If your car won’t move when you put it into drive, reverse, or any other gear with an automatic transmission, there are a few potential causes to check.
An automatic transmission relies on many complex parts working together to smoothly shift gears and transfer engine power to the wheels.
When one or more of these components fails or malfunctions, it can leave your car immobile.
Here are some of the most common reasons an automatic transmission may not engage into gear and allow your car to move:
Summary of Automatic Transmission Gear Engagement Issues
Here is a table summarizing some potential causes if your car won’t move in drive or other gears:
|Low transmission fluid
|Shifting delays, trouble accelerating
|Top up fluid, check for leaks
|Hard shifting, no gear engagement, error codes
|Diagnose codes, replace TCM if faulty
|Torque converter problem
|Shuddering, slipping, high RPM
|Replace torque converter if excessively worn
|Valve body malfunction
|Rough shifts, stuck in gear
|Repair or replace valve body
|Bad shift solenoid
|Delayed/missing gear engagement
|Replace faulty solenoid
|Broken shifter cable
|Loose shifter, can’t shift from park
|Replace or repair broken cable
|Worn clutch plates
|Transmission slipping, burning smell
|Transmission overhaul or replacement
Low Transmission Fluid Level
One of the most common causes for a car to not move in any gear is a low transmission fluid level. The transmission relies on sufficient transmission fluid to create the hydraulic pressure needed for the various clutches and gears to engage.
Symptoms of low transmission fluid include:
- Car won’t move in reverse or drive
- Delayed gear engagement
- Gear slipping
- Whining or grinding noises
Checking the transmission fluid level is one of the first steps when diagnosing this issue. Top it off or replace the fluid if needed.
Faulty Transmission Control Module
The transmission control module (TCM) acts as the brain of the transmission, telling it how and when to shift gears, engage clutches, and more. If it develops a fault, it can prevent the transmission from shifting properly.
Symptoms of a bad TCM include:
- Car won’t shift out of park
- Car won’t accelerate
- Delayed or hard gear shifts
- Getting stuck in one gear
If you suspect a faulty TCM, a mechanic will need to diagnose and replace the module if necessary.
Issues with the Torque Converter
The torque converter connects the engine to the transmission input shaft. It allows the engine to spin somewhat independently from the transmission while also multiplying torque. Problems with the torque converter can prevent power transfer through the transmission.
- Car won’t move but engine revs normally
- Transmission slipping
Have the torque converter inspected and tested by a transmission shop if you suspect it’s malfunctioning.
There are many different clutches in an automatic transmission. These clutches are applied by transmission fluid pressure to engage each gear. Over time, the clutch material can become worn out and stop working properly.
Signs of worn-out transmission clutches:
- Car won’t move orAccelerated wear of transmission bandsDelayed or slipping gear shiftsWhining or grinding noises from transmission
If the transmission clutches are excessively worn, the transmission will likely need to be rebuilt or replaced.
Issues Shifting Into Gear
If your car won’t shift into any gear, there may be an issue with the gear selector, shifter cable, or a faulty internal transmission component preventing the gears from engaging.
Causes can include:
- Broken or disconnected shifter cable
- Bad gear position sensor
- Faulty shift solenoids
- Bad valve body
- Loose shifter linkage
Try moving the gear shifter firmly through each gear position. If it still won’t shift into gear, there is likely an internal issue needing repair.
Summary of Causes
Here is a quick summary of potential causes if your car won’t move in any gear:
- Low transmission fluid – Top off fluid level if low
- Faulty control module – Electrical fault in TCM
- Torque converter problems – Not transferring power
- Worn-out clutches – Slipping or disengaged clutches
- Shifter issues – Cable, sensor, solenoid problems
- Valve body problems – Not directing fluid pressure
Diagnosing the Specific Problem
Diagnosing why your automatic transmission car won’t move in any gear requires a methodical approach. Here are steps to help determine the cause:
- Check transmission fluid level and condition first. Top off or change fluid as needed.
- Try shifting through all gear positions. Does it engage at least briefly in any gear?
- Check for trouble codes stored in the transmission control module. This can point to specific components.
- Test components such as shift solenoids, speed sensors, clutch apply valves.
- Inspect internal transmission parts during rebuild or replacement if needed.
A transmission shop will have the expertise to diagnose which internal parts may be faulty based on your symptoms and test results.
Fixing a Transmission That Won’t Engage Gears
How to fix an automatic transmission that won’t engage depends on the specific problem:
- Low fluid – Add proper type and quantity of transmission fluid
- Control module – Replace the TCM if faulty
- Torque converter – Replace torque converter if not engaging
- Shift solenoids – Replace faulty solenoid(s)
- Valve body – Repair or replace valve body assembly
- Clutches – Rebuild transmission and replace worn clutches
Repair costs can vary widely based on how extensive the transmission repairs end up being. Replacing simple solenoids may be under $200, while a full transmission rebuild can easily exceed $2000 or more.
