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Can hitting a deer/elk screw up your transmission?

I have a 2002 Subaru WRX wagon with 110k miles on it. On a recent trip 5 or 6 hours from home we hit either a large deer or a small elk at about 45-50mph. It crumpled the fender, hood and front bumper and apparently put a fine crack in the radiator. We pulled over to survey the damage but it was dark and we were an hour out of cell range so we decided to keep going. We heard a slight ticking like a fan turning over and a few miles down the road the car overheated and we had to flag down a car and get it towed. The insurance company took care of the body work and radiator but when I went to pick up the car it was making that horribly ticking sound. I’ve taken the car to two mechanics who both agree its a transmission problem. 1 said its possibly associated with hitting a deer, the other said no way. Does anyone know if this is possible? Seems like an extreme longshot that my transmission would go out EXACTLY when I hit this deer…



If the engine took part of the impact, it is possible the transmission shared the impact.

It is common to still have issues after you get the car back after a major collision like this. You should talk to your insurance agent to get this resolved. If you get any push-back, it is time to talk to a lawyer and a new insurance company. Even if you don’t hire them, they might have some good advice.

Give your insurance company a change to resolve this. Just because they missed it the first time doesn’t mean they won’t fix it now.

Could be your transmission overheated and failed when the cooling system overheated.
Bad to drive with no cooling.

You did not tell us whether this car has a manual transmission or an automatic transmission!
If you’re asking for advice regarding the transmission, that’s a bit of an oversight, wouldn’t you say?


Anyway, assuming that this car has an automatic transmission, then there could be a connection between the two events. You tell us that there was a “crack in the radiator” following the collision. And, apparently the car overheated a few miles later. If this crack resulted in a coolant leak–which seems fairly apparent–then the transmission could have been overheated. You see, there is a transmission cooler built into the radiator, so just as the engine overheated, it is very likely that the trans did likewise.

Automatic transmissions do not take well to overheating, just like engines. So, yes, there could indeed be a connection here. However, if this vehicle has a manual transmission, then all of the information that I just gave you is invalid.

Also, I do want to point out also that aluminum engines, like the ones in Subarus, do frequently sustain damage from overheating. If these two mechanics are not especially familiar with Subarus, they might not be looking at possible engine damage such as warped heads. I would suggest that you seek out a mechanic who is known for his knowledge of Subarus for a really expert analysis of the noise.

I realize that, given the lack of cell phone service, you felt that you had no choice but to press onward, but any time that the radiator is damaged, I would strongly suggest that you have the car flat-bedded to a repair shop, simply because of the possibility of engine and/or transmission damage from driving an overheating car. Unfortunately, in this instance, you would have likely waited a long time for a state trooper to arrive and to summon a flat-bed for you, so perhaps you did do the right thing. Like so many things in life, this was a judgment call.

Ah I knew I forgot something! Yes it is a manual transmission. I didnt want to drive it but it was getting dark and in the middle of nowhere. I’ve hitched before with good and bad experiences and I just didnt really like the idea of hitching with a pretty girlfriend. We hit this deer at 10:30 at night and the tow didnt get there until close to 3am. We actually flagged down a State Liquor Board car around 11:30 or so. :slight_smile:
I just got off the phone with the adjustor and they are going to look into it. So far they haven’t been rude or accusatory. Pretty good dealings with Progressive so far.
Thanks for the thoughts and opinions!

Hopefully this site’s digital lackeys will read this thread and see how much bandwidth was wasted on responding as if this car had an automatic transmission.

The recent addition of the make and model “pull-downs” is good, but you also need to add “pull-downs” for the model year, engine size/type and, of course, the type of transmission.

Wouldn’t it be better for all concerned if we did not have to guess regarding important details that posters neglect to include with their question???

Also, I didnt pop the hood because it was slightly crumpled and I didnt want to chance it not clamping back down. I didnt hear any hissing or see any leakage initially… from what I could see it looked like it might have been okay. Boy was I wrong :slight_smile: Probably wasnt in the best state of mind when looking either. The auto body repair shop it was taken to told me about the hairline crack. After the accident I kept my speed below 40 and made it about 7 or 8 miles farther along the road before I saw steam and pulled over.

I will say that it’s entirely possible to develop a transmission fault, manual or automatic, whenver a hard impact has been inflicted on a car.

While working for Subaru I remember off the top of my head 2 manual transmissions that suffered problems after an impact. One of the cars in question was near new and only had about 15k miles on it. In this case one of the shifter rails was slightly bent. This led to the transmission locking between 2 gears and the car not moving either forwards or backwards.

