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Check the Coolant (antifreeze) level. My 94 continental has a hard time shifting from 2nd to 3rd when the level is low. Also, this may indicate that the transmission fluid is too old to work properly. The transmission fluid is cooled at the bottom of the radiator, since cool fluid works better than hot fluid (especially when the trans fluid is old) that could make the transmission not shift properly. Keep the coolant level up until you can have the trans fluid checked.
CHECK TRANSMISSION FLUID LEVEL FIRST BUT IT SOUND LIKE YOU NEED A FLUID AND FILTER CHANGE IF TRANSMISSION FILTER STOPPED UP TRANSMISSION PUMP CAN DRAW FLUID THROUGH CLOGGED FILTER.WHEN ENGINE AND TRANSMISSION GET HOT FLUID WILL GET HOT AND THIN ENOUGH TRAVEL THROUGH FILTER SO CAR CAN SHIFT INTO OVER DRIVE.DO A FLUID AND FILTER CHANGE SEE WHAT HAPPENS.
Check your fluid level to make sure it is at the proper level. When you put the selector in 1st or 2nd manually you are taking the auto clutch out of the equation which is why it will work somewhat when the fluid is low. Operating the vehicle with low fluid will damage your transmission. If the fluid is at the proper level and it is still not functioning correctly, get a Real Fluid and Filter Change. DO NOT ALLOW THEM TO USE THAT STUPID RECYLCING MACHINE EVERYONE WANTS TO USE. If that has been done in the last 6 months I know exactly where the problem is and your not going to like it. If you have had the trans fluid changed and they used that machine instead of the actually removing teh fluid and replacing the filter, when that machine cycled it destroyed your filter and moved all the crude back into the transmission damaging it which will require a rebuild. Your vehicle was made before the newer Screen filters came into use. That Recycle machine works by back flushing the fluid through the transmission and will destroy the filter used in your transmission and your transmission. Something they don't tell you about those machines because most don't understand them. Lastly, if the Fluid was good and you do a Filter/fluid change and it is still not working correctly you will need to take it to a Trans shop and have it repaired. There a several solenoids inside the transmission that do the shifting for you. When you shift down you override those but, if the First one doesn't work it will give you the condition you have described. You should know that this condition will get worse over time to the point that even shifting down as you are now to get it working will not work, if the problem is internal transmission problem.