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Subaru Outback won't move in drive, reverse or neutral

When I started my car and put it in reverse, it didn’t move. It felt like my front, right wheel was in a divet or was being blocked somehow (intuitively it seemed like if I accelerated enough, it would eventually move, but since there was nothing physically stopping it - that I could see - I didn’t want to break something by doing that). I tried putting it in drive and neutral and the same issue was still there. I put the car up on a jack and checked one wheel at a time - I could move each wheel completely around in both directions. I could move the steering wheel all the way to the right and to the left. I tried turning off the 4-wheel drive and that didn’t do anything. At this point I’m concerned it could be the transmission or the drive shaft, but I’m not sure what to look for in order to know if I need to get it towed to a shop (hoping I can avoid this) or if there’s a simple test I can do, or a way to “reset” something if it may be locked. I haven’t had anything happen to the car that would have been of concern. Anyone have any ideas?

Kudos on jacking it up and spinning the wheels. Good thinking.

The very next thing to do is to check the transmission fluid. Make sure you follow the procedure as outlined in the manual - except that it might say to check it after the car is up to temperature and has been driven quite a ways. Don’t worry about that. You just need to know if you’re in the ballpark and the dipstick will have a mark for the cold level. (It will be the lowest one if it isn’t marked). The typical procedure is to start the car, run the gear selector through each position, pausing in each, and ending in Park. The you check it with it in park and the engine idling. But check the manual.

While you’re under the hood try to find the gear selector switch on top of the transmission. (Toward the driver’s side of the car, probably a little buried and it will look about like this: It should have a cable attached to it. Inspect. If you can, get an assistant. Have them sit in the car and with the parking brake set and their foot firmly on the brake, ask them to shift the car. Make sure that the cable moves the switch.

Is your check engine light on?
Typically when you shift into R or D you can fell the little bump or surge when the transmission engages. Do you feel that?

Thank you! We did try checking the transmission fluid and surprisingly the levels seemed fine (for both hot and cold markers). The check engine light wasn’t on and we did feel the transmission engage.

Couple new things we tried… put the car up on jacks, put it in neutral, turned off 4-wheel drive, took emergency brake off and tried spinning the back wheel once with the engine off and once with it on. In both cases, when we tried spinning the wheel there was significant drag - is this normal or is it a red flag? Would it loosen or free up if we were in a forward or reverse gear? There was no noticeable break drag, so it appears to be unrelated to brakes and may be drivetrain related. We’re just not sure what is considered normal for a Subaru.

Hi Jennie,

I seem to be having the exact same issue you had, with my 2014 Subaru crosstrek. Did you figure out what was wrong/ how to fix it? I am at a loss right now and would greatly appreciate any advice.


@Jocelyn_Martin, @Jennie0384 hasn’t posted or been seen in the forums in 6 years. If you click on her name, it’ll give you the opportunity to send a direct message that she might see if she still uses the email address attached to her account. If you’d like advise specifically for your situation, I highly recommend you start a new topic detailing what problems you’re having, that way we don’t have posters responding to you and Jennie confusing the entire thing

Okay thanks

@Jocelyn_Martin, are you sure the electronic parking brake is releasing? These have been problematic and Subaru has extended the warranty on them to 15 years, unlimited mileage.

You will need to jack up the rear of the vehicle and see if the tires spin with the parking brake off. If you only have the jack in the trunk, you will have to do one rear wheel at a time. You only need to jack it up high enough for the tire to clear the ground and test the wheel.

Since the brake is off, you should chock the front wheels for safety while doing this.

If the wheels won’t turn, there is a procedure in the owners manual for manually releasing the parking brake. The tools are in the trunk too. Once you manually release it, you should not try to reset it. Drive to the dealer to get it repaired. You can drive it while waiting for the dealer appointment as long as you park only on level ground or up against a curb.