Car not engaging in drive

Hi – I’m having a problem with my 2009 Subaru Forester.

When I start the car from “cold” (i.e., it hasn’t run in several hours, regardless of the actual temperature), the automatic transmission cannot engage drive for several minutes. I can shift the car, and reverse functions normally. When shifting, I can feel the car engage reverse, and feel it shift into neutral, but when I shift from neutral to drive, I can’t feel it engage. I can rev the engine, and it will just act as if it is still in neutral. I also cannot use sport mode to manually get the car into gear. After a few minutes (3-4), the car will engage drive. However, at least initially, it still seems to be pretty rough, with a few times where it will rev as if it’s half in neutral, and then jump a little. Once it does get going, it settles down and is fine.

I took it to the dealer, but wasn’t able to leave it over-night, so they couldn’t get the problem to re-engage. They inspected the car, thought that the shift cable was a little stiff, so they took it off, lubed it, and put it back (they recommended replacement, but didn’t have the part in stock). The next morning, the problem repeated itself, so it certainly appears that the cable is not the issue. The dealer checked the transmission fluid and said that was all fine.

Anyone know what the issue is?


The first impression is …
low on fluid.
Anybody check that ?
These days they’re making it harder and harder for the diy to do that.
( when my old pickup acts that way…it’s just low on fluid. I can not check the levels on my 06 & 08 without them being on a shop hoist. )

I was wondering about the fluid level too. Although the OP said the dealer checked the fluid and said the fluid was “fine” did he mean the level or the condition of the fluid (or both)?

The dealer said that the fluid level was full and the condition of the fluid was fine. When I’ve checked the fluid level cold it shows as full as well.



Aging seals on servos is often the problem. Has the transmission been serviced regularly? And it is wise to get them serviced regardless of the owners manual stating that the fluid is permanent.

That’s sounding a lot like it may be transmission rebuild time. When my Ford truck started having that same symptom, it was in the shop for a xmission rebuild not long after. Which fixed the problem straight away.

If I had that problem and no other clues were evident I’d have the transmission properly serviced, drop the pan, replace the filter, and change the fluid. Be sure to use the exact fluid Subbie recommends. If that didn’t fix it, I’d repeat the same procedure after driving it a couple of days. Still a no-go? Time to visit the best transmission shop in town.

Rod -

The car had a tune-up about 1 year/14k miles ago. That would have been the last time the transmission was serviced.

George -

As far as having the transmission serviced, I’m not sure what you mean by “properly” serviced. Is there something specific I would need to ask for? As for the fluid, would it be good to use a high-mileage formula like a Max Life fluid?


tune-up’s do not usually include transmission service. What did your receipt say? Service usually means drop the pan, replace the filter, refill with proper fluid.

Transmission fluid, use only the exact fluid recommended by Subaru.