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7 Reasons Why Your Car Won’t Go in Reverse & How to Fix-featured-image

7 Reasons Why Your Car Won’t Go in Reverse & How to Fix

A car that won’t go in reverse is a sign that something is wrong with your car’s transmission system.  Getting the gearbox back to normal can be as easy as replacing transmission fluid or as involved as a complete tear-down repair.  We’ll explore some common transmission problems and their solutions.  While no one wants a transmission problem, read on to be prepared if you have a car that won’t go into reverse.  

What Does It Mean When Your Car Won’t Go In Reverse but Drives Fine

A car that won’t go into reverse is frustrating at best and may even be a safety hazard if you’re unable to back out of a dangerous situation.  In some cases, the car will not go into reverse gear at all, but you can engage a forward gear and drive on.  Other times, you may be able to engage the reverse gear, but your car will not back up.  

Until it doesn’t work, you’ll likely take the reverse gear for granted.  Think about how you drive out of a garage or parking space. Of course, if reverse is not working, then backing into a parking spot is impossible as well.   With this in mind, let’s look at common reasons why a car will not go in reverse and possibles fixes.

3 Common Reasons Why Your Automatic Transmission Car Won't Reverse and How to Fix

When reverse doesn’t work with an automatic transmission, there are a few things to first look at.  In some instances, no reverse gear in an automatic transmission can be corrected with simple, low-cost remedies.  Other times, the services of a professional mechanic will be required.

Low Transmission Fluid

An automatic transmission that won’t go in reverse is just one symptom of a low transmission fluid level.  You may notice fluctuating shifting or an engine that overheats or stalls.  Weird things happen when your car’s systems have to work harder than they are supposed to.  This situation, which also affects manual transmissions, results from gears not getting proper lubrication from a low fluid level.

Correcting Low Transmission Fluid

Check for low fluid by looking at the transmission dipstick.  Look in the owner’s manual if you are uncertain about its location or how it works.  The fluid is best checked when the engine is hot, and the transmission is in neutral.  Importantly, be sure to set the parking brake and be aware of any moving parts under the hood.  

While you might be tempted just to add transmission fluid, it’s best to replace what’s remaining as well as the filter.  These steps will remove any contamination and help with the transmission’s longevity.  This is also an excellent time to see if there is a puddle of transmission fluid on the ground where you usually park.  If so, the low fluid level is caused by a transmission leak, such as a bad gasket, which should be looked at right away by a mechanic.  Keep in mind that transmission fluid may be referred to as hydraulic fluid.

Bad Transmission Selector Sensor

When shifting into reverse, a sensor signals the drivetrain control module to activate the reverse gear.  A faulty sensor will prevent this from happening, and you may see a check engine light in the instrument cluster.  If your car won’t back up in reverse and won’t go beyond third gear in forward, then a bad sensor is the likely culprit. 

Fixing A Bad Transmission Selector Sensor

Usually, you can confirm a bad transmission selector switch by looking at your car’s diagnostic codes.  This is a repair best left to professionals.

Dirty Transmission Fluid

Just as you learned what happens with low transmission fluid, dirty fluid, or a clogged filter can cause similar transmission troubles and create a car that won’t back up in reverse.  Improper lubrication from old fluid or debris in contaminated fluid will affect how the transmission shifts into reverse or other gear.  Dirty fluid usually happens from corrosion, when a defective gasket allows outside contaminants, or the fluid itself begins to break down and form sludge.  Of course, this situation can also happen with a manual transmission.

Replacing Dirty Transmission Fluid

This easy fix involves draining the dirty fluid and refilling the transmission with the correct fluid for your car. Replace the filter at the same time.  Your owner’s manual will tell you what fluid and filter to use, or your local mechanic can take care of this for you.

4 Possible Reasons Why Your Manual Car Won’t Shift Into Reverse and How to Fix

While there are some common trouble spots for automatic and manual transmissions, problems with a manual transmission that won’t go into reverse may be caused by issues you don’t see with an automatic.  Let’s review some common situations that may result in a car that won’t go into reverse manually.