Preparing for Transmission Repairs
Major transmission repairs like a rebuild tend to cost thousands and require you to be without your vehicle for at least a few days up to a couple weeks in some cases. Here are some tips to prepare:
- Save up money in advance for the repair costs
- Ask the shop for any payment plan or financing options
- Arrange alternate transportation while your vehicle is being repaired
- Ask if the shop provides a rental car or loaner vehicle
- See if any warranties may help cover repair costs
Rebuilding or replacing a faulty automatic transmission is a major job, but sometimes necessary to get your car reliably moving again.
Carefully choosing a reputable shop and understanding the costs involved will give you peace of mind that your car will be fixed properly.
Can You Drive With a Bad Transmission?
Once you realize your automatic transmission is failing and your car won’t move into any gear, a natural question is whether you can still drive it or not. Here are some important points on if and how you can drive with transmission problems:
- Driving short distances may be possible but is not recommended
- You risk further damaging components and stranding yourself
- Limited gears may engage briefly allowing minimal movement
- Drive only if absolutely necessary and use extreme caution
- Stop driving immediately if you smell burning fluid
- Prepare for complete transmission failure if problems persist
The safest option is to have your vehicle towed to a repair shop once transmission problems are apparent.
Continuing to drive with most transmission issues risks ruining the transmission completely. Use your best judgment in limited cases.
Cost to Fix Automatic Transmission Not Engaging
How much does it cost to fix an automatic transmission that won’t shift into gear? Here are some estimates:
- Minor repairs – $200-$500+ for solenoids, sensors, etc
- Overhaul repairs – $1000-$3000 for overhaul kit, torque converter, seals, etc
- Rebuild transmission – $2000-$4000+ for full rebuild with parts and labor
- Replace transmission – $3000-$6000+ for installing remanufactured transmission
Labor costs make up a large portion of major transmission repairs. The more extensive the repairs needed, the higher your overall repair bill will be.
Getting an accurate diagnosis and cost estimate from a reputable shop is recommended before approving any transmission work.
Can You Repair a Transmission Without Replacing It?
In some cases, you may be able to fix your malfunctioning automatic transmission without needing a complete replacement:
- Adding transmission fluid can restore operation if low
- Adjusting shifter linkage may allow shifting into gear
- Replacing a faulty solenoid can fix shifting issues
- Swapping a bad valve body may restore smooth shifting
- Overhaul with new seals, gaskets, bands, clutch plates may work
However, once internal hard parts like gears, shafts, or the case itself are damaged, a rebuild or replacement becomes necessary. The age and condition of your transmission plays a big role in whether lighter repairs are feasible.
Seek a professional diagnosis to see if an overhaul or rebuild is possible before replacing the entire transmission.
Warning Signs of Impending Transmission Failure
Catching transmission problems early provides the best chance for affordable repairs. Here are some warning signs your transmission may be about to fail:
- Delayed or harsh shifts between gears
- Unusual noises such as grinding or whining
- Car taking longer than normal to get up to speed
- Transmission slipping in and out of gear
- Check engine light coming on
- Gear selector jumping out of gear
- Difficulty shifting into certain gears
- Burning smell from transmission fluid
- Leaking transmission fluid
Monitor for any of these symptoms and have your transmission inspected promptly if they appear. The sooner you can diagnose emerging problems, the better.
A car that won’t move in any gear is often a transmission-related issue. Automatic transmissions rely on many complex components working correctly, and failure of any of them can leave your car immobile.
Getting a proper diagnosis of the specific problem from a transmission shop will point you in the right direction for repairs. Addressing any problems promptly can help avoid a complete transmission failure and very costly repairs down the road.
Pay attention for warning signs and learn how to check your transmission fluid level periodically to help maximize transmission life.
- Low transmission fluid, faulty control modules, torque converter problems, worn clutches, and shifting issues are common causes for an automatic transmission to not engage into gear.
- Methodically diagnose the specific problem through fluid checks, testing components, reading trouble codes, inspecting internal parts during rebuild if necessary.
- Cost to fix varies by repair type – minor solenoid replacement may be a few hundred dollars while full rebuilds typically run $2000 to $4000+, and replacements $3000 to $6000+.
- You may be able to repair some problems without full replacement if hard internal parts are still intact.
- Monitor for shifting delays, noises, slips, leaks as warning signs and have inspected promptly.
- Getting problems diagnosed early while still repairable provides the best outcome over waiting until transmission fails completely.