Why Is My Transmission Not Shifting Out of First Gear? 10 Problems and Their Fixes

You have just come out of the home with your car but oops!

The transmission is not shifting out of first gear. Such kind of automotive malfunction is a painful thing. 

Transmission is an essential component of a vehicle. Why? Because it transfers power to the wheels and makes your car move.

There are various types of car transmissions. Some are automated, whereas manual transmissions in stick-shift cars have the driver doing additional steps in order for the vehicle to function correctly. In a car, where do you find the transmission? Transmission is often installed in the front of a vehicle’s chassis.

If you’ve ever wondered how a transmission works, you should know that it depends on transmission type. What a gearbox accomplishes, regardless of the type, is to allow the gear ratio between the drive wheels and the engine to alter when the automobile slows and speeds up.

The engine is engaged and disengaged from the transmission using a flywheel, pressure plate, and clutch. The engine is connected to the flywheel and pressure plate. The clutch is splined to the transmission input shaft and sandwiched between them.

However, if the transmission breaks down, then your vehicle may be stuck out of first gear.

What to do if it happens? 

Today we are here to let you know the reasons why your transmission not shifting out of first gear, how to fix it and what you need to solve this problem. Let’s get started. 

Transmission Not Moving Out of First Gear: Reasons and Solutions 

There might be several reasons why your transmission won’t shift into gear. Most commonly, there are 5 major reasons for this malfunction. Let’s see what are the causes of your transmission issue.   

1. Transmission Fluid Level and Condition (Any Transmission)

transmission not shifting out of first gear

Transmissions, like engines, have their lubricating oil to keep the complicated mechanical parts from grinding. Transmission fluid does not require a frequent replacement as engine oil – the exact time varies by manufacturer, but the typical range is 30,000 to 60,000 miles.

Because transmissions are sealed, external pollutants cannot contaminate the fluid. Transmission gears, as well as other components, despite being greased, will fall out on a microscopic level, contaminating the transmission fluid over time.

The transmission fluid levels should also be considered. In most automobiles, there’s a second dipstick in the engine bay that you use the same way as the engine oil dipstick.

Firstly, remove it from the system, clean it properly, put it back and recheck the transmission levels.

What Is the Price for Replacing Transmission Fluid?

A professional should change your transmission fluid on a regular basis because there is less space for error. Since the transmission is a sealed item, if the fluid levels have dropped, a specialist should inspect it for leaks and determine what is causing the low levels.

A transmission fluid change at an authorized dealership will cost the highest, up to $200 in labor. A much lower fee, $50-100, will be charged by an independent mechanic. You’ll need a new transmission gasket, filter, and 8-13 quarts of transmission fluid, which will set you back a pretty penny.

The ACDelco transmission filter and gasket, as well as 6 quarts of Valvoline fluid, are listed in the table below. The components will cost at least $100 based on the typical volume of fluid required.

Perhaps, this is the most common problem in any type of transmission. If the fluid level of transmission is low, or there is dirt in your transmission, then there will be a huge problem in gearing up your car. Rusty or dirty transmission fluid may bring debris, reduce viscosity. So, when you find there are some issues with the transmission fluid, go for transmission fluid replacement.

2. Worn Clutch (Standard Transmission)

Your clutch will almost certainly break down at some point over the life of your car. Because the clutch is such a vital part of your car’s efficient operation, it’s crucial to keep an eye on any symptoms of wear.

 Unfortunately, replacing your clutch isn’t as straightforward as changing your oil or tires; there are no set recommendations for when you should replace your clutch; it’s entirely dependent on your driving style and surroundings. The clutch on your car could last anywhere between 20,000 and 150,000 kilometers.

A Worn Clutch Has Three Main Symptoms

If you observe any of these symptoms while driving, you may have a worn clutch, in which case it’s time to replace it.

1. The odor of burning

2. Getting out of gear “accidentally.”

3. The clutch should be soft or spongy.

Let’s look at each of these symptoms and see what they mean.

