Why Won’t My Car Shift Into Reverse?

When driving your car, you may not even think twice when shifting into reverse to back out of your driveway. That is, until that shifter won’t go into the reverse gear – at that point, it becomes a problem. Here is why your car – whether it’s equipped with an automatic or manual transmission might not shift into reverse.

Here are some reasons that your car won’t shift into reverse

Dodge Charger Monostable shifter
2014 Dodge Charger Monostable shifter | Stellantis

RELATED: Does Anyone Regret Buying a Manual Transmission?

Manual and automatic transmissions are wondrous things. Have you ever seen the inside of a transmission? It’s filled with all kinds of gears, shafts, and seals, so it’s no wonder that you need to keep everything lubed up to work properly.

When it comes to putting the car into reverse in a manual transmission, the reverse gears connect with each other and then lock in with the transmission’s output shaft, which then turns the drive wheels.

On automatic transmissions, the fluid is even more important. According to Family Handyman, “a sophisticated pressurized hydraulic fluid system ‘automatically’ activates an internal clutch pack and band that locks and unlocks reverse gearsets to each other and the output shaft.”

As we can see, there are a lot of moving parts to both types of transmissions, and issues can arise from a number of culprits. Some of these culprits include the transmission fluid, shift mechanisms, or seals.

The transmission could be low on fluid

An auto mechanic working under a raised Volkswagen Touran vehicle in Lower Saxony
An auto mechanic working under a raised vehicle | Julian Stratenschulte/picture alliance via Getty Images

One of the easiest culprits to rule out if your car’s not shifting into reverse is its transmission fluid. Mechanic Base reports that a low transmission fluid level is the most common reason that a car may not go into gear. Your car’s owner’s manual will have the proper procedure on how to check the fluid level.

For automatic transmissions, there is typically a dipstick that you can pull to check the fluid. The transmission fluid level should be between the “full” and “add” markings on the stick. If it’s low, then you can add more fluid to the transmission with a funnel. Just note that if this fixes the issue, then the transmission could be leaking, and/or the transmission fluid could need replacing.

For a manual transmission, you may need to jack the car up on stands and then remove the fill plug to check the level. If you don’t want to get underneath your car, then take it to a mechanic.

There could be an issue with the shift mechanism

Another and more complicated reason that your car isn’t shifting into reverse is that there could be an issue with the shift mechanism. On automatic transmissions, the transmission selector switch could be corroded or faulty. Also, it may not be transmitting signals to the ECM. Either way, it’s best to leave this issue to a professional mechanic.

On a manual transmission, damaged or stretched shifter cables could prevent the transmission from shifting into reverse. If this is the case, then a mechanic should be able to fix the issue.

The transmission’s gaskets or seals could be bad

If you don’t change your car’s transmission fluid regularly then there could be dirt and buildup in the fluid. The transmission’s external gaskets, seals, and O-rings typically keep the dirt out, however, if they are bad, then it could cause issues like leaks and rough shifting. If you notice any leaks underneath the car, then the transmission’s seals or O-rings could be bad. If this is the case, leave it to a professional to fix it.

Automatic or manual transmissions not going into reverse

close up of the manual gear shifter in a V12 BMW 850i
850i manual shifter | Cars and Bids

If you find that your car’s automatic or manual transmission is not shifting into reverse, then it could be something minor like a low fluid level or major like a faulty shift mechanism. Either way, if you’re unsure, then have your car checked out by a qualified mechanic.

RELATED: An Inside Look at How an Automatic Transmission Works