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

Last Updated on March 11, 2021

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.

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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.

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.

 

109 thoughts on “7 Causes of a Car That Won’t Go in Reverse”

  1. I have a 5 speed 07 Honda accord. I cannot just put it in reverse it doesn’t catch, but if I put it in 5th then reverse it tends to work. What could that be?

    Reply
    • I’m not entirely sure. My guess is it could be an issue with the shift fork or collar on that particular gear. Since 5th and reverse typically share a collar on a 5 speed manual, perhaps engaging 5th before reverse lines it up so it can go into reverse smoothly.

      Reply
  2. 07 avalanche. No warning no signs. Reverse doesn’t work. Sounds like something is engaging but nothing happens. All other gears work as should.

    Reply
    • Did you find the issue I have a 2009 Ford Fusion and it goes into reverse and I hear it go into reverse gear but it will not go back at all. I changed the speed sensor in and out put but nothing

      Reply
  3. hi can any one help
    Got bmw e36
    Had a leak in gearbox cooler had it replaced so now filled her up but only 3 quarts . Took it for a drive thinking it was full . What a mistake it defo needed more oil now my m8ts friend comes along telling me he worked at bmw and can reset gearbox with pedal test . So he did this next min we went for a drive the car totally wasn’t right really slipping to the point of more a less a stand still on a hill type road .
    Had gear light showing up so I pulled over turned off car .started and light went off but car wasn’t moving much just really struggled getting bk home 2 streets away . I got home but realised a really bad burning smell . The car now only moves in reverse perfectly its auto tyranny bmw e36 please can someone help thankyou

    Reply
  4. I have got a nissan Micra manual transmission sometimes it doesn’t go in reverse sometimes it does. what could be the problem?

    Reply
    • If you have a lockout ring, make sure it’s working properly. The clutch may need to be bled.

      Can you get into reverse if you shift into second, first, and then reverse? Some vehicles I’ve had are a little picky going into reverse unless you do a little dance with the shifter first.

      Reply
      • I have similar problem but my car is automatic. Es350 !! Now the reverse is working pretty well . Without me doing nothing!! Would the problem still come back ?

        Reply
        • Not sure, it might. Best to figure out what the issue is if you can.

          You’re going to probably have a hard time getting it diagnosed unless you’re able to consistently reproduce the issue. Is there anything you can do that will make you more likely to get locked out of reverse?

  5. My brakes went completely out on my automatic 97 Toyota Corolla 1.8L while pulling out of driveway in reverse. E brake didn’t work so I threw it into park. When I finally fixed the brakes I went to put it into gear and it wouldn’t go into reverse or drive. The shifter would move but it wouldn’t catch, just kept running like it was in park.

    Reply
    • I’m glad you were able to use the transmission to stop your car when the brakes failed. The transmission may be damaged from that incident. I would have the car inspected by a technician in person to see what the cause is.

      Reply
  6. My husband has noticed that his older VW Bug will not go into reverse very easily anymore, and he is trying to figure out the problem. Thanks for mentioning that it could be because the reverse gear is broken, and if that’s the case, the transmission has to be pulled so the gear can be replaced. Since I don’t think either of us knows how to do that, I’ll have to tell him to take it into professionals that can help fix it so he can stop worrying about it.

    Reply
  7. hi aim Dickson. i have voxy 2006 it developed a problem such that it can move forward but putting it on reverse gear it does not move.i have called technicians for diagnosis but they simply say i replace gearbox.what might be the problem

    Reply
  8. My 2006 Mustang convertible won’t always go in reverse and sometimes skips in other gears what could this be.

    Thanks

    Reply
    • I’m not sure. You’ll probably have to bring it by a transmission shop for a diagnosis. The low cost of a proper diagnosis is well worth the money.

      Reply
  9. I have an 2010 VW CC 2.0T that will not go reverse . I have to shut it down then turn it back on inorder for it to reset and go in reverse gear. If I’m lucky if I turn the wheel or if the car is moving back a bit it will grab but its rare.
    I read n seen on YouTube that it could be the solenoids or module.

    Reply
  10. Sean, the reason people look stuff up online is to avoid going to a transmission shop or to get a second opinion. So telling them to take it a transmission shop is redundant and unnecessary, lol.

    Reply
    • You’re right David, it does seem a bit silly. I know it’s a bit redundant, but I do think it’s necessary; diagnostics over the internet is impossible without sufficient information about the scope of the problem. When someone asks “my car won’t run right, what’s wrong with it?” (which is quite vague, and how a lot of questions sound to me), there’s not much I can do to assist them.

      What are the symptoms? How can the problem be replicated? Is the problem intermittent? What steps has the owner taken to troubleshoot the problem? Have they made any assumptions? Who had their hands on the vehicle up to this point, and did they reverse their changes when their work didn’t solve the problem? All this is important background information for effective troubleshooting.

      The last thing I want to do is point someone in the wrong direction by thinking I have an understanding of the problem, where in reality I only have a small piece of the puzzle. Diagnostic work is the hardest part of fixing cars. I am always happy to help people come up with ideas and solutions, but my assistance can only be as helpful as the question that was asked.

      Reply
  11. My car drives perfectly fine in drive, but when in reverse, ill give it gas and it wont move, it tries to but won’t, almost picks itself up. it wont push backwards in neutral either, any guess helps.

    Reply
    • I know this sounds silly, but make sure the parking brake isn’t engaged. Even if you have the handbrake fully lowered, the brakes may be stuck or the cables may need an adjustment.

      Reply
  12. I have my Mazda old model pickup the reverse gear does not engage totally how vacant you advice me.. only the reverse gear I took it to the fund is but tell me to exchange the gearbox it’s a manual car

    Reply
    • Check the basics such as clutch fluid level and clutch pedal height. Make sure you’re running the correct gear oil. If that all looks good, it may be an issue internal to the transmission that would require a rebuild or replacement.

      In your driveway, you could try playing with the shifter. Try shifting into first and then reverse (or first, second, then reverse). You may be able to find a pattern that’ll get you into reverse until the transmission can be repaired or replaced.

      5th and reverse often share the same collar on a 5 speed, so you could also try shifting into 5th then reverse.

      Can you get into reverse more easily when the gearbox is warm?

      Reply
  13. My 2002 Toyota Highlander won’t go into reverse when the engine is cold, but if I throttle the car high enough it reverses. Once the engine I has been running for sometime afterwards it goes in reverse. Sometimes when it goes in reverse successfully, it jerks with a loud noise. Other times it doesn’t. Reverse gear works well afterwards, until I park the car for some time again and the engine goes cold. I think it also affects other gears as I notice delayed shifting sometimes. With this detailed description, what could this be please?

    Reply
  14. I have an issue with 93 buick transmission. Its goes into drive fine. it will reverse on it’s own but not on an incline and pressing gas pedal for reverse has no effect. I am trying to figure out what might be the issue. Seems the issue is only with reverse.

    Reply
  15. What are the ballpark costs for these types of issues? I have 2009 Escape with 213k miles on it. Struggles to go in reverse or sometimes I step on the gas pedal to go forward and the vehicle feels like it just can’t get into gear. Worth fixing? Or would cost more than the 2k value of the car?

    Reply
    • Depends on what the issue is. If it’s something simple like a problem with the shifter linkage, it won’t be too expensive. If it requires a transmission replacement or rebuild, it could easily exceed the $2k value of the vehicle.

      Reply
  16. 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

    Reply
    • 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?

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

    Reply
    • 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.

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

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply

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