If you have 4L60E transmission problems, you’re far from alone.
In this article, we will take an in-depth look at the 4L60E transmission, along with some of the more common problems associated with it. We will look at a few symptoms and what that might mean for your transmission.
Before examining the different 4L60E transmission problems you might be having, it’s important to understand how the transmission works and the history of the 4L60E. To skip this section and get straight into the potential transmission problems, please click here.
Otherwise, let’s get into it.
A Brief History of the 4L60E Transmission
The 4L60E transmission is one of the most recognizable and well-known on the US car market today.
Produced by GM (General Motors), it was first produced in 1992 and began being phased into the market during the following 2 years. Many updates, of various levels of significance, followed – the most notable of these being the introduction of a bolt-on bell housing (phased in from 1996 to 1998).
It was first seen commercially from 1993 to 1994, on cars such as the Chevrolet Suburban, Cadillac Fleetwood, and GMC Sonoma.
It replaced the 4L60. This previous transmission had been named the TH700R4 (Turbo-Hydromatic 700R4) and had been introduced in 1982. In 1990, GM altered its designations, and so the 700R4 was renamed “4L60”.
This stood for:
- 4 forward gears
- Longitudinal applications (rear-wheel-drive)
- 6000 lbs gross vehicle weight (GVW) – this means that the transmission can be safely used to haul 6,000 lbs of car along with it
The 4L60, along with many transmissions of its generation, was controlled by a hydraulic system. This means that a series of valve pressures made the transmission shift gears.
GM made the jump to electronic shifting control with the 4L60E (Electronic shifting control). Keep on scrolling down to read more about electronic shifting and its many advantages.
The 4L60E is a 4-speed (meaning it has 4 gears) transmission, with gear ratios of 3.06; 1.63; 1:1; 0.70 (overdrive). Reverse has a gear ratio of 2.29.
It weighs 146 lbs before transmission fluid is added and 162 lbs with it. GM claims that the factory transmission fluid should last the entire working life of the product.
Read more about the 4L60E from Novak Conversions.
How Does the 4L60E Transmission Work?
On the roads of most countries today, an automatic transmission isn’t a rare sight. In 2015, about 34% of the cars in the world were equipped with one. This is especially the case in the US, where the automatic transmission is extremely popular.
For a quick explanation of how a basic automatic transmission works, if you’re not familiar with it, check out this video. Please note that this is not a 4L60E specifically, but it will give you a good general overview of how transmissions work. The one used in the example here is also a much newer 6-speed, whereas the 4L60E is a 4-speed transmission.
The 4L60E is made unique by being one of the first transmissions to use electronic shift control. Its predecessor, the 4L60 was instead controlled hydraulically.
For a detailed history of how automatic transmissions have been developed over time, ever since the first one was invented in 1904 (or 1923, depending on your view), take a look at this Wikipedia page.
Why is Electronic Shifting Better?
There are very few drawbacks when comparing electronically-controlled transmissions to those controlled by hydraulics or mechanically.
Electronically-controlled transmissions Pros:
The advantages include:
- Increased quality of shifting.
- Faster shifting.
- More accurate shifting times.
- Allows for manual control if necessary.
- Fewer mechanical/hydraulic parts and systems.
Electronically-controlled transmissions Advantages:
- Better fuel economy.
- Smoother engine output.
- Better car control.
- Increased life-span of the transmission and its parts, as well as the engine and driveshafts.
Some might argue that electronically-controlled transmissions can be harder to fix. This is because most of the work is done inside the ECU, the Engine Control Unit. If something goes wrong inside the ECU, it can take a specialist automotive electrician to get that fixed for you. It isn’t something most people would be able to fix at home.
Then again, hydraulic systems were also somewhat complicated and difficult to work on at home.
Which Cars Use the 4L60E Transmission?
GM are responsible for some of the biggest automotive brand names in the US, including Cadillac, Chevrolet, Pontiac, and, of course, GMC.
The following cars all use a 4L60E transmission. This is far from an exhaustive list:
- Buick Rainier (2004-2007)
- Cadillac Escalade (1999-2000, 2002-2005 on select models)
- Chevrolet Camaro (1994-2001)
- Chevrolet Corvette (1994-2004)
- GMC Envoy (2003-2009)
- Hummer H3
- Pontiac Firebird (1994-2002)
- Saab 9-7X (2005-2009)
For a full list, check out this link.
If you’re still not sure what transmission your car has, look for the VIN number – the Vehicle Identification Number. If the car was made before 1981, it may have 16 characters (letters or numbers) – cars made after this time will have a VIN of 17 characters.
The VIN is usually found on either the dashboard (from looking through the windscreen) or the passenger doorframe. You should be able to find the VIN location by looking in your owner’s manual or simply searching online: “where is the VIN number on a 2000 Chevrolet Corvette”, for example.
