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Car Stuck In First Gear Automatic Transmission

Car Stuck In First Gear Automatic Transmission

You are probably not in a pleasant situation if you’re searching online for ‘car stuck in first gear automatic transmission.’ It’s a pain to have your plans altered or delayed because your car with automatic transmission is stuck in first gear. 

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Let’s shed some light why you end up with a car stuck in first gear automatic transmission. Once you’ll know the cause, you can now start to plan what the next course of action will be. 

Causes & Solutions: Car Stuck In First Gear Automatic Transmission

Like most other transmission problems, a car stuck in first gear automatic transmission has more than one cause. This is why you need to first identify the cause so that the proper solution can be applied. 


  • A Faulty Solenoid – Automatic transmissions are able to shift gears through the action of the solenoids. A solenoid is used to power a switch or a starter. Solenoids are used by the car’s computer to determine the speed and which gear should be used. 


The computer of your car transmits electrical signals to the solenoids to open them up, allow transmission fluid to flow through them and allow the gears to shift. But there are times when these solenoids fail and prevent the car from shifting gears. 


Usually, the culprit of a malfunctioning solenoid is failing to change your transmission fluid when you should. Over time, your transmission fluid collects small bits of metal and other debris (causing the transmission fluid to appear dark in color, deep red or brownish). This causes the solenoids to malfunction. 


Solution: If the bad solenoids are caused by low or dirty transmission fluid, then it can be solved by adding or changing the transmission fluid. If problems still persist after adding or changing fluid, then better bring your car to a mechanic. 


  • Limp Mode – The computer of the car is responsible for shifting gears based on the solenoids and the readings it receives from them. But what happens when it gets bad readings? Or no readings at all? If the car’s computer has issues getting signals it will go into what is called a “limp mode.”


Limp mode is actually a safety feature. It keeps your car stuck in either 2nd or 3rd gear if the computer is unable to receive accurate readings from solenoids. 



  1. Restart your engine. If your car goes in limp mode while you are driving, find a safe place to stop and restart your engine. Let the car stay completely off for at least a minute before restarting. 


Most of the time, this will reset the limp mode and let your car operate normally. If it goes in limp mode again, get your car diagnosed with an OBD-II scanner as soon as you can. If the engine overheats, let it cool down first before restarting.


  1. Check your transmission fluid level. One of the common reasons that makes your car go into limp mode is low transmission fluid. Make sure to add enough fluid to reach the correct level. 


  1. Clear Fault Codes from Transmission Module. If the two of the above solutions do not fix the issue, read and clear the codes with an OBD-II scanner. It is recommended to use a multi-system scanner which enables you to read and clear codes from both transmission modules and the engine.


If the problem remains or returns, get your car diagnosed by a professional mechanic.


  • Low or Dirty Transmission Fluid – Low or dirty transmission fluid can cause a car stuck in first gear automatic transmission. Your transmission fluid should have a light red/pinkish color. Dirty automatic transmission fluid has deep red or dark brown color. 


A dirty fluid is unable to give enough lubrication and coolness to the internal parts of the transmission. This leads to excess wear and for the part to fail prematurely. 


Solution: To find where your transmission dipstick is and know the specific transmission fluid for your car’s make, model and year, check your owner’s manual. With your automatic transmission in park, engine on and warmed up, the fluid level should be between the “full” and “add” mark on the dipstick. Add new transmission fluid using a clean funnel if it’s low.


If your car is able to get out of first gear after adding fluid, then your transmission fluid was low probably because of a leak. This means you have to take your car to a service center so a mechanic can check for leaks. It is a good time to flush your transmission fluid and change the filter. 


  • A Failing Torque Converter – When you have a faulty torque converter, sometimes you may get stuck in first gear (automatic transmission). The function of the torque converter is to transport the power the car engine produces to the transmission in your car. 


