1999 Subaru Outback Sport (Impreza) Won't engage Drive



A week ago I was giving three friends a ride to the airport. After picking them up we stopped to have lunch before heading out. After lunch we piled back into the car and I backed out of my parking spot. When I shifted the car to Drive the car wouldn’t move forward. I could shift into Reverse and move backwards, but if I shifted into D it was like it was in Neutral. I could hear the engine revving, but went nowhere. Shifted down to 3 and then 2 and nothing. Turning car off and then on didn’t work either. After about 5 minutes of shifting/revving, the car finally engaged and handled fine for the rest of the day.

This has happened about 6 times in the past 3 years so it’s by no means a daily occasion. It has never happened the first time I start the car in the day but only after I’ve driven somewhere, parked and let the car sit for some time (between 30 - 90 minutes).

Details: '99 Subaru Outback Sport (Impreza body), automatic

~ 76,000 miles




Have you checked the transmission fluid level?

Also has it ever been changed in these past 3 years?


I wouldn’t know where to check the transmission fluid. I do take it into the Subaru dealership for major maintenance so I’m thinking maybe. I’m taking it in for an oil change tomorrow so I’ll have them take a look.



If you want to check the transmission fluid yourself, prior to going to the dealership, you can find the information that you need in your Owner’s Manual. The manual will show you where the transmission dipstick is located, and will describe the procedure (fully warmed up, shift through the gears, etc.) This is the type of thing that you should do periodically, especially as a car ages.

When you check the fluid, besides checking the level of it, be sure to evaluate the color and the odor of it. Ideally, the fluid should be reddish-pinkish. If it is brown and/or has a burned smell, that is a clue that you have a problem, but I think you already know that there is a problem.


Thanks for the replies. I took the car in for an oil change and had them check the trans fluid. They said the level was good and the oil wasn’t burnt. The filter did have a few metal bits (trouble), but we’ll have to see if the issue happens again. Unfortunately I don’t know how to replicate it so only time will tell.



I think you should have them check the adjustment on the shift cable. If the shift cable is out of adjustment it could explain this odd behavior.