By October 26, 20063 Comments Read More →

1998 Toyota Camry Automatic Transmission Won’t Go Into Gear Sometimes

Reader Question Hi Austin

I recently aquired a 1998 Toyota Camry with a blown engine. I had a mechanic put in a new engine and the car ran great. Felt like it was brand new and shifted perfectly. Then a few days ago I went to put the car in reverse and the car didnt respond. The engine didnt rev up and the car didnt have the mild shake they normally do when the transmission is engaged.

I didnt think anything of it and put it in park then back into reverse and it engaged and drove fine. Then the following day this happened to me twice but I noticed it did it on any shift position reverse and drive. It took 2 or 3 times that day to engage each time this happened.

Then yesterday the car refused to go into reverse or drive at all no matter how much I messed with it. Im pretty sure the transmission is fine as when it does engage it drives perfect no jerking in changing gears no noises etc. Also the button on the shift knob is still tight which leads me to belive the shifter cable is still intact. My mechanic is clueless as to what this problem is. Any ideas of where to start looking or what the cause might be?

Hi Tim,

I’m not sure what to think here. Are you sure the gear selector cable is actually moving the gear on the transmission? They had to take the transmission out as well, so I might be curious if the nut on the gear shift cable on the transmission was good and tight. Pop open the hood and have someone move the gear shifter through all the gears as you look at the transmission, can you see the cable move? If the cable IS moving correctly ALL the time then you might have an internal transmission problem. Reverse gear is usually the first gear to show a problem when something inside the transmission is broken or worn. I’m assuming you checked the fluid level in the transmission already.

Of course, if you move the cable like I suggested above….when the problem is not happening, the cable will seem to move correctly. You might have to try that idea next time the problem arises or try and tighten the hold down nut just as a precaution.

Since this vehicle was abused to the point where the engine was blown up, I can only imagine what kind of trauma the transmission went through.


Austin Davis

Reader Follow up

My mechanic looked at it today and thinks the transmission is the problem. If he revs the engine to around 3000 rpm the transmission will go into gear. Then on test driving it said it felt like the tranny was slipping from going from a dead stop to acceleration. I assume he is correct but would like a second opinion.

Is this typicle of a failing transmission or a failing torque convertor or both? If it is tranny or torque convertor or both do you have any online recomendations as to where to buy them together with low miles? Since my engine is only 32,000 miles if I could get a tranny and convertor with low miles Ill essentially have a new car and Ill just deal with all the other problems a car with 250K miles has . Or should I count my looses and trade this in asap without dropping anymore money into this pit? And yes transmission levels look good and fluid is clean enough

Hi again Tim
I kinda had a feeling it was an internal transmission problem; the last owner must have really tortured that poor car. BUT, since it is a Camry, which is one of my favorite cars I would probably put a little more money in it and install a used transmission. Call a few junk yards in your area, and see what you can find. Surely there is a low mile transmission for that vehicle somewhere close by. I would guess a fair price to pay would be about $400??? Then pay the mechanic who installed your engine to install it for you, I would charge about $325 – 385 for labor on a slow day.

You said this “miles Ill essentially have a new car and Ill just deal with all the other problems a car with 250K miles has” there are MANY other expensive components to this car which can nickel and dime you to death, a/c compressors, power steering pumps and rack and pinion, alternator and starter, exhaust etc. etc. etc. BUT you are correct in thinking you have the most expensive items replaced.

Keep me posted,


Austin Davis

3 Comments on "1998 Toyota Camry Automatic Transmission Won’t Go Into Gear Sometimes"

Trackback | Comments RSS Feed

  1. Gary says:

    Mr. Davis,
    My daughter has a 1998 Camry. The shift linkage unde the console came loose. (the cable popped off the shifter pin) I was able to reinstall using a spare snap ring I had. Do you know where I might find a picture for this? It appears the pin originally had a cap on the shift pin–similar to a Radio Flyer wagon wheel retainer nut.
    Any help would be appreciated-

    • By Austin Davis says:

      Gary, I would recommend you visit your local Toyota dealership PARTS department and ask one of them nicely to print out a diagram of the shifter for you, I do this a lot when needing a detailed picture of small parts…and part numbers associated with them. You MIGHT even get one of them to fax you a print out if you call and ask nicely…and maybe tell them you will come see them to order the part once you know what it is you need.

      Toyota is usually VERY customer friendly. The part you need will most likely only be found at the dealer anyway. I dont recall off hand how the cable is attached.

  2. gary says:

    make sure the shifter solenoids are not bad–$300 in repairs here would be better than a $3000 transmission–they won’t tell you this–ok?

Got Something to Say?