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

Last Updated on June 14, 2022

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.

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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.

Read Also: Common Signs of a Bad Neutral Safety Switch

#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.

 

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

  1. 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
  2. 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
  3. 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
  4. 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.

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
  5. 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.

    Reply
  6. 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?

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
  7. 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

    Reply
  8. 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

    Reply
    • 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?

      Reply

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