Car Not Going in Reverse – Main Causes & How to Fix

Shifting in and out of gear is probably an activity vehicle owners engage in whenever they drive. Typically, changing gears helps your car take certain actions such as accelerating, stopping, reversing, etc. If, however, your gear seems not responding as it should, there is likely an issue.

But one gear many drivers don’t take too seriously is the reverse gear. Unfortunately, if this reverse gear fails to work, you won’t be able to back into a parking space and park. And even if you can park, you may remain stuck in whatever parking lot you find yourself. In this article, we will talk about the causes of cars not going in reverse and how to fix them. Knowing the fixes can come to your rescue anywhere.

What Causes My car won’t go In Reverse

There are various reasons why your car won’t go in reverse. However, the cause will depend on your transmission type. Cars with auto, manual, or CVT transmission have different issues that cause them not to go into reverse. So if you’re asking, why would the car not go in reverse?  See why.

car wont go into reverse manual

Reasons automatic transmission and CVT transmission car won’t go in reverse.

1. Low transmission fluid (automatic and CVT transmission )

Your car’s transmission relies on transmission fluid to keep it lubricated and cool. However, the fluid can only function well at the proper level. So if the fluid is low, the transmission becomes insufficiently lubricated and overheats, causing your inability to shift into reverse.

In fact, low transmission fluid will make transmission shifting difficult. However, while automatic transmission cars use the automatic transmission fluid, CVT transmission uses the tranny or CVT transmission fluid.

2. Dirty transmission fluid (automatic and CVT transmission)

Transmission fluid will usually get contaminated after some time due to its function–a reason it’s recommended you change if after certain miles. However, dirty transmission fluid will not work as intended and cause many problems.  One of which is prohibiting your car from shifting into reverse.

Another way to know if it’s a fluid problem is that, Sometimes, your car won’t reverse but will go forward. If you notice this, check your fluid level and condition. Ensure you use the right transmission fluid for automatic and CVT transmission.

3. Damaged valve body (automatic and CVT transmission)

The large maize-like component that helps circulate hydraulic fluid among other valves in an AT and CVT car is called the valve body. This valve body enables you to shift effortlessly from one gear to another. 

If this component gets bad, these connecting valves won’t get the right fluid to function; therefore, staying unlubricated is not good. Hence, gear delays in entering reverse and sometimes won’t even allow you to reverse no matter how much you step on the gas pedal. So if you’re wondering, why won’t my car go in reverse sometimes?  It’s likely the valve body.

Sometimes, it could be the shift solenoid found inside the valve body. If this solenoid is bad, you will find it difficult to reverse. Depending on your car, you may be able to replace only the shifter solenoid. Otherwise, you will need to change the entire valve body.

4. Faulty transmission selector sensor (automatic and CVT transmission)

Many cars with automatic transmission come with a transmission selector switch. This selector switch has a sensor whose job is to  tell your car’s computer (ECM) whether your transmission is shifting into drive or reverse

The ECM, in turn, communicates this information to other sensors and components, helping you reverse. If, however, the transmission selector sensor is faulty, it won’t be able to pass this signal and, as such, will not allow you to reverse your car.

5. Faulty transmission range sensor (automatic and CVT transmission)

While some automatic and CVT transmission cars use a transmission selector sensor, some use the transmission range sensor. The transmission range sensor in many cars is mounted on the gearbox and, in some cars, inside the transmission. 

Its duty is to help detect the gear you choose from the gear stick and whether it corresponds to the gear stick sensor. However, if this sensor is faulty, your transmission may not be aware that you want to reverse; hence, it won’t respond.

6. Active park neutral switch (automatic and CVT transmission)

Cars with automatic transmission have a safety feature called the park neutral switch. Its duty is to ensure your car does not enter drive or reverse, making it very useful when parking your car. If, however, this switch is turned on, you won’t be able to reverse your car. So if your Toyota Camry will not go into reverse, try checking this park neutral switch.

Reasons your manual transmission car won’t go into reverse

1. Faulty shifter mechanism

A bad shifter is the most common cause your car won’t go into reverse in manual transmission cars. Cars with manual transmission will require the driver to reverse using the gear shifter.

If this shifter is faulty, you will find it difficult to shift into reverse, almost as though something is blocking the shifter from moving. The problem may stem from a bent or broken shifter linkage or cable and, in some cars, the shifter bushings. 

2. Dirty fluid

Just like in automatic transmission cars, dirty transmission fluid will not lubricate the transmission components or cool them properly. Hence, your inability to reverse your car.

3. Damaged reverse gear teeth

A damaged or broken reverse gear teeth mostly stems from drivers’ abuse or those learning how to drive. When this gear is faulty, you will hear the gear teeth gnashing and producing strange noises. With this gear broken, it’s almost impossible to shift into reverse. 

4. Faulty lockout ring 

Cars with manual and automatic transmission feature a lockout ring that prevents drivers from mistakenly shifting into reverse when driving. Shifting into reverse while your car is moving is extremely dangerous and can damage your transmission.

However, this ring should allow you to reverse when your car is parked. If, however, the ring gets bad or misaligned, you won’t be able to reverse your car. While this could occur in cars with AT, it is most prevalent in cars with manual transmission 

5. Defective clutch

The clutch aids in changing gears effortlessly. When it is bad, you will experience difficulty in shifting gears. Usually, a bad clutch will affect every gear. However, it might not always affect the reverse gear.

