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Automatic transmission won't engage

I have a 2011 Ford Fiesta and yesterday morning I went to start it and the check engine light came on. When I tried to shift into reverse, the gear lever moved but the gear wouldn’t engage. None of the other gears worked either. I turned the car off and back on again, and it was fine (the check engine stayed on, though). I have to repeat this process every time I start the car, and this afternoon it took three tries. This a low-mileage car: I bought it brand new a little over 4 years ago, and it’s barely over 20,000 miles. I have an appointment scheduled with the dealership, but is this something that’s going to cost me a lot of money or is it just a computer issue? One other detail: it was very very cold the night before the issue started (about -10 degrees). I’m not sure that would be an issue, though, since I had it for a year in Alaska in temps much colder than that.

Are you using a block heater? Low trans fluid level check 1, Thick trans fluid from the cold or particulate matter and contaminants is possible, is an alternate available after a trans fluid change, and a partially clogged filter would be the next suspect.

I do have a block heater but unfortunately I don’t have anywhere to plug it in. If it was cold wouldn’t it warm up after driving around for a bit? And I can’t check the transmission fluid level because the 2011 Fiesta doesn’t have a dipstick.

On the downside, when my Ford truck automatic transmission started to exhibit a similar symptom, where I shift into Drive and it wouldn’t go, pretend like it was in Neutral, well, a total transmission rebuild job was in the very near future.

On the plus side, you may just be low on transmission fluid. And/or you may just have a transmission actuator solenoid on the fritz.

Suggest as first order of business to determine what is causing the CEL to turn on. Get the diagnostics code read. If you want further assistance, post them here.

As an additional note on George’s post, most major parts supply stores have engine code readers they’ll loan you so you can scan and read the eerror codes. If you don’t know how to use them, they’ll usually take a minute or two and help you with that. it doesn’t take long at all.

This would appear to due to lack of hydraulic pressure. As others have noted the transmission fluid level may be low. Since the level is measured with the transmission fully warmed up, the ‘cold’ level will be lower than the ‘hot’ level.

I don’t know if the oil change venues check the fluid level on nondipstick transmissions. It usually requires a higher level of expertese and equipment to prepare the transmission i.e. warm up procedures and temperature readout. As others have said, have this checked soon as the transmission could be damaged by driving with low hydraulic pressure.

Hope this helps

I have it scheduled to drop it off first thing Monday morning; that’s the soonest I could get it in.

Is there a reason why turning the car off and on again seems to help?

Also, I had the oil changed at the dealership just a couple of months ago. They do an inspection then, isn’t low fluid something they should have checked?

Intermittent problems are like that. Work one time, not the next. Something has degraded to point it is near the threshold of completely failing. It just hasn’t crossed over the threshold quite yet. But you can be pretty sure it will. At which point the car will refuse to move. So it is good you are getting the problem looked at now. You may well be avoiding a $100 towing bill.

So is this something to the point where I should park it for the weekend or will I be okay with a few small trips around town?

And thank you for the help everyone!

Here’s two issues with your car (ground connection and computer reflash):

Ford has a service bulletin that involves inspecting ground bolts and replacing if necessary.

Some 2011 Fiesta vehicles built on or before 8/17/2010 may exhibit engine start concerns no crank, no start, hard start, intermittent start, noise during start and/or various automatic transmission engagement concerns in Drive or Reverse when shifting from Park including no engagement, delayed engagement, intermittent engagement, noise during engagement, and/or a malfunction indicator lamp (MIL) with a powertrain diagnostic trouble codes (DTC). One or more of the following DTCs may typically be set: P0116, P06B8, P0805, P0809, P0850, P087A, P087E, P0884, P2610, P283A, P2831, P2832, P2835, P2836, P2837. It may also set DTC P0700 without any accompanying fault codes. Vehicles may exhibit concerns with or without DTC.

BTW, I believe this is an automatically shifted manual transmission, it relies on the computer to operate the clutch and shifting. I doubt it is leaking fluid.

Also, the drive train warranty from Ford should still be in force.

I have not noticed any leaking fluids on the ground where I park.

Update: I ran some errands earlier and the transmission issue is gone completely. I’m thinking the fluid was just cold. The engine light is still on, but since I filled up my tank on Monday my gas mileage has gone down. I chalked it up to the cold weather, but when I checked today I had gone from 28 mpg to 23, so there’s obviously something wrong. I’m guessing/hoping it’s something simple like an oxygen sensor or the air filter. Long story short, it would appear I had two separate, unrelated issues almost simultaneously.

A slipping transmission would account for the drop in gas mileage. Is this a CVT transmission by any chance?

No, I believe it’s a dual clutch.

You were given a simple/cheap answer, checking the ground point. It only gets complicated if that doesn’t solve the issue.

I had this problem when assigned on a project where I had to park outside without being able to use the block heater. Outside temperature was -26F overnight. The car started OK, but would not shift. The simple solution was to let the car run until warmed up when the transmission fluid would have reached operating temperature and the car interior had warmed up to make shifting easier.

The car in question was a 1977 Pontiac V8 with a column shift. If I had to work under those conditions every winter I would change the fluid to full synthetic which has a much lower pour point.

The powertrain warranty will cover this. Take it in and get this documented!!!