Why does my car won’t go in reverse?

I experienced a situation where my car won’t go in reverse. I thought it’s wise to share with you. More often than not, we have our cars in drive gear. Whether we are going to nightclubs, rushing to work early in the morning, or taking our family to a warm Saturday dinner, we make use of the drive gear.

However, at one point in time, we also need to make use of the reverse gear. It could be to get out of the driveway or to get out of a parking spot.

If I’m in a situation where my car is struggling to reverse, it will be a cause for concern. In this article, we’ll discuss the possible causes and a quick guide on how to fix them. Sit back and have a 5 minutes read.

car wont go in reverse or drive

What causes my car won’t go in reverse?

The primary function of a transmission is to enable a vehicle to move forward and reverse. It plays a critical role in ensuring your vehicle moves forward and reverse nicely and smoothly. And this is why if you experience reverse gear not engaging sometimes, you need to turn your attention to the transmission.

However, there are a number of factors that could be wrong with your transmission.

Generally, there are several manuals and automatic transmission problems that could stop your baby ride from going to reverse. These issues can prevent the car from going in both directions. But let’s not deviate from the context of this article.

We’ve outlined some of the causes below. Check them out.

Low transmission fluid level: If your car shifts into reverse but will not move or cannot shift into reverse at all, it could result from a low transmission fluid – check it out. If you are running your vehicle in low transmission fluid, it will cause inadequate lubrication resulting in Overheating within the transmission gears. It will also cause hard transmission shifting.

Most times, your transmission isn’t going in reverse due to low transmission fluid resulting from a fluid leak. If you fail to pay immediate attention to this, it may cause other problems and prevent your transmission from going in both directions (drive and reserve). This is why you need to diagnose the fault earlier and see if you have to top up your transmission fluid.

Fortunately, this is a quick and affordable fix that won’t tear your pocket. Like I explained above, you may have a transmission fluid leak that needs to be fixed. No matter the cause, it is essential to figure out the cause and fix it on time to avoid severe transmission damage.

Dirty transmission fluid: Having enough transmission fluid doesn’t mean it’s playing its role effectively. Dirty or contaminated transmission fluid will not provide adequate lubrication. If your automatic transmission is having a delayed change or won’t go into reverse, you may need to check your transmission fluid color and flush it as soon as possible.

Moreover, it is normal for transmission fluid to get dirty or contaminated over time and cause transmission system issues. If the transmission fluid gets contaminated with dirt and debris, it’ll drastically affect the functionality of the transmission filter. And if the transmission filter gets clogged, it’ll make matters even worse. So, to avoid damaging your filter and other transmission components, you need to ensure you drive with clean transmission fluid at all times.

Broken reverse gear teeth: Low and contaminated fluid will result in a bigger problem if you fail to give it proper attention. In most cases, this, in particular, will not stop you from driving your car normally except when you want to use the reverse gear.

If your vehicle is not going in reverse, contact a certified mechanic to inspect it. A thorough inspection may prove that you have broken reverse gear teeth, stopping you from moving in reverse. This issue mainly affects manual transmission as opposed to automatic transmission due to driver abuse or learners who cannot stick-shift gears properly. Do not forget that this can also affect automatic transmissions.

Usually, you will hear a loud clicking or clunking noise when you try to shift into gear with worn-out reverse gear teeth. Unfortunately, this is an expensive and no-quick fix since backing up your transmission requires changing the damaged reverse gear teeth.

Defective lockout ring: The primary function of a lockout ring is to refrain the driver from accidentally shifting the transmission into reverse when the vehicle is moving in the drive.

Accidentally shifting your gears from moving forward to reverse is extremely dangerous and can cause catastrophic transmission damages. Aside from the damages, it can lead to accidents resulting in severe injuries or loss of life.

If the lockout ring is misaligned or damaged, it can cause your car not to shift in reverse at all.

Worn Out valve body: The valve body is the central control of every automatic transmission. It is essentially a maze-like channel that transfers transmission fluid to several valves, which activate the appropriate band servo or clutch pack to shift smoothly to individual gears for each driving speed. So, if your reverse gear is not working in automatic or experiences a reverse delay, it indicates a lousy transmission valve body.

A faulty transmission position sensor: Automatic transmissions are equipped with transmission position sensors. The work of this sensor is to tell the powertrain control module (PCM) where the vehicle transmission should shift to in a specific gear (either drive or reverse).

If this electronic sensor starts failing or goes bad, it may prevent the car from going in reverse. It may also activate the limp mode, which means the car won’t select above 3rd gear.

The best way of finding out if you have a faulty transmission position sensor is by diagnosing your car. A faulty TPS will pop up P0705 diagnostic trouble code (DTC). Several other factors could trigger this code, so you need a certified mechanic to diagnose the specific cause of this code.