This means you may still be able to use the reverse gear when other gears are not working due to the bad clutch. A good way to know the clutch is the issue is if you’re finding it difficult to shift gear and your clutch is delaying applying the clutch pedal.

car not going in reverse

How do you fix a car that won’t go in reverse?

Wondering what to do if the car won’t go in reverse? It’s simple, the only way to fix a problem is to identify its cause. Since we have highlighted some causes, see how to fix a car that won’t reverse–automatic, CVT, or manual.

But before doing any of these below, ensure you have carried out a proper diagnosis and are sure of the culprit. Else, you might end up repairing components unnecessarily.

  • Start with the oil. Check your oil level and condition. If it’s low, try to top, check for leaks and ensure you also fix anything causing the leaks. If the transmission fluid looks black and dirty, you may need to drain the old oil and fill it with a new one.
  • Change faulty transmission selector sensor or transmission range sensor. Using a diagnostic tool is a quick way to know if these sensors are the culprits.
  • Ensure your park neutral switch is not activated.
  • You might also need to change a faulty valve body. Inside the valve body is a solenoid shifter; if this shifter is bad, you will still need to change it. But the thing is, in some cars, you only need to change a bad solenoid shifter. However, in others, you might need to change the entire valve body even if the valve body isn’t the issue. 
  • A faulty shifter is often due to broken linkage, cables, or shifter bushings. So a great way to fix reverse issues is to fix these components. If you have an adjustable gear shifter you haven’t adjusted for a while, try adjusting it. See your owner manual to confirm if you have an adjustable gear shifter.
  • You will also need to replace broken or weak reverse gear teeth as they can’t be repaired. This process is somewhat tedious as it requires disassembling the entire transmission. So it’s best left to professionals to handle 
  • Repair the faulty lock ring, but it’s best left to the hands of experts. You don’t want to complicate an existing problem.
  • If you have a bad clutch, drivers of cars with manual transmission should first pump the clutch a bit to build up pressure. If this doesn’t help, shut the engine and change gears, including the reverse gear. If this allows you to reverse, your clutch is worn; alert your mechanic.

How much does it cost to fix a car that won’t go in reverse?

What would cause a car not to go in reverse is numerous, so how much you spend fixing it depends on the culprit. It could be from simple fluid and filter change costing around $20-$30 if you do it yourself or $100-$200 if you hire a mechanic.

If, however, you have to replace components like the clutch, valve body, solenoid shifter, reverse gear teeth, etc., you may need to spend high. For example, broken teeth on reverse gear cost around $1000-$3000. If you start replacing such components, you will likely replace the entire transmission. This is why it’s important to maintain these components to avoid expensive transmission repairs.

FAQs

Q: Why will my car go forward but not reverse?

While many things can result in cars not reversing, a low or dirty transmission is responsible for cars going forward but not reversing. Low or dirty transmission fluid will not allow proper lubrication of transmission components. This will let you move your engine but can shift into reverse. Try filling or changing your transmission fluid.

If it doesn’t solve the issue, it’s likely the transmission sensor for automatic transmission. Whereas a bad reverse gear, shifter mechanism, lock-out ring, and clutch can be responsible for it in cars with manual transmission. So if you’re asking, why is my car not going in reverse but going forward, now you know.

Q: Why won’t my car move when I put it in drive or reverse automatic?

If your car won’t move even when in drive or reverse in automatic cars, it could be due to two or more reasons. AT cars use a gear stick that tells your car’s computer which gear you’ve selected. However, this gear stick has a sensor. If this sensor malfunctions and tells your car you are in neutral, your car won’t move even if the gear stick is in reverse.

Cars with AT also come with a neutral packing switch, a safety feature that prevents your car from driving or reversing. If this feature is activated, your car won’t move at all. A faulty transmission selector sensor will also not let you move your car since it aid in reversing and driving your car.

Q: Is it better to replace a transmission or buy a new car?

Transmission replacement is no doubt very expensive. If the car is still new and holds its value, then it is a worthy investment to replace the transmission.

However, if the car is close to the end of its shelf life and has other underlying issues, selling your car and getting a new one will be the best option. Such cars will break down in no time, so spending such an amount on them will be a waste.

Q: Can you drive with a broken transmission?

Your car will move even if your transmission is broken; however, it’s not advisable to drive with a broken transmission. It will be just a matter of time before the transmission affects other vehicle parts leading to more expensive repairs.

Q: Will low transmission fluid cause no reverse?

Low transmission fluid will cause a no reverse situation for your car. The transmission fluid is important in keeping the transmission lubricated and preventing it from overheating. However, if this fluid is low, it won’t be able to supply the transmission and keep it working properly. Hence, causing your car to not go in reverse.

Final Thought

Car not going in reverse indicates one or several components aren’t functioning well—we have highlighted the crucial ones in this article. The causes, however, depend on whether you own a manual, CVT, or automatic transmission.

For example, a car not going in reverse could stem from dirty transmission fluid for manual, CVT, and automatic engines. In contrast, a bad transmission selector will cause this in only automatic cars.

If you notice your car not going in reverse, try marrying some of the causes we listed above and what you’re experiencing.

Please note that most causes of cars not going into reverse are delicate and are best left to professionals to handle to prevent further damage. 

Osuagwu Solomon

Osuagwu Solomon is a seasoned automotive technician for the past 9 years, and a technical writer. He loves writing about auto professional repair guides, DIY repair guides, and buyer’s guide. After spending six years in the automotive workshop, he decided to impact his knowledge to people aside his domain, and he has achieved this by centering his Automotive writing skills on REPAIRS.

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