Car Stuck in Neutral – What Could Cause This?

Car stuck in neutral is a very common condition, and the causes and fixes of gear-shifting problems are essential information for all drivers. All car models experience gear problems, but the issues are preventable and easy to solve.

Car Stuck in Neutral - What are the Causes and Fixes

The major causes of a stuck gear shift include low and dirty transmission fluid, a damaged shifter cable, faulty transmission gears, and problems with the engine control unit.

Read on to discover how to identify and fix these issues!

Why Is Your Car Gear Shift Stuck in Neutral?

Your car gear shift is stuck in neutral because of several mechanical issues, including a low level of transmission fluid, faulty shifter cable, shift lock mechanism problems, faulty transmission gears, and transmission control unit issues. A defective clutch and contaminated transmission fluid can also cause car gear shifting problems.

You can only enjoy a safe and comfortable drive once you identify and fix the issues keeping the car stuck in neutral.

– Low Transmission Fluid

Transmission fluid keeps the moving parts in your car lubricated. It also provides the friction and hydraulic pressure the internal components need to function correctly.

A low transmission fluid level means the vehicle generates low hydraulic pressure, which causes gear slippage. You cannot engage your car gear or accelerate effectively with slipping gears.

– Defective Shifter Cable

The shifter cable connects the transmission and the shifter handle. The connection puts the transmission into the right gear. The shift selector in an automatic car will show when you engage the gear.

Reasons Why Is Your Car Gear Shift Stuck in Neutral

You will experience problems shifting gears if the shifter cable is damaged and faulty. If the transmission fluid is clean and sufficient, replacing the damaged shifter cable will solve the problems in shifting gears.

– Faulty Shift Lock Mechanism

The shift lock mechanism is a safety feature that prevents your car from moving or rolling when an inexperienced driver is in the driver’s seat. Vehicles with this safety measure cannot engage or shift gears when an inexperienced driver, such as your toddler, tries to engage the gears. The feature is only useful if it can detect your presence when you resume the driver’s seat.

A defective shift lock mechanism does not detect your presence, which is frustrating. The vehicle maintains the gear holding position despite your efforts to move the gear stick. You can solve this problem easily with the override feature in the cockpit. Check your car manual for directions if this is the first time you have experienced this problem.

– Faulty Transmission Gears

A car with a manual transmission may have five to six gears depending on the car model. The multiple gears allow you to accelerate quickly and maintain high speed. However, your car gear shift will malfunction when the transmission gears are faulty or damaged.

Vehicles with an automatic transmission also have multiple gears, but the car does most of the work in changing gears. A professional mechanic must help identify and fix damaged transmission gears.

– Transmission Linkage Issues

A disconnection between the transmission system and gear stick affects gear shifting. The disconnection may occur after an accident. You will experience problems engaging the clutch if the transmission system is disconnected.

Your vehicle may require new clutch pedals if you do not hear the click sound after pushing the clutch to the floor. If the clutch is functional, check the hydraulic system.

– Dirty Transmission Fluid

The gear-shifting process requires clean and sufficient transmission fluid to function properly. Any dirt or contamination will cause gear-shifting problems. If you experience this problem, check the level and color of the fluid.

The color of clean fluid is supposed to be is red or pink. An immediate change is necessary if the color has turned black or brown.

– Engine Control Unit Problems

Modern cars rely on the engine control unit to engage gears. The control unit analyses and interprets the car’s operational needs to pick the right gear that the car should engage.

Your car may fail to shift gears if the transmission system has issues that the engine control unit cannot bypass. In addition, you will experience issues shifting gears if the engine control unit is faulty or corrupt.

– Brake Light Switch Failure

The brake light switch tells the car engine when to start or stop. The brake light switch should indicate the same command when you press the brake pedal. A faulty switch does not interpret your moves correctly, including shifting gears.

Car Brake Light Switch Failure

The defective switch causes your car to maintain the wrong gear and other transmission failures. Some car parts may wear out prematurely if the switch remains incorrectly set for longer.

