Honda ATV: Why It Won’t Shift to Reverse & How to Fix It


Honda is known for being one of the most reliable ATV manufacturers in the world. However, this doesn’t mean that Honda ATVs are without fault. In fact, a common issue that I see people dealing with is not being able to shift their Honda four-wheelers into reverse.

Honda ATVs will not shift into reverse when dealing with mechanical issues such as worn linkages, damaged transmission components, and clutch malfunctions, In modern ATVs, electrical problems like faulty sensors, damaged wiring, or ECM malfunctions also can disrupt shifting.

Since you are always riding ATVs on rugged trails, it’s common for them to have mechanical issues. Luckily, they can be easily fixed. Keep reading to learn what causes Honda ATVs to not shift into reverse and how you can fix the problem.

infographic explaining why Honda ATV won`t shift to reverse

Common Causes for Honda ATVs Not Shifting into Reverse

a photo for a gear shifter for Honda ATVs-min

Understanding the root causes of shifting problems can greatly aid in both prevention and repair. Honda ATVs are engineered with precision, but like all machines, they’re susceptible to wear and issues arising from various conditions.

#1 Mechanical Issues

  • Worn out or misaligned linkages: Over time and through rugged use, the mechanical linkages responsible for shifting can wear out or become misaligned. This could be due to impacts, rigorous usage, or natural wear and tear. When these linkages aren’t functioning correctly, they can prevent smooth shifting into reverse or any other gear.
  • Damaged gears or transmission components: The transmission’s intricate components can degrade over time, especially without regular maintenance. If a gear becomes chipped or damaged, it might not align properly, causing difficulties when trying to shift. Remember, even a tiny defect in one of these components can disrupt the entire system.
  • Clutch malfunctions: Especially in ATVs with manual transmissions, the clutch plays a pivotal role in shifting. If the clutch doesn’t engage or disengage correctly, shifting into reverse can become a challenge.

#2 Electrical Issues

  • Faulty sensors or switches: In the age of modern ATVs, electronic sensors and switches play a critical role. The reverse limit switch, for example, ensures safe shifting into reverse. If it’s faulty, the ATV might interpret it as an unsafe condition to shift, preventing the action.
  • Wiring harness damage: Wires are the highways of information for your ATV. A damaged or corroded wire can disrupt the signals essential for various functions, including shifting. This is particularly problematic in environments where the ATV is exposed to moisture or corrosive materials.
  • ECM (Electronic Control Module) malfunctions: Essentially the ATV’s brain, the ECM controls various functionalities based on the inputs it receives. If it’s malfunctioning, it might misinterpret signals or fail to send commands, affecting the ATV’s shifting ability.

#3 Operational Errors

  • Incorrect idle speed: For an ATV to shift safely into reverse, it needs to be at the correct idle speed. If the engine’s idling too fast, it might prevent shifting into reverse as a safety precaution.
  • Ignition switch not in the proper position: This might seem basic, but it’s an error even experienced riders make occasionally. If the ignition switch isn’t in the right position or if it’s faulty, the ATV might not shift as expected.

How to Diagnose the Problem 

Before diving into the process of fixing your Honda ATV, it’s crucial to accurately diagnose the root cause. A thorough diagnosis ensures you won’t waste time and resources addressing the wrong issue.

#1 Visual Inspection

  • General Overview: Begin with an overall assessment. Look for any noticeable damages, such as dents, breaks, or wear, that may indirectly hint at internal problems.
  • Shift Linkage Examination: A frequently overlooked part, the shift linkage should be meticulously checked for any signs of wear, rust, or misalignment. If it’s loose or appears distorted, it might be inhibiting proper shifting.
  • Transmission Fluid Check: Ensure the transmission fluid is at the appropriate level and is clean. Dark or dirty transmission fluid can indicate wear or contamination, which can affect shifting.

#2 Electronic Diagnostics

  • Onboard Diagnostic Systems: Many of Honda’s newer ATV models come with onboard diagnostics. This system can be a gold mine of information, revealing error codes that correspond to specific issues. Familiarize yourself with common codes and their meanings.
  • Electrical Connection Assessment: Loose or corroded connections can be a source of numerous problems, including shifting issues. Methodically check each connection, looking for any that appear loose, dirty, or corroded.
  • Sensor Checks: Sensors play an instrumental role in modern ATVs. Use a multimeter or diagnostic tool to ensure each sensor, especially those linked to the transmission, is functioning as it should.

#3 Manual Testing

  • Shift Lever Operation: Sometimes, the problem can be as simple as a stiff or jammed shift lever. While the ATV is turned off, try moving the shift lever through its range of motion. It should move smoothly, without any hitches.
  • Clutch Engagement: If your Honda ATV employs a manual clutch, test its engagement and release points. A clutch that doesn’t disengage fully can hinder shifting.
  • Listen for Sounds: Often, unusual noises can offer clues. With the engine running, listen carefully as you try to shift. Grinding, clunking, or whining noises might indicate where the problem lies.

After these diagnostic steps, you should have a clearer picture of what’s causing the shift problem. It’s always a good idea to start with simpler potential issues before diving deep into complex repairs or replacements. If at any point you feel uncertain, it might be best to consult a professional to avoid causing further damage.

