If your car turns on but won’t go forward or reverse, you’re not alone. The situation can be frustrating and worrying as it means you have more than one gear malfunctioning.
When you fail to go forward or reverse, it means you’re stuck where the vehicle is parked, making it necessary to learn why this happens and find ways to fix it.
Luckily, this post discusses the possible reasons why your car may not move forward or reverse.
Table of Contents
1. You’re Probably Not in the Correct Gear
This might seem obvious, but many people often forget to put in and confirm that their vehicle is in the right gear before attempting to drive.
If you want to reverse and get out of a driveway, it’s essential to confirm that your vehicle is in reverse gear before driving.
In some cases, your elbow or child may have moved the shifter into neutral by accident, and that’s why your vehicle won’t move.
For power to be transferred to the wheels, your vehicle needs to be in the correct gear–‘Drive ‘when you want to go forward and ‘Reverse’ when you want to move backward.
Otherwise, you will be feeding fuel to the engine and burning it up for no reason. Therefore, always confirm you have entered the correct gear every time you start the vehicle.
Read also here why your car won’t go in reverse though it can drive forward.
2. Your Vehicle Has an Incorrect Air/Fuel Ratio
Your vehicle requires the correct air-to-fuel ratio in the engine’s cylinders to generate proper combustion and get the car moving smoothly.
If the air filters and sensors are faulty, the engine may not receive enough air to operate efficiently.
The main signs of a bad air-fuel ratio sensor include decreased fuel efficiency, rough idle, and a drop in engine power output.
Turn on the ignition to start the engine. Locate the carburettor in the engine’s air filter. Find the flat-headed, gold-colored brass screw on the carburettor, which is the air-fuel mixture screw.
Turn the screw clockwise to tighten it until the engine sounds rough.
This helps weaken the air and fuel mixture and decreases the amount of fuel flowing into the engine.
Loosen the screw until the engine’s idle sound starts sounding irregular. Set the crew between rough and irregular sounding positions and adjust either direction to ensure you find the smoothest idle speed.
3. You Might Have a Slipping Clutch (Manual Vehicles)
If your car moves sometimes and fails other times, you could be dealing with a slipping clutch which causes engagement and disengagement of the engine.
A slipping clutch means that little or no power is being delivered to the wheels, which means the car won’t move.
Signs of a slipping clutch include:
- A burning smell when you turn on the engine
- Squeaky, rumbling noises when you apply pressure to the pedals
- Difficulty changing gears
- Poor or no acceleration
- Clutch pedal vibrating
Solution: A slipping clutch is either damaged or worn out. If the clutch is slipping due to incorrect positioning, you can adjust it and drive.
However, once a clutch starts slipping, it’s best to change it as it tends to slip more often after the first slip.
It’s important to understand that the more your clutch slips, the more friction it generates and the more damaged it gets.
Consider calling your mechanic to check it out and determine whether it needs to be replaced.
4. Your Transmission Might Be Blown
If your car won’t move at all, one of the most likely reasons is a blown transmission. Many factors can cause your transmission to fail, including poor manufacturing and design, lack of maintenance, and your driving habits.
Any damage to the transmission components can be devastating as it can lead to the replacement of the entire system.
One of the main components that could cause your vehicle not to move is the bad transmission selector sensor.
When shifting to reverse, the sensor signals the drivetrain control to activate the reverse gear. When faulty, it may not communicate, and a check engine light may appear on your dashboard.
Fixing a blown transmission should be done by a highly-trained professional. It’s important to enquire about your options before deciding to replace the entire transmission system.
Determine whether a replacement is more cost-effective than buying a new car.
5. You Have a Bad Transmission Fluid (Automatic Transmission)
In automatic transmission vehicles, the transmission depends on the torque converter and transmission fluid to seamlessly change gear.
Over time, the transmission fluid or hydraulic fluid can get contaminated with dirt and gunk, which degrades its quality.
