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

Last Updated on April 30, 2020

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.

#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.

 

Comments

    • 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

      Reply
      • my toyota axio 2007 is going forward when in reverse gear this happened after cleaning the transmission solenoids. What can be the problem?

        Reply
      • Hello,
        I have a 2006 Ford Expedition and a couple of days ago when I put in reverse does not want to go. The thing is not always sometimes will go back and won’t go. Do you think the problem is a transmission change or something else?
        Thanks for reply.

        Reply
        • i had the same problem and i spent 400 for nothing but i came to find out that it was the transfer case

    • Thanks my car was only moving in drive but not reversing. After reading through Google I was advised to check transmission fluid. I did and found very low transmission fluid , I had to top up , than it started moving I reverse as well. thanks for your help.

      Reply
  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.

    Reply
  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

    Reply
  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.

    Reply
  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?

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
  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….

    Reply
  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.

    Reply
  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

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

      Reply
      • Thanks for the information provided. I have some questions. I recently changed my faulty rings. After the change, the mechanic discovered the car was not selecting reverse. The car can only drive but can’t reverse. I did not have this reverse challenge before the rings were changed. Could the damage have developed from the ringing done? Is there a connection between ringing the car engine and the gear box? Is it advisable to drive the car when it doesn’t reverse at all? I suspect maybe something was tampered with when the rings in the engine were being changed that probably affected the gear box. The car is a Pontiac.. Thank you for your anticipated response.

        Reply
  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?

    Thanks

    Reply
    • My husband has a 2007 Acura TL. Originally the car would not drive forward only in reverse. We changed the transmission fluid and soon after realized there was a small leak in the transmission. We fixed the leak but now the car is only driving forward and not driving reverse. We changed fluids and filters, along with reprogramming the car…. nothing seems to be helping. Can anyone tell me what the problem could be?

      Reply
  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

    Reply
  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.

    Reply
  11. 06 Ford F350 Selector indicator works fine . Truck in park Turn it On And engages In a forward gear. Move shifter to the R Still goes forward. Basically of gears are forward gears No matter where shifter Is moped to. Put it back in park with the foot Brake activated It will go into limp Mode it will not accelerate.

    Reply
    • Hey I have 2005 Chrysler 300 touring. I got,in the car this,morning to,leave,for work and my car will go in reverse but when you give it gas to,back put it won’t go. When your driving down the road by car shifts fine

      Reply
  12. Hi. I drive a 1995 be fox. Couple of days ago it just did not want to engage reverse gear, if I engage reverse gear it actually goes into first gear… What can be the problem? Please any assistance will be appreciated

    Reply
  13. Hi. I drive a Mitsubishi outlander 2006 year model automatic.It doesn’t want to take reverse but when I put it on drive there’s no problem

    Reply
  14. Hello i have a problem about mercedez ,at first it cant move when you shift into reverse or drive.. We replace all the clutch linings inside.. After that.. Drive will work properly only reverse cant work.. What the possible problem

    Reply
  15. hello i drive a volkswagen passat b3 2003 automatic gear box and I have a problem with my car, when I start on reverse without accelerating the car goes back (5-6kmh) after the engine of the car warm up,but if I want to accelerate it, the reverse gear releases. in the ‘D’ position has no problem with speed everything is ok.

    Reply
  16. I have a 2003 GMC Sierra 2500 6.0L and I went to go in reverse and the truck does not move. It makes a grinding noise around transfer case area. Other than that it drives fine. Only reverse. Any ideas?

    Reply
  17. My Truck Drives But It’s Hesitant & It Won’t Reverse At All. Would That Be A Part On The Transmission Or The Transmission Itself ? I Wanted To Be Sure Before I Replace The Transmission & Didn’t Have To Because I’m On A Budget.

    Reply
  18. Hi, delete if not appropriate….. I bought a car last Monday 24th Feb, from a second hand car dealer, next day found 3 faults with it and the dealer dragged their heels in wanting to fix it, however managed to get it in today Thursday 4th March, they have now told me they don’t know when they can fix it ( 12 mths warranty)….they have given me a courtesy car it is an 18 yr old VW golf GTI 2.0 engine, that had been re modified with 6 gears and only discovered when i got home that the reverse gear did not work . Should this dealer have given me this car in the first place? not answering phone calls or replying to emails and i want to know where i stand before i confront them.

    Reply
  19. My Toyota sienna 04 model started and when I put it in reverse it dies off and can’t start again. I tried changing the battery, yet it won’t start. I repaired the key starter yet it can’t. I tried pushing it backwards it won’t move but it moves when pushed forward… The engine cant roll manually . checked sparked plugs already. The check engine light was on for 2weeks.

    Reply
  20. I am trying to figure out what is wrong with my Mercury Mountaineer I can put it in reverse but in won’t back up but it drives fine it drive what is the cause!

    Reply
  21. 03 GMC pickup automatic, I was backing up a small incline when a bang like I ran into something so I pulled back down and now my pickup want backup, goes forward and changes gears slower. Make whining noise when in reverse

    Reply
  22. When push my gear selector to reverse it doesn’t pick for a while and gear 4 and 5 seems not to be selecting, my car is automatic

    Reply
    • Check to see if there are any codes related to the transmission control module (TCM). Check the transmission fluid, make sure it is topped off and doesn’t look too dirty or smell burnt.

      Reply
  23. I have a 04 chevy trailblazer and was going down the interstate and it stops pulling and engine revs up so i pull over and now i dont have any gear or reverse what is the problem with my vehicle bc its my only transportation?

    Reply
    • Hey Ray, there’s not enough information in the description to really know for sure. I would have the vehicle towed to a mechanic for a diagnosis of the problem.

      Reply
    • Unfortunately that’s going to be hard to diagnose without being there in person. I advise you to take it to a nearby shop to have it looked at.

      Reply
  24. My car Hyundai sonata 2006 model is having a gear problem, sometimes it won’t enter drive or neutral but it can enter reverse often, please what could be the problem.

    Reply
  25. 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
  26. 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
  27. 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
  28. 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
  29. 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

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