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is this car an automatic transmission?
if it is then you will need to check the gear selector switch on the transmission. I have seen one that would not properly engage for the park/neutral and reverse switches to function but the car was still drivable.
It's a bad solenoid. Reverse and low gears work off the same set of clutches. If you have first gears , then its a solenoid problem. I would first start by pulling plugs, transmission, TCM and everything in between. Check for corrosion, Use an ohm meter and check the wires for continuity. On some models the safety neutral switch/ range selector switch has a lot to do with how the transmission shifts. If the tcm can't read the switch it wont send power to the solenoid. so far I haven't found a place that will sell just solenoids. You have to buy the whole package. These start at about $200.00
Sounds like the transmission has reached the end of service life. I have a 93 that did the same thing. It would drive until the transmission heated up then nothing, except for reverse. I had a TRW rebuild transmission installed and now my 93 Legacy has 500,000 miles. $2,200 to repair vs $25,000 to replace. The only thing you would miss is the new car smell for a few weeks. But you can keep $20,000 plus.
WELL IT SOUND LIKE YOUR TRANS IS GOING DOWN YOU NEED TO LOOK AT TRANS FLUID TO SEE IF IT IS CLEAR LOOKING OR IS IT LOOK LIKE METAL MAY BE IN IT DRAIN A LITTLE IN A PAN THE LOOK AT IT IN SOME LIGHT AND SEE IF IT LOOKS LIKE GOLD FLAKES OR SHING METEL IF SO TRANS HAS INTERNAL ISUSES
After a good deal of research and several shops suggesting a rebuild of the transmission, I decided to have the trans fluid and filters changed before doing anything. It was a tough call because it could have been a waste of $125. As soon as the spin off filter was removed you could see it was blocked. So the hydraulic pressure in the system was way down, still enough to engage reverse and enough to work all the shifts, but not enough to engage forward without a slight tap on the accelerator.
My Subaru has 240 000 km on it and I suppose the clutch pack rebuild wouldn't hurt, but as it is now it engages quickly and shifts up are noticeably smoother.
May not be the solution for every case, but it solved my situation.