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car problem - not going into gear

Car Won’t Go Into Gear? Common Reasons & How To Fix

| by Michelle Yang, Esq.

Are you having trouble with your car not going into gear? You’re not alone.

Problems shifting between gears are not uncommon. The problem can be either annoying or life-threatening, depending on when and where it occurs. While there are some easy solutions that can help you shift into gear, most will require an often-costly trip to the mechanic.

Experiencing a car that refuses to go into gear can be a frustrating and concerning issue for any driver. This problem can occur in both automatic and manual transmission vehicles and can be attributed to a variety of causes.

At Cali Lemon Lawyers, we work with our clients to evaluate cases of their vehicles and what could have caused the defects. We also advise you on determining if it is a lemon vehicle, the best ways to go about resolving the issue. Experiencing issues with your vehicle? Reach out to us now for an evaluation consultation

In this article, we will discuss the most common reasons your car won’t go into gear and what you can do about the problem. 

If your car still won’t go into gear after four fixes you may be entitled to a Lemon lawsuit.

Top 8 Reasons Your Car Won’t Go Into Gear

Whether you drive a car with a manual or automatic transmission, it’s possible that the gears aren’t shifting because of user error. However, not being able to shift into gear usually indicates something serious is wrong with your car.

Here are the eight most common reasons your car won’t go into gear.

1. Clutch Issues

car clutch issues

If you’re new to having stick shift cars or are driving an unfamiliar car with a manual transmission, it’s possible that you aren’t pressing the clutch down all the way to the floor before changing gears.

The clutch pedal of a car can wear down overtime, making it hard for the car to go into gear. In such cases, you might notice a burning smell or a high clutch pedal before it fails completely. Once it gives any of these signs, know that you need to replace your clutch pedal. Reach out to your automobile repairer for a replacement. 

Another common clutch issue is a faulty clutch master cylinder. The clutch master cylinder is responsible for disengaging the clutch when you press the pedal. This allows you to shift gears. So, when it’s faulty, it would be difficult for the car to go into gear. 

It is necessary to always inspect your clutch master cylinder for leaks or damages. If you notice any of these, you can either repair it or get a replacement. 

If you have done up to four replacements and the issue persists and your car is under warranty, your car may be a lemon.

2. Brake Safety Lock Issues

Most modern cars have a safety feature that prevents you from accidentally shifting gears while you’re parked. This safety feature requires you to press the brake to shift out of Park.

It’s possible for this shift lock release to fail, making it impossible to move out of park even if you depress the brake. Some cars have emergency procedures outlined in their handbooks that can help you move your car out of park when the shift lock release fails. However, there is also the possibility that your shift lock solenoid is damaged and needs repair.

The most evident sign of a brake safety lock issue is the illumination of the anti-lock brake system (ABS) warning light on the dashboard. This can be triggered by various problems, including sensor malfunction, low brake fluid levels, or electrical faults. To solve this issue, take it to your automobile repairer immediately for professional diagnoses.

In some cases, the brakes may lock up during hard braking, causing the vehicle to skid. This can occur due to a malfunction in the ABS system, often related to the ABS module or wheel speed sensors. Solving this problem often requires replacing the faulty parts. 

Another brake issue could be an unresponsive brake pedal. It indicates that there is a problem with the brake safety lock system. This may be due to a failure in the power brake booster or issues within the ABS hydraulic pump. In this case, you would need to take the car to a skilled technician for repairs. 

You might also experience inconsistent braking, where the brakes respond differently each time you apply them. This could be a result of failing ABS sensors or corroded electrical connections. Replacing sensors or repairing electrical connections can often resolve this issue.

Grinding or clicking noises during braking can also indicate a problem. These sounds may be due to worn brake pads or rotors, but they can also arise from ABS component malfunctions.

Inspect the brake pads and rotors first; if these are in good condition, proceed to check the ABS system.

3. Transmission Fluid Problems

transmission fluid issues

A car’s transmission fluid lubricates the moving parts of a vehicle, cools the transmission, and enables the seamless shifting of gears. So when it has problems, it would affect the ability of a car to go into gear. 

Low or empty fluid can lead to inadequate lubrication and cooling of the transmission. This can cause hard shifting, slipping gears, or even the inability to shift gears at all. It’s crucial to identify and repair any leaks. After repairing leaks, refill the transmission fluid to the appropriate level.

Dirty fluid can lead to blockages in the transmission system and interfere with the hydraulic pressure needed to shift gears. This may result in erratic or hard shifting. Ensure that you replace the dirty transmission fluid with fresh fluid and consider changing the transmission filter if applicable.

Thick and goopy fluid happens due to extreme cold or contamination. It restricts the flow of fluid, affecting the transmission’s hydraulic pressure and responsiveness. To solve this transmission problem, always allow the vehicle to warm up before driving during cold weather. However, If the fluid is contaminated, a complete fluid change is necessary.

Burned fluid reduces the effectiveness of the fluid’s lubricating properties. This can lead to overheating, increased friction, and difficulty in gear shifting. Make sure to replace the burned fluid immediately. 

