Other issues that may cause VW transmission problems include faulty throttle body, dirty transmission filter, bad trans fluid pump, dirty MAF sensor, etc.

Troubleshooting VW Transmission Problems

There are many checks and steps you can perform yourself to narrow down the problem or, in some cases, even fix it. The following steps will help you troubleshoot and isolate Volkswagen transmission problems.

Volkswagen transmissions monitor the driver’s driving habits and shift early or late, depending on the driver’s driving style.

Eventually, the adaptation settings stored in the Transmission Control Module (TCM) can become out of sync, resulting in erratic shifting.

Resetting VW transmission adaptive settings will often improve shifting, especially erratic shifting.

The best way to reset transmission and ECU to factory settings is to use a VW Transmission scanner or if one is not available, try the instructions below.

How to Reset VW Transmission Adaptive Settings

Method 1

  1. Turn the ignition on without starting the engine. If your VW has start/stop, press it twice without pressing the brake pedal.
  2. Immediately press the gas pedal to the floor and keep it pressed for twenty seconds.
  3. Release the gas pedal.
  4. Turn the ignition off, then back on, and immediately start the engine.

Method 2

  1. Set the parking brakes.
  2. Turn ignition on the ignition but do not start the car.
  3. Move the gear selector from Park to Drive.
  4. Press the gas pedal all the way down to activate the kick-down switch.
  5. Hold the gas pedal pressed down for thirty seconds.
  6. While still holding the gas pedal down, move back to Park.
  7. Turn the key off, then back on, and start the car.

Method 3

  1. Turn key to 1st position
  2. Press the gas pedal to the floor twice within five seconds to activate the kick-down switch.
  3. Release the gas pedal and immediately start the engine.

Trying all three methods does not cause any problem. The goal is to make the transmission reset (forget your driving habits) and reset the gear shifts to factory settings.

Volkswagen automatic transmission can also be reset with a Transmission Scanner such as VAG-COM.

This procedure does not work on all models. It will not cause any problems.

On applicable models, it will only reset the shift range and bring it back to normal.

If your VW transmission is not shifting at all, shifts late, or slips, resetting transmission adaptation will not fix the problem.

After resetting the VW transmission, take the vehicle for a test drive.

If you are still having problems with your VW transmission, check the transmission fluid level.

How to Check Volkswagen Transmission Fluid Level

Checking the transmission fluid level is very easy if your Volkswagen has a transmission dipstick; not all models do.

Do not confuse the oil dipstick with the transmission dipstick.

  1. Park the vehicle on level ground.
  2. Set the parking brakes and shifter in Park.
  3. Pull the hood release and open the hood.
  4. Locate the transmission dipstick.
  5. Remove the dipstick and clean it with a clean cloth.
  6. Reinsert the dipstick in the transmission dipstick tube. Ensure the transmission dipstick is fully inserted, then remove it.
  7. Look carefully at the dipstick and determine the current transmission fluid level. The level should be between MIN and MAX marks for the COLD (lower) markings.
  8. If the level is low, add transmission fluid level.
  9. Drive vehicle for 15 minutes making sure to select all the gears manually.
  10. Repeat the procedure once the transmission warm-up but this time, the level must be between the MIN and MAX marks for the HOT (higher) markings.

If the transmission fluid level is low, add the recommended Volkswagen transmission fluid to bring the fluid level between the MIN and MAX marks.

If the dipstick is not present, the vehicle will need to be raised on a lift, and the level can be checked by removing the fill plug.

The following video shows how to change VW transmission fluid and check the fluid level.

Only use the recommended VW transmission fluid type recommended for your vehicle.

Read Transmission Fault Codes

The next step in diagnosing a Volkswagen transmission is to read fault codes from the transmission control module or what is known as the TCU.

To read these codes, you will need a VW Transmission Scanner.

Basic code readers can not retrieve fault codes from the Transmission Control Module and will not show a fault code.

  1. Park the vehicle and turn off the ignition—set parking brakes.
  2. Locate diagnostic port under the dashboard, driver’s side.
  3. Plugin your OBD-II scanner, then turn on the ignition without starting the engine.
  4. The scanner will turn on. Allow it to communicate with the vehicle—Select Volkswagen, then your particular.
  5. Select Control Units, then Transmission.
  6. Select Read Fault Codes from the main menu.

Transmission Stuck in Limp Mode

If your Volkswagen gets stuck in limp mode while you are on a long trip, the first thing that you should do is pull over, turn off the engine, wait a minute, and restart it.

In many cases, just restarting the engine will allow the ECU to reset and normal transmission functionally to return.

Drive with caution and avoid quick accelerations even if the transmission shifts properly.

Has the transmission been inspected at your earliest convince to ensure there are no underlying problems such as low transmission fluid level or fault codes?

Check For Recalls

Check if open recalls or Technical Service Bulletin (TSB) for your Volkswagen apply to the transmission.

Recalls are performed free of charge by any Volkswagen dealer. To check if a recall exists on your vehicle, visit our Check Recalls page.

