Automatic Transmission Won’t Go in Gear- Troubleshooting

Nothing is worse than sitting in a vehicle that won’t go anywhere.  It’s even worse when the engine is running , but the vehicle won’t move.  We’ll assume that you’ve found yourself in a situation where your automatic transmission car won’t go into gear, and need help right away.

Let’s get straight to it.  We’ll start with things that are easy and quick to remedy (allowing you to get moving again).  We’ll than move onto the less likely problems.

How to get shifter unstuck automatic transmission
You can see the solenoid lock override directly to the left of the Neutral indicator.

Automatic Transmission Gear Shift Stuck

Is it physically impossible to move the gear shift into any other position? Here are a few possibilities that could be causing the problem.

Parking Brake Stuck

Are you parked on a hill?  If so than the force of gravity may be forcing your transmission to put pressure on the parking lock in the transmission.

This is good news and pretty easy to get out of.  This happens a lot when you don’t use a parking brake on a hill, regardless of the age of the vehicle.  Getting it unstuck can be easy, but also a little dangerous since you’ll need to rock the car.  The best way to rock it is from the driver’s seat.  Just throw your weight around.Proceed at your own risk

What you’re going to need to do is safely:

  • Turn the vehicle engine on.
  • Rock the vehicle with your foot off the brake.
  • Press the brake down.
  • Apply light pressure to the shifter.  You don’t need to go breaking the shift linkage.

Hopefully that worked.  You want to get a little pressure off of the parking mechanism in the transmission.  It’s not meant to be a brake.  That’s why parking brakes aren’t called emergency brakes anymore.  So if you do rock it, try and catch the vehicle as it rolls behind you.  When it’s about to rock forward again, hit the brakes and try to get it out of park.  Easy right?  It shouldn’t be to bad.

Shift Lock Solenoid Failure

The shift lock solenoid is the mechanism that won’t let you shift out of park without your foot on the brake.  The good news is that most of these have a failsafe mechanism.  The bad news is that most folks don’t know where they are in there car or that they even exist.

Finding it is pretty easy.  Just look at your shifter.  There’ll be a little plastic cover, you pop it off and override the shifter lock solenoid.  This can get you back on the road in a hurry and could save you from being stranded.

I recommend to everyone letting that they learn where this is on all their vehicles.

Here’s a video that’ll show you where to find them on most cars.  I didn’t make it, but that doesn’t mean it’s not great!



Bad Shift Linkage

The shift linkage on a car will usually provide a lifetime of dependable service (well at least the cars lifetime).  But, they can go bad.

If you are positive that it’s not stuck in park (see directly above).  Than it’s likely that the shift linkage may be bad.  Maybe something got jammed between it and the transmission?

If you are mechanical, it’d be worth your time to trace it and see if you can find the source of the problem.  Maybe something got jammed between the linkage and the transmission, causing it to.


Won’t Go Into Gear- Shifter Moves

If the gear selector is moving, than it’s time to move onto a transmission problem itself.  Will it go in reverse, but not forward?  If it does, it won’t be low transmission fluid.

Low Transmission Fluid

Your car won’t be able to go into gear if the transmission fluid is so low that it can’t move anymore.  ATF is a lubricant, and creates a hydraulic connection between the motor and the transmission.  Without it, the engine will just spin freely without the car going anywhere.

First thing you should do is check to see if there is a huge puddle sitting outside of the vehicle.  Maybe your transmission puked fluid all over the driveway.  If that’s the case be careful.  ATF is a huge fire hazard.  Exhaust can hear up quickly, so even if the motor is cold, a fire can happen quickly.

If it did puke transmission fluid all over, it could be a few things:

  • Loose torque converter
  • Bad seal at the driveshaft/cv joints
  • Loose transmission line.

The good news is that it had to come from somewhere.  Clean off the transmission and figure out where it is coming from.  Maybe you have a loose or broken cooling line.  That would be about the cheapest that you’re going to get out of this.

Here’s more on low transmission fluid symptoms.


Broken Axle Shaft or Driveshaft

It is entirely possible that the car dropped the driveshaft or broke a cv joint.  If the car is front wheel drive, you may have been hearing a clunking sound when you turned the wheel in one or both directions.

The warning signs aren’t there as much with a rear wheel drive vehicle, but it’s easier to confirm that the driveshaft is broken.  Just look under the car.  If you see a three or four foot long steel tube hanging from underneath it.

Either way, these are both major issues and aren’t going to be fixed by pressing a button by the shifter.


Conclusion Car Won’t Go Into Gear- Automatic

There are lots of things that can cause the shifter to not engage, and they aren’t limited to just the transmission.  Good luck fixing your car.  If you have any questions, leave a comment or hit the contact page and I’ll be happy to help.  I usually check in the evenings.  Take care.

1 thought on “Automatic Transmission Won’t Go in Gear- Troubleshooting”

  1. I changed the flywheel in my car wasnt having any problems driving just starting. Did job myself dont know much but did my best now my car starts beautifully but wont move in any gear Why

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