What to Do When Your Car Won’t Go into Gear

Whether you have an automatic transmission or manual gearbox, your car could fail to go into gear at any point. When that happens, you’ll end up stranded until you can figure out what went wrong.

The potential causes range from low fluid or damaged shift linkage to complete catastrophic failure of the transmission. Even user error can prevent you from getting your car into gear and continuing about your day.

Thankfully, when this frustrating problem occurs, there are some things you can try to resolve the problem. The most logical thing to do if your vehicle won’t go into gear is call your local transmission specialty shop and ask them to tow your car or truck there. Here’s what else you should know and other options.

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Press the Clutch Pedal Down More

If you have a manual transmission, try to press the clutch pedal all the way down to the floor before trying to change gears. As the friction disc down, you have to press the pedal further and further down to move it away from the flywheel.

Otherwise, the disc and flywheel remain mated, and you won’t be able to move it out of one gear and into another as a result. You may be able to pull the shifter into the neutral position, however.

When pushing the clutch pedal down more doesn’t work, it may be too far gone to continue working as intended. Or you could have a misaligned clutch housing, bad clutch release bearing, or low fluid levels.

Or Make Sure to Press Down the Brake

If you have an automatic transmission and cannot move the shift lever out of park, you may need to press the brake down firmly. Modern cars have a safety mechanism that locks the shifter to help prevent you from accidentally shifting into gear while parked. To release that safety lock, you must turn on the car and keep your foot on the brake pedal while shifting into reverse or drive.

Check the Transmission Fluid Levels

Before you do anything else, you’ll want to check your transmission fluid levels.
If you have an automatic transmission, you can usually check the fluid using the dipstick under the hood. You should always follow the procedures in your vehicle-specific shop manual while completing this step. Beyond verifying if your automatic transmission fluid is at the right level, make sure it’s still vibrant red in color and doesn’t smell burnt. If the fluid is black, thick, and goopy, the internals could be gummed up or damaged, resulting in the inability to shift.
Manual transmissions, on the other hand, do not have a dipstick that allows you to check their fluid levels. Instead, you have to look or feel in the filler hole to verify that there’s fluid inside. Always follow the manufacturer’s recommended procedure when performing this check or leave it to your trusted auto tech.

You’ll also want to verify that the fluid still looks nearly as clean and viscous as it did in the bottle. The way the fluid looks depends on what goes in your particular gearbox. Some vehicles use 10w-30 motor oil in their transmissions, while others use 75w90 gear oil.

Upon finding your fluid levels are low, use your carmaker’s recommended fluid to top off the system. If the fluid is the wrong color or smells burnt, you’ll need to have the transmission flushed and refilled with new fluid instead.

Try to Put It into a Different Gear

If your car still won’t go into gear, try to put it into a different gear as a test. If you were trying to put your car into first or reverse gear but it won’t go, for example, try second or overdrive instead. This will tell you if a specific gear is causing your woes or if it’s likely something else entirely.

Look at the Linkage Going to the Shifter

If your shift linkage breaks or otherwise comes loose, moving the shifter won’t tell the transmission to change gears. It’ll just stay in the same gear and won’t even shift into neutral.

To check if that’s happening, you must remove the shift boot or the center console, depending on your car’s design. You may even need to get under the car or find the linkage running through the engine bay to see what’s going on.

Once you find it, you’ll want to follow the linkage from the shifter to the transmission. Verify that all the parts are properly connected and don’t look worn or damaged. Simply reconnecting the parts may not help solve the problem since the linkage may also need replacement components or adjustment to work right.

Have Your Vehicle Towed to the Shop

Our first recommendation should your car not go into gear is have your car towed into the shop for a diagnosis and any needed transmission repairs. Your team at My Transmission Experts are always available to take a look at your vehicle and see why it’s not shifting into gear. We offer free towing to make the process as quick and convenient for you as possible. You just have to call us at (281) 293-7090 to receive a free quote, arrange towing, and get your car on our schedule.

Find the Shop Closest to Your Location

My Transmission Experts has locations across the greater Houston area. Contact the closest one below.


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