There can be lots, and I mean lots of reasons why your automatic transmission goes into gear but won’t move your car. That’s the reason why if you encounter this issue, it’s best to have a professional look at your transmission. They will have the necessary tools for a proper diagnosis of your car.
This can be an extremely frustrating experience, especially when you’re in a hurry and you have some place to be. Usually, there are warning signs before your transmission completely malfunctions. Here are just ten reasons why your automatic transmission goes into gear but won’t move your car.
1. Low Transmission Fluid
From what we’ve found, low or no transmission tends to be a common reason why an automatic transmission goes into gear but won’t move your car. Even if the transmission is in gear if the transmission fluid is dirty or low, it won’t be able to engage a drive gear. Part of the responsibility of the transmission fluid is to lubricate the gear train and differential. If the transmission fluid is low (or dirty) it can’t keep these parts properly lubricated, which affects your car’s ability to move.
2. Broken Shifter Cable or Linkage
Even though you’re able to move the shifter, if the shifter linkage isn’t moving the transmission shift rod. Your car won’t go anywhere. The reason why the car isn’t moving is because the cable end of the shifter linkage may be broken at the transmission. So, even though you’re able to shift the selector into drive. The transmission can’t take the car out of Park.
3. Lack of Hydraulic Pressure
The valve body comprises of a complex series of valves, springs and chambers to direct the flow of pressurized transmission fluid to engage gears. If you can shift the gear selector, but your car won’t move. Chances are there’s not an adequate amount of hydraulic pressure in the valve body to engage the gears.
4. Clogged Transmission Filter
A clogged transmission could be what’s keeping your car from moving even though it’s in gear. A transmission is a closed system. Inside is a filter responsible for blocking dangerous dust and other contaminants from damaging the internals of a transmission.
If regular transmission maintenance hasn’t been done, debris builds up inside the transmission causing havoc to the internal components. You may even have heard a whining sound before the transmission stopped engaging.
5. Torque Converter Failure
On the other hand, if you do regular transmission maintenance. But the new fluid was contaminated in some way, it can lead to torque converter failure.
And since the torque converter is a fluid coupler, any part of the transmission that uses transmission fluid will be damaged as well.
But before the torque converter fails, you’ll hear noises from the transmission upon start up that go away as the engine warms up. And as the condition gets worse your car stalls often.
6. Faulty Gear Position Sensor
Another reason why the automatic transmission goes into gear but won’t move your car is because the gear position sensor has gone bad.
A transmission’s job is to keep the rotational speed of an engine within proper range depending on the gear.
The gear position sensor detects the position of the gear and sends that information as an electric signal to the ECU. But if the gear position sensor isn’t operational, that information never gets sent and your car won’t move.
7. Bad CV Axle
A Constant Velocity (CV) axle is what helps the transmission pass the engine’s power to a car’s wheels. Front wheel drive (FWD) and all-wheel drive (AWD) vehicles are equipped with CV axles, as well as rear-wheel drive (RWD) cars with independent suspension. Both the right and left front wheels will each have their own CV axels.
If your car won’t move even though it’s in Reverse or Drive, chances are that gears in the drivetrain have been damaged. One way to tell if a broken CV axle is the culprit is to see if the rubber boot around the axle joint is cracked or otherwise damaged. Without the seal from the boot, moisture and dirt get into the axle causing it to lose lubrication. And before you know it the transmission is affected as well, and your car won’t move in gear.
8. Traction Control Issues
One of the reasons why the automatic transmission goes into gear but won’t move your car may have absolutely nothing to do with the transmission at all. The federal government mandated that all cars from 2012 onwards should be equipped with traction control, along with other stability control systems.
Traction control uses the same wheel-speed sensors as anti-lock brakes (ABS) to detect wheel spin when you accelerate. But some traction control systems are so sensitive that they’ll immediately reduce engine power or apply the brakes at the faintest sign of wheel spin which will cause your car not to move even though it’s in gear. To solve this problem, simply turn the traction control off.
9. Dirty Air Intake Filter
In the vein of problems completely unrelated to the transmission that can affect your car’s ability to move forward even though it’s in gear is a dirty air intake filter. An engine needs fresh oxygen for combustion. But if it’s not able to breathe in enough oxygen, it loses power.
If you haven’t changed your engine’s air filter in some time, this could be what’s choking the power. But if the filter appears clean, there could be some obstruction in the air filter hose connected to the combustion chamber of the engine that’s blocking fresh oxygen from reaching the cylinders.
10. Worn-Out Clutches
I’ve experienced this issue. Or rather, my sister has experienced this issue. Mazda doesn’t make them anymore but when she was in college as an undergrad, she bought a used Mazda 929 with a worn-out transmission. It was a cheap car and since she didn’t need to drive that much, the faulty transmission wasn’t that big a deal.
Worn-out clutches in an automatic transmission can slip, preventing the car from moving in any gear. While she didn’t experience this issue, the car did labor every time it started moving in first gear. And shifting into second took way longer than it should causing the engine to rev almost into the red zone every time.