7 Causes of a Car That Won’t Go in Reverse

A car’s transmission is one of the most important components of any car. You simply can’t operate a motor vehicle without the gears functioning as they should be. But sometimes, you may encounter an issue that causes one or more of the gears to malfunction.

The reverse gear in particular, is easy to take for granted. When we want to back out of a driveway or parking space, we simply put the car in “reverse” and go. But what happens when you can’t?

Keep reading to learn the most common causes of a car that won’t go into reverse.

car won't go in reverse

Related: Reverse Lights Not Working? (Here’s Why)

Top 7 Reasons Your Car Won’t Go In Reverse

#1 – Faulty Transmission Position Sensor (Automatic)

Sometimes it’s best to start at the source. When your shift automatic transmission car into reverse using the shift lever, an electronic sensor tells the powertrain control module that the vehicle’s transmission should be shifted into reverse.

If this sensor begins to fail or suffers a malfunction, it may not allow the car to shift in reverse. It may often place the car into limp mode where you won’t be able to shift above 3rd gear.

Look for a check engine light and look for any corresponding trouble codes via a car diagnostic tool to confirm the issue.

Read Also: Common Signs of a Bad Neutral Safety Switch

#2 – Low Transmission Fluid (Manual or Automatic)

signs of low transmission fluid

If you have a low amount of transmission fluid in your vehicle, you could have problems reversing your vehicle. Low transmission fluid can cause all kinds of problems with the gears, such as gear slippage, shifting problems, and overheated gears.

It’s possible that your reverse gear might have been affected by overheating if your transmission doesn’t have enough fluid in it to lubricate and keep the internal gears and components cool.

If the transmission fluid is low, top off the fluid to see if that fixes the problem and look for signs of a transmission fluid leak.

In cases of having low fluid, you will likely experience shifting problems with other gears as well. So if your car won’t go in reverse but drives fine otherwise, it’s still worth it to check the fluid level but the cause is likely something else.

#3 – Worn Out Valve Body (Automatic)

symptoms of bad transmission valve body

Every automatic transmission has a valve body. This is large, maze-like component that directs the flow of hydraulic fluid to the valves. This is what allows a car to smoothly shift gears whenever the situation calls for it.

In case of a bad transmission valve body, you may experience delayed shifting into reverse or simply nothing happening after shifting in reverse and stepping on the gas.

#4 – Faulty Shifter Mechanism (Manual)

manual transmission hard to shift

When your car won’t go in reverse with a manual transmission and is hard to shift, a malfunction within the shifter is usually to blame. Sometimes it may take a lot of effort to put the shifter into reverse or it feels like something is blocking it from going into the reverse slot.

Most often the problem is with the shifter linkage or cables as something is bent or broken. On some cars, the shifter bushings are the culprit and replacing them is a good first (and cheap) step to fixing the issue.

Read Also: Bad Clutch Fork Symptoms and Replacement Cost

#5 – Dirty Transmission Fluid or Filter (Manual or Automatic)

symptoms of low transmission fluid

Sometimes the transmission fluid gets contaminated with enough hardened deposits or other gunk that it actually affects a vehicle shifting into reverse or other gears.

While not that common of an issue, changing the transmission fluid and filter (if your car has one) is a cheap course of action.

Check the condition of your transmission fluid (see our color chart) to see if it needs to be replaced. Even if that doesn’t fix the reverse gear issue, you may have prevented future transmission problems.

#6 – Broken Teeth on Reverse Gear (Manual or Automatic)

damaged transmission gears

This most commonly occurs with manual transmission cars due to driver abuse or those learning to drive a stick shift and not properly shifting gears. Often, you will hear clicking noises or a really loud clunk when you try to shift into reverse.

Unfortunately, there is no easy fix for this and the transmission has to get pulled and the gear replaced.

Related: Helical vs Straight Cut Gears

#7 – Faulty Lockout Ring (Manual)

bad reverse lockout ring

The purpose of a lockout ring is to prevent you from accidentally shifting into reverse while the car is moving forward (which would be extremely dangerous and cause serious transmission damage).

If the lockout ring is somehow damaged or misaligned, it can prevent you from shifting into reverse even at a standstill.

See Also: What Does “Park Assist Blocked” Mean?

Mark Stevens


  1. My sons Chrysler (2019) with 62,000 was diagnosed with burnt transmission fluid. We have a ticket with Chrysler,I hope they do something about this as I find it unacceptable! He owes money on the car and he can’t even drive it. The car shifts so hard and I was almost stuck trying to get out of a parking space after I had it looked at. NOT COOL CHRYSLER!!!

    1. These things happen with age and use, though I’m surprised the transmission fluid is bad at only 62,000 miles.

  2. 2007 Mercury Mountaineer. big clunk when shifting into reverse, but wont move. drives and shifts fine in drive. is there a chance only reverse gear needs to be worked on? Could it be linkage for reverse?

    1. Sounds like you might need a transmission rebuild or replacement to fix that one. It would be best to take the car to a transmission shop to have them look at it and determine what’s wrong.

  3. I have a Saturn l300 series it will go forward but not back up but when I shift it go in reverse but won’t move.

  4. My Honda airwave auto is engaging in reverse gear but it is not powerful, still while I engage D as I start moving it wants to stall but picks and becomes OK,help

  5. Mitsubishi cult 55 plate

    Sometimes it doesn’t directly slot into R gear. If I go into first gear then R it will work.
    Any ideas please?
    Only just passed my test and got the car 😬

  6. Toyota Camry 2012 – Auto transmission.
    Step on brakes, shift into reverse, gear engages.
    Step off brakes, gear disengages after a second or two.
    Still in reverse, step on brakes, gear engages.
    Step off brakes, gear disengages.