Entering your VIN on a specialist website, such as autocheck.com, or taking it to your local mechanic, will provide you with information such as the vehicle history, service history, and – what we’re looking for – the technical specifications. This should include the transmission type. You may have to pay a couple of dollars to get this.
What are Some Common 4L60E Transmission Problems?
While most argue that the 4-speed 4L60E is one of the best transmissions ever to come out of a factory, it also has its haters. Despite a great reputation, there are a few things that are well-known to go wrong on a 4L60E.
You could experience any number of 4L60E transmission problems, and so this list is by no means conclusive. However, if you are experiencing problems with your transmission, perhaps one of the following might ring true.
If you need to look at purchasing a replacement 4L60E transmission there are lots available online, check out this link.
Check out this video from Transmission Bench to explain the 3 most common 4L60E transmission problems.
4L60E Transmission Slipping
If your transmission is slipping, you may notice one or more of the following:
- “Bad-sounding metal noises” – to use the technical term – such as whining, grinding, or screeching.
- The car might not go into some gears, especially reverse.
- Shifting might not happen when you expect it – it could be too early or too late.
- A lack of power, usually most obvious when accelerating – the car might feel sluggish.
- Burning smells.
- ‘Check engine light‘ turning on.
This isn’t, by any stretch of the imagination, a problem solely limited to 4L60E transmissions. Any transmission could go through this at some point.
The most likely cause is something to do with the transmission fluid. The level might be low, which could be due to a leak, or it could just be old or burned. Check your transmission with the dipstick to see what it looks like and what the level is. If anything’s wrong, you might need to top it up or completely drain it and refill it with some fresh stuff.
If there’s no issue with the transmission fluid, then it’s probably a mechanical issue somewhere inside the transmission. This could be:
- A problem with the torque converter.
- A problem with a clutch.
- Something wrong with the transmission solenoid.
- Old, damaged, and worn gears.
- Broken or worn transmission bands.
If you do experience transmission slipping problems with your 4L60E, and it’s not down to transmission fluid, then it’s time to visit the local mechanic. That is, unless you know your way around an automatic transmission very well.
Chances are, it’ll need to be rebuilt by a specialist, having the worn or broken part swapped out for a new one.
We’ll look in detail at a few more slippage-specific situations of 4L60E transmission problems.
4L60E No Third Gear
The 3-4 clutches can wear out quickly. If you find a lot of problems when you are shifting from 3rd to 4th, this could be the issue. Like most of these cases, the transmission will need a full rebuild. Specifically, the 3-4 clutch pack needs replacing.
It’s caused by the rubber seals on the 3-4 piston shrinking. This happens because of age, heat and general wear. This leads to the clutch pack getting too hot and, eventually, it will stop working.
This is one of the most commonly reported 4L60E transmission problems.
4L60E No 2nd Gear
This could be caused by a broken drive shell. If this is the case, there will probably be no reverse gear at all as well.
It’s not possible to definitively tell whether or not the drive shell has cracked or fractured without taking the transmission out of the car and rebuilding it, but if you’re experiencing these symptoms, there’s little else that’s likely to be causing it.
When doing this, be sure to also check the planetary gears and the input ring gear for damage. The broken drive shell may have stripped some of the splines on these if it was heavily damaged.
You’ll need, as a minimum, a new drive shell. The transmission will need to be taken apart to fix this.
Heavy Shift Into 2nd With 4L60E
This could be due to a worn TCC regulator valve. You will also probably have a check engine light on on the dashboard and a diagnostic code of 1870 – internal slippage.
The transmission will need to be taken apart to access the TCC regulator valve. Once it’s replaced, and the transmission reinstalled, the problem should be fixed.
Have a quick look at this video from Scotties Hobbies to learn some more about some of the most likely problems if you have heavy shifting.
4L60E Transmission Only Shifts Manually
If the transmission only shifts manually (and therefore doesn’t shift automatically), there is probably a problem in either the PCM or one of the related sensors sending information to the PCM.
This could be the VSS (vehicle speed sensor) or the TPS (throttle position sensor). Alternatively, there could be a problem with the wiring, such as a short or damaged circuit.
Hopefully, diagnostics can work the problem out for you. You are likely to either need a new sensor, new wiring, or an entirely new PCM.
Learn some more about the throttle positions sensor (TPS) on this video from Engineering Explained.
This old clip also nicely explains how a VSS works.
4L60E Won’t Come Out of Gear While Driving
If your transmission is stuck in one gear (usually the lowest gear), this could be due to the car going into “limp home mode”.
When the Powertrain Control Module (PCM) senses an electrical problem, it might prevent the transmission from shifting. This is to prevent any damage, or perhaps any further damage, from occurring.
Acceleration will be virtually non-existent and the car will suddenly feel like it is very heavy. All non-essential systems will be shut down, for example the air conditioning. You may feel more vibrations from the engine. Essentially, what’s going on is that the ECU is making everything run as slowly as possible. It’s a bit like when the human body goes into a coma – shutting down all but the essential things in order to save itself as a whole.
