Car won’t shift out of park — causes and fixes
Resolve the issue when your car refuses to shift out of park and get moving again.
What’s more annoying than a car that won’t start? Sometimes, when you start the engine, the car refuses to shift out of park. If that’s your problem, then you’re in the right place.
Usually, this problem occurs in cars with automatic transmissions. Since 1965, carmakers have fitted their automated transmission systems with a parking pawl.
The parking pawl is a transmission safety system that can prevent unintended movement of the car. When you place your vehicle in park, the parking pawl locks the transmission. In some situations, a faulty parking pawl can be why your car won’t shift out of park.
Some other issues can make your car stuck in park. In this article, we’ll discuss the problem, how to fix it, and other things you should know.
What causes the gear shift to be stuck in park?
When your gear shift gets stuck in park, you can’t drive the car. We’ve compiled the common causes that can make your gear shifter not shift from park.
Brake light switch failure
The brake light switch is one car part that is more important than it looks. If you don’t know about this car part, you can locate it above the brake pedal. Despite its small size, the brake light switch controls some vital vehicle functions.
Without a functioning brake light switch, the antilock brakes and the push button start won’t work. The brake light switch also signals the vehicle computer when a driver engages the brakes.
When your car doesn’t shift out of park, check the brake lights. If the brake light doesn’t come on when you press the brake pedal, there’s a problem. Also, if the brake light stays on continuously, your brake light switch might be faulty.
You can order an aftermarket brake light switch for about $15 – $45. While you can fix it yourself, some cars are more complex and require a professional to replace the switch. The brake light flashing is yet another sign that there’s a problem with the switch.
Blown brake light fuse
While you check your brake light switch, check the fuses. Just like the brake light switch, a blown fuse will affect the brake light functionality.
The easiest way to locate the brake light fuse is by following the car owner’s manual. Depending on your car model, you’ll spend up to $100 to test and replace fuses.
Faulty shift interlock solenoid
Like the parking pawl, the shift interlock solenoid is a gear shift safety system. However, both systems have different functions. The shift interlock solenoid prevents drivers from shifting out of park to drive without depressing the brake pedal.
Due to wear, this component can become faulty. Once the shift interlock solenoid is bad, your car won’t shift out of parts. That’s one of the symptoms of a faulty shift interlock solenoid.
The shift interlock solenoid is part of the shifter assembly, and you can find it in the center console or the steering column. Depending on the damage done, replacing the shift interlock solenoid can be expensive. You can get a single solenoid for about $200 – $500. If you need to replace the entire pack, you can spend up to $700.
Bad ignition switch
Every driver knows the importance of the ignition switch. Car ignition switches are both mechanical and electrical components. The key barrel is the mechanical part, while the circuits and connections in the switch are electrical parts.
A bad ignition switch can cause lots of problems. For example, it can cause the car to stall while driving. Failing ignition switches can also make your gear shift to get stuck in park. Depending on the car model, you can spend around $120 – $250 on an ignition switch replacement.
Dead or low battery
The battery powers the vehicle computer, which controls your transmission system. Since the battery and transmission relate closely, any problems with the battery can affect the transmission system.
When the battery is low or dead, you’ll experience inconsistencies in shifting operations. Most times, drivers complain about how they can’t shift the car to neutral when the battery is dead. A dead or low battery is also one of the issues that can cause a vehicle to not move from park.
Other issues like a worn parking pawl and open circuit can also cause a car to get stuck in park.
Dealing with the shifter linkage actuator
The shifter linkage actuator is yet another reason why you can’t shift out of the park. It’s easy to recognize this issue since you’ll be able to move the shifter, but the panel will still say it’s stuck in the park mode. The linkage actuator is the connection between your shifter and the transmission, connected by a cable that the shifter moves.
So, if it’s broken, you’ll be able to move the shifter, but it won’t affect the transmission. You can fix this issue by lifting the hood and re-connecting the linkage cable to the shifting actuator. It’s located right next to the engine and you’ll notice the lever that moves as you move the shifter.
How do you fix a car that won’t shift out of park?
If your vehicle doesn’t shift out of park, don’t try to force the shift lever into reverse or any other drive mode. Trust us; it does more harm than good for your transmission.
Here are some tried and tested tips that can help you get the shifter out of park;
Make sure you’re pressing down on the brake pedal
While this sounds like general driving knowledge, some drivers can forget about it. Always make sure your foot is down on the brake pedal whenever you’re shifting out of park. If you don’t apply the brake, there’s no way you’re getting out of park.
Inspect your brake light
Have you tried shifting while braking, and it’s still not working? Well, you should inspect the brake light. If you’re not sure, the brake light is right above the brake pedal.
The brake light should be on when you engage the brakes. If the light isn’t on, then something is wrong with your brake light switch. You have to get a new switch to fix the problem.
Check if you parked on an incline or hill
Did you park on a hill? If yes, then that’s the reason you can’t shift out of park. When you park on an incline without using the parking brake, it puts pressure on the parking pawl.
The pressure on the parking pawl can cause the shifter to get stuck in park. To get out of this situation, you must rock the car forward with your body weight. Once the vehicle moves forward, step on the brake and hold it to relieve the parking pawl of pressure.
Try shifting out of park with your foot still on the brake pedal, and it should work.
Try to override the shift lock
If you’ve tried everything on the list and your car is still in park, you can try overriding the shift lock system and shifter release.
Steps to override a shift lock release button
Manufacturers keep making new safety features for their cars and drivers. Vehicles from the 90s have the key-shift interlock system. The key-shift interlock system locks the gear when you place a vehicle in park.
To disengage from park, drivers have to turn on the ignition with the key. New cars from around 2010 have an even stricter gear security system known as the shift lock release.
The following are steps to override a shift lock release;
- Locate the shift lock button on the gear selector area. If you can’t find it, check your owner’s manual for directions.
- Engage your parking brake.
- Next, place your key in the ignition switch without starting the car.
- Remove the shift lock button cover and use a key or screwdriver to push into it and hold it.
- Now, step on the brake pedal while pushing the shift lock button.
- Shift out of park while engaging the brake pedal and the shift lock button.
Shift lock release button not working
Due to several different electrical issues, the shift lock release button might not work for you.
The car battery is probably the most critical electrical element in the car. If the battery is dead, the shift release button won’t work. Apart from the battery, a blown fuse can also hinder the shift lock release button. The only way to fix this hindrance is by replacing the blown fuse.
Even a malfunctioning brake light switch can get in the way of the shift lock release button. Fortunately, brake light switches are pretty easy to fix. You can order a new brake light switch from the dealership or online. Other problems, like a broken shift lock button and a faulty shift interlock solenoid, can stop the release button from working.
What do you do if the shift lock release button doesn’t work?
Supposing your battery is dead, you can perform any of these dead car battery tricks, or jump-start the vehicle and try using the release button again. If you try and nothing is working, send the car to a repair shop for professional help.
Different factors can affect the transmission and cause the gear shifter to get stuck in park. You can fix the common issues that cause this problem without spending too much on repairs. Some methods can help shift the gear lever from park.
What causes a car not to shift out of park?
Faults like a bad brake light switch, blown brake light fuse, failing ignition switch, worn parking pawl, and more can cause a car not to shift out of park.
What causes a car to be stuck in park?
A car can get stuck in park if the car battery is low or dead. The vehicle can also get stuck in park if the transmission fluid is low.