Transmission Not Shifting Out of First Gear: Causes and Fixes

The transmission not shifting out of first gear is a common problem for car owners. It happens for various reasons, such as issues with the transmission fluid and worn-out parts.

Transmission Not Shifting Out of First Gear Causes and FixesThe issue arises both in automotive and manual transmission. This article will help you understand some of the possible causes and how to solve them.

Why Is the Transmission Not Shifting Out of 1st Gear?

The transmission is not shifting out of first gear because of faulty or damaged components. The components range from gears and sensors to transmission fluid. Another common cause of transmission not shifting out of first gear can be inappropriate weather.

So, firstly, we need to understand the type of transmission. The main issues that manual transmission has are malfunctions and the components are prone to damage. The issues with the automatic transmission relate to the computer that controls it, but it doesn’t mean that there are no common issues. Below we’ll discuss some of them. 

– Low Level Transmission Fluid

The transmission, similar to the engine, has its lubricating oil. Its role is to keep mechanical parts grinding into one another. This is why it is essential to take care of it. It needs a specific fluid level to function smoothly. If the fluid level is low, then it does not get enough energy to complete the task. One of the malfunctionings that can happen is transmission not shifting out of 1st gear. A low fluid level of transmission oil can be the indication of our next possible cause, a leak.

– Leaking Transmission Fluid

If you have a low fluid level of transmission, there is a possibility of a leak. The leak results in the transmission system not having enough energy to complete the task smoothly. One of them is transmission not shifting out of first gear.

Why the Transmission Not Shifting Out of 1st Gear

It consists of several leaking parts. The first one is the transmission pan, which is located at the bottom of the transmission. It holds a small amount of transmission fluid, and if it becomes damaged or develops a crack, it can allow fluid to leak out.

Other leaking parts include transmission seals and gaskets, its pump, and the valve body. If any of these parts have damage or wear out can create a problem, such as transmission stuck at neutral.

– Broken Transmission Linkage

Transmission linkage is the system that connects the transmission to the gear shift lever in the vehicle. It is the thing that allows the driver to move the driver according to their desire. It is in both manual and automotive transmissions. 

In a manual transmission, the transmission linkage is typically mechanical, consisting of rods or cables that connect the gear shift lever to the transmission system. In an automotive one, it is typically hydraulic. It consists of a series of valves and passages within the transmission system. They control the flow of transmission fluid. If the transmission linkage becomes damaged or malfunctions, it can cause shifting gear problems such as hard shifting or staying neutral

– Cold Weather

Although cold weather is not a common cause, it can become a contributing factor if the driver is driving in colder weather. Let’s assume that you have one of the previously mentioned issues. The cold weather can thicken the fluid and make the situation even worse.

– Automotive Transmission Not Shifting Reasons

Automotive transmission is not shifting gears because of malfunctioning or damage to components of the transmission system. Modern vehicles, most of the time, have automatic transmissions. Some of the transmission components include shifter cables, torque converter, problems with shift Lock, etc.

These transmissions have a computer that helps to control proper workflow. And if some of the parts are not functioning smoothly, it might get and show wrong calculations. 

  • Issues with the torque converter

The torque converter’s function is to transfer power from the engine to the wheels. It is a component filled with oil. If your oil is contaminated or left unresolved, it can turn into faulty or damaged torque.

Torque Converter Issues

The torque converter is between the engine and transmission. The most common cause of issues with torque is when it has too much friction. The friction can damage the converter’s needle bearings. Other causes of malfunction or damage are faulty clutch, solenoid, or seal. Some of these issues can create problems with movement. 

  • Stuck solenoid

In an automatic transmission, the solenoid’s role is to help shift gear. A solenoid is a coil of wire. It powers a switch or a starter and helps the computer to identify the speed and the gear to use. Sometimes they get stuck and prevent the transmission shift entirely. The most common cause of stuck solenoids is when the transmission fluid is not changed. 

  • Issues with shift lock

One of the crucial safety features is the shift lock. Its main feature is to detect if someone is in the driver’s seat and their foot is on the brake. So, if a child or any other person accidentally bumps the shifter, the vehicle does not move. If this system malfunctions, it will not allow any movement, even with the foot on the brake.

  • Failed Engine Computer System 

Even with all these advanced systems, it is still a computer made by people and is prone to error. The charge of the transmission is the engine’s control Unit (ECU). ECU is the one that uses information from the throttle position and engine speed to calculate the shifting of gears. So your transmission might have shifting problems if it glitches or cannot understand the core issue.

