Troubleshooting A Truck That Won’t Go In Gear

Troubleshooting A Truck That Won’t Go In Gear

Troubleshooting a truck that won’t go in gear?

There are two main reasons why this would happen. The first one is a simple oversight on your part. The second, a serious transmission problem. This can happen to anyone. It doesn’t matter whether you have an automatic or manual transmission. If you’re handy, you fix it DIY. If not, bring it to the nearest mechanic.

Getting On Board The Drivetrain

Troubleshooting a truck that won’t go in gear requires knowledge of how your transmission works.

There are two kinds of transmission systems: automatic transmission and manual transmission. There are not a lot of differences between these two. They both use the same concept to go forward but employ different means to do so.

Manual Transmission

Manual Transmission Drivetrain

Trucks with manual transmission use a clutch assembly to shift gears. Shifting gears requires engaging mechanical gears. To go faster, you need to check your revs and manually transfer the gear to a higher or lower one depending on your need.

Automatic Transmission

Automatic Transmission Drivetrain

Trucks with automatic transmission use a torque converter to shift gears. The pressure delivered by the transmission fluid changes the gears for you. The harder you press your foot on the accelerator, the faster your truck goes.

How Power Travels From The Engine To The Differentials

The running engine turns the crankshaft at a particular speed. The crankshaft matches the power produced by the engine.

In turn, the crankshaft, activates the engine flywheel. The crankshaft and the engine flywheel turn in the same direction. In front of the flywheel is the first part of the clutch.

Exploded View Of Manual Transmission Drivetrain

When you press the clutch pedal, this disengages to allow the truck to change gears. Taking your foot off the clutch pedal engages the gear you shifted to.

On the other side of the clutch assembly is the transmission input shaft. The transmission input shaft transfers the power to the transmission output shaft. The transmission output shaft delivers the transferred power to the driveshaft.

** rear-wheel-drive vehicles have a U-joint (or Universal Joint) at either end. This allows the driveshaft to move freely without affecting the rigid transmission shift at one end. It also absorbs the vertical movement of the rear axle and wheels.

** vehicles with transverse engines use CV Joints (or Constant Velocity Joint). These are ball-and-socket fittings. They can move up and down and side to side.

The differential takes the rotation of the driveshaft and delivers it to the wheels. It allows each wheel to travel at a different speed when needed. The gears inside the differential allows for this to happen. This is extremely important, especially when taking a turn because the inner wheels have to turn slower than the outer wheels.

The power delivered to the differential is delivered to the wheels at a 90-degree angle.

And that’s how the power from your engine is delivered to the differentials.

Common Drivetrain Issues


The most common issue with the drivetrain is leaks. This happens because of rotating shafts. There is a special type of seal to keep these fluids in. If you see a puddle under your car, you might have a leaky drivetrain. These puddles are usually a mixture of two types of fluids.


You’ll notice this when your truck is running. This is usually caused by a worn-out clutch (manual transmission) or torque converter failure (automatic transmission). You can still run with a slipping clutch, but the power delivered to the wheels won’t be the same as a perfectly conditioned drivetrain.

Difficulty In Shifting Gears

The lack of transmission fluid in both types of trucks can give you a hard time when you’re trying to shift into gear. For automatic transmission trucks, you’ll notice your revs going higher than normal without any change in gear. For manual transmission trucks, your gears could either grind into each other or stick together.

The lack of transmission fluid can also destroy the entire system due to lack of lubrication.

Transmission Pops Out

This is a very inconvenient and dangerous thing to happen to anyone driving down the road. If your synchros wear out, your gears will slip out at inopportune moments. This manifests itself when you rev your engine while driving, and it coasts instead of matching the power output of the engine.


Automatic transmissions or transaxles use a cooler to cool the hydraulic pump system. If it overheats, system failure is imminent. Check around your radiator for any transmission fluid or leakage. You might also notice a burnt smell. That’s a clear indicator that your transmission system just overheated.

U-Joint And CV Joint Failure

U-Joints and CV joints need proper lubrication to rotate properly. They use roller bearings to do this. These joints are responsible for transferring power from one shaft to the other. If there is a failure in these joints, they won’t be able to transfer correctly, causing a clunking between systems.

You’ll also notice excessive vibrations when running at 40 to 55 mph.

Check the joint boots to ensure there are no tears. Dirt can get into these tears and cause premature failure.


Metal grinding against metal is not something you’d want to hear when operating your truck. This can be caused by low transmission fluid in your drivetrain. Leaks and worn out parts are also suspect.

You need to get this checked immediately. Metal against metal means parts are getting ripped apart inside, causing edges to blunt.

Don’t Ignore The Check Engine Light

Never ignore it if and when your check engine light comes on. This means your truck’s computer senses something wrong. Most probably, it’s drivetrain related.

Some Conditions To Consider/Questions To Ask

Is The Key In The Ignition?

The first thing to ask when troubleshooting a truck that won’t go in gear is: “is the key in the ignition?” This is a bit funny for some people, but trucks nowadays are so quiet that you don’t really know if they’re running or not. Without the key in the ignition, your truck obviously won’t start. 

Is The Parking Brake Still Engaged?

Disengage the parking brake. The parking brake prevents automatic cars from moving even if you have it in drive. For manual transmission, you’ll feel your car fighting the forward motion. Make sure no one is in front of your truck or behind it when you disengage it.

Is The Gear Fully Engaged?

Manual transmission cars have a shifter. Sometimes, this isn’t fully engaged. This prevents the car from going in gear. Push the clutch pedal all the way down and shift gears. Remove pressure on the clutch pedal once the shifter is in gear.

Is It Just One Faulty Gear Or Is It The Entire Transmission?