Faulty Shifter Mechanism

When the gear shifter on a manual transmission won’t go into reverse or is very hard to move, you can likely blame a faulty shifter linkage which is a cable that connects the gear selector to the transmission.

Fixing a Faulty Shifter Mechanism

You’ll want the help of a mechanic experienced with transmission repair, but repairing or replacing the shifter linkage is a relatively minor fix compared to other transmission problems.

Damaged Reverse Gear

While not unheard of with an automatic, a damaged reverse gear is usually caused by a careless or inexperienced driver when shifting a manual transmission.  The gnashing of gears you may hear can mean teeth on the reverse or forward gears have been damaged, making the regular operation of the transmission impossible.

Replacing a Damaged Reverse Gear

The only solution for fixing a damaged reverse gear is removing and disassembling the transmission.  Through this process, performed by an experienced mechanic, the broken gear is replaced.

Defective Lockout Ring

A lockout ring prevents a driver from accidentally shifting into reverse while still moving forward, a transmission-destroying event.  A damaged or misaligned lockout ring may be why your car won’t reverse.

Repairing a Defective Lockout RIng

Repairing a defective manual transmission lockout ring is best left to a professional. 

Bad Clutch

Sooner or later, a manual transmission will need clutch work.  It’s not a question of if, but when. So, add a bad clutch to the list of reasons why your car won’t reverse.

Fixing a Bad Clutch

If your manual transmission won’t shift into reverse, try pumping the clutch a few times to build up pressure.  If this doesn’t help, turn off the engine and shift through gears, including into reverse.  If you are able to engage reverse this way, you know that the clutch needs attention.

How Much Does It Cost to Fix a Car That Doesn’t Reverse?

As we’ve covered, there can be many reasons why a car won’t go in reverse or drive.  Simple fixes like replacing the transmission fluid and filter may run $20-$30 if you take the DIY approach, while minor adjustments may only run $100-$200.  Of course, complex repairs for a reverse gear not working can run from $1,000-$3,000.  And that high-end is the starting point to replace an entire transmission.

Final Points on Reverse Gear Issues

Along with the engine, a car’s transmission is the most complex part of a vehicle.  Overcoming problems like a manual or automatic transmission that won’t go in reverse should begin by looking at simple causes like replacing the fluid and filter.  While transmission repair can be expensive, understand that sometimes dealing with a car that won’t reverse may only involve a minor adjustment or small part replacement.

Quiker’s Mobile Mechanic Service

Quiker’s mobile mechanic service is the auto repair shop that comes to you.  This is especially handy when you can’t drive your car or don’t want to deal with a towing service.  Our professional technician can meet you just about anywhere and can diagnose the problem.  Quiker is also a time-saving solution for car maintenance tasks like oil changes and tire rotation.  Learn all that Quiker can do, contact us today.

FAQs Related to Reverse Gear Not Engaging

Let’s look at some common questions about when a car won’t go in reverse.

What should I do when my Chevy truck won’t go in reverse?

As with any vehicle,  a Chevy truck that won’t go in reverse means it’s a transmission issue.  Start with the basics like checking the transmission fluid.  From there, you’ll likely want to get help from a mechanic, as most types of transmission repair are beyond simple wrenching.  Of course, this can happen to Ford trucks, too!

My car won’t go in reverse but will go in drive. What could the problem be?

Asking “My car won’t reverse, but will go forward” means first checking that the transmission fluid is at the correct level and is not dirty.  From there, go over the common problems that we outlined earlier.  

What does it mean when your car is cold and won’t go in reverse?

Winter weather can wreak havoc on a car, especially its transmission.  Frigid weather can affect the clutch in an automatic transmission to the point when a gear change is not possible. And, yes, an automatic transmission has a clutch; it’s just an internal component that a driver doesn’t interact with.  When it’s cold outside, and the car won’t go in reverse, talk with your local repair shop, or mobile mechanic, to see if a clutch replacement is needed.

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