Car won’t shift into first gear first thing in the morning

I have a 2003 Toyota Camry with automatic transmission, it has a problem with shifting into drive gear, first thing in the morning and when it has been parked for like 15mins. Sometimes I am forced to rev the car before it shifts .Once it has shifted, it moves through all the gears easily. it also moves easily into first gear when I switch off and switch on in about 15mins after the car has been driven for awhile (as long I as don’t keep it off for long ). Of note is it shifts easily into reverse gear always easily.

Repairs done so far
Transmission fluid and filter has been change, and transmission has been flushed .

Any advice will be great , sadly we don’t have too many knowledgeable mechanics with this kind of issue in my country what I was asked to do is to change the transmission which I think is an overkill as the car drives smoothly except for this initial trouble in shifting. One more thing , when I move it into drive gear in the morning it finally shifts on it own after about 5mins ( the reverse gear shifts immediately) . Any other time of the day I will have to rev the engine, though the warmer the engine gets the easier it becomes to shift into drive gear when rev it .

Was this done hoping to fix the problem?

What did the fluid that came out look like ?

If this was the first time the fluid and filter has been changed in the 18 years of the car’s life, and you haven’t done it regularly, flushing it may have not been the best of ideas.

You have the U-250E transmission?

After car is at operating temp double check the fluid level is good with car running in park.

“D”, which is drive. Or 1st gear. Can you start in 2nd gear? I don’t know what your gear selector has as options. Don’t know if trans has more then 1 band. Reverse band and forward band? And clutch packs. Is it valve body issue? Or shift solenoids?

Well I bought it used about five years ago… and not sure of the maintenance history … I decided to do a preventive maintenance and I to told to flush the transmission …which was done as I stated above… the car’s transmission worked well before and the flush. It only developed the problem a year later. After which it the transmission fluid and filter was changed, still the problem remained … so the problem started long after I flushed it

No this is not the first time ; at least under my ownership … did the transmission fluid change and flush as a preventive step , not sure the quality of the fluid that came out of the tranny, but it ran great for at least a year afterwards . I only did the fluid change when the transmission had issue, at that time the fluid was dark red and had some fine pieces of dirt or sand in it

Not too much of. Car guy but I know it’s a 2003 Toyota Camry , automatic transmission made in the US. I was told it’s the one that has more pins (don’t know what the means), it’s a 4cylinder engine . The 2AZFE

Hi … by first gear I meant drive, my bad😊. I have corrected my post . It automatic transmission it’s a 4cylinder engine . The engine model is 2AZFE .

When I shift it to the 1st and second gear option to move on start up the same problem persists

I will do this and revert

It shifts ok when warm. Never shut it off.

Eventually an automatic transmission can fail simply due to time which takes a toll on countless rubber seals inside the transmission; most of which control various pressures. It’s simply the nature of the beast and applies to any aged automatic. My gut feeling is the transmission was not properly maintained as that is the case with most of them no matter the make or model. If the old fluid was brown or black that was a bad sign as that means oxidized fluid and/or clutch material.

I can provide you a quick backyard test which is not 100% definitive of the exact potential failure cause but…
If you do this do it EXACTLY as I relate it or you will possibly cause a much bigger problem.

Set park brake. Hold foot brake firmly. Preferably chock wheels also.
Shift trans into LOW.
Rev engine fairly quickly and note the RPMs at which the engine tries to cease revving. No revving over 2-3 seconds max.
Allow to idle for 2 minutes.
Shift into SECOND.
Repeat the revving process quickly and allow to idle 2 minutes.
Shift into THIRD or DRIVE.
Again, repeat the revving process as above.
Do NOT repeat this in OVERDRIVE or FOURTH.
Note the RPMs at which the engine bogs each time. I think the factory stall is roughly 2400 RPM. If the RPMs hit say 2800 in any test before the engine bogs this means the clutches are slipping; a.k.a. time to replace the trans.

I can’t state firmly enough to NOT linger on the engine revving. A couple of seconds is it. Loitering at 5 seconds or more can damage things even worse than they may be already.
Sorry for the length of this. Just trying to provide a simple DIY test to maybe gain a little insight on this. Hope this helps in some small way and good luck.

Thanks for the time and effort spent in communicating this , I guess the problem seems more complex that I anticipated . I thought it could be a bad shift solenoid since it shifts smoothly when warm or the torque converter. But what I don’t understand is why it shifts perfectly smoothly when warm and why it moves between all the gears smoothly at all times after the initially delay in moving into drive has been overcome. I think at this point I will just have to change the transmission… thanks once again🙏

Yeah I have decided from the responses that this seems to be no easy fix . I will change the transmission

Will the trans not still be in first if you are at a stop, no matter if you put it in 1st, 3rd, or 4th? (I think some cars may allow a start from second when you select second, don’t know, have never tried). What am I missing in this test? Automatic transmissions confound me anyway.

Major repair is time to evaluate car equation. Is a new, $2500 trans job worth it? Or more? A 2003 Camry might only be worth $2500.


I got a friend to scan the car. This was what we observed

The transmission operating temp was like 92. Degree C

Whenever the car is put in drive it cannot be seen in the scanner

For other shifts reverse and D1, D2, and park ,this inputs where seen on the scanner .