Best of Deals Car Reviews Repair Shops Cars A-Z Radio Show

Camry Won't Shift Out of 2nd or 3rd Gear When Cold

I have a 2004 Toyota Camry, automatic trans, 172k miles, still in great shape and has been well cared for with standard preventative maintenance. When it’s cold (<30F), the transmission will not shift out of 2nd or 3rd gear, can’t tell which. It reaches about 40mph before the RPMs approach 3000, and I dare not push it harder. Let the car warm up or drive it for 5 minutes and everything is fine. This has happened the last two winters. The car runs great other than this, which means there is no apparent problem 8 months of the year. I had the transmission fluid flushed and filter changed last year thinking it may improve, but there was no change. What could be the culprit? And how costly could this be to fix? Move to Florida where it’s warm all the time? Thanks a ton for any suggestions.

17k/yr. was trans service the 1st for car?

Part of the problem might be “I had the transmission flushed and filter changed last year…” I don’t recommend transmission flushes and they don’t generally come with a filter change. That would defeat the purpose of a flush.

Yes, the transmission service was the first for the car. The problem occurred before I had that service done - it was an attempt to remedy the problem, but it had no impact.

Right from the owners manual, granted a 2002 manual but is the same car as the 2004:

"If the engine coolant temperature is low, the transmission will not shift into overdrive gear even with the overdrive on."

just looked the 2004 manual says the exact same thing.

That 150K+ miles with no trans service probably damaged it.
Likely time for a rebuild.
Going forward get the fluid changed every 30K miles.

Have you checked the fluid level and condition? You should. If the fluid gets low you will likely first see the effects when the engine is cold.

But I think PvtPublic actually has the answer.

If it’s turning 3000rpm at 40mph that’s more than overdrive lockout.

“If it’s turning 3000rpm at 40mph that’s more than overdrive lockout.”

Good point - probably correct. I sort of breezed past that detail.


3k RPM at 40 mph sounds to me like the car won’t shift out of 2nd gear, and that does seem to rule out temperature-related overdrive lockout.

I believe that circuitsmith nailed it with his first response.
150k miles for the first & only fluid change is simply a case of…too little, too late.

Based on my observations, if you don’t do a fluid change at ~every 30k miles, you will be paying big bucks for a trans overhaul at anywhere from 90k-150k miles.

This trans was right on schedule for failure as a result of lax maintenance, but the OP should probably not shoulder all of the blame here. Car mfrs have been competing to show the lowest cost of maintenance, in order to lure naïve buyers, and as a result, most mfrs have stopped listing 30k trans fluid changes–even though they are vital. However, by the time that most of these transmissions fail, the car will be past warranty coverage, so the mfr will not be the one to pay for the lack of maintenance.

As circuitsmith noted, the best thing that the OP can do (after getting this transmission repaired) is to make sure that he/she always does a trans fluid change every 30k miles, being careful to use ONLY the exact type of fluid specified by the mfr. Many garages will tell you that the addition of a magical additive to a “universal” trans fluid will make that “universal” fluid acceptable, but–unfortunately–this is a lie.

. When it's cold (<30F), the transmission will not shift out of 2nd or 3rd gear, can't tell which.

I have an 02 Camry and if not paying attention or light acceleration it is easy to not even notice the 1-2 shift.

It reaches about 40mph before the RPMs approach 3000

So it is not at 3000 RPM? or is it, at 40 ? While a trans service is almost never a bad thing, my 02 has done this since new. The trans was serviced at 60k and at 90k, it has 102k now.

Thanks to everybody for the responses thus far. PvtPublic - When it’s cold and not shifting well yet, 40mph and about 2700-3000rpm is the same. Looks like I’ll probably need some repair soon.

has been well cared for with standard preventative maintenance.” NOT
Only changing the motor oil frequently is not the sign of a well cared for car ! Sorry to be blunt.

I agree. That was a loooong time between transmission service. If the fluid was just drained and refilled, not all of it was replaced. Just on the chance it may help to avoid something more severe, I would have it flushed and changed again and it may take more then one change after this neglect. My Toyota waits to use OD 4 th gear until it’s warmed up but you seem to think it waits longer then before ?. If it works fine otherwise, I would wait till warm weather to see how it responded. Make sure you use only the fluid spec. for Toyota, but I would service it again. You may get lucky with something that is still sticking…or not. Btw, how long has it been since the coolant and differential fluid was changed ? Do that too.

If you can live with the 5 minute warm up, might as well do that imhop, better than running at that high rpm when cold.

Here’s another thought, could it be that the coolant temp sensor is not sending the correct signal to the ECU? Easy and relatively inexpensive to replace.

Here’s hoping you get off lightly with a temp sensor problem. My 07 Yaris sedan doesn’t upshift right away. Your shift delay at a couple to three minutes seems to be too long. It doesn’t have to be a sensor problem so I would think that the dealer will be a good place to start. Heck, a corroded connection may be a possibility.

158 deg f. It won’t go into overdrive until the engine coolant temp reaches that. It’s prob fine.

Here is what I found out using my Camry:
2nd gear @ 3000RPM = about 36MPH
3rd gear @ 3000RPM = about 48MPH
3rd gear @ 2600RPM = about 42MPH

To me your trans is acting as it is supposed to.

for anyone who knows anything about these Toyotas they would tell you that is normal. Most of the older ones will not shift into 3rd or 4th gear until the engine starts to warm. I’ve had several. they ALL do the same thing. It’s not a bad transmission Don’t waste your money