Car is in gear, engine rev's but I am not moving


I have a 98 Pontiac Sunfire GT, with automatic transmission.

The other day I turned car on, put it in gear, stepped on gas and the engine revved but I went nowhere. It was like I was in neutral just revving the engine. So I applied brake and tried all other gears with same outcome. So I shut down car and turned it back on. Put it in drive and was able to get car going. But the car was running at a very high RPM and I was only going about 10-15mph. It eventually fixed itself.

But since then it seems when I am at a low speed say under 20mph I am pretty sure I am at a higher rpm than normal. Once I get on the highway everything seems to be OK.

So my questions

1) What is causing this?

2) How much am I looking at to repair?

3) Is this my cars way of telling me it is ready to go meet its maker. car has 140,000m?



Start simple, check your transmission fluid level. Typically a dipstick under the hood, should be outlined in owners manual if it exists.

If the fluid level is fine, take it to a tranny specialist(trusted). This is a potential $1000+ repair.


As andrew said, check the transmission fluid [check it with the engine running at normal temperature]. If the fluid is low, adding fluid may help but could be just a temporary fix.

There is a very very slight possibility that a bad speed sensor could cause similar symptoms, but you would probably have a check engine light on as well.

If your looking at a transmission rebuild [avoid dealers and chains] it will probably run $2k-3k. If you want to hold on to the car, you might shop around and find a used or factory rebuilt transmission for under $2k.


To Andrew’s answer I will add that, if your transmission fluid level is low, you have to bear in mind that transmission fluid does not evaporate, so that scenario indicates a transmission leak. That leak would likely take a few hundred $$ to repair.

Alternatively, if the fluid level is normal, then you are looking at the overhaul or the replacement of the transmission, and depending on which repair route you chose, the repair bill could total far more than $1,000.

Whether you are having a transmission leak repaired or you are having your transmission overhauled, DO NOT go to AAMCO, Lee Myles, Cottman, or any other chain operation unless you want to overpay for substandard (and possibly unnecessary) repairs. Look for an independent transmission shop that has been in business for at least 3 years.


I’ve had several transmissions overhauled at the Olds dealer and the job was done right and paid maybe $200 more than at an independent shop. I pretty much only try to go to the Kennedy chain boys now who are ATRA members. I really have never had a bad experience at a dealer. That’s all these folks work on, are factory trained, and use OEM parts usually. I just wouldn’t make a blanket statement not to use a dealer-just see no evidence to support it in the midwest anyway.


Sometimes, you an’t afford to keep an old car that needs $1500 of repair work. If a Sunfire transmission quits at 140,000 miles, it is not worth fixing.


I got a transmission problem in my Car. I took it to one of Aamco shops in NJ. They quoted more than 700$ for replacing filter, gasket and re-filling transmission fluid. Finally, I thought of having second opinion and didn’t leave my car there. Then, I had gone to Midas following day and got all of those for just 100$. The discussion in this blog saved me all that money. Thanks a lot for posting such nice suggestions.