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What Causes Gear Shift to be Stuck in Park? Way.com knows!

  • Car Care Tips
  • Xavier Sabastian
  • 6 minutes

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When a gear shift gets stuck in park mode, it’s usually because of a small problem with the car’s mechanics. Let’s figure out what’s going on so you can get back to work!

Since the early 1990s, cars with automatic transmissions have had a safety feature called a key-shift interlock that locks the shifter in the Park position every time it is put there. To move the shifter out of Park, the ignition switch must be in the “ON” or “RUN” position, and the key must be inserted into the ignition switch.

The primary components that lock and release the shifter are the ignition switch, brake light/stoplight switch, and shift interlock solenoid. When one of these components fails, you may want assistance to get the shifter out of Park. 

When the car is in "park," the parking pawl stops it from moving by accident. It looks like a lever and turns a special parking gear connected to the transmission's output shaft.

The shifter will be trapped in Park if your car’s battery fails. When an automatic car gets stuck in the park mode, it’s usually because the parking pawl is damaged.

When the car is in “park,” the parking pawl stops it from moving by accident. It looks like a lever and turns a special parking gear connected to the transmission’s output shaft. When any other shifter position is chosen, the Pawl releases this gear, but sometimes it gets stuck.

If the problem is a loose shifter linkage, you can tighten it yourself for free or pay a repair shop $50–75 to do it. If a broken shifter cable causes the problem, the repair shop will charge you between $125 and $250 to replace it, or you can buy a new one for $35 to $80 and do it yourself.

What causes the gear shift to be stuck in park?

When an automatic car gets stuck in park mode, it’s usually because the parking pawl is broken. When the car is in “park,” the parking pawl stops it from moving by accident. It looks like a lever and turns a special parking gear connected to the transmission’s output shaft.

These are the common causes that cause the gear shift to be stuck in the Park:

Pressure on pawl due to parking on an incline

When parking on a steep slope, the parking pawl of a transmission can be put under a lot of pressure as it wedges into the parking gear. When this happens, the parking pawl and parking gear hold the whole weight of the car. Because of this, it’s often hard to move the car out of Park, leaving drivers stranded.

In this case, this pressure must be removed to shift into any drive gear. This is usually done with the help of a second person, who rocks the car back and forth to create enough movement to get the gears to disengage.

To keep this from happening, you must set your parking brake before putting your car in Park when trying to stop on an incline. This means the car’s weight is put on the parking brake assemblies instead of the parking pawl and parking gear.

You must set your parking brake before putting your car in Park when trying to stop on an incline. This means the car's weight is put on the parking brake assemblies instead of the parking pawl and parking gear.

Shifter Interlock

Engineers usually put a shifter interlock system in every car so that it can’t be shifted into drive or reverse by accident. This interlock makes it so that the shifter can’t be moved out of Park until the brake pedal is pressed.

But sometimes interlock systems fail when they are set to “engaged.” Most car makers put a shift lock release on their cars, so drivers can avoid getting stuck in these situations. This release allows drivers to get around the shifter interlock on their cars.

In some cars, you can get around the shifter interlock by turning the key to the accessory position and putting the shifter in the neutral position. You can then start the car.

You can use the manual shift lock override if this doesn’t work. Most of the time, you put a key or a small flathead screwdriver in. The location of this manual override varies from car to car, but you can find out where it is in your owner’s manual. Learning about these rules now is a good idea, so you don’t have to look them up when something goes wrong at the Park.

Brake Switch Failure

As was already said, most cars have a shifter interlock that can only be disengaged by pressing the brake pedal. A brake switch tells this system when the brake pedal is being pressed.

If this switch doesn’t work, the interlock function could be hurt. Most of the time, a car’s shift interlock works as if the brake pedal had never been pressed.

The easiest way to figure out what’s wrong is to have someone watch how your car’s brake lights work. If you press the brake pedal and the brake lights don’t come on, it’s probably because the brake switch is broken. This is a possible diagnosis that can be checked with a multimeter later.

If the brake switch on your car is broken, you’ll need to get a new one, so this doesn’t happen again. Most of the time, this is a simple job that doesn’t cost much except for a new sensor. Most auto parts stores near you will have brake sensors that need to be changed.

If none of these fixes work, it’s time to take the car to a mechanic. There could be something worse going on.

A brake switch tells this system when the brake pedal is being pressed. If this switch doesn't work, the interlock function could be hurt. Most of the time, a car's shift interlock works as if the brake pedal had never been pressed.

Image by standret on Freepik

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If you put your car in gear and it won’t move, it could be because of low transmission fluid from a leak, a problem with the shifter, shifter cable, or the valve body of your automatic transmission.

Is your car stuck in Park, and you’re unsure what to do or what is wrong with it? Need car towing services? No worries! Sign up for Way+! You can access a hive of services for your car through Way+. Signing up takes less than a minute. Once you enter the world of Way+, you can be assured that your car will be safe.


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