If too contaminated, dirty transmission fluid can cause the transmission to slip into neutral or even prevent it from moving at all.
Dirty fluid also means poor lubrication, which can impact how the transmission shifts to reverse or any other gear.
While it’s mostly expected to happen to automatic transmission vehicles, it can also happen with manual transmission.
If you’re dealing with contaminated fluid, you can drain the old fluid and refill the transmission with the correct fluid.
Replace the filter and follow your user manual to determine the suitable fluid and filter for your vehicle. You can also consult with your mechanic to avoid mistakes.
6. Transmission Fluid Level is Too Low (Automatic Transmission)
Your car may fail to reverse due to a low transmission fluid level. If you’re low on fluid, you will likely experience a stalling or overheating engine.
As a result, most engine components such as gears will overwork and break down due to a lack of proper lubrication.
If you have a low transmission fluid level, you may want to check the amount present and its condition before adding new fluid.
This helps remove contamination and improve the longevity of the transmission.
Check if a puddle of transmission fluid is on the ground where you park.
If there is some fluid on the ground, the low transmission fluid level may be caused by leakage from a faulty gasket.
When checking the fluid level, make sure the engine is hot and the transmission is neutral for best results.
7. There is a Problem With the Shifter Mechanism
Your car’s gear shifter allows you to change gears when driving forward or reversing.
Manual vehicles solely rely on gear shifters to move a vehicle, but they can also be found in automatic vehicles. When the shifter is broken, damaged or worn out, it may not move smoothly.
Sometimes it may get stuck in the park and not move when you try to shift it to drive. Signs of a problematic gear shifter include:
- Grinding noise
- Bumping, thumping, whirring or squealing sounds
- Car stuck in one gear
- Transmission jumps out of gear
- Leaking transmission oil
- Difficulty shifting gears
Note that the gear shifter can gradually become loose if you tend to be too aggressive when changing gears.
When this happens, you may not be able to tighten it back, but you can remove the bushing to eliminate the looseness.
If it takes a lot of effort to put the shifter into reverse or feels like something is blocking it from going into drive or reverse, don’t force it. This can worsen the situation or become dangerous if it drives but fails to park.
In most cases, the problem stems from breaking or bending the shifter linkage or cables. In some cars, the shifter bushings can be the culprits.
The best solution is to replace the shifter as soon as possible as it can break in half, which can sabotage your control when the vehicle starts moving.
To change the bushing here is what you can do:
- Open the gear shifter’s center console, which exposes the rubber boot.
- Turn the gear shifter counterclockwise and remove it.
- Take the rubber boot out.
- Remove the retaining bolts at the base and the retaining ring.
- Pull the gear shifter lever from the console hole.
- Check whether the bushing at the bottom of the gear shifter and remove it if it’s worn out.
- Replace it with new bushing and make sure it is locked back in place.
8. Your Vehicle’s ECU is Malfunctioning
It is also possible that your car’s sensors may be working perfectly, but the ECU is faulty.
The ECU or Engine Control Unit is a small device designed to control certain functions in your car. It’s an excellent tool for helping you know how your vehicle operates.
However, if faulty, the ECU can display false alerts, which can hinder your vehicle from operating as it should, including driving forward and reversing.
While this is rare, it’s not impossible. Here are a few signs that you have a faulty ECU.
- The engine light remains constantly on
- Your car won’t start
- Drop in fuel efficiency
- Problems shifting gears
- Sudden movements and stopping
If you suspect you have a faulty ECU, call to tow the vehicle to your repair shop and have it fixed. Only a highly trained OEM technician should check, diagnose and reprogram the ECU.
They should have the right tools to get the job done right and avoid further damaging the software. You can also turn to your dealership to fix the problem for you.
A dealership company will have the right technology and experienced personnel to make your ECU functional again.
It’s also easier to replace the ECU when working with a dealership, especially if it is covered in the warranty.