Smell Of Fire

If there is a smell around the engine (specifically around the location of the clutch), it is an indication that the clutch is overheated, and the clutch plate is out of service. In slow-moving traffic, this is frequently produced by riding the clutch.

Gear Slippage

Even if it only happens once in a while, a clutch that slips out of gear while driving should be changed. It could be a symptom that your clutch is worn or an oil leak lubricating the clutch plate coming from the crankshaft.

Test

If you’re still not sure if your clutch needs to be replaced, you can do a simple driving test the next time you’re on the road if your engine continues to rev rapidly while in first gear, your gear has not hooked on properly, and your clutch has a problem.

If there is a worn clutch on the vehicle, your car won’t get sufficient friction for your engine to get enough power to transfer. That means, your car motion will be slower. 

In this case, replace the clutch on your transmission. To replace it, you may need a professional car mechanic.

3. Leaking Clutch (Standard Transmission)

A hydraulic clutch operates in the same way that your brakes do: it engages your clutch with hydraulic pressure, allowing you to shift gears.

When you step on the clutch pedal, a metal tube and a plunger transfer this momentum to the clutch master cylinder, this pressurizes the fluid and sends it to the slave cylinder, which controls the clutch and lets you change gears.

The position of master and slave cylinder can differ from one company and the model of the car to the other.

They could also be installed behind the dash inside the cabin.

Brake fluid is shared between the clutch master and slave cylinders in all automobiles. A tiny rubber tube is used to transport braking fluid from the master cylinder. 

The pressed fluid goes via a metal tube that runs from the clutch master cylinder to the slave cylinder.

You can face this problem if:

  • Brake line Seeping: There is a hole that transfers the fluid from the master brake cylinder to the clutch master cylinder. This joint can sometimes face leakage issues with time around the clutch pedal.
  • Leaking Master Cylinder: There are various places where the clutch master cylinder might leak. The reservoir of plastic fluid is one of them. The master cylinder seal, on the other hand, is more likely to be the issue.

A standard stick-shift transmission may include the leaking clutch hydraulic brakes cylinder. If there is any leak, it may cause your car not to get to gear.

4. Failing Electronics (Automatic Transmission)

In the case you find that there’s no mechanical issue to cause malfunctioning in your transmission, you should then check if there is an electronics issue. There are solenoids inside the transmission. The work to change the gear of your transmission. So, if the solenoids or control module are faulty, then your vehicle may not get on gear. 

There could be one of the following Issues If the situation still exists:

1. Short circuit: Why would your circuit take on more than it can handle? A short circuit is caused by supplying more power to a circuit than it can handle.

The scent of burning plastic while driving is something to be aware of

If the smell exists, it is an indication that the wire is short-circuited, leading to this smell.

2. Spark plugs aren’t tightly connected: Loose spark plugs, like loose nails in wood furniture, cause a lot of problems.

They are responsible for ignition in the system. Thus, if they are loosely connected, the car won’t function properly, and you will face issues.

Manufacturing flaws or damaged spark plugs are likely to blame if you observe your automobile rapidly losing power and eventually coming to a halt.

What to look for: weird car behavior and activity, as well as a sudden loss of power.

This issue requires the expert’s attention. While it is possible to change it yourself, it is always preferable to get professional assistance.

5. Shift Interlock Mechanism (Automatic Transmission)

Nowadays, automatic transmissions come with a shift lock mechanism. When you find the transmission not shifting, then you should go for shift lock release. In doing so, you can check the owner’s manual to know how to do shift lock release on your vehicle. 

brake pedal position sensor

The shift interlock stops a driver from shifting into reverse while driving, a safety precaution. Before the driver can change gears, the car must come to a complete stop. Part of the safety device is the shift interlock solenoid.

A shift lock release will help to reset your car’s shift interlock system as well as will shift your transmission one more time. If it still doesn’t work, you may require a new brake pedal position sensor to change or more transmission repairing to fix the issue.

