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Lexus RX300 Won’t Shift Into Overdrive

Submitted by on October 1, 2012 – 11:11 pm 24 Comments

Danny Maddox Lexus RX300

Lexus RX300 Won’t Shift Into Overdrive

Few things evoke fear like hitting the on ramp and your beloved RX300 won’t shift into overdrive. Visions of replacing a $3200 transmission flash before your eyes as you are saying “It was shifting perfect last time I drove it”.

Relax because if it happened all of a  sudden and just didn’t gradually happen, then it is most likely the OD has been locked out due to a Check Engine Light a.k.a. the CKL. There are many reasons why your RX300 locks out the overdrive and none of them have anything to do with the transmission, thank god!

Over the past years owning several Lexus Rx300/330’s I have had the OD lockout about ten times and not once was it the the transmission! For whatever reason Toyota engineers programmed an over drive lockout to force you into a service bay and to protect the engine.  Like me, you’re probably shaking your head in disbelief that something like not having a gas cap on can cause an OD lock out. Just leave your gas cap off, run it down below a 1/4 tank, hit the freeway and see what happens.

By far and large the number one culprit for not shifting is cold temperature.  Lexus RX300’s will not shift into OD until the transmission fluid is up to operating temperature.  This is a royal pain in the ass I know but it is normal. I have driven for more than 30 minutes in extreme temps around 15 degrees and lower. Anything around freezing to 45 degrees will usually take 5- 10 minutes.

Things that I know of personally that can cause an OD lockout.

  • Cold Temperature
  • Fouled out spark plug
  • Bad Coil Pack
  • Broken Coil Pack Connector
  • Vacuum Leak
  • No gas cap (yep you read right again)
  • Bad Knock Senor
  • Bad O2 Sensor


A great video on changing plugs in a Lexus ES300. This is a really informative video. Just be glad that in the RX300 there’s a bit more room so you don’t have to pull the intake off to get the number 1 and 3 cylinder. It’s still a challenge but I have done it numerous times successfully.


  • peter says:

    I have a 99 rx 300 with check light on. the trouble codes are P0171, P1153, P1133 and P1346.

    I have changed the O2 sensors but P1346, p0171 and p1133 are always pending. I need your professional opinion.


  • Mike says:

    I have a 1999 RX 300 the check engine light came on about two months ago. I had it checked and the computer said, did not see the codes but the mechanic said it was a code for was running lean. They replaced the oxygen sensor. left bank, but after 2 weeks the light came back on. Replaced the fuel cap, replaced the air filter, cleaned the intake plenum and fuel injectors but the light came back on. I read in the manual some of the causes for the light to come on and one, which does not show up on the scan is the the automatic transmission electrical system. Today after doing all the above the light came back on and it will not shift into overdrive. I have clicked the over drive button in and out several times hoping it would finally shift. I read your article above but the engine idles and runs fine to me. So where else should I check?

  • BLAIR says:

    thnaks danny for great blog. the best dyi video on rx300 anywhere! great dialogue and videography.
    your explaination of problem and solution saved us hundreds. do some more…thanks again.

  • Jonathan says:

    I have a 2000 lexus es300. It will shift into overdrive fine until warmed up (bout half operating temp) and when I come to a stop. When I take off and get up to speed no more overdrive. If I get on the intestate before it warms up then I will have overdrive the entire time im on the interstate until I have to stop and take off again. Then no more overdrive at all. Everything else is fine and it runs fine.

    • Ian says:

      Jonathan (and others) I would love to know what causes this sporadic “no more OD” problem and how to fix it. I have the exact same problem on my 1999 RX300! Works fine till warm/hot, then I stop at a traffic light and no more OD! BUT if I’m on a highway and do not need to come to a stop, it works all that time – till it’s hot AND I come to a stop, then NADA!! Park, and let it cool down, then it comes back. I’m a bit teed off with Toyota, since when this happens, I often have to drive at 4,000-5,000 RPM (for hiway speeds) just to get to where I’m going.

  • Chris says:

    No secret anymore. O2 Sensor ES300 2000 with 160K over the past 35K I have replaced the transmission. Cold slow to shift all gears. And never smooth shifting. 22mpg best on highway. 19mpg average

    No over drive no way just recently.

    Replace the O2 sensor left side. One of three sensor in the car.

    Now, shifts like anyother car I have had. 27mpg is best at 80mph highway

    Hey, O2 sensor why did it take me so long???

  • paul says:

    thanks for the tip. I had tranny rebuilt 60K miles ago, and I was REALLY hoping it was not trans. Seeing new CEL made me suspect it was preventing shift, and thanks to your blog I’m a little less nervous at the moment.

    Still not happy about CEL, but at least I have a OBD2 scanner program for my laptop so I’ll check it out shortly.

    Why must my car be so smart?

  • Gary says:

    If your O/D is looked out is still ok to drive on the highway or in town?

  • 1999 Lexus rx300. I live a very small area and no one will work on my car. The o/d stopped working after paying 1400 for a timing belt and water pump….i have no idea what to do with the o/d. Please help. I don’t want to bring it to a shop and they tell me I need a new transmission plus 9 months ago put a new motor in…..uuuugh help

  • jonathan says:

    I have rx300 yr 2000 model. my OD is locked out, CKL came up and when I test the car with OBDII it was telling me Knock sensor is bad. I bought three other Knock sensors to replace the previous still the problem remains. I am not really happy with this. what could be the problem. someone recommend I change the brain bus (OEM) but I am confuse on what to do. Plea help

  • Joel Hernandez says:

    Dude, I owe you a straight apology.

