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99 Forrester L automatic trans wont shift out of first gear

Got a Forrester at auction (mistake 1) and a quick lookover wasnt too bad. It drove nice in low gear around the lot, reversed nice, etc. Went to take the thing home and it won’t shift out of first gear. It doesn’t try to slip it just won’t shift into second gear trying to take it home. Could it be the relay switch? Any other ideas?

You might luck out and it’s a solenoid on the fritz. Have you checked the level and condition of the transmission fluid? If it looks good and clean, best bet is probably to take it to a transmission shop. Some inde’s might be able to diagnose and fix it too if it is just a solenoid. If you want to do something yourself first, no harm done to drop the pan and clean/replace the filter, then fill it back up. Might work. Plus it would give you an opportunity to look for an abnormal amount of metal filings in the pan, which could be a clue.

So at this auction, you can only look at the car, not drive it first before making a bid? And they aren’t required to tell you it has an obvious transmission problem?

Thanks. Look and try it on the lot butno real drive and sold as is regardless of the fact they said “just needs a battery”

It’s probably in limp mode and if so then there are probably error codes present. So step one is to get the error codes read. You can start with a free code scanning offered at many auto parts stores.

I was thinking limp mode too but that usually goes to 2nd gear. So 'spose it could be electronic, solenoids, or worse, but either way I think its going to have to go to a tranny shop to find out.

“I was thinking limp mode too but that usually goes to 2nd gear.”

I never assume people are completely clear on the gear an auto is in. I don’t know how the Subarus do it, but some limp modes just have 2nd gear and that is all. So someone could easily interpret it as stuck in 1st. Other limp modes will do 1st and 2nd (I think my old dodge did this) and if the shifts are smooth a lot of people don’t notice the 1-2 shift.

Either way - there have to be some codes.

Thanks. The transmission fluid looks good, but it’s possible that they just poured more in at the auction before we left. Definitely didn’t look like anything burned. We’re going to get a reading on it later this week and see what that says.

The color of the fluid is not an indicator of whether a transmission is good or not. The various seals that help retain fluid pressure are 15 years old and rubber does harden or deteriorate over time.

It’s also possible that someone had a transmission issue, changed the fluid as a grasp at a solution, and then unloaded the car when it didn’t work. The car then ends up at auction.

That being said, don’t give up the ship just yet until a proper scan and diagnosis has been done.

So we ran an OBD II scan on it.
It said gear 2 incorrect ratio.

Not sure if its related, doubt it, but just in case. Bank1 sensor 1 came up as “rich - lean thres volt”

I’m wondering how likely it is we’re dealing with a shift solenoid issue?

What were the specific codes - “Pxxxx”?

Gear 2 Incorrect Ratio

The diagnostic trouble shooting tree includes; check for other DTCs; check throttle position sensor and circuitry; check vehicle speed sensor and circuitry; check turbine input sensor and circuitry; check for poor connection at TCM; check for mechanical transmission problem; replace TCM.

The transmission technician will have to determine if the TCM is commanding a 1-2 shift that is not occuring or the sensors are not sensing the shift. Then he/she has to determine if the solenoid is activating but the valve body is not responding.

We re ran the OBD II test and it came up with a gear 3 incorrect ratio also =|

I have to wonder if the trouble is due to the tires not being the same size all around. If you could get the wheels off the ground and then see if the shifting is okay. I would say the tires need to be changed out if that works.

Cougar’s suggestion is a good one.
However, I have to point out that, if the car has tires of varying tread depth/circumference (or possibly even different sizes), damage has probably already been done to the center viscous coupler/center differential. So, while the transmission function may be improved by replacing the tires, there could still be an expensive repair in the future for the OP.

Your latest DTC indicates that the same conditions are affecting the 2-3 shift. So check those items mentioned above. If the TCM is getting erroneous data as to vehicle speed, turbine input speed, throttle position, solenoid/valve body malfunction, or mechanical problems it will set the code. I don’t know which gear the transmission will revert to in ‘limp home’ mode. It takes two drive cycles to set the DTC so it probably takes two cycles to set ‘limp home’ mode.

You have to find out if the TCM is commanding the shift at the correct vehicle speed and engine load. If it isn’t look at the sensors, wiring, and TCM. If it is commanding the shift, look at the solenoid/valve body function, line pressure, and mechanical integrity of the transmission.

BTW an automatic does not have a center differential. It transfers power to the rear wheels by a clutch pack that is activated by a duty cycle solenoid. The TCM pulses that solenoid when it detects that the front and rear wheels are not matched in speed. So tires with diverse diameters would burn out that clutch but the transmission would still shift until the garbage from the clutch frictions got into the valve body. Also be aware that you can disable the AWD by putting a fuse in the FWD lockout socket. The FWD pilot light will come on but the rear wheels will not be powered (great to know if the car has to be smog checked on a chassis dyno.)

The tires are the same all around, and it shifts nicely from park to reverse and to first. It’s only first/second and second/third that there’s an issue. I think we’ll go ahead and check out the TCM. We talked to a transmission specialist who said it’s a very unusual code for a Subaru. =/

If it makes a difference, it idles just fine, and works beautiful in a low gear. With a slow drive around the lot, keeping it in first gear, idle, reverse, etc it worked well, and as far as everything we could simply looked at it looked nice. Oil good, trans fluid good, body was pristine with four good, matching tires.

If the tires are matched and have even ware on them then they are most likely okay but you can’t see that with your eye. The circumference of the tires have to be measured to be sure of that. There may be a wiring problem to the TCM causing the shifting issue.

That CEL (check engine light) is just a kid in class waving her hand trying to get you attention because she has the answer. You need to have the codes read. Some places will read them for FREE. Try Autozone or Advanced Auto Parts. Get the exact code (like P0123) not just their translation into English and post it back here.