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How to Release a Shifter that
is Stuck in Park

Background

Since the early 1990s, vehicles with automatic transmissions are equipped with a key-shift interlock safety feature that locks the shifter in the Park position each time the shifter is placed there.  In order to move the shifter out of Park, the key must be in the ignition switch and the switch must be in the “ON” or “RUN” position.

In addition to the key-shift interlock safety feature, many vehicles prior to 2010 and all vehicles 2010 and newer are also equipped with a brake-shift interlock safety feature, which, in addition to the ignition switch being in the ON or RUN position, the brake pedal must be depressed and the button on the shifter must be pushed in simultaneously before the shifter can be moved out of "P" Park.

The main components that control the locking and unlocking of the shifter are the vehicle ignition switch, the brake light/stoplight switch and the shift interlock solenoid.  When one of these components fails, you may not be able to move the shifter out of Park.  Additionally, if your vehicle's battery is dead, the shifter will be stuck in Park.


IMPORTANT SAFETY WARNING for Owners of Pre-2010 YEAR VEHICLES:  If you own a 2009 or older vehicle, do NOT ASSUME it is equipped with brake-shift interlock - some vehicle owners have done so with tragic consequences.  By law, all 2010 and newer vehicles are equipped with brake-shift interlock.

Recognizing that you might one day find yourself in such a predicament, most vehicle manufacturers incorporated a quick and easy method for manually releasing a shifter that is stuck in Park.  Use these same procedures to move the shifter out of Park if your car's battery is dead.

Follow these 6 steps to release a stuck shifter.

1) Set the emergency brake.

 


2) Insert key into the ignition and turn the ignition switch to the "ON" or "RUN" position.  It is not necessary to start the engine. 




3) Locate the shift lock override slot located on the shifter console near the shifter lever.  Normally, the slot is plugged with a small plastic cap.  Remove the cap. 



4) Insert a small screwdriver, nail file, key or similarly shaped object into the override slot, push down and hold. 




5) While continuing to hold down the shift override mechanism, depress the brake pedal.


6) Now, grasp the shifter, push in the release button located on the shifter as you normally do and then move the shifter to the desired gear.  If you've completed these steps with the engine off, move the shifter to the Neutral position to start the engine.

► Fast - One Minute Procedures for Releasing a Stuck Shifter.
 The Different Causes for a Shifter Becoming Stuck in Park.
 Repair Information and Cost for a Shifter Locking in Park.

NOTES

-Not all vehicles have a shifter lock override slot or the slot may be in a different location than shown in the illustration above.  If you cannot locate an override slot to release the shifter, check your Owner's Manual for additional information.

-Bypassing the shift locking mechanism using the above procedures is a temporary fix only.  The shifter will continue to become stuck in Park each time you place it there until the cause is identified and repaired.

TIP...  Leave the screwdriver, nail file, key or whatever object you inserted into the override slot in place to use as needed until the repair is made.fting into Park when parking the vehicle, especially when parking on an incline.

Shifter Still Stuck in Park?

The procedures described above work nearly 100% of the time in releasing a shifter that is locked in Park.  So, if the first attempt failed, it is worth trying again.  This time, be certain to press down firmly on the locking mechanism and the brake pedal simultaneously as you attempt to move the shift lever. 

Remember, the ignition switch must be in the "ON" or "RUN" position and you must push in the button on side of the shifter as you normally do.
   
No Luck - Shifter Still Stuck!

ARE YOU PARKED ON AN INCLINE?  If your car is parked on an incline and you failed to set your emergency brake before moving the shifter into park, the parking pawl inside the transmission may have become lodged in the engaged position.  To disengage the parking pawl so that the shifter will be free to move out of Park, the weight of the vehicle must be taken off the parking pawl mechanism.  
See Transmission Parking Pawl for procedures.

A shifter can become stuck in Park for anyone of the following reasons - listed in order of most common to least common.    
 
1) Faulty Brake Light Switch or Blown Fuse
In diagnosing a shifter stuck in park condition, always check the brake lights first.ce a parking pawl is high.  A good deal on replacing a parking pawl is any price under $500.  But, depending on the year, make and model of your vehicle, the cost can exceed $1,000.

Fast - One Minute Procedures for Releasing a Stuck Shifter

Different Causes for a Shifter Being Stuck in Park+Repair and Cost Information

If the brake lights are not working - you've found the problem.  Either the brake light fuse is blown or the brake light switch is faulty.  These are the most common reasons for a shifter being stuck in Park.

Note: The connection between a faulty brake light switch and the shifter being stuck in Park is that a properly functioning brake light switch sends a signal to the shift interlock solenoid when the brake pedal is depressed, which causes the interlock solenoid to release the shifter.  A faulty brake light switch does not send this signal.

Brake Light Switch Replacement Cost...
Repair Shop Cost: $75 to $100
Do-it-Yourself Cost: $7.00 to $35 (Cost of switch)

2) Faulty Shift Interlock Solenoid
If you've verified the brake lights are working correctly then the problem is most likely a faulty shift interlock solenoid.  However, before replacing the interlock solenoid, use a digital multi-meter to rule out the problem being an open circuit in the wiring.  In other words, if the electrical signal that causes the solenoid to lock and unlock the shifter is not reaching the solenoid because of an open circuit in the wiring -- replacing the solenoid will not help.

The shift interlock solenoid is located underneath the shifter console right alongside the shifter lever.  To access the shift interlock solenoid, you must remove the center console.

READ THIS Before Replacing the Shifter Interlock Solenoid: In some instances the shift interlock solenoid can malfunction when a beverage or other sticky liquid is spilled and leaks down through the shifter console and onto the solenoid or locking mechanism.

In these instances, cleaning the solenoid and locking mechanism with Q-tips and alcohol may resolve the problem.

Shift Interlock Solenoid Replacement Cost...
Repair Shop Cost: $140 to $200+
Do-it-Yourself Cost: $35 to $75 (Cost of solenoid)

3) Open Circuit
An open circuit in the shift interlock electrical system can cause the shifter to become stuck in Park if the open circuit interrupts communications between the brake light switch or the ignition switch and the interlock solenoid.

Check for power at the shift interlock solenoid.  With the ignition switch in the "ON" or "RUN" position and the brake pedal depressed, use an digital multi-meter to check for power at the solenoid.  If power is present, the shifter interlock solenoid is bad.

Cost to Locate and Repair Open Electrical Circuit...
Repair Shop Cost: $80 to $100+ per hour
Do-it-Yourself Cost: $0 (Require testing using a multi-meter)
 
4) Malfunctioning Ignition Switch

A less common cause for a shifter being stuck in park is a badly worn or faulty ignition switch.  What happens here is that the ignition switch, (even after being turned to the "ON" position), does not send a signal to the shift interlock solenoid indicating that the ignition is ON.  The shift interlock mechanism will remain in the locked position until the interlock solenoid receives a signal from the ignition switch indicating that it is in the "ON" position.

Ignition Switch Replacement cost...
Repair Shop Cost: $150 to $200+
Do-it-Yourself Cost: $25 to $75 (Cost of ignition switch)

5) Transmission Parking Pawl

The Transmission Parking Pawl is the least likely cause for a shifter being stuck in Park.  But, it does happen.  The two main factors that point to the parking pawl as the possible culprit are;

1) the shifter lock bypass procedure described above does not release the shifter
2) you are parked on an incline and you did not set the emergency brake before shifting into Park.

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