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So I have had this issue for the last couple months where when I first start the car, shifting to Drive (automatic transmission) doesn't do anything. Pressing the gas only revs the engine, as if in neutral. Shifting down to low gears (1 and 2) has the same outcome. Reverse performs as expected, I can back up with no problem. Only after a few minutes of idling does the car slowly, almost grudgingly, pull away. I checked trans fluid and I'm good, and I don't see any leaks. Since I have been coping with this problem for a while, I did notice a few things.
1. The car will only move once my rpms (while in Drive) drop below 1000.
2. Upon first starting the car and shifting to Drive, I originally idle at about 1500, then as the engine warms I steadily drop until I start to move (below 1000). 3. Revving up to about 4000 rpms decreases the time it takes to "warm up" and drop the needle below 1000.

So my questions are (a)what could be the cause? My gears obviously aren't connecting until a certain rpm. Why? (b) why do I originally idle high, then steadily drop?

  • Just to make sure... You followed all the proper steps for checking the trans fluid? I know, but it's common for people to try and check it like the oil... – JPhi1618 Apr 15 '16 at 18:00
  • I'm gonna do it again, just to be sure. Let my engine idle in neutral for a few minutes, check the color, rub fluid between fingers, wipe stick, dip and check level...right? – Nathaniel Davidson Apr 15 '16 at 18:58
  • It depends on the car... a lot. Find a how to for your car, or ask a new question. Some cars are easy, some require a shop to do it. There's a new question on one of those. – JPhi1618 Apr 15 '16 at 19:00
  • Is your problem solved? Having a similar issue and your issue might be of help. Thanks in advance. – Vicky Mar 16 '17 at 14:52
  • Kind of sounds like the friction plates in the clutch pack could be severely worn. Could also be that the valve body that controls the transmission is clogged or damaged. Neither immediately clicks with the engine RPM correlation, but see if you can't find particulates in the transmission fluid. – Hari Ganti Mar 17 '17 at 20:36
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If there is no feeling of moving at all, not even that little lurch forward when things are working correctly, it sounds like your transmission is having a serious issue. Nothing says it's dead, too early for that yet.

When you look at the transmission fluid, what color is it? Does it smell burnt? It should be a nice bright red, and not have the burnt smell. If this is true, you may have a problem with the transmission solenoids, bad vacuum lines, or some other things. That would be good news ans these fixes are relatively inexpensive compared to a transmission rebuild.

If it's not the solenoids, or vacuum lines, you should probably take it in and have it looked at. Find a reputable local shop that specializes in transmissions. This is not something you want the dealer to handle, and if it needs a rebuild, you don't want just any old shop doing it. I had a Cadillac where the transmission was just another consumable. Take it to a pro, it's worth it.

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