– Faulty Ignition Switch

The ignition switch determines how your car starts, engages gears, and starts to move. If the switch is imprecise or faulty, your car may remain stuck in neutral.

In addition, a faulty ignition switch may cause your car to maintain the shift lock mechanism. You cannot change the gear and move your car until the switch gives a precise command.

– Excess Pressure on the Gas Pedal

Your driving habits can cause a stuck gear stick. When you use excessive force on the gas pedal, the gearbox may shift the gear without your engagement.

In addition, forcefully stepping on the gas pedal may cause it to remain stuck in one position. It is hard to shift the gear with a stuck gas pedal.

How To Fix a Car Gear Shift Stuck in Neutral

To fix a car gear shift stuck in neutral, you must first eliminate any transmission fluid issues. Effective gear shifting requires an adequate level of transmission fluid.

The fluid should also be clean. You can then inspect and fix other mechanical problems, if any, after fixing the hydraulic system.

– Check the Transmission Fluid Level

Use a dipstick to check the level of the transmission fluid level. You can do it when the engine is running or turned off. The fluid should reach the full mark on the dipstick.

Fixing Car Gear Shift Stuck in Neutral


If not, add more fluid until it reaches that level. Develop a habit of checking the fluid level every week to avoid sudden transmission and gear problems.

– Flush the Transmission Fluid

The transmission fluid gets contaminated and breaks down over time. A change is necessary every 30,000 miles, even if your car’s transmission system is working perfectly. You can flush the fluid at home or at the mechanic’s shop.

Here is the process if you choose to do it at home:

  1. Park your vehicle in Park mode on a level surface and then switch off the engine.
  2. Use the dipstick to determine the fluid level. Add more fluid if it fails to reach the full mark.
  3. Check the transmission flush port on the side of the transmission. Loosen the port fitting with a wrench and then attach a transmission flush hose.
  4. Turn the engine on and allow it to run for a few minutes.
  5. Start the transmission flush machine and keep it running until the old fluid is completely drained from the system.
  6. Disconnect the flush hose and close the flush port fitting tightly. Add transmission fluid until it reaches the full mark on the dipstick.

The flushing process calls for precision in locating, opening, and closing the flushing port and hose. Allow a qualified mechanic to do it for you if the parts and processes are unfamiliar to you.

– Check and Fix Faulty Internal Parts

If flushing and filling the transmission fluid does not solve the issue, identify the broken part of the transmission system and fix it. You may require a mechanic’s help at this point to identify the defective internal parts.

A full car diagnosis will also reveal some parts that are almost breaking down. Your mechanic will replace the parts before they cause gear shifting and other mechanical problems. However, you can fix some mechanical parts easily without a mechanic, such as overriding the shift lock mechanism.

– Regular Service

Mechanical problems start when you skip car service appointments. Qualified mechanics will advise you on the parts that require repair or replacement before your car stalls.

In addition, your mechanic will check the transmission fluid, flush it, and refill it in time if you maintain regular service. Visit your mechanic whenever you hear strange sounds or see leaks for a timely fix.

Why Is My Car Gear Shift Stuck in Neutral Reasons and Remedies Conclusion


You have learned why your car gear stick may be stuck in neutral. The great news is that the problem is easy to fix when you identify the specific causes, so let us go over the main points again.

  • The transmission system requires adequate and clean transmission fluid for a precise gear-shifting process.
  • Faulty parts such as the shifter cable, clutch, engine control unit, transmission gears, shift lock mechanism, and brake light switch can cause a car to get stuck in neutral. Repairing or replacing the faulty parts solves the gear-shifting issues.
  • You can use a dipstick to determine the transmission fluid level and refill it to solve gear-shifting problems. Flushing the transmission fluid is an essential preventative measure.
  • Regular service is necessary to identify and fix mechanical issues before your car stalls or fails to engage gears properly.

Engaging a qualified mechanic is advisable, especially if you cannot diagnose and fix the cause of the automatic or manual transmission stuck in neutral. You know where to check first with the information gained from this article.

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