The torque converter is full of fluid and serves as a hydraulic pump and a coupling between the engine and the transmission. You might think there is a problem with the transmission when the issue is with its torque converter. This is because their symptoms are very similar. 


Solution: If you have an issue with the torque converter, it will need to be replaced. 


Other FAQs Related Car Stuck In First Gear Automatic Transmission

What does it mean when your automatic car won’t change gears?

Other than having a problem with a car stuck in first gear automatic transmission, you might also have problems with your automatic car not changing gears. It can be caused by the following:


  • Failing Shift Lock Release – To keep the car from being accidentally put into gear without a driver, modern cars with automatic transmissions will lock the shift knob in park until your foot is on the brake and the engine is turned on. 


Sometimes the shift lock could get stuck and fail to disengage correctly. On virtually all new cars with automatic shifters, you can find a Shift Lock or Shift Lock Release switch placed somewhere near the shifter.


Usually, it is hidden under a small trim piece that you have to remove with a small screwdriver or key. To release the lock, stick the key in. You now can shift into drive.


  • Bad Transmission Fluid – A modern automatic transmission runs on the principle of fluid dynamics. Over time, the fluid will thin out, get dirty and need replacement, otherwise, you might have difficulty going into gear. 


You may also experience rough shifts or the car may need a number of attempts to go into reverse or go from reverse into drive. This is why you must have a clean transmission fluid and have it changed based on the recommendation in your owner’s manual. 


  • Severed Linkage Wire – If the shift knob in the cabin is unable to communicate to the transmission underneath the car, it is unable to go into gear. While it is not a usual problem, cables and wires can get severed over time due to rubbing against sharp metal edges on the car’s frame. 


If the linkage cable to your transmission or clutch is severed or pinched off, your car cannot go into gear no matter what you do. If you have exhausted all other options and suspects a severed linkage cable is the culprit, have a professional mechanic check it. 


Finding the source of this problem can be tricky and may need advanced tools. 

Can you drive with a bad transmission solenoid?

Transmissions usually have one less solenoid than they have gears. For example, a four-speed transmission will usually have 3 solenoids; one for the first to second gear shift, second for the second to third gear shift and lastly, for the third to fourth gear shift. 


If one of the 3 solenoids fail, it can lead to a loss of fluid control during that shift event. Hence, a transmission with a failing two to three solenoid will shift into second gear, but unable to shift to third or fourth. It can only work fine in those first two gears.


So the simple answer is yes. You can drive with a bad shift solenoid. Fluid pressure control can work in the gear with the functioning solenoid, but it is not recommended to put any more stress on the transmission. 

How To Prevent Car Stuck In First Gear Automatic Transmission

While there are times you can’t avoid transmission problems, you can still make it less likely to happen and make your automatic transmission last longer. Here are some ways you can prevent car stuck in first gear (automatic transmission):


  1. Check your transmission fluid color, level, and smell regularly.
  2. Use the correct type of transmission fluid.
  3. Avoid overfilling your transmission. It can make the fluid foam which can cause erratic shifting, loss of internal lubrication and can even cause transmission damage.
  4. Make sure your transmission is not subjected to too much heat. 
  5. Do not tow in overdrive.
  6. Avoid overloading your car.
  7. Have an auxiliary cooler installed.
  8. Warm up your car thoroughly on cold mornings.
  9. Do not rock between gears when your car gets stuck in mud or ice. If you have no choice but to rock, do it as gently as you can and ensure that the wheels have stopped moving before shifting gear. 
  10. Use the emergency brake when you are parking on an incline.
  11. Avoid performing high performance starts (unless for emergencies).


Lastly, when it comes to your transmission, always play it safe. When there is any sign of a potential issue, have it checked promptly by a professional. Issues like a car stuck in first gear in an automatic transmission should be addressed right away. 


If you have an older car and you found out you have a transmission problem that is expensive to repair or replace, you may want to consider selling it to a cash car buyer who will buy your car as-is. Contact us now!

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