Ford F-150/F-250: Why Won't My Truck Reverse?

An uncooperative transmission that doesn't shift properly can be a frustrating and embarrassing situation depending on where you are parked at the time. Here's a complete step-by-step guide on how to diagnose and repair a transmission that won't reverse.

By Brett Foote - December 3, 2014

This article applies to the F-150 (2004-2014) and F-250 (2005-2014).

You know it's not going to be a good day when you leave the store, get in your F-150 or F-250, and suddenly the transmission doesn't want to shift into reverse. This would be one of those times you wish you had pulled through a parking spot. Unfortunately, these types of problems don't give you much warning and seem to happen at the most inopportune times. If this happens to you, have no fear! Take a deep breath, and use this handy step-by-step guide to diagnose and fix the problem.

Step 1 - Check for transmission codes

Turn your truck on and look at the instrument panel. Keep your OBD-II code reader handy.

  • If the O/D light is flashing, go to the O/D light diagnostic.
  • If you're getting a trans fault error, pull codes with your reader to see what is wrong.

Go to local auto store or a dealership to have them pull your codes if you don't want to purchase an OBD-II reader. Either way, the codes will point you towards whichever component is failing in your transmission. If you don't have any codes, though, the next steps might be of some help.

If you have no lights, move on to step 2.

Step 2 - Check selector lever linkage

Check for binding of the line or other obstructions. If damaged, replace.

  • If your truck has trouble shifting into other gears, or other shift lever weirdness, it might need some adjustment.
  • The Transmission Range Sensor might be damaged. If it is, your truck should give you a check engine light. Replace it if necessary.
Figure 1. This is the gear selector lever on the Torqueshift transmission for Super Duties. A similar looking unit will be in the same place on other transmission types .

Step 3 - Check transmission fluid

Pull the dipstick while the transmission is warm. Let it drip on white paper.

  • If the fluid smells burnt and isn't pink, change the fluid.
  • If it's frothy like a milkshake, there is water or coolant in it.
  • Figure 2. You'll be able to identify the transmission fluid dip stick by the Trans Fluid label.
  • Figure 3. Transmission fluid quality range.

Step 4 – Test transmission pressure

Testing the pressure will help to diagnose if the valve body is the issue without needing to remove the valve body. This is only necessary for the 4R70E and 4R75E transmissions. You can test the transmission pressure with a transmission pressure gauge and a basic socket set:

  1. Connect the gauge to the line pressure tap.
  2. Start the engine, let idle, and check the pressure.
  3. Turn off the truck and compare results to chart below.
Figure 4. Illustrated above are the line pressure tap points for the 4R7xx family of transmissions in F-150s and Super Duty trucks.
ApplicationTransmission RangeIdleWOT
EPC Line Pressure EPC Line Pressure
All P, N 5-40 psi (34-276 kPa) 40-100 psi (276-689 kPa) N/A N/A
(D) 2, 1 5-40 psi (34-276 kPa) 40-100 psi (276-689 kPa) 100-115 psi (689-793 kPa) 170 - 230 psi (1172-1586 kP)
R 25-30 psi (172-207 kPa) 70-125 psi (483-862 kPa) 85-95 psi (586-655) kPa 250-300 psi (1124-2068 kPa)

If the pressure is not within specification, you’ll need to check the electronic pressure control (EPC) pressure. The steps are the same as if you were testing the line pressure; just connect the gauge to the EPC tap instead of the line pressure tap. If the EPC pressure is not within spec, you likely have shift solenoids in your transmission that are shorting out. The chart below can give you a better location of where to start with the pinpoint test.

Test ResultsPossible Source
High pressure at idle Wiring Harness, EPC Solenoid, Main regulator valve
Low at idle Low transmission fluid level
Control Bodies
Tranmission pump leaking fluid
Damaged transmission gaskets
Leaking transmission case
Stuck main regultor valve
Low in Park Only Transmission valve body
Low/Reverse Servo
Low in reverse only Seperator plate
Low/Reverse Servo, valve bodies
Reverse clutch
Low in Neutral Only Valve body damaged
Low in Overdrive only Forward clutch damaged
Valve body damaged
Low in 1st only Forward clutch damaged
Valve body damaged
Low/reverse servo damaged
Low in 2nd only Intermediate clutch damaged
Forward clutch damaged
Valve body damaged

Step 5 - Drop transmission pan and pull filter

Look for debris. Large curves of metal are evidence of broken servo clips or other hardware.

Figure 5. Transmission pan removed from 4R7xx.

Step 6 - Replace reverse servo

If you find evidence of broken servo or metal in you transmission fluid pan, there's a good chance that your transmission's reverse servo has died. At this point it's recommended to take your transmission into the shop and tell them what you think is wrong with it. But, if you want to get your hands dirty, you could remove the valve body from your transmission and do it yourself.

Figure 6. A servo with a broken servo ring.

(Related Article: How to Replace a Transmission Servo for 4R75E - F150online.com)

Additional Advice

If you've failed to pinpoint the cause of your no-reverse situation, there are some other issues that should probably be addressed by a professional:

  • The transmission fluid pump assembly could be bad. A transmission pump that isn't working means that transmission won't shift anywhere.
  • There might be damage to the frictions elements inside the transmission.
  • A burnt out reverse clutch or a damaged reverse band will have to be repaired by a mechanic, unless you're comfortable diving into the guts of a transmission yourself, of course.

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