Car Jerks When Put In Reverse? Here’s Why

Is your car jerking when you shift to reverse? We'll explain why your car jerks in reverse and what you should do in order to fix it.

Does your car jerk when you shift to reverse? Depending on the severity of the jerking motion and any accompanying thumps or rattles, the fix may be a simple fluid refresh–or a parts overhaul. Here is how to tell.

Have you ever shifted your car from park to reverse and then felt your vehicle jerk backward or forward?

Usually, the transmission feels different, too, and emits a loud clunk. You feel like you are sitting in a roller coaster cart that jerks at the peak before a drop. 

The noise and the sudden jerk indicate there may be an issue with the drivetrain, gearbox, or suspension.

I will start the guide off by explaining the cost to fix the issue as well as the consequences if you don’t fix it now.

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Costs and Consequences

Dollars (Price, Cost)

If a car aggressively jerks when put in reverse, the cause can be due to any number of mechanical issues. The cost is going to depend on the specific cause.

If the cause turns out to be a transmission or suspension problem, it is likely an expensive fix.

So, the main concern is: Can you fix the jerking problem with your vehicle before it becomes a bigger, more expensive headache?

And exactly how dangerous and common is the problem of a car jerking when put in reverse?

We will answer these questions and explore how and why a vehicle may suddenly jerk forward or backward when put in reverse.

Why Does My Car Jerk When Put In Reverse?

The driver's hand moved the gear selector to the reverse (R) mod

Your car may be jerking back when you put it in reverse due to many causes, from a bad transmission or weak suspension to alignment problems.

It may initially seem like your vehicle has a problem with engaging in gear, but the issue may be more complex than that.

If your car jerks when shifting from park to reverse, it is a sign that it is time to run some diagnostics on the vehicle. Because, in general, when put in reverse or drive, you should barely feel the shifting gears.

Pinpoint The Cause Of The Car’s Jerking To Avoid Expensive Repairs

A car that jerks when put in reverse does not provide enough information to pinpoint the exact problem. If it is not a transmission problem, it may be a faulty tranny sensor or an engine issue.

In online automotive forums, some drivers have blamed the problem on a bad engine with dirty components. Others have said the jerking was due to air leaks to the intake manifold.

You need to locate the problem and analyze if the fix requires something simple like replacing transmission fluids or realigning the tires; or if major repairs to the driveshaft or gearbox are in order.

Commons Reasons Why Your Car Jerks When Put In Reverse

attractive woman parking her car

The reasons most often reported as to why a car jerks when put in reverse include problems in these areas:

  • Drivetrain/Transmission
  • Gearbox
  • Suspension
  • Alignment

Depending on the cause, the fix may cost anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars if it involves any of the drivetrain’s main components, like the transmission.

If you are lucky, your vehicle may only need to be realigned or have some fluids replaced.

But if the jerking is extreme when you shift into reverse–especially if accompanied by a high-revving engine or a loud thump–you likely have a problem.

What Effects Can It Have On My Car When It Jerks In Reverse?

Many owners of different makes and models of manual and automatic automobiles have sought advice on automotive forums about issues with a car that jerks when put in reverse.

Is it normal when a car jerks when put in reverse? Well, that depends on the severity of the jerking when you try shifting in reverse. A slight, barely noticeable jerk may occur when shifting gears, which is normal.

There are bigger concerns if the vehicle emits a strange noise or violent jerking. The effects may be severe damage to the car’s drivetrain, suspension, or alignment if left unchecked.

Are Manual And Automatic Cars Affected By This Problem?

hand on manual gear shift knob

The problem of cars noticeably jerking when put in reverse has been discussed on automotive blogs covering every type of manual and automatic car, from Toyotas and BMWs to Rolls-Royce Silver Shadows.

The good news is, when you google the topic, there are not nearly as many discussions about the issue after 2019.

Before then, the forums are loaded with questions and comments about older cars that jerk when put in reverse. Progressive modern automotive technology may be why reports of the problem are diminishing.

How Dangerous Is My Car Jerking Backwards?

If your car experiences a little push when shifting gears, that’s an expected reaction. It is the transmission reacting to the shifting acceleration.

If you experience delays with shifting, it can cause your car to jerk slightly when being put in reverse.

It is usually just some driveline wind up, and it’s nothing to cause alarm.

But if the car severely jerks when put in reverse and causes your weight to shift or sway, that velocity can be dangerous to the body and potentially lead to road accidents.

Is It Normal When A Car Jerks When Put In Reverse?

The severity of the momentum is important when trying to figure out if you have a serious problem when your car jerks when put in reverse.

When you shift gears, the driveline’s inner mechanisms have some slop. And when the velocity and loading are temporarily interrupted to shift into reverse, the slop shifts and makes the car slightly jerk or jump.

Similar to when a car jerks when accelerating, this reaction is not unusual if the jerking is slight and barely felt by the driver.

Anything more than a slight tug is an issue that needs your attention, especially if accompanied by unusual noises.

How To Tell If You Have A Major Problem

Automotive Mechanics

If your car aggressively jerks when put in reverse, it is a serious enough issue to see a mechanic whether the solution is a simple fluid refill or requires heavy repairs.

However, there are a few steps you can take to see if your car’s jerking issue is the result of much bigger problems.

In addition to checking or replacing the fluids in your car, you can research to see if there are any related recalls or alerts related to the issue.

Enter the make and model of your car into the online databases of the National Highway for Traffic Safety Administration and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety to see if there are any recalls or notices related to cars jerking when put in reverse. 

Fixing A Car That Jerks Can Be Costly, Depending On The Cause

There are a variety of reasons why a car jerks when put in reverse, and therefore the repair costs vary greatly.

If the problem stems from something innocuous like dirty fluids, you may have to shell out around $200-$300 to have a mechanic or dealer replace the transmission fluid. Or you can do it yourself for around $50-$100.

If the jerking is because of a bigger problem, such as malfunctioning gearbox components or a faulty tranny, you may face high repair costs. The cost of transmission repairs usually falls somewhere between $500 and $1,200.

Conclusion: Early Diagnostics Can Avoid Bigger Problems

If you try putting your car in reverse and experience a noticeable jerk that causes your body weight to shift in your seat, something is out of whack with your car.

The causes could be anything from dirty tranny fluids to defective gearbox components. Thus, repair costs can be as low as $50 for a fluid change or up to $2,000-plus for transmission or engine work.

When a car jerks when put in reverse, your best bet to avoid future problems with high repair costs is to have the issue diagnosed by a mechanic immediately to locate what is causing the car to jerk.

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David M. Ciminelli

David M. Ciminelli is a Southern California-based journalist and longtime auto enthusiast who has contributed to a plethora of popular automotive sites.