Car Won’t Go In Reverse But Drives Fine: 7 Reasons & What to Do
A vehicle’s transmission system is one of its most important components as you cannot operate any vehicle without gears.
With that said, the transmission is also one of the most expensive components to repair in a vehicle. Hence, it is understandable to get worried when you encounter issues with your transmission system such as a vehicle that will not move in reverse but moves fine in other gears.
What makes this problem even more bothersome is that you need the reverse gear almost every time you drive the car. If the car will not go in reverse, it means you can end up getting stuck anywhere you park it.
Reasons Why Car Won’t Go in Reverse
Like with many other vehicle problems, it is not easy to pinpoint one reason why a vehicle would not go in reverse but drive well in the forward gears.
And this is because there are numerous possible causes, and they will vary from one vehicle and situation to the other. But here are the most common reasons why vehicles fail to go in reverse.
1. Broken Reverse Gear Teeth
A specific problem with the reverse gear such as broken reverse gear teeth is often the reason why you can drive fine when moving forward but find it impossible to reverse the vehicle.
Broken reserve gear teeth can happen for both automatic and manual transmission systems, but they are more common for the latter due to poor driving habits by motorists trying to master how to drive a stick shift. Also, improper gear shifting contributes greatly to this issue.
When you have broken gear teeth, you will often hear a loud clunk or clicking noises when trying to shift to the reverse gear.
And the unfortunate thing here is that there is almost no fix for this problem, and in many instances, the only option is to pull out the entire transmission system and replace the broken gear.
2. Low Transmission Fluid Level
Low transmission fluid levels will come with numerous problems for the transmission system such as overheating, erratic shifting and even engine stalling.
Given the effects that low transmission fluid has on your transmission system, it can also be one of the reasons why your vehicle will not move when in reverse.
The problems reversing can stem from the reverse gear being affected by the overheating that comes with low fluid levels as the gears are not able to get enough lubrication.
If your vehicle has a low transmission fluid level, the problems with the reverse gear are just the start as you are also likely to experience issues shifting to other gears as well if you do not add more fluid.
3. Dirty Transmission Filter/Fluid
Besides having low transmission fluid, a dirty one can also be the reason why you have issues with the reverse gear.
If the transmission fluid is contaminated with debris and hardened deposits, it will not do its job well, which means you will find it harder to shift to the reverse gear and might not even be able to engage the gear at all.
The filter can also get clogged by dirt and debris which also then affects the functioning of the fluid and hence also the reverse and other gears. It is vital to check the condition of your transmission fluid and filter often to make sure they keep working efficiently.
4. Worn Out Transmission System
Sometimes the cause of the vehicle failing to go when in the reverse gear might be a more serious problem than you think such as complete transmission components wear.
The wear is a gradual process that you should notice long before it causes some gears such as the reverse to stop functioning properly, but many motorists tend to overlook this problem.
As the different components in your transmission system wear out, the pressure required to operate the transmission system is not able to build up. One of the first gears to be affected by this natural wear is the reverse gear.
If the wear is still not critical, the car can still drive fine when moving forward, but the reverse will be problematic and will only work when you speed up the engine for the fluid pressure to get high enough.
5. Faulty Transmission Selector Switch
When you find that your vehicle will not move when in reverse gear, one of the first things that you will need to look at is the transmission selector switch.
The transmission selector switch is tasked with sending messages to the vehicle's computer when you need to shift gear. If it is not working properly, the computer might not get the signal that it needs to switch to reverse. Hence, even when you shift the stick to reverse, the reverse gear will not be engaged.
The transmission selector switch problem often results from natural wear and corrosion. But, if the problem is not very severe, you can try putting the vehicle into reverse several times as this action will help dislodge some of the rust in the components and hence allow the gear to engage.
6. Worn Out Gasket
While most of the time the reason why the vehicle is not able to drive in reverse will be because of an issue with the transmission system, the problem can also come from the engine.
If there is a worn gasket on the seal and link under your engine, this will come with a myriad of problems, and the vehicle failing to drive in reverse gear is just one of them.
The worn gaskets will prevent the gears from shifting smoothly, and in some cases, simply replacing them is enough to solve the problem. However, in some instances, you will need the services of a mechanic as the job often requires special tools and skills.
7. Faulty Clutch
For those that drive manual transmission vehicles, the clutch is a crucial component of the system and a faulty one can bring reversing and other transmission issues.
The clutch is what allows you to switch gears in a manual transmission, and so if it is not working properly, you might not be able to change the gears to reverse.
A simple clutch fix will be to try and pump it several times to build up pressure to allow you to shift the stick to reverse. And if this trick still does not solve the issue you should switch off your engine and try shifting through the gears to reverse. If you can shift to reverse, this is proof that your clutch is faulty and needs to be fixed.
What to Do About It
The best way to deal with a car that will not go into reverse but will drive fine in the forward gears will be to have it checked by a mechanic. Transmission issues are quite common, and so almost any experienced mechanic should be able to diagnose and fix the issues.
However, for the budding DIYers with enough mechanic skills and prefer to do the job at home, it is still possible to fix the issue on your own. Here are a few things that you can do to solve the problem.
1. Check Transmission Selector Switch
Because the transmission selector switch is one of the main causes of reverse issues, it should be one of the first things to check when trying to fix the problem.
And if you find that the switch is not working properly, a simple fix is to keep moving from high to low quickly to remove any rust that may be preventing the switch from working properly.
2. Replace both Transmission Fluid and Filter
Another easy fix that will hardly ever require any professional intervention is to replace the transmission fluid and filter.
Although you might be tempted to top up the transmission fluid instead of replacing it, you should not because a replacement ensures you not only have enough but also get rid of any contamination.
Changing both the transmission fluid and filter is not only quick and easy but should also not cost much.
3. Check Seals and Link Under Engine
Another important check will entail inspecting the seals and links under the engine. The aim of this is to check for any worn gasket and bad connections as the problems with reverse sometimes come from the engine.
When you find any worn gaskets and rubber seal, you need to replace them with new ones, but keep in mind that to do this you may need some special tools.
4. Inspect the Entire Transmission System
If all the checks above do not yield the desired results or you still cannot drive the car in reverse, the other alternative will be to inspect the entire transmission system.
A thorough inspection of the transmission system will allow you to identify some minor issues that are easy to miss or overlook, which might be the source of the problem.
The comprehensive inspection is also vital to ensure the smooth functioning of the entire system. And you do not have to wait for problems to arise to inspect and maintain the transmission system.
Making it a habit allows you to prevent issues like broken gear teeth that can be otherwise time-consuming and expensive to fix.
Regardless of the size and type of vehicle that you drive, the reverse gear is crucial. When it is not working, simple things like parking your vehicle or taking it from a parking spot will almost be impossible.
A car that will not go into reverse is generally hard to drive and impractical, and this problem can occur due to issues like low transmission fluid level, broken gear teeth, and a problematic transmission selector switch.
And if you are good with cars or are an experienced motorist, most of these issues should be quite straightforward to fix with a few tools and some time to spare.
With that said, the best fix will always be by a professional mechanic, and so before you do anything drastic to your transmission system, you should first talk to an expert.