7 Causes of a Car That Won’t Go in Reverse (and What You Should Do)

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.

Table of Contents

Top 7 Reasons Your Car Won’t Go In Reverse

#1 – Low Transmission Fluid (Manual or Automatic)

signs of low transmission fluidsigns 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 parkset 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 bodysymptoms 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 shiftmanual 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 fluidsymptoms 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 gearsdamaged 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 ringbad 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.

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