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Gear Not Shifting

I have a 2003 Honda Accord that will occasionally not let me shift into any gear upon startup. I have not been able to find any pattern as to when this happens, but I do notice a slight difference in the brake pressure when I am finally able to shift into gear. Once the car is started and going, I’m able to shift to reverse, and then drive, back to park without issue. It’s just those occasional times when I can’t shift to any gear, not even neutral, after I’ve started the car that has me concerned.

What am I doing wrong or what should the mechanic be telling me is the true problem?


The next time this happens, see if your brake lights are working. If not, then you have a issue with the switch connected to the brake pedal.

Soooo… What kind of transmission IS it? Manual? Automatic? How many miles on the car? Help us out a little. :wink:

Apologies Mustangman. In an effort to remain concise I left out a few key details. Mileage on the vehicle is 229k and automatic transmission. Car is a 2003 Accord so it is definitely up there in age.



Thanks @lion9car. I’ll make sure to check next time it happens. Hopefully that won’t be for a while.

" I’m able to shift to reverse, and then drive, back to park without issue." the ‘park’ and ‘drive’ should give you a clue as to the type of tranny…

Have you tried using the “Shift Lock Release” described in your owner’s manual?

I’ll look into that and see what it says. I did look in the Haynes manual that I have but didn’t see anything there. I bought the car used back in 2008 and it didn’t have an owner’s manual. Guess I could find it online now though.


On this site, you cannot assume anything poster’s place.

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Take it from the former owner of a 2003 Accord, if you have a 2003 Accord with transmission issues of any kind get a new car ASAP. Here’s why courtesy of one of CarTalk’s partner sites.

I would change the transmission fluid, and only use Honda brand fluid, as these transmissions are not only legendary for failing, but they are also finicky about the transmission fluid, that is unless it has never been changed. If it has never been changed, take gorehamj’s advice. I have an 07 by the way, and I changed the fluid recently. It should be done by draining and filling, and driving and draining and filling and repeating three or four times, total, as you only get out about 40% of the fluid with each drain.

I’ve changed the fluid at the regularly scheduled intervals but the last change was at the Castor Oil shop, not at the Honda dealership. I’ll see about another change since I am already at 220k+ miles.

When things are working normally, do you have to press on the brake pedal to shift out of Park? If so, you may have some kind of problem with the shift/brake safety interlock function. That would apply if the lever simply won’t move when this problem occurs. If the lever moves ok, but the gear you select doesn’t engage, that could be a different issue.

Shift/brake interlock failures are not an uncommon problem reported here for automatics, and usually isn’t an overly-expensive thing to fix.

As far as not shifting symptoms, Can you depress the button the shifter? Do you slide the shifter into gear and it wont go into gear? I had a 98 Accord where the button would not engage because it needed to be replaced. While it’s plausible to say the safety switch is bad, you wouldn’t be able to depress the shifter button to move gears.

On the other hand, my other car is a 2003 Honda Accord v6 with 262,000 miles. #1 check the fluid. Ours just had the “Trans heater” go bad on the top of the transmission case dumping coolant into the transmission. This caused grinding, rough/delayed shifting, but nothing like you say. We rebuilt the transmission for $3000 and use it as our 2nd car. Some might think we are crazy for spending that much on a 14 year old car, but with all the newer parts and great condition the car was in, we couldn’t find a used car for 3k that would have been as dependable. The car is paid off and we have no car debt.