Does your car refuse to go in reverse? Well, that makes it pretty impossible to drive. Failing transmission problems not only put a damper on your driving experience, they can cause permanent damage . If your car won’t go in reverse, that makes it dangerous for you as well as other drivers. If you have this problem and want to find out how to fix it, read on.
The Reverse Gear
The reverse gear is designed to propel the car backward. This feature is needful for several reasons. However, all cars have not had reverse. Many models in the 1950s had no reverse. The bubble cars by Isetta, Heinkel and Messerschmitt also had no reverse gear. If these cars were blocked in, the driver had to wait for help to get out of the jam. Some reverseless cars, like the Kleinschnittger F125, were extremely light weight. Instead of backing up, you picked up the rear end and walked the car around to the new direction.
Today, the reverse gear is a standard feature. It would be pretty difficult to find a car with no reverse gear. If you did, it would be illegal to operate it in traffic. Although all cars now have a reverse gear, the gear does not always function as it should. When the modern automobile cannot operate in reverse gear, it becomes a safety hazard.
Causes of Car that Won’t Go in Reverse
The transmission is the second most important component of the automobile, next to the engine. The point of the automobile is to be able to move from one place to another. The purpose of the transmission is to define that movement by speed and direction. The transmission system is different between the manual and automatic systems. When the speed and direction cannot be controlled in either design, problems arise that make the car unsafe to drive. Here are the most common causes of a car that won’t go into reverse gear:
Low, dirty transmission fluid – Transmission fluid is very important to the internal combustion engine. The transmission fluid lubricates the transmission parts and also keeps the system cool. The transmission fluid absorbs the heat and transfers it to the radiator. The transmission fluid is hydraulic, so it helps the process of gear shifting. Further, the transmission fluid is used by the torque converter to form hydraulic circuits that transfer the rotational force between the engine and transmission. The use of transmission fluid reduces instances of slippage as well as helps the transfer of power to the engine. You may smell a burning odor from the friction when the transmission fluid is low. When the transmission fluid is low, the transmission can overheat, the gears can slip, and your car will not go into reverse.
You should not have to change and add transmission fluid periodically like you do oil. A major reason for low transmission fluid is a leak, The fluid could be leaking from many places, including the transmission pan gasket or loose seals. You may see some fluid on the ground under your car. A transmission leak automatically means you’ll have low transmission fluid.
Dirty transmission fluid creates similar problems. The fluid becomes contaminated by hardened deposits and corrodes parts of the system. When the fluid is dirty or contaminated, it usually turns color from a bright red to darker shades. This problem can persist when the filter needs to be changed.
Bad Transmission Position Sensor – The transmission position sensors throw codes to notify that the throttle parts or the transmission is not performing. When the automatic transmission is shifted into reverse, the sensor notifies the powertrain that the transmission should shift in to reverse. If the sensor does not notify, the transmission does not know to shift to reverse. Instead, the car is placed into Limp mode, which prevents the car from shifting above third gear. When this happens, usually your check engine light will activate.
Broken teeth in reverse gear – In the manual transmission, hard driving can cause broken teeth in the gears. When broken teeth occurs in the reverse gear, it can prevent operating in reverse. Shifting gears can be dome gently or harshly, the latter of which can cause damage. You may hear loud clunking noises when you try to change gears. When the reverse gear teeth are broken, you can still drive in forward gears with no problem, you just can’t drive in reverse. Once the gear teeth are damaged, the entire gear must be replaced. This means the whole transmission must be removed to fix the gear.
Worn Valves – In the automatic transmission, there is a valve body. The valve body directs the hydraulic fluid flows to the valves. When this works properly, you are able to shift gears. When the valve body is not working properly, shifting in any gear may be delayed. You may not be able to shift at all, including reverse.
Transmission overheat – Transmission overheat occurs when the amount of transmission fluid is not the recommended amount and the car is still being driven in this state. When the transmission has failed, you will not be able to change gears at all, lest more go in reverse.
Transmissions will usually overheat when there are major fluid and cooling problems. The normal or recommended temperature of the transmission fluid should remain at all times. When the transmission is overheated the seals harden, the clutch will slip, and components of the system become tarnished. You will smell a burning odor as the friction increases heat. Transmission overheat is not something you want to ignore. If not addressed right away, your entire transmission will have to be replaced.
Bad solenoid – The transmission solenoid also helps your car shift gears. When you are about to shift gears, the solenoid receives a signal which regulates the transmission fluid. When the solenoid doesn’t work, problems arise with shifting to any gear. Diagnosing and repairing the solenoid is a very complicated process and should only be done by a professional.
