Cargo Van won’t drive

If your cargo van won’t move after you’ve shifted gear from Neutral to drive or reverse, it has a transmission problem. Depending on the problem’s severity, the solution can range from a simple transmission oil change to a valve cover replacement or a transmission rebuild.

The repair process starts with identifying the type of problem. Before anything, you should manually inspect the vehicle’s underside for signs of oil leaks. In severe cases, you will find a puddle of transmission fluid (dark red) on the ground where the van is parked. That means the transmission oil lines were damaged, and it leaked. 

A transmission can leak in different areas:

  • Shifter seals or any other misc. seals
  • Front seal of the transmission
  • Axles seals
  • Vent (if transmission overheats)
  • Pan gaskets

This can happen when you drive through rough routes with pointy rocks or portholes all over the road. In the case of an oil leak caused by a damaged line, you can fix the problem by replacing the oil and fixing the transmission line. 

If you don’t know your way around your van, it is best to take it to an auto shop or ask for a home service. A minor transmission repair service should cost below $1,000. On the other hand, when replacing the transmission, you may spend around $1,500. 

Is it safe to drive when the transmission fluid is leaking?

Although driving without transmission fluid is not especially dangerous, it can cause irreparable damage to your engine. So it is recommended to fix the transmission leak when you discover it.

To fix a transmission fluid leak, you have to go under the vehicle. This task should be left to a professional mechanic. 

Cargo van won’t drive

5 signs of transmission trouble

Besides a puddle of red fluid under your van, another telling sign of a transmission problem is inconsistent acceleration when you step on the gas pedal. In such cases, your vehicle’s rpm or speed indicator goes up when you step on the gas pedal, but your vehicle speed does not improve instantly. That shows that the transmission is slipping. 

Other signs of a transmission problem are delayed engagement, whining noise from your transmission, jerking, stuttering during acceleration, and noise when shifting gears. 

  1. Delayed engagement 

“You get into your car, turn on the ignition, shift to ‘Drive’ or ‘Reverse,’ and there appears to be a long pause before the transmission engages.” This is one of the most common transmission problems known as delayed engagement. This happens when the clutches or bands that allow the van to move do not engage instantly. 

Delayed engagement is marked by a long pause (about 1.5 to 2 seconds) between the moment you shift gear to drive or reverse to when you feel the transmission engage. This problem would be noticeable on your first drive if you packed your cargo van for a long time. Delayed engagement may be caused by the infrequent replacement of fluids, low transmission fluid level, or something more severe, such as malfunctioning transmission solenoids.

Managing Delayed Engagement Problems

If you notice a delay when you shit gear, you should investigate it without delay. If you suspect your transmission has a delayed engagement issue, we advise you.

  1. Do not rev the engine unnecessarily; excessive engine speed will wear the clutches and bands.
  2. Wait for the transmission to engage.
  3. Check fluid levels. Use the vehicle manual to confirm the correct level for transmission fluid.

2. Transmission solenoid failure

Often called a “solenoid,” in automatic transmissions, this device controls the flow of transmission fluid. If the solenoid is faulty, it can delay gear engagement. A solenoid can malfunction due to mechanical malfunction or electrical faults. Since modern vehicles use computers to distribute and regulate fluids, these solenoids are essential

  1. Inability or difficulty shifting to a specific gear

In some cases, certain gears may not engage. For instance, if your van can only shift to reverse but cannot shift to “drive,” there may be an issue with the valve body.

The valve is the nervous system of the transmission. It controls the flow of fluid to a specific valve, which activates the respective clutch pack.

3. Transmission noise

An additional problem often encountered in transmissions is noise when in neutral. Typically, the problem is a lack of lubricant between the moving parts. So when you hear noise in neutral, it is time for a repair or inspection.

4. Noise when stationary

There are some sounds you never want to hear while your van is in a park or neutral mode, such as clinking, clanging, and clunking. More often than not, these sounds are indicators that the transmission is about to fail. However, if you notice a persistent whining when in neutral or increased grinding sound when driving, your torque converter is likely broken. Changing transmission fluid may remove other noises.