    Transmission works perfectly well in forward gears (drive)

    What could be the problem please?
    It is important to note that transmission oil has just been changed recently after mechanic noticed it was overdue for change. Oil color had turned dark.

    1. Any chance there could be air in the transmission fluid lines or the valve body? I’d take it back to the mechanic who changed the transmission fluid and describe the problem to them. See if they are able to replicate it, and what they recommend.

  7. Toyota Tacoma, in reverse gear does not move when cold but all the forward gears move. What could the problem please?

    1. My Tacoma will not go in reverse The fuse keeps blowing. When I replace it works fine for 3 days and blows again. But notice my brake lights don’t work.

      1. Sounds like you have a short somewhere if the fuse keeps blowing. Something is getting power that shouldn’t be, or is getting too much power. This could happen if part of the insulation in the wiring harness is worn away. I would take a look at the wiring diagram for the reverse circuit and see if there could be damage to a wire near the reverse lights, possibly in the taillight housing.

  8. I have a Renault Koleos automatic, and when I try to drive off, it won’t take off by putting the normal gradual pressure… It takes really putting my foot down to make it move and even then the engine sounds like it’s struggling. When I break it also sounds as though it’ll stall but doesn’t. When trying to reverse, similar scenario, takes a lot of pressure on the accelerator to make the car move and when it does it’s a fast, jerky motion. Is this transmission? It’s this likely to cost me in the thousands to repair?

    1. Does the car rev freely in neutral or park? If not, I would suspect an engine issue. If it revs freely, I would be inclined to blame the transmission. How does it idle in neutral or park? Does it sound rough or act like it wants to stall?

  9. My Toyota G touring when parked for long hours develops issues with delayed Reversing.When the vehicle is in motion for a duration of 1 hour plus it has no issues with reversing and its actually picks very fast.
    When parked for short durations like 1 hour or 2 after a journey the reverse picks well.
    In the morning i switch the engine and engage to reverse and could move after 10 to 15 minutes.What is the cause this

    1. Are you saying the car creeps more slowly in reverse sometimes? Or does it take a long time for the transmission to shift after you have selected reverse?

  10. Park the car on a small hill but push the button in to bring back into reverse the button will not go in to bring into reverse is 1st period

    1. Are you able to shift into reverse and 5th by shifting into another gear first, then one of those two gears?

      I suspect there’s an issue with the cable linkage that is either preventing the shifter from reaching those gears on the right. There could also be an issue on the inside of the transmission, as 5th and reverse tend to share the same selector fork and/or collar on many 5 speeds.

  11. 09 Ford Ranger. Put it in reverse svd truck just sat there, didn’t move when I pressed gas turned it off and back on, when I put it in reverse, it made a loudish thump, but went in reverse. Any ideas?

    1. It does sound like a transmission issue, but I’m afraid I couldn’t tell you anything more specific than that. It might be wise to have a transmission shop take a look at it.

  12. I bought a Civic years ago with Manual Transmission that wouldn’t lock out reverse gear, eventually it would not go into reverse at all and the gearbox, specifically I think reverse gear had to be rebuilt, after which reverse gear locks out as it should, but occasionally it still seems to struggle to get into reverse, feels like it gets 3/4’s of the way there but won’t actually go in, go back to neutral and try again and it always goes in? Only thing not replaced/repaired in the transmission system is the slave cylinder.

  13. Have manual chevette transmission. Will not go into reverse- forward gears work fine. Any solutions

  14. Car will not go in reverse..but drives forward….some times when driving it drags and goes forward.


    1. You’ll probably have to take the vehicle in to get that fixed at a local shop. That doesn’t sound like something most people would be able to fix in their own garage.

  15. Hi, thank you for this list. 1997 Dodge Caravan 3.0L V6 – transmission fluid levels are fine, healthy colour. Might be 41AE/TE transmission code.

    Vehicle needs to be warm into order for reverse gear to catch. In the colder months, I would shift into reverse, give it a big of gas and a loud clunk when it gear engages.

    After 1 week of no driving today, drive gear wouldn’t catch. Gave it some gas in neutral, went between reverse, neutral and drive and drive worked again in 2 mins. No problems at all going between gears when driving.

    Solenoid control pack? Thank you in advance.

    1. Possibly. It sounds like something is getting stuck when it’s cold out. I’m not sure if that would be due to contamination or lack of lubrication in the component.

  16. All the gears on mazda 323 works well except the reverse gear , it look like something block the gear to go into reverse.

    1. I’m not sure. Check the shift cable and shifter linkage, see if there are any problems with those. If you don’t see anything obviously out of place you may have to run the car to a transmission shop to have them check it out.

  17. Toyota Yaris auto shifts into reverse position but will not engage reverse gear. All forward gears work fine. What could be the problem?

    1. Could be a solenoid in the valve body, could be a problem with the clutches or gears in the transmission. Not sure, you’ll probably have to get it diagnosed at a transmission shop.

  18. My mazda3 2005 don’t move when you put in reverse position.. but when you put it on neutral it move forqard..please answer thank you

    1. Sounds like it may be an issue with the shifter linkage, where “neutral” on the stick lines up with drive. I’m assuming this is an automatic?

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