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. Many drivers (car enthusiasts in particular) like to back into a parking space before they park.

When your car won’t go in reverse, then it will likely be stuck wherever it’s parked. You’ll have no other choice but to figure out what the problem is and fix it on location or call a tow truck to take it to a auto repair or transmission repair shop.

Top 7 Reasons Your Car Won’t Go In Reverse

#1 – 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.

#2 – Faulty Transmission Position Sensor (Automatic)

set gear to park

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.

#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.

#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.

#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.



    • My 08 f-150 with the 4.6 engine made a loud bang while reversing my trailer. ( thought I backed into something)
      Shortly after it would try moving back when shifting into reverse but very little power to the wheels
      Like a clutch is slipping
      Like to have a answer since I thought those transmissions were very strong and dependable

  1. I have an automatic trans. Sometimes will go in reverse, sometimes won’t. Had fluid and filter changed. Is my transmission going? How much low and high to fix.

  2. am so greatful that I had same of reverse gear problem of my car not moving even after enggeging but after reading this I agree with you. I say thanks in advance n and God bless yu

  3. I think this answers my concern in a way.
    my car is Vitz. It does not move when in reverse but forward it goes.

  4. Have a Mazda6 2003 was hit while parked. Hit just before the back tire on drivers side. Tire has gone flat. When put in reverse it backs up couple of feet and then the rear end lifts up and stops. Could you explain whats wrong please?

    • Something is likely bent. Could be suspension, axle, etc. You’ll need to get it towed to a shop or have a mobile mechanic get under and take a look.

  5. I started my ’06 uplander put it in reverse, back out. Went to shift in to drive from steering column, would not move from reverse to drive. Shut car off, then car would not start….

  6. I have a Kia Rio 2006 but it doesn’t enter drive but reverse.and if I put on the last gear which is L, it moves but I can’t run with it.

  7. I have a 2007 Volkswagen Jetta that won’t go in reverse but drives forward. But while driving forward it slips a little bit at times. Please advise what and how to fix this problems or do my car need a transmission replacement? Thanks

    • It’s difficult to say. How’s the level and condition of your transmission fluid? Any DTC codes from a diagnostic scan?

  8. I have a A727 in a 1985 Dodge Ram w100. It was rebuilt about 200 miles ago but it has been 6 years since the rebuild. The transmission will go into reverse then slam to a halt. In neutral it rolls forward. The other gears work fine. Neutral and reverse have issues. Could this be a valve body failure. The mechanic that rebuilt it said it had a cracked valve body and replaced it. Well it doing it again and of course not in shop warranty. Any ideas?


  9. Hi , I m using Mazda 5, 2005, there is problem with the gearbox reverse. then I used the treament oil, it’s run smoothly, but after 2 months it’s go back to the same problem. So I bring it to the workshop, they give me 2 options , 1. Get the treament oil, 2. Replace gearbox ( it may cost 1 to 2 thousand ), any advice, thank you . From JC

  10. Good day , I have automatic car, Toyota Camry, model 2002. The problem with the car is that when driving the car, it will change from gear 1 to 2 normally but refuses to change from gear 2 to 3. In fact when I apply the accelerator , the car will moving slowly as if I am gear 1. I just changed the transmission fluid three days ago. The mechanic saw some grind particles in the ATF and he said we need change the fibre. I don’t what is really wrong.

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