Bad speed sensor – the speed sensor is a magnetic sensor which identifies the speed you are going by counting the revolutions in the transmission. The counting is then transmitted to the control unit to allow you to shift gears. When the speed sensor goes bad, your shifting may become wild or you may not be able to shift at all.
Bad transmission selector switch – This is one of the most common reasons why your car won’t go into reverse. The transmission selector switch also sends messages to your car’s computer whenever you need to shift gears. When the switch does not send the signal that you need to go in reverse, your gear will not respond. The switch goes bad usually from wear and tear and also from corrosion.
Bad gasket – Worn seals and gaskets are major reasons why your transmission system has trouble. When the gasket is worn, it could stop your car from going in to reverse. When the gasket is worn, it must be replaced.
Bad clutch – When the reverse goes in manual transmissions, check the clutch (view on Amazon). The clutch depends on friction to engage and disengage the transmission. The clutch is used so much in the manual transmission, it can easily become damaged or just worn out. The clutch may be noisy or your car may refuse to go in to any gear. The most common reason is a loss of friction, which is needed for the gears to engage. However, there are several reasons why the clutch is no longer working.
Wear and tear – Sometimes the transmission components are just worn out. If the car is old or driven frequently, some components wear out and cause problems. Pressure is no longer building up in the transmission fluid and the reverse gear is one of the first to be affected. When the components of the transmission system are worn, you may be able to drive for a while, but soon bigger problems will develop. One of the first will be the reverse gear. This is why it’s important to maintain your vehicle so that you don’t have to problems like this.
If you want to avoid transmission problems or other issues and save $100s of dollars that you’ll spend at the auto repair shop, you’ll need to service your vehicle often – you can use our mechanic-rated Auto Maintenance and Repair Manual to do this. It’s basically what mechanics use to go through your vehicle to check if there are any problems that need fixing. As soon as they notice the most minor problem, they’ll ask you to fork out some money even though it’s a problem you can fix yourself in minutes – the manual will teach you how to maintain your vehicle every few thousand miles and it’ll teach you how to fix minor problems that mechanics will ask you to pay for; saving you money in the long run.
A lot of our readers have the Auto Maintenance and Repair Manual printed on their garage wall and 92% of them haven’t visited the auto repair shop in the last year because they know what to do to avoid problems. All it takes is giving your vehicle a little attention every few thousand miles and you’ll never spend money at the workshop again.
What to Do for Car Won’t Go in Reverse
The transmission system in your car is complex with many parts that work together to allow you to change gears. That complex system includes your car’s computer that helps regulate your transmission’s health. When the gears don’t work, it could be for a number of reasons. Here are the most common things to do when your car won’t go in reverse:
Use an OBD2 Scanner – If you are still not sure why your car won’t go in reverse, or you don’t have a transmission dipstick, use an OBD2 Scanner (view on Amazon) the problem. The P0868 “Transmission Fluid Pressure Low” will tell you there is an issue with the transmission fluid level or pressure. The powertrain has detected that there is a problem with the transmission fluid pressure, that it is either too high or too low. This code means there could be a transmission fluid problem due to a leak, engine overheat, or a problem with the transmission temperature sensor or high pressure pump. The check engine light is also activated with this code. These “P”codes are universal, which means they apply to all makes and models.
Check the transmission fluid level – The transmission fluid typically does not have to be changed or topped off all of the time. When the fluid does get low for whatever reason, problems arise. The first thing to check if your gears are not working is the transmission fluid level. This could save you a lot of money in the long run. Also check for any leaks or spillage of transmission fluid on the ground under your car. If the transmission fluid is low, add what is needed to top off and see if you still have the problem.
Change the transmission pan gasket – Another solution to try before you agree to major surgery on your car is to change the transmission pan (view on Amazon) gasket. Many times, it is the pan gasket that has the transmission fluid leak. The pan gasket can be replaced with little effort. You can check in your owner’s manual or call to find out about the seal replacement. If you are not sure about the procedure, take your car in for the service. While replacing the pan gasket, you should also have the axle seals inspected.
Bleed the clutch – The clutch must work perfectly in the manual transmission in order for you to drive. When there is air in the hydraulic system, gear shifting becomes hard or impossible. Bleeding the clutch means removing the air from the hydraulic system. To remove the air from the hydraulic, use a vacuum pump to push the air through the fluid line to the bleeder valve. You can use a clear tube to see the air leave the system.