4. Loose or Broken Shift Linkage Wire

If one or both of your shift linkage wire breaks or comes loose, the shifter won’t be able to tell your transmission to change gears.

If you find that you are unable to switch gears at all, it’s a strong indicator that there may be an issue with the horizontal shift cable. Replacement of the cable is often required if it is found to be broken.

Being limited to only shifting into 3rd or 4th gear typically points to a problem with the vertical shift cable. Similarly, replace if you find it damaged. 

If the gear shifter moves freely without any corresponding change in the transmission gears, it’s likely that both shift cables are broken. In most cases, replacing both cables is the only viable solution to restore proper functionality.

5. Bad Torque Converter

problematic torque

In an automatic-transmission car, the torque converter serves the same purpose as a clutch does in a manual-transmission vehicle. If any components within a torque converter fail, it can make automatic shifting difficult. These problems can be with your turbine, pump, transmission field, or stator.

If you have a bad torque converter, you will notice your transmission slipping into and out of gear. Often, a faulty torque converter needs to be entirely replaced to eliminate transmission issues. But in some cases, repairing specific components of the torque converter may be possible.

6. Bad Transmission

Sometimes, gear shifting problems are the result of a bad transmission. If so, you might hear strange, grinding sounds coming from your transmission when you try to change gears.

If you have a bad transmission, a mechanic may need to rebuild or replace it.  The option that will be recommended depends on the severity of the issue.

7. Failing Clutch Packs

failing clutch packs

If you have an automatic transmission, and your clutch pack is failing, your transmission won’t be able to operate properly. If you have clutch pack problems, you will experience the transmission slipping. You may notice your engine start to race without moving your car faster during a gear shift, or you may have difficulty getting your car to start after a stop.

Often, the solution involves replacing the worn or damaged clutch packs. This process can be complex, requiring partial or full disassembly of the transmission. Regular servicing, including fluid changes and inspections, can help extend the life of clutch packs and prevent premature failure.

8. Misaligned Gearbox

Misaligned gearboxes are more likely with a manual transmission and can lead to total gear failure if you don’t address the problem early.

While the misalignment can happy as a result of thermal expansion or other problems, a misalignment of a gearbox often happens because the car manufacturer or a mechanic didn’t install or mount it properly in the first place.

A thorough examination by a qualified mechanic is necessary to diagnose gearbox misalignment accurately. This might involve inspecting the gearbox mounting, alignment, and operation. Correcting the misalignment typically involves adjusting or reinstalling the gearbox to ensure it is properly aligned with the engine and transmission components. In some cases, misalignment may have caused damage to gears or other components, which will need to be replaced.

Steps to Take When Your Car Won’t Go Into Gear before going to the Mechanic

steps to take when car won't go into gear

If your car won’t go into gear, here are some things to try to solve your problems:

1. Depress the Clutch More

If you have a manual transmission, there’s a chance you didn’t press the clutch all the way to the floor before changing gears. Press the clutch down more and try to change gears again.

2. Press Your Brakes While Shifting out of Park

If you have an automatic transmission and can’t move your car out of Park, you may need to press the brake while shifting out of Park to release the safety lock.

3. Follow the Emergency Procedure to Release the Shift Lock

If you still can’t shift your automatic-transmission car out of Park after you press the brake, you may need to follow an emergency procedure to release the lock if it malfunctions.

This procedure is different for different types of cars, so check your user manual. For example, you may need to turn the steering wheel a few times, remove the shift boot, or use a release inside your center console.

If the shift lock solenoid is damaged, the emergency procedure won’t work, and you will need to take it to a trusted mechanic for repair.

4. Try to Put Your Car Into a Different Gear

If you can’t get into the correct great, try shifting into a different gear instead. For example, you can try shifting to 2nd gear or Overdrive instead. This test can show you if a specific gear is your problem or if there’s another issue altogether.

5. Top Off or Replace Transmission Fluid

Sometimes, you can solve your gear-shifting problems by simply topping off or replacing your transmission fluid.

Follow your car’s user manual to determine how to check the transmission fluid. If you have an automatic transmission, you can check it with the transmission fluid dipstick. However, if you have a manual transmission, you probably won’t have a dipstick and will need to look or feel to check transmission fluid levels and quality.

6. Have Your Car Towed to a Mechanic

If none of these steps solve your problem or if they reveal a bigger problem, then you will need to call a tow truck to get your car to a trusted mechanic for a diagnosis and repairs.

You Might Have A Lemon Car

If your car isn’t going into gear, it can be an annoying problem that prevents you from getting out of the parking lot. However, it can also be a dangerous problem if you’re driving on a highway when it happens, leaving you stranded or putting your life in danger.

If you’ve experienced problems getting your car into gear because you bought a car that’s a lemon, let the lemon law attorneys at Cali Lemon Lawyers help.

If a car you bought in California has a known safety issue or a defect related to changing gears, we can pressure the manufacturer to make things right for you. There are no upfront costs, and we have a 99% success rate. Contact us today online or call us at 866-405-4038 for a free consultation.


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