– Standard Transmission Not Shifting Out of First Gear Causes

Shifting problems in a manual gearbox are Because of faulty parts. Such parts are foul gear, its sleeve, synchronizer ring, and so on. Unlike automatic, one manual does not have a computer that helps to calculate everything. It becomes harder to find the error. 

  • Worn out gears

One of the simplest problems is a bad gearbox. It’s supposed to work for a lifetime. However, it can wear out over time. If your gearbox is manual, you might need to check if there is anything wrong. 

  • Damaged or worn-out hub gear sleeve

A geared hub is a connection between successive gears that help to move from one gear to another. It ensures that the hub’s gear movement correlates with synchronization. If the sleeve wears out, it will cause problems, such as difficulty moving the gear. You might also encounter that you can’t move it at all. 

  • Damaged synchronizer ring

The synchronization rings make sure of smooth movement thanks to their connection to the hub shell. If it malfunctions, it can cause several problems. It can cause a different speed and poor switching. Moreover, it can even prevent transmission from shifting gear at all.

What Are the Solutions For Transmission Not Shifting Problem?

The solution for transmission not shifting out of the first gear problem is simply repairing or replacing that specific part based on its condition. If the damage is too much, the best solution is to replace it. In any of these solutions, it is crucial to consult a mechanic.

Solutions For Transmission Not Shifting Problem


You might need a mechanic’s help. In most automatic transmissions, the system is very nuanced. Specialized mechanics know information unknown to the car owner. 

– Adjust Clutch Pedal Cables or Hydraulics

If you identified the linkage as your problem, first, you need to find out what is damaged or malfunctioning. For instance, in the standard transmission, the clutch pedal sinks to the floor. In that case, you’ll need an adjustment to the clutch pedal cables or hydraulics. 

– Drain and Refill the Oil

First, you identify if the lack of oil is due to a leak or other issues. If the cause is the leak, find the damaged part, replace it, or repair it. You can also refill the oil. Here is a step by step instruction on how to refill the oil. Your owner’s manual can give you information on the correct screwdrivers and other tools. 

  1. Lift the bonnet and disconnect the battery’s negative terminal. It is not supposed to function due to safety reasons.
  2. Go under your car and access your vehicle’s transmission oil lines. Remove the output line. Carefully remove screwdrivers from the line. Make sure to use the correct screwdriver type.
  3. Open the vehicle’s transmission port and put a funnel in the opening. Drain the fluid. Reattach the tubes that you put out. Refill it with transmission fluid with the required amount.
  4. Ask someone to start the engine while you pour liquid into your system. It is for cleaning the transmission system from any contamination. After rinsing for a while, you need to get the correct fluids back into your system. And finally, to a test drive.

It is also the solution for stuck solenoids, as the condition of transmission oil is the main cause of it being stuck. 

– Repair or Replace Other Components 

Damaged or malfunctioning components, such as worn-out synchronizer rings, torque converter, gear, hub sleeves, and so on, have the same solution. You need to identify if it is malfunctioning or damaged. If it is malfunctioning, a simple repair will do the trick. If it is damaged, the best solution is to replace them. 

– Replace or Reset ECU

It is a complex automatic system. For this, you will need a professional OEM (original equipment manufacturer) technician’s help. They are professional technicians specifically trained by an OEM (original equipment manufacturer).

– Use Shift Lock Override

If this is your problem, do not worry, automatic transmissions have a shift lock override. In your owner’s manual, you will have an instruction on how to use yours. You’ll need to insert the key to unlock it. 

Conclusion of Transmission Not Shifting Out of First Gear Causes and Fixes


Now you understand why transmission is neutral after you have read the article. You even know how to solve the issues. Let us sum up what we have learned so you can help your transmission system. 

  • With Standard transmissions, you might have problems with worn-out components, such as the gear and its parts.
  • With automatic one, problems arise with its computerized systems, such as converter, ECU, etc. 
  • We’ve also learned that despite differences, they have common issues, such as low-level fluid or leaks in the transmission oil. 
  • The solution for this issue is to identify the level of damage and either replace, reset, or repair them. The solution for fluid issues is to refill it.

If you are at this point in the article, you are ready to solve the issue. You now know the problems and how to solve them. You even understand who to turn to if you cannot solve the problem on your own. 

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