Here are several reasons why your car is not shifting into gear

Updated Apr 17, 2020 | Same topic: Handy Maintenance Tips

Click here to learn why your car is not shifting into gear! Also included are several signs when your car's transmission is about to go bad.

As we’ve established before in many of our articles, car ownership isn’t always sunshine and rainbows. This is especially true with particularly finicky car models as well as old cars. Most often, problems will start to occur with its electrical system. That part of the car deteriorates rather fast.

A picture of a sad faced man encountering a bad transmission

"Oh no, can't go to work now"


Cars with particularly rough drivers who either have the habit of always riding their clutches, resting their hand on the shifter, or are wanna-be racers but aren’t skilled enough to perform clutch kicking and rev-matching will have their car’s transmission systems deteriorate faster.

And of course, what happens next may vary from rough shifts, mis shifts, and full-blown mechanical failure where a transmission fails to shift into gear.

A picture of a man clutch riding

Attention clutch riders! Stop that bad habit if you want your car to last longer

1. Car not shifting into gear: How does this manifest on your car?

  • Weird sounds – These include whining and humming especially if you have an automatic transmission. If clunking sounds occur every time you shift using a manual, then you might also have transmission trouble as well.
  • High RPMs but no acceleration – For a better explanation for this, read our article why your car is not accelerating but with high RPMS
  • You smell burning – This may indicate heat, and therefore, burning due to friction in your transmission system
  • Noisy in Neutral – This can be many things. It could be mechanical wear, low transmission fluid, and worn gear teeth
  • Dragging Clutch – This occurs when a clutch fails to disengage from a flywheel. You’ll hear a grinding noise

2. 7 possible reasons why car not shifting into gear

Low Transmission Fluid

Just pray that this is the cause because this is the easiest to address. Your transmission might even have that much damage after all. However, if you continue to drive with low transmission fluid levels, then its guaranteed that you’ll incur some sort of damage.

A picture of a tranny oil dipstick

Several automatic cars do come with transmission fluid dipstick

Why does a car need transmission fluid?

As with many machines with a lot of moving parts, a car’s transmission system will need something to lubricate and to keep the heat from friction to build up. Also, note that transmission fluids or any fluids in a car should not leak.

So do note that that needs to be addressed. If a leak isn’t present, your transmission fluid might just need replacing. Typically, a normal interval for that is around every 50,000 kilometers. In short, don’t miss your preventive maintenance schedules.

You clutch disc is now smooth

As we’ve covered in our “car not accelerating on high RPMs” article, a car’s transmission includes a disc-shaped device that connects two rotating shafts linking the driving shaft and a driven shaft in your car, which then translates to forward or reverse momentum.

Whenever that clutch wears down, either through regular use or problems, then a clutch disc won’t be able to effectively transfer that energy. It won’t be able to “grab” hence, resulting in transmission slippage.

A picture of a very worn car clutch

A year-old clutch disc like this can't grab anything

>>> You might like to check out useful Maintenance tips: DIY discovery of bad car clutch plates

How to Fix a Car that Won't Go into Gear (Clutch Master)

Misaligned gear

Another cause as to why your car will not shift to gear is misaligned gears.

When it comes to proper alignment with a shaft and a car’s gearbox means that these parts are collinear, meaning they’re placed in a straight line. So, misalignment can happen in multiple positions like parallel misalignment or angular, wherein the other part be it the shaft or the gearbox shaft is “sloped”.

Either way, these instances of misalignment often caused by improper installation. Devices like gearboxes, after all, have tight tolerances, and with the added complexity of moving parts, it makes for a very complicated recipe where even the minuscule miscalculation might end up in disaster for you and your car’s transmission.

Also, this is common when trying to install aftermarket parts, maybe a sport clutch.

Long term effects of misaligned gears include vibrating bearings which in turn will cause decreased bearing life, and of course, damage to the gears itself. Also, look for signs of seal and coupling damage.

Electronics failure

In many very modern automatic cars, everything is controlled by a computer or an ECU. To do just that, an onboard computer acquires date by the uses of electronic sensors.

This is the same in many modern car’s transmissions. Symptoms include bad shifts or not shifting. These happen because a car’s computer might not be receiving the right shifter position information.

>>> Read more: Most common car ECU problems & How to fix them

Broken gear teeth

On some rare occasions, or if your ride is really that old, then another possible cause as to why you can’t shift into gear is due to broken gear teeth.

This happens due to several reasons but the most common is the gears might not be aligned thus creature huge amounts of stress. This is especially true if the cracks on the gear teeth are slightly curved.

A picture of broken car gears

Any misaligned part in a regularly used car will eventually break

As you might have guessed, broken gears are really hard to fix and will require specialized tools. It’s expensive but you really need to buy a new one.

The valve body is worn out

For cars with automatic transmission, their trannies will have a valve body which will look like a maze. These work by redirecting hydraulic fluid which allows for smooth shifting. If there’s a leak or an obstruction, this might cause bad shifts and even your car will be not shifting into gear.

>>> Also check out: Must-know tips to clean air throttle body & idle air control valve properly

Bad shifter mechanism

Older, manual cars usually have shifter mechanism that will use a series of cables or linkages. Whenever the shifter feels too tight or too loose, then there might be something wrong with it.

If its too tight, then the linkage or cable might be bent. If it feels too loose, then the linkage or cable has snapped.

A picture of a broken shifter cable

This is why the shifter on your 90's Corolla isn't doing anything

3. Car not shifting into gear: Conclusion

A car’s transmission is important by virtue of being the sole system responsible for “distributing” the force created by the engine. Aside from the accelerator and the brake, the transmission (through the shifter) is one of the few things which allows a driver to interface directly with the car.

This is especially true with manual cars and that’s why car enthusiasts love these so much. That being said, a good car owner will always try to maintain his/her car’s transmission.

A picture of a garage with a car leak

Periodically check under your car for leaks

Also, periodically checking for leaks and actually listening to it when driving a car also helps. Whenever something goes wrong with a car’s transmission though, we recommend either taking it to the casa or to your trusted mechanic. These parts are complicated after all and are quite difficult to get to in most car models.

For more guides like this, keep reading here on

Cesar G.B. Miguel

Cesar G.B. Miguel


Cesar Guiderone B. Miguel was born and raised in Iligan City, Lanao Del Norte. He graduated in 2010 with a Bachelor of Arts in English degree from Mindanao State University - Iligan Institute of Technology. He previously worked as a freelance writer for various websites, as a member of the Iligan City Disaster Risk Reduction Management's training staff, and as a medical sales representative.


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