What Happens If You Put Your Car in Reverse while Driving?

Will It Ruin My Car?

Transmissions are not meant to engage reverse while traveling forward. Sure, you can jam it in at the bottom of your driveway apron while you’re still rolling a little, but even that’s not the best of practices. “The safest bet is to just not do it,” said Craig Renneker, Ford’s Chief Engineer for transmission programs. As a way of protecting us from ourselves, automakers design a function called Reverse Inhibit into transmissions to prevent inadvertent selection of reverse. “Putting it into reverse [in modern cars] when going forward has no action at all, the car just ignores the request until you get down to a proper speed,” said Renneker, using Ford’s six-speed automatics as an example; “It’ll just say ‘hey, I know you want reverse pal, but I’m just not going to give it to you until the appropriate time.'” Manual transmissions have physical locks in the shift mechanism to make selecting reverse an active exercise. Barring lockout rings or pushing down on the stick shift, deliberately trying to select reverse while driving forward at normal speeds is basically impossible with a manual. “The main problem you’re going to be fighting is what you’re trying to get the thing to do is something it really does not want to do,” Renneker continued. The gearset would likely growl if you tried, and if the protest of the machinery doesn’t instantly deter you it could be injurious to your transmission. Ford’s transmission guru elaborated that the synchronizer mechanism in manuals is only designed to change the speed of transmission internals enough for smooth engagement. Attempting reverse at road speed would force the synchros to try matching shaft speeds, building up lots of heat and potentially causing damage. “It won’t be effective, it won’t do anything for you, and secondly, you’re going to be putting a lot of extra stress on that synchronizer,” he told Autoblog. In short, it’s best not to try it.

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4 Possible Reasons Why Your Manual Car Won’t Shift Into Reverse and How to Fix

While there are some common trouble spots for automatic and manual transmissions, problems with a manual transmission that won’t go into reverse may be caused by issues you don’t see with an automatic.  Let’s review some common situations that may result in a car that won’t go into reverse manually.

Faulty Shifter Mechanism

When the gear shifter on a manual transmission won’t go into reverse or is very hard to move, you can likely blame a faulty shifter linkage which is a cable that connects the gear selector to the transmission.

Fixing a Faulty Shifter Mechanism

You’ll want the help of a mechanic experienced with transmission repair, but repairing or replacing the shifter linkage is a relatively minor fix compared to other transmission problems.

Damaged Reverse Gear

While not unheard of with an automatic, a damaged reverse gear is usually caused by a careless or inexperienced driver when shifting a manual transmission.  The gnashing of gears you may hear can mean teeth on the reverse or forward gears have been damaged, making the regular operation of the transmission impossible.

Replacing a Damaged Reverse Gear

The only solution for fixing a damaged reverse gear is removing and disassembling the transmission.  Through this process, performed by an experienced mechanic, the broken gear is replaced.

Defective Lockout Ring

A lockout ring prevents a driver from accidentally shifting into reverse while still moving forward, a transmission-destroying event.  A damaged or misaligned lockout ring may be why your car won’t reverse.

Repairing a Defective Lockout RIng

Repairing a defective manual transmission lockout ring is best left to a professional. 

Bad Clutch

Sooner or later, a manual transmission will need clutch work.  It’s not a question of if, but when. So, add a bad clutch to the list of reasons why your car won’t reverse.

Fixing a Bad Clutch

If your manual transmission won’t shift into reverse, try pumping the clutch a few times to build up pressure.  If this doesn’t help, turn off the engine and shift through gears, including into reverse.  If you are able to engage reverse this way, you know that the clutch needs attention.

Can you damage your car by changing gear to reverse while driving?

When your car stalls and you lose control over it because of how emergency maneuvering becomes difficult to do, you could very well end up damaging your entire car if you figure yourself into an accident. The extent of the damage can be difficult to tell because it still depends on how serious the accident is.

However, even if you don’t find yourself in an accident and you managed to find a way to steer your car back in place and then come to a full stop, there is still a chance for the transmission to self-destruct and would be in need of dire repair.

Your car won’t function if it doesn’t have a working transmission, and this can end up costing you thousands of dollars on repair costs.

If you are on the lucky side, your engine would simply stall and nothing will happen to you if you regain control over your car and manage to come to a full stop. This means that your car will neither be in an accident nor get damaged as a result of what you intended or accidentally did.

As such, to be on the safe side of things, it is always important to drill into your head to never attempt to try to change your gear to reverse while you are driving. The inhibiting feature is already there to prevent you from accidentally doing so.

Now, the only thing you need to make sure is that you don’t try to force your way through the physical constraints just so you could see what would happen if you changed your gear to reverse while you are moving forward. This would simply be flirting with danger or disaster on your part.

FAQs Related to Reverse Gear Not Engaging

Let’s look at some common questions about when a car won’t go in reverse.

What should I do when my Chevy truck won’t go in reverse?

As with any vehicle,  a Chevy truck that won’t go in reverse means it’s a transmission issue.  Start with the basics like checking the transmission fluid.  From there, you’ll likely want to get help from a mechanic, as most types of transmission repair are beyond simple wrenching.  Of course, this can happen to Ford trucks, too!

My car won’t go in reverse but will go in drive. What could the problem be?

Asking “My car won’t reverse, but will go forward” means first checking that the transmission fluid is at the correct level and is not dirty.  From there, go over the common problems that we outlined earlier.  

What does it mean when your car is cold and won’t go in reverse?

Winter weather can wreak havoc on a car, especially its transmission.  Frigid weather can affect the clutch in an automatic transmission to the point when a gear change is not possible. And, yes, an automatic transmission has a clutch; it’s just an internal component that a driver doesn’t interact with.  When it’s cold outside, and the car won’t go in reverse, talk with your local repair shop, or mobile mechanic, to see if a clutch replacement is needed.

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