While not transmission related, many years ago I was involved in a wreck that totalled out my Corvette. Prior to the wreck the engine ran great and used no oil.
A guy wanted to buy the motor out of it so we made a deal. He installed the engine into a 64 Chevy Impala and it smoked like a grassfire to the tune of 1 quart of oil per 5 miles. It made the Exxon Valdez look pretty miserly.

Apparently the impact magnified the normal amount of crankshaft end play and this caused several pistons and rings to crack. In a nutshell, the engine had to be rebuilt because of a car wreck even though the engine itself did not suffer even a paint scratch.

Do you recall the tow truck? If it was towed with 2 wheels on ground turning instead of flat bed it will destroy your tranny.

TOW? It’s important to know how the car was towed. Was it towed with two wheels on the ground, or was it carried on a flat bed or roll back truck.

Towing a Subaru with two wheels on the ground can cause all sorts of damage to the AWD system.

It was towed on a flatbed. My dad used to sell Subs when i was a kid and that stuck in my head. Part of the reason it took 4 hours to get a tow truck out to us :slight_smile: Thanks for the input though!

Hello all,
Thought I would drop an update from the mechanic. Turns out the problem was not the transmission itself, but te viscous coupling within the transmission was damaged. The mechanic (owner of the shop, 25 years experience) said it could be possible that hitting a deer at high speeds could cause the damage. The insurance rep (Progressive) disagreed and refused (rudely, the mechanic said he was a #$%&) to pay for the claim. Anyone familiar with viscous couplings? From what I’ve read it seems that you have to tow your vehicle on 2 wheels, have improperly sized tires, or be doing some serious racing (all of which the insurance rep accused me of before denying the claim). I KNOW this was associated with hitting a deer. 110k on the car and its working just fine before I hit the deer, but not after. I dont like being treated like I’m trying to defraud my insurers but thats how ive been treated! Thoughts? opinions?

My opinion is that this is just one more bit of evidence that Progressive Insurance is not such a bargain, despite their cute ads.

There have been a number of posts on this board from people who were denied claims by Progressive, despite the apparently valid nature of those claims. If Progressive is charging less than some other insurers, they have to make up the difference in revenue somehow, and apparently they do this by “cheaping out” on claims.

Since they are not running a charity, insurers are always looking at the bottom line, and the customer who dares to file a claim is apparently the one who suffers for Progressive’s low prices.

Sometimes, what appears to be a bargain is not a bargain.

Edited to add:
As an aside–many years ago, I was friendly with an auto insurance claims adjuster. Based on many conversations with him (as well as the mechanical condition of his own car), I can tell you that this guy knew nothing, nada, zip, zero–about the mechanical systems of cars. His decisions on claims were based on seat-of-the-pants decisions, stemming mostly from the established policies of the company for which he worked. This guy would not have known a viscous coupler from a hole in the ground, and perhaps neither did the claims adjuster in this case.

Indeed. I am switching to State Farm ASAP. I’ve heard good things about how they treat their customers… Progressive has turned out to be a nightmare… will be 6 weeks by the time i have a driveable car… My favorite part was the 21 year old claims adjustor telling TWO mechanics with 45 years experience between them exactly what is and isnt possible when it comes to cars. Buyer beware…
Thanks for the comment.

As a adjuster I would have also denied the claim for viscous coupling damage. I would have you required you to bring me a analysis from a mechanical enginner (not a mechanic) as to how this could have been the cause,and still you could have been rejected.

These are car parts designed to withstand loads and stress,not the Wright Flyer.

And this is where the insured get screwed. To me, it is not possible that this is random coincidence. 110k miles without a problem. That is over 4x the distance around the globe. Its hard to accept that it is unrelated to hitting a 500 lb animal at 50 mph at the exact same time. I know that as an adjustor you cant take my word for it. Or even the last few people who rode in my car and can back my claims that no noise was there prior. That would be too easy to fabricate. My transmission was serviced at the dealer 5k miles before the accident. No problems reported. Shouldnt that count for something?

You are absolutely right… we are NOT talking about the Wright Flyer… what we are talking about is the force generated by hitting at 500lb animal at 50 miles an hour. I do thank you for the recommendation of the mechanical engineer analysis… although unlikely to help (wonder what it would cost to hire a certified ME to analyze a viscous coupling)… its still an avenue to pursue. Thats more than I got from the adjustor who told me that the matter is closed and cannot be argued!

I am not a adjuster, I should have used a comma,or said If I was a adjuster.

It could damage anything from the hood to the tail lights so it can definitely kill a transmission.

Thanks for the responses… Anyone have any actual experience with viscous coupling/central dif damage? I just cant see how this happened if it wasnt related to hitting a deer.