Automatic Transmission Won’t Shift into 3rd Gear: Reasons & Solutions

A transmission is a complex piece of machinery that runs on lots of complicated mechanisms. Upkeep and maintenance of these machines are tricky since the glitch with a tiny component can mess up with the gearbox. Such a problem is that the automatic transmission won’t shift into 3rd gear.

The Signs of Automatic Transmission Won’t Shift into 3rd Gear

The problem could occur in a couple of forms that can be easy to recognize and follow. 

First, you can notice that the transmission shifts into the first and then to second gear but does not move into the third gear. It seems that the gear slips into neutral when you push it to the third.

Another instance could be the automatic transmission won’t shift into 3rd gear at all. It smoothly glides between the first and second and vice versa, but it just stays in second when you try to push it to the third. 

In that case, the catalytic converter can touch the side of the valve body area, overheating the transmission and creating metal shavings in the pan.

car wont shift gears
Take immediate action when facing problems with shifting gears. (Photo: DriveSpark)

Automatic Transmission Won’t Shift into 3rd Gear: What Are The Reasons?

Functional auto gearbox will shift up, down, and rest upon appropriate commands. But, when it fails to do so, there must be an internal hitch affecting the performance. If you ignore the signs for too long, it could lead to a possible failure of the transmission.

Let’s see what could be the reasons for the car won’t shift gears from second to third.

Low Level of Fluid

Overheated engine might be the cause of the gear sticking, and a low transmission fluid level is to blame for the transmission becoming overheated.

In fact, low fluid levels are the cause of a number of transmission-related difficulties. As a result, your first step in dealing with a stuck gear should be to check the transmission oil.

Check for leaks in the input and output shaft seals, fluid lines, pan gasket, and cooler if the level is low. If no leak exists, rinse out the old oil and refill the container. 

>>  See more: Can Too Much Transmission Fluid be a Problem?

Also, don’t forget to check the coolant fluid in the radiator. The cooler within the radiator can occasionally leak and contaminate the radiator coolant.

Dirty Transmission Fluid

Transmission oil is needed to lubricate gears and internal moving parts. It works just like engine oil, except it’s designed specifically for transmissions. As transmission fluid ages, dirt and debris begin to accumulate in it.

Degraded gear oil makes normal gearshifts much more difficult. It can also permanently damage the transmission if not drained and replaced promptly. 

Check your vehicle’s owner’s manual for how often to change the transmission oil. Following these instructions can ensure the transmission remains in optimal condition.

automatic transmission not shifting into high gear
Degraded transmission fluid makes normal gearshifts much more difficult. (Photo: AxleAddict)

Solenoid gear shift problem

Inside the transmission, there are several gear shift solenoid coils that are responsible for automatically shifting gears for you when TCM decides to do so. If either of these fails, it can cause shifting problems with any gear, including the 3rd gear, so it’s most likely a bad shift electromagnet. 

Shift solenoid tubes are most commonly achieved by removing the valve body, which is done by removing the car’s transmission oil pan, but in some cases you have to completely remove the transmission and remove the box.

Failing torque converter

The torque converter is responsible for engaging and disconnecting the transmission from the engine. It consists of important components, such as the stator and turbine.

Any part in the torque converter can fail, resulting in transmission slippage. It can also lead to problems when switching to a specific number.

Faulty PCM or TCM

When PCM or TCM fails, transmission performance is degraded. These parts are responsible for the gearbox performance. In this way, it acts as the brain of the system.

When the PCM begins to fail, you may also notice other symptoms. You often see the Check Engine Light and experience erratic shifting patterns. The vehicle may even go into Limping Mode until the problem is resolved.

What To Do When Automatic Transmission Won’t Shift into 3rd Gear?

Here are some solutions for your reference on how to fix car not changing gears, specifically the third one. 

Check the Throttle Cables

Changing the fluid solves plenty of transmission issues but if the problem of automatic transmission won’t shift into 3rd gear persists, the parts you should check are the throttle cables.

A defective cable with excessive slack is likely to create issues with smooth shifting of the gears. It may also totally stall the 3rd shifting.

Examine the PCM

automatic transmission goes into gear but won't move
A defective PCM could be the reason too. (Photo: AutoYas)

A faulty PCM (powertrain control module) will affect the transmission performance because it controls the gearbox mechanism in most car models. The PCM will have no input if the speed sensor fails and causes automatic transmission not shifting into 3rd gear problem.

In that case, the transmission will not shift properly. To solve this problem, you have to check the speedometer to see that it is functioning. Otherwise, replacing the VSS could be the solution.

Read trouble code

When there is an error in the car’s computer, an error code is set. You can read these codes and learn more about problems with the OBDII scanner.

Each vehicle uses different codes, although some are common. For example, you may see the code P0606 or P0113 if there is a problem with the PCM. Whatever code you see, you can do some research online and search for the problem for a quick fix.

Call an expert

Even if you are a skilled mechanic, you will still have to face some problems that are too unfamiliar to you. When you see a code or an issue and you don’t know how to resolve it with your basic knowledge, it’s always ideal to get a professional check-up. 

In many cases, doing some kind of fix with the wrong approach can lead to more severe problems that are sometimes impossible to recover. So be aware and remember to call an expert to do the hard task for you. 

car not shifting gears
Even if you are a skilled mechanic, you will still have to face some problems that are too unfamiliar to you. (Photo: Thame Cars)

FAQs on Automatic Transmission Won’t Shift into 3rd Gear

1. Why is my automatic car not shifting gears?

The fluid is one of the reasons why an automatic gearbox does not shift into gear. It will influence the gears if it is not at the proper level or if the improper kind is utilized. Another significant factor is the possibility of the ECM failing.

These are the top 2 reasons why the automatic car not shifting gears

2. Can an automatic transmission not shift to 2nd gear?

Yes, an automatic transmission can be stuck at 2nd gear. This issue may be the signs of low transmission fluid and a broken transmission control solenoid.

3. How to reset the transmission control module?

Turn off your vehicle’s engine and wait for 5 to 10 seconds. Start the engine and let it idle for a few seconds. Turn off the ignition and wait for another 30 to 40 seconds. To reset your vehicle’s transmission control module, repeat these steps 2 to 3 times.

4. What are signs of a bad solenoid gear shift?

The general role of a solenoid is to control the transmission flow. Here are the symptoms of a bad transmission shift solenoid you should keep an eye on.

  • Shift delay when accelerating and decelerating.
  • Your transmission is locked in the neutral position.
  • Shifting is rough.
  • Even when you hit the brakes, the engine continues to rev noisily.
  • Your transmission is unable to downshift, and your engine is quite noisy.

For more details, let’s learn about the symptoms of a failing transmission shift solenoid with a video from EasyAutoFix. 

5. Is a solenoid an easy fix?

A failing solenoid may be crippling to your machinery or manufacturing process, but happily, it’s a part that can typically be repaired or replaced once you have identified the source of the problem.

6. How much do you have to pay for a transmission shift solenoid replacement?

You are expected to pay between a range of $200 to $450 for a single transmission solenoid replacement. However, if the problem is so severe to the point that you need to replace the whole pack, the cost range may go up to between $300 and $800. 


We have just gone through every basic aspect to get to know why automatic transmission won’t shift into 3rd gear. Hope you find this article insightful and understand exactly what to do when dealing with this issue.

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