If the car goes into limp home mode, don’t ignore it! Although it might feel like a darned inconvenience, putting the car through too much stress in this mode is likely to finish it off for good. Instead, you should take the car to an auto shop immediately, or get a call-out mechanic to your house. It’s possible that the car may have to be taken to a specialist automotive electrician to diagnose the fault.
1-2 Shift Won’t Happen Until Letting Off the Throttle
If your car won’t upshift from first to second until you let off the throttle, it could be a problem with the throttle position sensor.
You can get this checked by going to a mechanic and asking them to check the readings using advanced on-board diagnostics tools.
Alternatively, you could just throw caution to the wind and change the throttle position sensor before getting it checked. This is probably more worth it if the OE part you buy is less than $20 or $30, as it will probably cost you more than that just to get the car checked. However, you can expect to pay anything between $3 and $300 for a new TPS (throttle position sensor), so watch out for that.
If that doesn’t work, the problem is likely somewhere inside the 4L60E transmission. There could be a leak in the second gear apply circuit. If you have specialist diagnostic tools, such as a pressure gauge and OBD equipment, you can check this yourself. If not, it’s best to just drop it down to your mechanic at this point.
4L60E Won’t Come Out of 1st Gear (Specifically) and Speedometer Has No Reading
If you have no reading from the speedo and the transmission won’t come out of 1st, the most likely problem is the vehicle speed sensor (VSS). On-board diagnostics (OBD) may provide some light on this without having to take the transmission apart.
In order to fiddle with, repair or replace the VSS, the transmission will need to be completely removed. Again, if you know what you’re doing and you’ve got the tools to deal with it, great. If not, it’s best to leave it to someone who knows what they’re doing.
4L60E No Movement in Any Gear
The most likely cause of this is either a total pump failure or a complete loss of fluid. This could be due to a significant leak, so if the car has been stationary for a while you may be able to see a puddle of transmission fluid underneath it.
Before taking the car for a complete transmission rebuild, you can do the following test to see if it’s just a leak or if the pump has stopped working completely as well. Refill the transmission and use that to see if you can find the leak.
(It should be noted here, be very careful to avoid getting transmission fluid on your hair, clothes or skin – aside from being an irritant, it is one of the worst smells ever and will take days or even weeks to fully wash out.)
Once the transmission has been refilled, check the fluid level and start the car. Make sure to never start the car if it has no transmission fluid in it. This will cause the transmission problem to become potentially ten times worse.
Leave it running for a good few minutes.
If it still won’t go into any gear, turn off the car and check the fluid level again. If the level is still the same as before starting the vehicle, it indicates that the pump is broken. This will need a full rebuild. If the level has gone down, it indicates a leak in the system. In this case, you may be able to fix it yourself… but it also may be an internal leak and, again, will need a total rebuild.
Audible Bang and the Loss of All Gears on 4L60E
Basically, the transmission is kaput. Usually, this represents a snapped output shaft, although it could be any major component of the transmission. If you can feel any play in the driveshaft, it indicates that the output shaft has broken.
Again, the whole transmission will need to be removed, stripped down, and rebuilt.
And Many More…
You could be experiencing many more possible symptoms which we haven’t addressed here – it quite simply wouldn’t be possible to do in just one article.
If you’re still unsure about what’s wrong, you should get your car looked at by a professional as soon as possible.
To have a look at some more generic transmission problems (as in, rather than specifically 4L60E transmission problems), check out our articles on Signs of Automatic Transmission Problems and 7 Sings of a Bad Transmission.
How Should You Get Your 4L60E Transmission Problems Fixed?
All in all, transmission problems – no matter the specifics – usually require a full rebuild to be properly fixed.
To play it safe, it may be a better idea to get a call-out mechanic to come to your house and have a look at your car there. Driving a car with a transmission that’s on the verge of seizing or breaking in any other way would be extremely dangerous. It’s not worth the risk of driving it.
We would recommend either calling someone out to your house or getting the vehicle towed to a nearby garage. You may need to take it to a transmission specialist – not every garage deals with transmission rebuilds.
Of course, to rebuild your transmission yourself is a possibility. However, we wouldn’t recommend it unless you know what you’re doing. There are a lot of parts to an automatic transmission and, once you’ve got everything taken apart, it can be very easy to forget to reinstall a very small – but very important – valve, bolt, sensor, or something else.
It’s always better to be safe than sorry.
4L60E Transmission Problems Concluding
In conclusion then, we hope this article might have answered some of your questions on 4L60E transmission problems and what to do if you’re experiencing them.
If you take nothing else away from this, remember that most 4L60E transmission problems (and, indeed, whatever transmission your car has) will require a rebuild. Always drive extremely cautiously if you have any symptoms of a failing transmission and, if necessary, get your vehicle towed to the relevant auto shop.