    I read this post and thought to myself bullshid… way a gas cap left off could cause a CKL and OD lockout. So I drove my ’00 RX300 down below a 1/4 tank, took the gas cap off and threw in the back. It did drive around fine till I let it set over night. The next morning when I left for work, no OD and CKL on. Stopped at the local gas station and filled it up. Disconnected the battery to reset the CKL and hit the interstate. OD worked perfect. Gas cap locking out the OD and tripping a CKL, that some cray cray engineering there but you were right on the money.

  • Greg says:

    I’ll also confirm that the Rx300 overdrive stopped working contemporaneously with a check engine light coming on, and that resetting the CKL by disconnecting battery brought overdrive back.

    Now to figure out why the CKL came on. . . Just about 3 days before I noticed that the car had no power going up a hill, and was knocking like a vehicle that back in the day had the timing set wrong or corrosion on the points.

  • Gabe says:

    my car has no over drive but the check engine light is not on. The dealership says it needs a new transmission and computer to run it. And that adds up to about 9000. Could it be the same problem of it being locked out?

    • Danny Maddox says:


      Let me clarify I am no Lexus mechanic but have owned quite a few RX300’s. If the tranny is shifting fine through all gears but OD I would put my bottom dollar it is something just locking it out. Toyota automatics don’t “sorta” go out, they DIE.

  • Cristena says:

    Danny I could absolutely kiss you I’ve been telling my husband for months that it was my O2 sensor making my car not shift into overdrive he wouldn’t believe me for nothing then I found your site showed it to him he changed the O2 sensor and now my car runs like a champ thank you thank you for doing your blog

  • Veronica says:

    Same problem… I was pushed into hastily buying my 00 es300 two months ago when my perfect 02 was rear ended and totalled. I love my 02 (sexy Lexi was her name) but I’ve had nothing but problems with Lexifer…I’m on my way to pick him up at the 3rd mechanic shop and drive home without OD… so, bank 1 O2 sensor, dismantled catalytic converters, a new throttle positioning sensor and $350 dollars later, still can’t drive to Dallas to see family…

  • Najamuz Zaman says:

    Danny thank you so much for your post , even the mechanic was in doubt when I asked him to replace both knock sensors for the overdrive shift problem. I paid $225 for the labor to install the sensors I got from Amazon. Now my 1999 Lexus RX-300 runs without any O/D problem. I tried everything else earlier like new Oxygen sensors, new mass air flow sensor, new coils, new iridium tipped plugs, controlled vacuum leak , gas-cap tightness, new timing belt & water-pump and new transmission oil. I waited for more than six-months to try everything out. Luck hit the jackpot when knock sensors were replaced. The most important pleasant surprise settled in with an improved gas mileage from 15 MPG to 19 MPG – just after replacing both knock sensors.

  • Kent says:

    I’m going to get my battery checked. I think my current battery is from Costco, but it’s been drained completely to zero charge, 2 or 3 times. Although I trickle charged it each time, there was a time that I put in on fast-charge for a few minutes or so, but then thought better of it. Since then, I had a number of issues with it, to the point that I’ve been making sure to turn off as many accessories as possible, every time I start it.

    The check engine light had come intermittently a couple months ago, with different trouble codes each time, but now it stays on (along with VSC light, too). I’ve disconnected the battery a few times, overnight, then just for a hour, to change a headlamp (only for color-matching), and finally overnight. The first time, it took a little while for the check engine light to return, but the last two times it came on almost immediately, then immediately, respectively. I think there was a slight delay in the VSC light following suit, but not much.

    I just got back from O’Reilly Auto Parts, and there code reader shows P0330 Knock Sensor, C1223 ABS, and C1241 ABS Low battery positive voltage or abnormally high battery positive voltage.

  • Rick says:

    Have a P0325 code knock sensor bank 1 and no overdrive. I had to purchase a cheap code reader to clear the code for it to shift. Have to use it every time I get on the interstate. I couldn’t believe a knock sensor could cause the shifting problem, because when it’s cool, (until it’s been up to normal temp for about 10 minutes) it shifts fine. Anyway, had my mechanic change the knock sensor which is a pain in the ass and cost me $600 bucks. but code didn’t clear. Is there more than 1 knock sensor? Curious of what you think.

  • SGT Espi says:

    99′ RX300 Over Drive Issue w Code-would stay stuck in “Retard Mode”…
    changed out the
    Knock Sensors – both of them
    (Must Buy Denso OEM-Do Not Go Cheap & Buy Anything Else!!!)

    ***Might as well change out the old Radiator Bypass Hose above the Knock Sensors if it’s old and brittle++will cause a coolant leak++***

    She runs perfect now -25mpg at 75mph after changing out the Spark Plugs (Please Gap Them) and Air Filter.

    Good Luck Gents and God Bless.

  • SGT Espi says:

    ****Change out the Wiring Harness to the Knock Sensors OEM also***
    Good Luck

  • Lexus Lover says:

    Hi- I have a 2002 Coach Edition RX300 with 219K miles. For the past week the OD goes in and out. I have a check engine light, ABS and VSC light on-however they have been on for over 6 months- or for 15k miles: I drive ALOT and I love my suv and don’t want to part with it!
    When it happens I pull off the highway, turn car off and then back on and click the OD button off and then on. Drive back onto highway and the OD is then fine. Could this be a O2 sensor issue as well?

  • Yolanda says:

    Good morning I have a 2000 Lexus rx300 and we changed the servo door because my heat didn’t work . So now the blower to the heat works but after I’m on the highway I don’t think the car shift into O/D it just started no check engine light comes on or anything please help.

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