Try a different gear. Start from first gear all the way to the last gear. Try putting it in reverse. This will help you assess the situation properly. It could just be one faulty gear instead of the entire transmission. It could also be the transmission fluid levels in your truck. If you’re still stumped, call a mechanic.

Can You Find The Missing Link?

You might have a worn shifter or worse, a detached shift linkage. These two are the main culprits when troubleshooting a truck that won’t go in gear.

A worn shifter is prone to slipping. A broken or disconnected shift linkage won’t allow you to shift properly. If you’re handy, look under the truck to assess the situation. For better results, get a certified mechanic to fix it for you.

Do You Have A Worn Clutch Plate?

There are three ways to assess a worn clutch plate.

The car slightly engages into gear

It creeps forward slowly when in gear

Or the dreaded slipping clutch

This is applicable to manual transmission vehicles when troubleshooting a truck that won’t go in gear.

To test this, engage the park or emergency brake. Put blocks under both front wheels.

Depress the clutch and place it in high gear. Slowly release the clutch.

Foot On The Clutch Pedal

If your truck continues to run, you have a worn clutch plate that needs to be replaced.

Note: don’t do this in a crowded area because your truck might lurch forward suddenly.

Do You Have Transmission Fluid Issues?

If you have an automatic transmission, make sure you have adequate transmission fluid.

Check your transmission fluid level. Use the dipstick and insert it into the transmission fluid container. Check the level, color, and smell. Add more transmission fluid if your levels are low.

If the fluid appears dark brown or black, you either have old transmission fluid or a transmission problem. Flush the system out and check again after 1000 miles.

If your transmission fluid smells burnt, you really have a bad transmission problem.

Do You Have A Worn Torque Converter?

If you’re troubleshooting a truck that won’t go in gear and can’t find anything because it’s an automatic, chances are you’ll need an expert.

Chances are, you have a worn torque converter.

Place the car in park. Put some wheel blocks on. Start the engine and engage the Drive gear. Release the pedal.

If the car is sluggish or won’t go in gear during this sequence, you have a worn torque converter.

Get a tow truck to bring your car to the nearest mechanic. Driving it in any condition less than optimal is going to cause further damage.

Driving A Manual Transmission Truck That Won’t Go In Gear.

This is something manual transmission drivers are familiar with. You can still run a truck that has a failing transmission with little to no problems. You just won’t be able to use certain gears.

Manual Gearstick

Why is this so?

You can manually disengage your clutch and choose a higher or lower gear without going through a proper sequence. Automatic transmission trucks don’t operate in this manner.

The first thing you might notice is a grinding sound when you change gears. This is due to a lack of lubrication. Gears are sticking at this point. You need to listen to your engine’s revs before engaging a different gear to make it go faster or slower.

Another thing you might notice is a sluggishness in your car’s pace. This could be due to a disengaged drivetrain. Or the amount of transmission fluid is not enough to deliver the pressure needed to push the clutch plate into place.

Depressing the clutch pedal until you feel it’ll burst through the floor won’t help much.

As a last ditch attempt, place it in neutral and bring your vehicle to a stop. If it’s the transmission fluid, fill it up. If it’s something more serious, push your car to the nearest emergency bay and perform basic repairs.

Chances are, you can get your manual transmission truck going again with a failing transmission or drivetrain system.

Don’t drive your truck in this manner for too long though. Bring it to the nearest mechanic to have it fixed immediately. Or, if you’re handy enough, fix it yourself.

Always have a lot of transmission fluid readily available in your garage and in your emergency toolkit.

Driving An Automatic Transmission Truck That Won’t Go In Gear.

Automatic transmission trucks are a bit harder to troubleshoot while they’re running. If you can get it in Drive and transmission issues start, the best thing you can do is to shift it back to Neutral, and coast to stop.

Troubles like these can arise in an instant if you have a leaky transmission. The sudden loss of transmission fluid can decrease the amount of pressure delivered to the torque converter. Without adequate pressure, the gears won’t engage properly.

A temporary fix for situations like these is to refill the transmission fluid once you get to a complete stop. If you only have a minimal leak, you should have enough transmission fluid retained to limp to the closest mechanic.

Related Questions:

How Many Gears Do Large Trucks Have?

19. Commercial trucks have 9 gears that are sub-divided by splitters. The reverse gear is the 19th. Pickup trucks have 4 to 7 gears plus the reverse. Gears don’t apply to automatic transmission vehicles. They can essentially have an infinite number of gears. There’s no practical reason for that.

When Should I Change My Transmission Fluid?

Make it a point to flush your entire transmission system out every year. This removes all of the old transmission fluid so you can replace it with a new bottle. Old or dirty transmission fluid has been found out to be a contributor shifting issues when troubleshooting a truck that won’t go in gear.

Which Is Better? Automatic Or Manual Transmission?

Get an automatic transmission if you’re going to drive your truck through normal traffic conditions on a daily basis. Get a manual transmission if you use your truck for recreational purposes like off-roading or racing. Choose your transmission based on how you’re going to use your truck.

In Conclusion:

Troubleshooting a truck that won’t go in gear can be a hair-raising experience for first-timers.

A better understanding of how your transmission system or drive train works will allow you to react better to emergency situations like these. Most problems are caused by a lack of transmission fluid. The rest, by a failing system or human error.

Both transmission systems perform the same operation. It is how you use them that makes a difference between these two.

To ensure you never get into these types of situations, perform regular preventive maintenance on your vehicle. You can perform certain DIY tasks like filling up the transmission fluid. For more complicated repairs, a certified mechanic is needed. This should help you reduce the risk of voiding your warranty.

Last but not least, just remember: If it’s not your transmission, it’s you.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *