Car WONT Move In Drive But Will In Reverse: Reasons & Solutions

Owning a car is just like having a baby. It requires handling with care, regular checkups, and immediate action when a problem arises. But, some troubles come without any warning. One such vexing issue is that the car wont move in drive but will in reverse.

Why Does The Car Wont Move In Drive But Will In Reverse?

Transmissions, especially the automatic transmission only goes in reverse in the event of the failure or damage of a component in the system. 

It could also be a fault with the speed sensor. Learn the possible reasons that don’t allow your car to run in the forward direction.

1# Transmission Issues

Transmission is most likely to be the culprit for the car wont move in drive but will in reverse. When the vehicle does not function in one or more gears, you should check the gear shifter. 

The gear cable could be stretched further than the normal length and requires adjusting. The failure of some internal components can be the cause too. The car will reverse but not go forward because of worn-out solenoids, clutches, or gears.

transmission has reverse but no forward gears
Transmission is likely to be the root cause. (Photo Source: Pixabay}

Some issues are simple and you can fix them in your garage. But, professional attention is required when the problem lies with some inner parts.

Some other transmission snags that can lead to the trouble are:

Transmission fluid

Low level of fluid is a potential reason for making the car move to reverse only. Check the level when the engine is hot and the vehicle runs in neutral. Use the transmission dipstick to see if the fluid is running low. 

The transmission cannot operate properly when it does not get enough supply of fluid.

Cracked fluid tube

A broken fluid tube might be the one causing the complication and it mainly occurs in the 2007 models of Chevy Cobalt and Pontiac G5. 

When the forward tube at the pipe joint cracks or breaks, the car cannot move forward except for going reverse. The repair is easy as you just need to replace the damaged parts.

>> See more: Automatic Transmission: The Journey to Popularity

2# Faulty speed sensor

It seems silly that a simple component like a speed sensor can mess up the car’s transmission system. The sensor provides the ECU information about the vehicle’s speed which ultimately affects the shifting of the gears.

If the information is erratic, the transmission may face the problem of working in reverse only.

car wont move in drive or reverse
A bad speed sensor could be the culprit too. (Photo: Dreamstime)

3# Incorrect air/fuel ratio

Your vehicle needs the correct air-fuel ratio in the cylinders of the engine to produce proper combustion and keep the vehicle moving smoothly. 

If the air filter and sensor are faulty, the engine cannot receive enough air to operate efficiently, possibly causing the issue of the car wont move in drive or worse, stalling in reverse.

The main signs of a poor air-fuel ratio include reduced fuel efficiency, rough no-load, and reduced engine performance.


  • Turn on the ignition to start the machine. Locate the air conditioner unit in the engine air filter. Look for the flat-tipped yellow brass path on the carburetor, which is the air-fuel mixture.
  • Rotate clockwise to tighten until the motor emits a light sound.
  • This helps to lighten the air-fuel mixture while reducing fuel energy flowing into the engine. 
  • Set the control combination between chart and uneven audio positions. Then adjust either direction to ensure you see the smoothest no-download speeds.

4# Problems of Engine Control Unit

It is also possible that the reason for the car wont move in drive but will in reverse problem on your vehicle is the faulty Engine Control Unit (ECU). The ECU is a tiny device that controls several tasks in your vehicle.

But if the ECU is malfunctioning, it may display erroneous warnings, causing your car to not perform properly, including in-drive performance. 

Although this issue is not common, it is not impossible. A few symptoms can be listed as:

  • Engine light is on continuously
  • Your car won’t start
  • Reduced fuel efficiency
  • Gear shift problem
  • Sudden movements and stops

For the solution, if you suspect you have a faulty ECU, call to have your vehicle towed to a service and repair shop. 

Only highly trained OEM technicians are authorized to test, diagnose, and reprogram the ECU. They have the right tools to get the job done properly and avoid further damage to the software.

my car is not moving when i put it in drive
If you suspect you have a faulty ECU, call to have your vehicle towed to a service and repair shop. (Photo: Oards Automotive)

You can also contact your dealer to fix the problem. The dealer company will have the right technology and experienced staff to get your ECU up and running. ECU replacement is also easier when working with a dealer, especially if it’s under warranty.

5# Slipping Car Clutch

If your vehicle does not move in drive but does so in reverse, you may have a sliding clutch, which causes engine engagement and disengagement.

A sliding clutch indicates that little or no power is being transferred to the wheels, resulting in the vehicle not moving.

Symptoms of a slipping clutch:

  • When starting the engine, there is a burning odor.
  • When applying pressure to the pedals, you will hear squeaky, rumbling noises.
  • The clutch pedal vibrates
  • Difficulty switching gears
  • Poor or non-existent acceleration

For the solution, if the clutch slips due to wrong placement, you can adjust it and continue driving.

However, if a clutch begins to slide, it is preferable to replace it because it tends to slip more frequently after the initial slip. The more your clutch slides, the more friction it produces and the more damage the car sustains.

Consider having your mechanic look it over as soon as possible to see if it needs to be replaced.

Check out the video below from Helpful DIY to learn more about how to tell if your car has a slipping clutch!

Car Won’t Reverse But Will Go Forward: What To Do?

The opposite problem of the car wont move in drive but will in reverse is the car won’t reverse but will go forward. Both are complicated issues and need to be detected as soon as possible to avoid worse outcomes.

Again, issues with the transmission could be behind this complication the most. It could be something as simple as broken, loose, or bent reverse linkage. 

But, you cannot rule out the worn-out internal components. When the fluid pump and other related components wear out, the fluid pressure drops and can get high enough only to operate in reverse.

  • Here are some most common symptoms of the car only goes in reverse issue for your quick reference:
  • Broken teeth or reverse gears: Common in manual cars, caused mainly by improper shift gears. You can hear a clicking noise, and clunk when going into reverse and your car won’t go in reverse but drives fine.
  • Defected lockout ring in manual cars: The lockout ring prevents drivers from shifting cars into reverse accidentally. If it breaks, your car will not be able to reverse. The signs are grinding noise in reverse, a burning smell in the cabin, and continuous gear sliding.
  • Low transmission fluid
  • A faulty transmission position sensor
  • Broken valve body (automatic car): when this part brakes, your car can not shift smoothly anymore. The signs are delay in gear shifting, wrong time for higher-lower gear shifting, park gear exit failing, wrong gear shifting, or single gear locking. 

Keep noticing every small detail and change of your car gearing status to timely prevent and maintain it without losing too much time and effort on the problems that get worse day by day.

In the end, whether your car wont move in drive but will in reverse or shows a problem opposite to it, and if you are not an expert or confident in your mechanical knowledge, take it to a reliable service center for a thorough transmission and sensor checkup.

For more car maintenance tips, follow Car From Japan today.