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Car Won’t Shift? Here’s Everything You Need to Know 

Car Won’t Shift? Here’s Everything You Need to Know 

Few things are more frustrating for a driver than a car that won't shift. If you are unable to shift gears you are essentially unable to use your car. Sometimes a shifting issue can only affect certain gears. Perhaps you are unable to shift into reverse or shifting only works when your car is off. In other instances, you won't be able to shift at all. This will make it unsafe or impossible to drive. Let's take a look at what could be going on if your transmission fails, and how much it might cost you to get something like this fixed.

Auto Repairs Are EXPENSIVE


What Is A Car's Transmission?


The transmission in your car is what allows the power produced by your engine to transfer to the wheels so you can actually move. There are a lot of parts in a modern transmission including the gears, sensors, and often even a computer. If any of these were to break down, it could affect your ability to shift gears.


There are two basic kinds of transmission in vehicles: automatic and manual. Of course, that doesn't cover the full spectrum of transmissions by any means because there are semi automatic transmissions, continuously variable transmission and so on that all operate slightly differently. 


  • A manual transmission has a clutch that actually bridges the gap between the transmission and the engine. You have to engage the clutch in order to shift through gears. Only 13% of modern cars have manual transmission.


  • An automatic transmission will shift gears when you reach the proper RPMs.  It relies on something called a torque converter.  There will also be a planetary gear set. Your responsibility as a driver is to shift into park, reverse, or neutral when necessary.


  • Automatic manual transmission also uses a clutch. Unlike normal manual transmission, this uses an electronic, pneumatic, or hydraulic control to engage. It allows for fully automatic forward gear shifts, or manual shifts by way of the gear selector or buttons.


  • Continuously variable transmission has a continuously variable drive ratio. This is different from the other kinds of transmission which have graduated steps. So instead of first gear, second gear, third gear, continuously variable just eases through the ratio. Theoretically, a CVT is able to get the optimum power out of your engine because there is no gap between one gear and another.



A properly functioning transmission helps your car burn fuel and use power efficiently. 


Common Transmission Problems You Need to Know About


If you find that your car is not able to shift properly there are several different problems that could be causing it. Keep your eye out for some of these symptoms and it may help you get to the root of your problem.


  • Transmission Fluid Problems. This is the most likely cause of a problem with your transmission not being able to shift gears. Transmission fluid has the dual purpose of lubricating and cooling your transmission. However, just like your motor oil, it does need to be changed on a regular basis. The transmission fluid needs to be changed every 30,000 miles to 60,000 miles. Your owner's manual will let you know for sure exactly how long your car should go before a change.


If you have a transmission fluid leak or your transmission fluid has become contaminated, it won't be able to perform the way it's supposed to. Heavily contaminated fluid can cause the gears in your transmission to seize up making it difficult or impossible to change gears.


If you're noticing a burning smell coming from your car, and you're unable to change gears, this is very possibly a problem with your transmission fluid. When your transmission starts running hot, the fluid will start burning. 


  • Worn Out Clutch.  The clutch in your car is made of steel plates and friction plates. Over time these plates can wear down. When that happens, they can't put pressure on the planetary gears any longer and that will prevent you from properly shifting gears. Replacing the clutch kit can fix this problem. 


  • Dragging Clutch. This happens when the clutch disc doesn't disengage from the flywheel. You'll notice that there is too much slack in your clutch pedal. When this happens, the linkage can't pull the clutch disc away from the flywheel and you're not able to change gears.


If you have a manual transmission, when the clutch wears out, you'll probably experience some serious grinding as well as your vehicle shaking.


  • Bad Torque Converter. If your transmission is making some loud and noticeable noises when you're trying to shift, in particular some rattling or clunking sounds, or a whine, it's possible that the torque converter has failed on you. A common symptom of a bad torque converter is that you will be stuck in first gear.


  • Bad Links.  if the transmission keeps slipping out of gear and your transmission fluid seems to be fine, that you may have broken or worn-out links holding your gears in place.


  • Bad Slave Cylinder. When you push on the clutch in your manual transmission, the slave cylinder puts pressure on the plates to disengage the clutch from the engine. If the slave cylinder isn't working, then your clutch pedal is going to feel very loose. If the situation is bad enough then the clutch will simply not work, and you won't be able to change gears. 


What Does it Cost to Fix a Broken Transmission?


The cost of repairing your transmission depends on what was wrong with it in the first place. As we have seen, there could be a number of causes for your car being unable to shift through gears. If you need a full manual transmission replacement you could be looking at a cost of anywhere from $1,800 to $3,500.


If you need a new clutch, the cost could be considerably lower, perhaps between $300 and $800


If all you need is a transmission fluid flush, then you might only have to spend somewhere between $75 and $150 to get this done. 


If there is a leak somewhere in your transmission, then the cost will probably be around $150 to $200 to get repaired.


Automatic transmission replacements can be pretty expensive, depending on the make and model of your vehicle. It can cost you over $10,000 to replace the transmission in a high-end luxury car. Typically, you're looking at about $2,500 to $4,000 for a remanufactured automatic transmission in a standard automobile though. The transmission is likely going to cost you more the bigger your vehicle is. Which is to say a Honda Civic’s transmission is likely going to be quite a bit cheaper than a Ram 1500.


How to Prevent Transmission Problems 


The cost of replacing or repairing transmission is obviously pretty steep. Your best bet is to prevent problems before they happen. Luckily there are some things you can do to keep your transmission running smoothly.


  • Check Your Transmission Fluid Regularly. While you should change your transmission fluid every 30000 miles or so, you're going to want to check it every 6 months just to be sure it’s performing the way it's supposed to. Check to make sure it's still clean and at the right level. If you're running low, then you likely have a leak somewhere. If it's a muddy brown colour, then there's some kind of contamination that you need to deal with.


  • Don't Overstress Your Vehicle. That means if you are towing or hauling anything of significant weight, keep it within normal operating parameters. Don't overload your vehicle, and don't tow more than you can handle. That kind of stress on your transmission can cause it to overheat.


  • Use the Recommended Transmission Fluid. In addition to checking the levels, make sure you have the right stuff. Not every transmission fluid is created equally, and some aren't meant to work with every single kind of transmission.


  • Keep an Eye on Temperatures. One of the biggest causes for transmission failure is the transmission overheating. Your transmission fluid can only do so much. Make sure you're keeping an eye on temperatures. If you see that your engine is running hot, get things looked at.


  • Warm Up Your Transmission. If you live in a cold climate, give yourself 30 seconds to a minute after starting your engine before you head out for a drive. Just a few seconds can make the difference between a smooth-running transmission and one that's going to give you problems.


  • Take it Easy on Your Transmission. Some people like to pretend they're NASCAR drivers, hard shifting and performing high performance starts. Don't spin your tires if you can avoid it. Also make sure you're using an emergency brake when you're parking on an incline. If you find yourself stuck somewhere like on the ice or in mud, don't rock your gears if you don't have to. All of this will reduce the stress on the linkages and the gears in your transmission to ensure that they're able to last longer and perform the way they're supposed to.