Chevy Express: Bad Torque Converter → Symptoms + Diagnosis

Your Chevy Express’s torque converter is responsible for converting the energy generated by the engine at the flywheel and transferring it to the transmission, creating a bridge between the engine and the transmission.  

In the Chevy Express, a bad torque converter is often caused by bad transmission fluid, worn clutches, bad seals, or loose bolts.  Symptoms of a bad torque converter include a vibration, too much RPM on the highway, and slipping.

Bad Torque Converter Symptoms Chevy Express


Bad Torque Converter Symptoms:  Chevy Express

Here are some of the most common bad torque converter symptoms that could happen to your Express.

1. Slipping Transmission (Low Speed)

The torque converter “stall speed” is the speed that the engine needs to be turning before the torque converter will begin engaging the transmission.  When a torque converter is malfunctioning it can cause this stall speed to change and feel like the transmission is slipping.  If you suspect this is happening with your car, has your fuel mileage changed?  This is often a sign that the transmission isn’t operating efficiently.

More Info: Express Transmission Slipping Diagnosis


2. Slipping (Higher Speed)  

Nearly all modern automatic transmissions have a locking torque converter.  A locking converter has clutches in it that lets the transmission make a physical connection with the engine.  This eliminates operating inefficiency when it is at high speed (usually after about 45 miles an hour).  This increases the fuel mileage achieved and brings an automatic transmissions efficiency more in line with a standard transmission.


3. Bad Fuel Economy

If the torque converter has gone bad, then it’s no longer transferring power to your Express’s rear wheels in an efficient manner.  This keeps your Express’s engine from turning at the right RPM for any given speed, which can really hurt fuel economy.  When this happens, your torque converter has a higher effective stall speed.


4. Shuddering

Torque converters use a lock up clutch to create a true 1:1 connection between the engine and the wheels.  It won’t do this at lower speeds so your Express can take advantage of the torque multiplication that a torque converter provides.  

If the torque converter fails to unlock at lower speeds, it shudders.  This shudder feels like a manual transmission when you need to downshift.


5. Sounds

A bad torque converter will often make strange sounds.  The best way to describe the sound would be a whir sound if you have bad bearings in it and a clunking sound if it’s a bad turbine fin.


6. Bad Transmission Fluid

Like your automatic transmission, the torque converter is full of transmission fluid.  This fluid helps cool the converter and transfers energy.  If your Express has bad transmission fluid, it can cause the torque converter to go bad.

Taking a look at the transmission fluid should be the first thing that you do.  It can tell you a lot about the health of your transmission in general.


Causes of Torque Converter Problems:  Chevy Express

There are many different things that can cause your Express to have torque converter problems.  Here are the most common ones.

1. Low or Dirty Transmission Fluid

Chevy Express Bad Torque Converter Signs

Transmission fluid is the lifeblood of the transmission and the torque converter bolted to it.  If there isn’t enough it can’t do its job.  This will in turn cause the transmission to overheat.  

This is one of the most common causes of torque converter problems.  If the transmission fluid is dirty and old it won’t be able to do its job as a hydraulic fluid as well.  This can lead to a feeling of extra slipping and chattering at speed.  

Make sure you take a look at the fluid before you do anything with your transmission.  If you don’t know or can’t remember the last time it was changed or serviced this would be the place to start.  Here’s a transmission fluid color chart.


2. Worn Clutches

The clutch that locks the transmission to the engine at highway speed can wear out just like a normal manual transmission clutch.


3. Bad Seals

This is one of the most common issues that causes a torque converter to go bad.  It’s usually pretty detectable, as there will be a pool of fluid underneath your Express.


4. Loose Torque Converter Bolts  

This will create the same symptoms as the bad seals in that the converter is going to puke a bunch of ATF all over your garage floor, but you should also be feeling quite the vibration at speed.  

If you suspect this could be what is going on with your transmission, just know that if those bolts come all the way out the least that is going to happen is that it disengages from the input shaft.  Most likely it’s going to really do some real damage to the crank and input shaft.


Faulty Torque Converter Diagnosis

Before trying to diagnose whether your Express has a bad torque converter, you’ll want to drive to let the transmission warm up to its normal operating temperature.  It takes a bit longer for the transmission to warm up than the engine.  

Give it a few extra minutes after the engine warms up all the way. This will ensure that the transmission is shifting as it would nearly all the time that it normally operates.

Pay attention to what’s going on with both your Express’s engine and transmission.  Pay particular attention to any shuddering and vibration as you accelerate.  Shuddering and vibration are in no way a guarantee that something is wrong with the torque converter, but they are a strong indicator there could be something wrong.


Conclusion:  Express Torque Converter Problems

It’s hard to get to your torque converter, which means that you have to rely on observation to determine if the torque converter is going bad.  This makes diagnosing torque converter problems challenging.  Good luck with your Express!