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Shift car into drive and just revs the engine instead of moving

I have a 1997 Nissan Altima that I just barely got and it has started to show signs of trouble.

Sometimes when I put the vehicle into drive and step on the gas the car will not move and instead the engine will rev.
I’ll put the car back into park and then into drive and it’ll work fine.

I checked the ATF, which was incredibly low and refilled it. The engine oil was also very low, which was refilled.
The problem still persists. So I decided to add a bottle of Fuel Injector Cleaner to the gas tank.

I took the car for a short drive and nothing happened aside from the fact that the Check Engine light now comes on and off. The car also idles between 1000-1500 rpms.

The fuel injector cleaner will not help the transmission. I am very concerned that the transmission fluid and oil level were very low. This points to poor maintenance by the previous owner. Not sure what you mean ‘nothing happened’, after the fuel injector was added. Did the car not move in drive or did it operate OK? Sounds like there was no change. I would take the car to a mechanic to have them look it over. At a minimum have them change the oil and filter and change the transmission fluid. If you are lucky the shift problem is with the cable from the shifter to the transmission, easy and less expensive. If you are unlucky you will find out why the car was up for sale ( I assume you just bought it) and you need major transmission work, probably more that the blue book value of the car. They can check the codes at the same time, or you can go to a parts store like Advance and they will read them for free. Post the codes here, they will look like P1234. With the low fluids I think you got a car on its last legs and all the poor maintenance is making it self known. Best of luck to you.

Trains fluid was incredibly low pretty much says it all. If you are very lucky you may be able to nurse it along by keeping the fluid topped of. But if it has been slipping like this for any length of time the transmission is probably on its way out. If this were me I’d start saving and looking for a used trans.

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Any 19 year old car is going to be at least a bit of a gamble, but when that vehicle has apparently been poorly-maintained, it has the potential to become a true money pit, very quickly. I am going to guess that the OP did not have this car inspected by a mechanic prior to purchase.

In any event, before making any decisions about whether to spend a few thousand $$ on a rebuilt transmission, I strongly urge the OP to have a competent independent mechanic (not a chain operation like Midas, Meineke, Monro, Sears, Pep Boys, or–God forbid–AAMCO) assess the overall condition of the car. If other parts of the car are also in poor condition, it would be close to insanity to spend a couple of thousand $$ to have its transmission rebuilt.

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I agree with the comments above. Given that the car is old and apparently poorly maintained, you want to start with an assessment by a good local mechanic of its overall condition (especially any damage from low oil) to see if it’s worth the risk of putting money into the transmission or if you should just change the transmission fluid and drive it until it dies.

For your next used car purchase, have this inspection done before you buy it, not after.

I certainly agree that the car was poorly maintained, but I am not convinced yet that the low ATF level has already ruined your transmission. You may have saved it in a nick of time by topping off the fluid.

I used to have a Buick PA many years ago that developed a severe ATF fluid leak and showed very similar symptoms as your car. I fixed the leak and topped it off and the car went for another 80K or so miles before I traded it in.

I doubt the high idle is connected to a transmission problem, especially if it idles high in park or neutral. Get the codes, like others said, and go from there.

Really, I think the smartest thing you could do right now is take it in to a mechanic for an inspection to see what overall condition this car is in. You just got it and obviously without having it inspected first. You have a couple issues with the engine light on, the trans not engaging, high idle, and poor maintenance means that you need to see just how bad this car is before you dig in any deeper. The fact that you would use injector cleaner for a trans issues means you are over your head and need some professional advice. If you bought a dog, sometimes its better to dump it right away before throwing more money at it.

Check engine light comes on and it idles between 1000 and 1500 rpm’s indicates that you have a vacuum leak somewhere. It could just be a dried out cracked vacuum hose (cheap) or an intake manifold gasket (not cheap). Getting the code(s) read would be a big help here.

Incorrect manifold vacuum could cause some transmission problems, as could low ATF. If the ATF is not a bright, clear red, you need to change it or get it changed. I would recommend that it just be drained, filter cleaned/replaced and refilled, no flush at this time. If you find the vacuum leak and do the ATF drain and fill and the problems clear up, then think about a complete ATF fluid exchange (not flush) and getting the rest of the maintenance up to date.

AAMCO is an acronym for All Automatics Must Come Out

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Just used an OBD2 Sensor.

4 codes came up.

FuelSys Lean B1 x2
Knock Sensor/Circuit B1 x2

My ATF is clean. Bright red, no metal flakes. I won’t rule out a possibility of a transmission problem though.
However, I’m going to change the Knock Sensor and the fuel filter to see if this fixes the problem.

I got the car for free so it’s really no sweat.
Thank you for all your answers so far.

Fuel system lean could be a dirty MAF sensor. That is the usual cause of this code. Easier and cheaper to clean the MAF sensor than to replace the fuel filter.

I would focus on the fuel system lean trouble first. The knock sensor may work correctly and report an issue caused due to lean fuel air mixture. I second Keith’s suggestion, do the MAF first. Easy and quick to clean.

If it were mine I’d start looking for a replacement vehicle. my gut says this one is the victim of serious neglect.


Those codes would not explain why the car doesn’t move when you shift to “Drive” and give it gas.
Yes, there are surely problems other than the transmission, but–trust me–you do have a transmission problem.

I thought he said with his last sentence in the original post that the transmission was no longer a problem. Maybe I am misinterpreting the statement,

From what I understand a clogged fuel filter can cause the symptoms that I’ve posted here and often causes a misdiagnosis of the transmission. At least that’s what a few mechanics that I know have told me.

Since the ATF is clean and there is no grinding when I step on the gas when it won’t move; I’m going to go through with cleaning the Mass Airflow Sensor, replacing the Knock Sensor (that I convienetly already have) and change out the Fuel Filter. Which is all quite inexpensive for my car.

If this doesn’t fix the problem then I’ll take it to a mechanic. And if it is the transmission then screw it. The car is not worth it and at least I tried.

Either way, I’ll post the outcome so if another has the same problem he/she can hopefully be referred to this post to save them the headache.

It’s still unknown if the transmission is the problem, though the majority do believe so. Which I am hoping it’s not.

It hasn’t done it again since I added in the Fuel Injector Cleaner. Though the check engine light is now on which are giving of the “FuelSys Lean B1” and “Knock Sensor/Circuit B1” codes.

If you’re lucky, it’s a solenoid problem:

Maybe. I had the shift solenoid pack replaced in the Olds for about $250 plus another hundred to tow it. The problem manifested itself by going into limp mode in second gear only on the interstate. Really needs to let a trans shop do some testing on it.

Well, It’s going to be an unsolved problem now. Last night a driver in a truck ran a red light and T-Boned my car. It’s been totaled.

What I did end up doing before that was cleaning the Mass Airflow Sensor, replacing the Knock Sensor and Fuel Filter. The car stopped stalling when I put it into drive, however a new problem did surface.

Whenever I’d stop at a red light or intersection, sometimes my RPMs would drop below 500 and then go back to 1000 over and over again within seconds. The entire car would rattle and the engine would seem as though it was about to die. Would also sometimes have trouble accelerating when driving.

Either way, thank you everyone for the replies. Sorry I wont be able to post the solution to this car’s problems.