Call your local Volkswagen dealer to find out if Volkswagen has issued a Technical Service Bulletins (TSB) for your vehicle.

Volkswagen Technical Service Bulletins for the transmission typically update the ECU and PCM software.

TSBs typically program the shift solenoid operating range, which improves shift quality.

VW Transmission Problems Explained

This guide overviews all Volkswagen automatic transmission problems, including vehicles with DSG gearbox and 01M transmission.

Automatic transmission goes into limp mode or gets stuck in high gear.

VW vehicles from mid-2000, including Passat and Vento, can experience shift issues.

The most common problem is transmission going in limp mode (safe mode) and staying stuck in gear.

Warnings may accompany it on the dashboard, including check engine and brake light staying on.

Possible causes

  • Water in the passenger footwell short-circuits the TCU, which is located under the carpet. Check for any traces of water and remedy the cause, which is usually a clogged drain. Dry out TCU and all the connecting wiring.
  • Coolant in the passenger footwell, caused by leaking cabin heater. Same as above.
  • Damaged TCU connection or a loose pin. Check the condition of the connector and if it sits firmly. Check if all pins are firm and that there is no corrosion on them.

Violent downshift from 3rd or 4th to 1st

In some cases, the automatic transmission can get jammed and struck while shifting from 3th to 4th.

As a result, there will be an unexpected downshift into 1st gear.

When this happens, the car will suddenly decelerate, which can be very dangerous.

Possible causes

  • Failed solenoid N89, which actuates 3th to 4th gear shift. This is usually an internal mechanical failure and might not trigger any codes. Replacing the affected solenoid solves the problem.

Shifting to slow or not shifting into gear

All higher mileage VW cars with automatic transmission can experience shifting issues, showing delayed and unusual gear changes or lack of downshifts when trying to accelerate.

In some cases, it will not shift to R or D.

The problem can be constant or intermittent, and sometimes it may trigger a warning light and gearbox limp mode.

Possible causes

  • The faulty selector lever position sensor can cause delays when engaging R or D and sending the gearbox into limp mode. The operation of this sensor can be monitored using a Volkswagen diagnostic tool.
  • Shift solenoids that are faulty or clogged. If the fault is electrical, it may trigger a check engine light. Mechanical issues and clogged solenoids will rarely result in a check engine light.
  • 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 the filter.

Jumping out of gear while driving

Some particular 2008-2009 cars with DSG transmissions can jump out of gear and neutral while driving.

Depending on the circumstances, it may or may not be possible to re-engage drive. In most cases, this will trigger a warning light, usually in the form of an illuminated ‘PRNDS’ symbol on the dashboard.

Possible causes

  • A gearbox temperature sensor that gives inaccurate readings. This causes the transmission to slip and consequent shifting issues. Although these sensors should have been replaced during a recall, check if your vehicle was affected by calling your local Volkswagen dealer and providing the VIN.

Juddering and shaking at idle or when shifting gears

Cars with DSG transmissions can suffer from various types of juddering. It may happen immediately after startup or while idling and is usually accompanied by a loud clattering noise.

Another possible scenario is juddering during gearshifts, most noticeable in low gears.

Possible causes

  • Worn dual-mass flywheel, which has too much play in it. This causes a metallic rattle while idling. Check the flywheel condition and replace it if there is any movement between the two plates.
  • A worn dual-clutch assembly as a result of normal wear-and-tear. Although repair kits allow partial repair, replacing the whole clutch assembly is usually the best solution.
  • Broken or worn engine or gearbox mounts. This allows excessive movement, causing the engine and gearbox to jump when pulling off from a stand-still.

DSG transmission going into limp mode

Cars with DSG transmissions can go into limp mode, in which it stays stuck in third gear.

There will be warnings on the dashboard in many cases, such as a flashing ‘PRND’ light.

This happens; there will be a stored code that will help track the problem.

Possible causes

  • If codes mention ‘clutch limits’ or ‘clutch adaptation,’ your clutch may be worn. However, before replacing it, you may try resetting the gearbox. This can be done by a VAG diagnostic tool or using the procedure described above.
  • Various sensor failures, such as temperature sensors. Check the suspected sensor and replace it if needed.
  • Mechatronic unit failure. This will usually trigger multiple codes, including sensors and implausible gear ratios. Mechatronic units are not serviceable and can be either replaced or repaired by a specialist.

The problems described here affect many Volkswagen models, including VW Jetta, Arteon, Golf, Bora, Atlas, Tiguan, Passat, Beatle, and Routan, which apply to DSG gearbox 01M transmission.

Troubleshooting a VW transmission problem can be challenging.

While checking the basics, reading the codes, resetting VW transmission, and checking transmission fluid level are DIY tasks, in-depth troubleshooting should be performed by an auto mechanic, VW dealer, or expert that offers VW repair service.

About Author

I have been working on vehicles for over 20 years. In 2016, I decided to start YOUCANIC so that I can share my expertise with vehicle owners all over the world.