Check this brake pedal position sensor from Amazon.

The brake light switch and the neutral safety switch are connected by the shift interlock solenoid. Solenoids are metal-wire-wrapped cylindrical coils. Electric currents pass through them.

The shifter interlock solenoid stops you from changing from Park to Drive without first putting your foot down on the brake. The solenoid receives a signal when you press the brake pedal, telling it to release the shifter’s mechanical lock.

If you are unsure how to release the shift lock, you can refer to the owner’s manual.

The manual will have an accurate description of how you could release the shift lock of the respective vehicles (every vehicle works differently; thus, instructions may differ). However, if you already know how to do this, you can skip this instruction.

If you are doing it for the first time and it doesn’t work, then take a break and follow the instructions once again. Make sure the ignition switch is on and on the run. Meanwhile, following the stated instructions in the manual, move the shift lever and pedal down.

6. Solenoid for Transmission Shift

The transmission shift solenoid regulates gear-shifting systems by calculating the optimal moment depending on the engine’s current load and speed.

The faulty solenoid will result in jerky and delayed shifting, as well as difficulty changing out of neutral or first gear. To avoid further transmission damage, one should treat the problem quickly as feasible.

How Much Does It Cost to Replace a Solenoid?

Solenoids can cost as little as $20 per, but they can cost as much as $100 for some automobiles. The average labor cost is roughly $300, depending on the shop, and the average cost with parts is $450.

7. Torque Converter 

We won’t go into detail about the torque converter because it’s a rather complex component. Its failure causes a variety of symptoms, including loss of acceleration, shifting problems, stuck gears, slippage between ratios, and overheating.

The cost to replace the torque converter can easily exceed $1000, primarily because labor costs have increased. You have no choice but to weigh whether the repair is worthwhile.

A faulty torque converter could be the source of this issue. If there is a rattling sound then you might be facing this is the reason why you might not be able to shift out of first gear all of the time. The transmission may shift erratically if the torque converter is malfunctioning. The torque converter will need to be replaced if you have a problem.

8. Transmission Rebuild

Knowing how to diagnose a transmission problem isn’t crucial because the problem will have to be diagnosed by a more qualified mechanic. Your transmission will need to be rebuilt unless it’s one of the cheaper repairs listed above.

We can’t offer you an accurate quote without knowing the precise make and model of your vehicle, but transmission rebuilds start at $1,500 and can go as high as $5,000. Approximately $3,000 is the average.

When faced with tens of thousands of dollars in unanticipated expenses, you should constantly explore your choices, one of which is purchasing a new or remanufactured transmission. Depending on the model, it may be less expensive to purchase a pre-refurbished transmission with a mileage warranty and avoid the labor costs of transmission rebuilding.

Investing a significant amount of money in an old car with high mileage and low selling price may be a waste of money. Please find the current trade value of your car and whether it’s worth it to sell it and then proceed along with the money from the transmission rebuild, to purchase a new one.

9. Dragging Clutch

There is frequently far too much slack in the clutch pedal if the clutch disk does not separate from the flywheel when the clutch pedal is depressed. Due to which, the clutch disk is not pulled away from the flywheel by the linkage. 

You won’t be able to shift gears if this happens because the clutch is still spinning. One of the most affordable transmission repairs is this one.

10. Burning Oil

If you detect a burning odor, have your car inspected right away. Oil spilling onto the exhaust pipe, wire insulating burning on the pipe, or the transmission running hot are all possibilities for the source of the burning.

The lubricant level in the transmission might be below, or you would have added incompatible transmission fluid. That’s why we highly suggest you recheck the fluid you used and the one you need and remove the one you added to the system before anything happens.

A faulty torque converter could be the source of this issue. If there is a rattling sound then you might be facing this is the reason why you might not be able to shift out of first gear all of the time. The transmission may shift erratically if the torque converter is malfunctioning. The torque converter will need to be replaced if you have a problem.