Defective shifter mechanism: A faulty shifter mechanism can cause your car not to go in reverse or hard transmission shifting. Often, it will be a hassle to shift the gear to reverse. It may feel like something is blocking the shifter from entering reverse – such issues or usually caused by bent or broken shifter cables or linkages. In any case, the problem can also result from worn-out shifter bushings that need replacement.

Worn Out transmission system: In a worst-case scenario, it might not be a single part or component that is causing your car not to enter reverse, but a dozen of your transmission parts that are wearing out due to age that is preventing you from moving in reverse. This is usually an expensive fix. It can cause you to rebuild or replace your entire transmission system.

You may be lucky to fix a worn-out transmission by servicing it and replacing a few defective components. But if after servicing and it refuses to move in reverse, you might have a critical issue at hand. The only option left may be to replace the entire transmission.

How do you fix a transmission that won’t reverse?

The transmission is one of the significant and most costly parts of a vehicle. And usually, continuous internal diagnosing requires taking out the entire transmission and disassembling it. If your vehicle refuses to move in reverse, it might be an internal problem.

But before taking your car to a dealership or mechanic, there are several possible things to try out. Let’s explore them.

why my car go in reverse but not drive

Step 1

Replace the transmission fluid and filter:  Replacing the transmission fluid and filter is one of the most straightforward jobs to do, and it doesn’t tear your pocket. It can solve the problem at hand. As we stated above, low or dirty transmission fluid can cause the transmission not to move in reverse. A bad transmission filter can cause it as well.

To fix this, inspect the transmission fluid color and level. If the color has changed, locate the draining plug and remove the oil. Use an oil pan to catch the old oil to avoid messing up the garage.

Lose the bolts surrounding the crankcase and remove them. Take off the transmission filter and replace it with a new one. (If your vehicle is manufactured before 2001, there’s a big chance it doesn’t have a transmission filter).

After draining out the transmission fluid and replacing the filter, refill the transmission through the dipstick.

Step 2

Examine the selector switch: Newer cars manufactured from 2001 have onboard computers that control various car components and their functions. The installed onboard computer controls car parts like the engine and transmission shifting. Suppose your transmission selector switch fails; it’ll not send a signal to the computer when the gear shifts to reverse.

This switch usually fails due to rust and corrosion. It can be pretty easy to fix by going from park to low quickly. Do this multiple times. Repeating this process can dislodge the rust or corrosion and enable the selector switch to send accurate readings to the computer.

Step 3

Examine the Clutch system: If you own a manual transmission, depress the clutch pedal a couple of times. Try releasing the clutch pedal gradually and shifting into reverse gear.

If, after trying this and transmission doesn’t engine in reverse, try switching off your engine while shifting into all the gears simultaneously.

If the gear enters reverse when the engine is turned off, you likely have a bad clutch, not the transmission.

Step 4

Look for leaks: It is essential to attend to leaks and fix this right away since it can leave your transmission dry, resulting in catastrophic damages. So, if your car is going to reverse but won’t drive, you need to look out for leaks.


Q: Can a bad transmission filter cause no reverse?

Since a transmission filter plays a vital role in the overall functionality of a transmission system, a clogged transmission filter will affect the way the transmission operates. It’s quite possible that it’s going to stop it from entering or moving in reverse gear.

However, a clogged transmission filter can indeed stop your car from moving in reverse, but it only happens in extreme cases. A more likely case is hard shifting gears and the chances of slipping out of reverse gear.

Q: What does it mean when your car won’t go in drive or reverse?

If you have ever noticed your vehicle won’t move when you put it in gear, you need to contact a certified mechanic for inspection. The possible causes of this effect could be late w transmission due to leaks, shifter cables, shifter, or it can even be as a result of a damaged valve body in automatic transmissions.

Q: Can low transmission fluid cause no reverse?

One of the first symptoms of low transmission fluid is hard shifting to reverse or potential slipping out of reverse. If you keep driving your car with a low transmission fluid for long, it will cause other problems with your transmission. The developed problems may prevent you from driving your car at all. Fixing it at this point will break your budget.

Q: Can a speed sensor cause no reverse?

A defective speed sensor can cause your car to fall into ‘fail safe’ or ‘limp home mode. A ‘fail safe’ or ‘limp home mode will not allow the transmission to go above 3rd gear. In any case, a faulty speed sensor will be accompanied by an illuminating warning light – usually a gear or wrench symbol.

Q: How much does it cost to fix reverse gear?

The actual cost of fixing a reverse gear depends on various factors, such as the cause of the problem, your vehicle makes and model, the dealership or mechanic you want to take it to. If a low or dirty transmission fluid is the culprit, you are lucky because it will cost you around $100-$200 to fix it.

Final Thoughts

This article has outlined reasons my car won’t go in reverse and offered a simplified guide on fixing it.

However, if all the steps above are unable to solve your transmission issues, quickly contact a dealership or a certified mechanic to assess your transmission and find out the actual cause of the problem.

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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