How to Fix Honda ATV Not Shifting Into Reverse

Gear shifter in reverse

Once you’ve identified the root cause, it’s time to roll up your sleeves and address the problem. Here’s a comprehensive guide on how to approach each potential issue:

#1 For Mechanical Issues:

  • Adjusting or replacing shift linkages: If you’ve detected that the linkages are worn out or misaligned, they may need adjustment. This usually involves tightening specific parts or ensuring they’re properly aligned. However, if the wear is significant, replacement might be the best option. Make sure to lubricate new or adjusted linkages to ensure smooth operation.
  • Servicing worn-out gears or transmission components: A transmission rebuild might sound intimidating, but it’s often necessary if there’s significant wear. If a specific gear is damaged, you might be able to replace just that component. However, in cases of extensive wear, a more comprehensive overhaul might be needed. Always refer to the Honda service manual specific to your ATV model when dealing with transmission components.
  • Addressing clutch malfunctions: For clutch issues, start by checking the clutch cable for any signs of wear or fraying. Adjusting the clutch’s tension might resolve minor issues. If the problem persists, you might need to inspect the clutch plates or even consider a full clutch replacement.

#2 For Electrical Issues:

  • Replacing faulty sensors or switches: If diagnostics point towards a faulty sensor or switch, replacement is usually straightforward. Ensure you get the correct part for your specific Honda ATV model. After replacement, recalibrate if necessary to ensure it communicates effectively with the ATV’s system.
  • Repairing or replacing damaged wiring: Examine the wiring harness for any signs of damage, corrosion, or wear. Repair any minor damages with electrical tape or soldering, depending on the extent. However, if the damage is extensive, consider replacing the entire segment or harness. Always ensure connections are firm and insulated.
  • Resetting or replacing the ECM: Sometimes, a simple reset of the ECM can resolve electronic glitches. This can be done by disconnecting the battery for a set period, then reconnecting. If problems persist, it may indicate a more serious malfunction, and you might need to consider replacing the ECM.

#3 For Operational Errors:

  • Adjusting the idle speed: Using the ATV’s user manual as a guide, adjust the idle speed to the recommended setting. A tachometer can be handy to ensure you’re at the correct RPMs.
  • Ensuring the ignition switch is in the proper position: A simple yet crucial check. Ensure the ignition switch is functioning correctly and is in the proper position before attempting to shift. If you suspect the switch is faulty, consider replacing it.

Each fix requires a patient and methodical approach. Always refer to the service manual and use the correct tools to ensure the job is done right. If at any point you’re unsure, it might be wise to consult with a professional or seek assistance from a Honda service center.

How to Prevent Your Honda ATV From Having Shifting Issues 

Ensuring your Honda ATV remains in optimal condition isn’t just about fixing issues as they arise; it’s also about taking proactive steps to prevent them.

  • Regular Maintenance Checks: Like any vehicle, your ATV benefits greatly from regular check-ups. This means checking fluid levels, assessing the wear on various parts, and ensuring everything is tightened and aligned. Schedule these checks based on both time and usage, e.g., every few months or after a set number of hours of operation.
  • Gentle Gear Shifting: Even though ATVs are built for rugged use, it’s vital to be gentle and deliberate when shifting gears. Avoid forceful or hurried shifting, which can lead to increased wear and potential misalignment.
  • Proper Storage: When not in use, store your ATV in a dry, shaded place, preferably under a protective cover. Exposure to harsh elements, like direct sunlight or rain, can accelerate wear on both mechanical and electrical components.
  • Stay Updated: Manufacturers often release service bulletins or updates about known issues or improvements. By staying informed, you can preemptively address potential issues.
  • Use Quality Replacement Parts: If parts do need replacing, opt for high-quality replacements, preferably original equipment manufacturer (OEM) parts. While third-party parts might be cheaper, they may not meet the same quality standards.

What to Do When an Automatic Honda ATV Will Not Shift Into Reverse?

Automatic ATVs have their own set of nuances when it comes to shifting issues, given that they rely more heavily on sensors and electronics.

  • Check the Shift Motor: The automatic transmission uses a shift motor to change gears. If this motor malfunctions or isn’t receiving power, it can prevent shifting. Check for any damages or connection issues.
  • Examine the Angle Sensor: This sensor helps the ATV’s computer understand its position and decide whether it’s safe to shift. If the angle sensor is faulty or misaligned, the ATV might think it’s on an incline, preventing a shift into reverse.
  • Inspect the Transmission Control Module (TCM): This is the brain behind the automatic transmission. If it’s receiving incorrect inputs or has an internal fault, it can cause shifting problems. Similar to the ECM in manual ATVs, it can sometimes be reset to resolve minor glitches.
  • Evaluate Transmission Fluid: Unlike manual transmissions, automatic ones are even more reliant on their fluid for smooth operation. Ensure it’s at the right level and is clean. Change it if it appears dirty or burnt.
  • Try Manual Override: Some Honda automatic ATVs come with a manual override feature. This can be used to shift into reverse if the automatic function isn’t working. It’s a temporary solution, but it can be helpful in a bind.
  • Avoid Force: It might be tempting to force the shift lever if it’s not moving, but this can cause more harm than good. Instead, turn off the ATV, give it a moment, then try again. Sometimes, simply resetting the system by turning it off and on can resolve the issue.

Bob Kelly

Hey there, my name is Bob and I've been riding ATVs, dirt bikes, and UTVs for most of my life. Going on outdoor adventures has always been my passion. I love sharing tips and tricks with beginners who are getting ready to join the world of outdoor enthusiasts. You can reach me at bobtheatvguy@gmail.com if you want to get in touch.

Recent Posts