How To Fix Transmission Problems

In order to fix the transmission problem, you have to follow a step by step guide. Let’s first know what tools you need to repair transmission problems. Our guide is applicable for most cars.

Code reader

Tools that You’ll Need To Fix:

You may buy this code reader from Amazon.

Easy Fixes

Case 1: If your car is not warm and your car transmission disappears out of gear, most probably it happens for short transmission fluid. At that time, transmission loses hydraulic pressure.  

Easy Fix:

If it happens, see the level of transmission fluid keeping your vehicle on a plain surface.  

Case 2: Transmission is barely shifting or not shifting at all. 

In general, the transmission is regulated by the Powertrain Control Module of your car. When the VSS (vehicle speed sensor) will fail, your Powertrain Control Module won’t have any input. Accordingly, the transmission will not move appropriately as well. 

Easy Fix:

First of all, scan the sensor and ensure that the speedometer is working perfectly. Unless it changes the vehicle speed sensor with a new one and checks the system again.

Case 3: Your transmission misses 2nd gear, changes from 1st gear to 3ed gear. Plus, you see the notification”service engine soon” or “service engine soon” MIL is illuminated. 

Easy Fix:

Scan the computer to help locate the transmission control solenoid that is malfunctioning. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What Causes a Transmission to Refuse to Shift?

Dirt, trash, and other small particles can build up in transmission fluid over time, influencing the fluid’s qualities. When you shift into drive or reverse, this might cause the car to die, resulting in a loss of power, transmission slide, complex shifts, or possibly the vehicle not moving into gear at all.

Is It Possible for A Blown Fuse to Create Transmission Problems?

The TCM will identify defects in the systems it monitors, and any failure, from a faulty solenoid to a blown fuse, will cause the transmission to enter a limp-in mode, which will protect the transmission from additional damage while enabling some limited capacity to drive.

What Are the Symptoms of An Inadequate Transmission Control Solenoid?

Symptoms of a Malfunctioning Transmission Shift Solenoid are as follows:

  • Delay shifting while the vehicle accelerates and decelerates.
  • Your vehicle’s transmission has become stuck in neutral.
  • Uneven shifting.
  • Even when you hit the brakes, the engine revs noisily.
  • Your engine is noisy, and your transmission won’t downshift.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of a Malfunctioning Transmission Modulator?

Whether selecting when to shift gears, the transmission modulator valve plays a role. 

If it falls out of service, a whistling and irritating noise will come from the system. Or else, you will evidence white smoke from the exhaust.

What Is the Purpose of The TCM Fuse?

TCM fuse is located in the main block and is a 10 amps fuse. If the fuse blows, it confirms the problem, but a blown fuse indicates a short circuit in the TCM and wiring, which must be found and fixed.

How Can I Check If A TCM Module Is Working Correctly?

To detect the TCM module issues, you need a scan tool to check the problem codes of your car.

One can also use jumper wires from the battery terminals manually. The TCM computers should beep for about two seconds when starting the car. If not, double-check that all of the cords are securely attached.

Conclusion

The transmission’s components will ultimately wear down, just like any other moving parts. You can make the transmission last longer by conducting proper maintenance on it. Ensure that you get your transmission flushed at the manufacturer’s suggested intervals. 

You have the option of having the transmission flushed by a shop or dealership or flushing it yourself. When changing your transmission fluid, make sure you use the correct fluid for your vehicle.

The Grumpy Mechanic is the place to go when you would like to protect and preserve the things you care about. The Grumpy Mechanic’s extensive product line will assist you in maintaining not only your automobile but also your boats, recreational equipment, patio furniture, and other items. You can find our products online or in a store near you.

Indeed, when you find your transmission not shifting out of first gear, it’s a matter of thinking.  To solve it on your own, you have to have enough tools as well as basic mechanical skills. 

If you don’t find it convenient to do it yourself, then go for a professional one. 

Happy driving! 

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