Toyota Corolla Not Shifting – Troubleshooting Guide


One of the problems reported with the Toyota Corolla over the years is that it sometimes won’t shift correctly. It appears this isn’t likely a design issue from the manufacturer but is probably a maintenance issue for the driver. 

One of the biggest problems associated with the Toyota Corrola not shifting is a lack of transmission fluid. There could be other problems like the ECM (engine control module) going bad, sensors, solenoids, or a bad connection.

The problem is primarily with the automatic transmission cars so let’s take a look at them first. 

How Automatic Transmissions Work?

Those who have shifting gear issues have a problem within the transmission. Automatic transmissions have three parts to them. 

  • Hydraulic
  • Electrical
  • Mechanical

The three function as one unit to make the transmission work. The hydraulic system is what moves the gears and the electrical monitor’s speed, gear selection, and throttle position. The mechanical system gives the transmission more power when the car reaches higher speeds. 

Which Toyota Corollas Have Gear Problems?

Toyota carefully tracks complaints with all of its products. It appears the majority of complaints about improper gear shifting come from owners of automatic transmission cars that have higher mileage that is over 125,000 in miles. The average mileage of the cars reported with problems is 169,682 miles.

According to data, 305 people sent reports about this problem. There were 25 model years of Toyota Corolla affected by this issue starting in 1990.

The company determined the issue with these complaints was a shift solenoid that needed replacing or a throttle position sensor needing an adjustment. 

The Most Common Reason for Shifting Gear Issues

A common reason for an automatic transmission failing to shift into gear is that you either don’t have the right fluid level or are using an incorrect type of transmission fluid. 

Transmission fluid helps generate hydraulic pressure which makes the gears move. When it’s low, the car won’t accelerate well and the gears slip. You may notice your car headed to high RPMs even though it is moving sluggishly.

Check your fluid level and also check the container of fluid to make sure it’s the right kind. If it isn’t, have your mechanic drain it and put in new fluid. Otherwise, you can add fluid on your own.  

However, that likely will not resolve the problem as you may have a leak. You probably will need to take it by the mechanic’s shop to find out if you do have a leak.

Symptoms of Low Transmission Fluid

There are tell-tale signs of when your car is low on transmission fluid. This include:

  • Puddles are underneath the car. 
  • The car jerks or lurches.
  • The transmission fails to engage.

Other symptoms could either indicate there is low fluid as well as other types of transmission problems like the ECM.

What Does the ECM Do?

The ECM, which is also called the Engine Control Unit (ECU), is designed to make sure your car runs its best all the time. The car won’t start well when it starts to go back. It will not start or run at all when it completely fails. The engine may still try to turn over but won’t start. 

Symptoms of a Transmission Problem

A car that won’t shift is a problem but typically there are other symptoms associated with ongoing transmission issues including:

  • A buzzing or other unfamiliar noise
  • A transmission fluid leak.
  • There’s a burning odor.
  • The transmission shakes

There are a couple of things to remember about these symptoms. Transmission fluid doesn’t burn off like engine oil so if you are having trouble keeping fluid in your car it has to be a leak. 

The transmission does require some ongoing maintenance. You need to look at your car manual to see what that is and when you should take it in.

Transmission flushes are a part of routine maintenance on the car, but they can usually be postponed easier than oil changes. A transmission flush should happen sometime between when the car is between 50,000 and 100,000 miles but can be postponed until 150,000 miles in some makes and models.

The burning smell is because the system is overheating. It is overheating because it’s low on transmission fluid. After all, transmission fluid is what keeps the part of the transmission cool and lubricated. 

The shaking is from the transmission struggle to get the right gear in place. Failing to have your transmission fixed will amount to more shaking and a possible transmission drop in the future. 

Cost of Fixing Toyota Corolla Transmission Issues

Fixing issues related to your automatic gear-shifting problem are in range from cheap to fairly expensive, depending on the problem. A fluid leak is an easy fix that will cost between $150 to $200 in most cases. 

Transmission solenoid replacement is cheaper, costing between $15 and $100 per solenoid. Labor will be between $120 and $400. It could cost up to $600 if you have to do a complete replacement of all of them. 

A throttle sensor replacement will cost, on average, between $155 and $199 depending on the car and the mechanic.

Toyota’s Manual Transmission Cars

Toyota is one of the few car companies that still produce manual transmission cars. This is true even in 2021 when its Toyota hatchback brought out reviewers.

The Toyota is a warm hatch, which combines sport and function rather than focusing on speed, that increases its sporty theme with a six-speed manual transmission that even reviewers say rivals that of Porsche.

Yet, the car is a four-cylinder with solid cargo. Its styling and engine give it a gutsier vibe than competitors, according to reviews. It still goes from 0 to 60 in 7.3 seconds, according to test results. 

The 2021 Toyota Corolla Sedan SE can come with a manual transmission upgrade. That is strange to some as automatic transmissions were the past upgrades that added to a car’s price tag. However, the manual version is considered a sports novelty in today’s world especially when it comes to sedans and family cars. 

Why Manual Transmissions May Be Better

Manual transmissions have their advantages when it comes to repairs and upkeep. For once, there are no complaints about gear slippage in any of the Toyota manual transmission cars.

They are typically cheaper and easier to fix as well, depending on the car, because a mechanic can fix one gear without disturbing the others and without needing to rip the whole transmission out. 

Modern manuals still have all the safety and dashboard technology. While they are no longer cheaper to buy new, they are easier to maintain. You can use gear or engine oil, which lasts longer. A manual transmission car typically is better on gas. 

Drivers who want manual transmission typically say they like them for the control they offer over the car. They just feel like a racecar, even if you are in a family sedan or hatchback. 


It’s important to pay attention to your car and look for signs of a transmission problem before it gets serious. Fixing basic transmission issues is fairly cheap so don’t put it off. That could end up costing you much more later.

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