5. Noises when shifting

Hearing a jangling, groaning, and rattling when you’re shifting gear can be very upsetting. These sounds suggest that you will have a transmission problem soon. Don’t hesitate to fix the problem to avoid a breakdown or critical damage.

Preventive maintenance tips for transmission

At some point, every cargo van will have a transmission issue. However, you can detect a transmission problem before it becomes severe by maintaining the transmission and looking out for damage signs. 

Top-up and change transmission fluid regularly.

Before driving your cargo van, it is recommended to inspect your transmission fluid level to ensure it is at the recommended level. If the fluid is below the approved level, you should top it up.

Besides topping up the transmission oil to maintain the correct level, you should change the oil often to ensure optimal performance. Most car experts recommend changing the oil after every 27,960 miles (45,000km). Of course, the transmission fluid is designed to last longer and withstand high temperatures, but regularly scheduled changes will keep things fresh and working correctly.

Monitor Transmission fluid level

If your cargo van allows you to change the transmission fluid, be careful not to overfill it. Excess transmission fluid could pressure the seals causing them to rupture and leak. Also, excess transmission fluid can cause gears to slips.

Remember that the transmission system works based on the correct amount of fluid pressure on components. So if the fluid level is distorted, it can cause the system’s component to malfunction.

Other Top 3 problems of cargo vans

Blower motor malfunction – Sometimes, you will find that your blower motor only works at certain speeds. When this happens, you should check your resistor to see if it works properly. If the blower motor’s resistor isn’t working correctly, you have to purchase and install a new blower motor. 

That said if you find your blower motor damaged. There is a high chance that the problem is caused by another component that is not your resistor. You should check the wires connecting the blower motor to ensure that they are intact.

Some vans come with their wires exposed and hanging dangerously close to the EGR tube.  EGR tube directs exhaust gases from the manifold. This makes the EGR tube hot when the car is moving. 

So if the blower motor’s wire rests on the EGR tube, the outer cover will likely melt. When that happens, the wire is exposed, and it will ground out on the EGR tube, which will cause electrical surges that will damage your fuse – your number 13 fuse.

If you find your fuse damaged, don’t replace it without checking the entire system for exposed wires, a weak resistor, or overheating. The fuse is designed to be the weakest link in the electrical chain. When the fuse is damaged, it is likely due to some other disturbance in your cargo van’s electrical system.

Engine Misfire – An engine misfire happens when an engine cylinder can’t burn the air-fuel mixture in its compartment. One of the signs of an engine misfire is an active check engine light. 

When you use an OBD scanner to diagnose your check engine light code, you should find the error code between P0301 – P0308. The last digits in the code indicate which cylinder the misfire is detected in. So if the check engine light code shows P0302, the second cylinder is bad. 

Other symptoms of an engine misfire include engine jerks, bucking, and surging from your engine. These symptoms are caused by inadequate air, fuel, or spark during the combustion process.

Causes of Engine misfire in cargo vans

  • Bad spark plug – For most cargo vans, the spark plugs are replaced after 100,000 miles. However, several things can go wrong before your cargo van reaches 100,000 miles. The spark plug can develop a heat crack, or the coil pack becomes faulty. In these cases, you have to replace the coil to fix the problem.

Shifter knob – Another common problem of cargo vans is a loose shifter knob. This issue is almost exclusive to cargo vans with shifter knobs attached to their steering column. 

When loose, the shifter knob wobbles, and it can cause the gear shift indicator to show wrong information. For example, the gear shift indicator may show that the car is in drive mode, but it is still neutral. This can cause confusion when driving and may be an issue for safety. 

A wobbling shifter knob is a result of weakened parts around the shifter knob. Fixing the problem involves opening the steering column. This is a delicate job. As such, you must follow the service procedure for your cargo van to fix the wobbling shifter knobs without causing more problems. 


Proactive maintenance is the best method of maintaining your cargo van. That means watching and listening for signals that indicate electrical or mechanical malfunction. Also, you have to commit to checking fluid levels in the transmission and radiator. 

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