Car Stuck in Park (Causes & Solutions)

Have you ever noticed that your car is stuck in park, and there seems to be nothing you can do about it?

Even though it’s frustrating, a car transmission getting stuck in park is far more common than one might think, especially when it happens unexpectedly.

Fortunately, this mechanical fault is rarely severe enough to require a costly repair. In many cases, the difficulty can be resolved by taking a little time in a day for a few manual diagnostics or research.

Continue reading to find out why you have a car stuck in park and what you will need to do to solve this problem.

Steps to Take if You Have a Car Stuck in Park

Your car might refuse to shift out of park for a variety of reasons. In general, you can do a few things to see if they’ll assist you in that situation. Here are some steps that you can take to fix a car stuck in park.

  1. Ensure the parking brakes are set.
  2. The ignition should be turned on but do not start your engine.
  3. Take out the plastic cap away from the override switch on the shifter console to enable you to operate it.
  4. Screwdrivers or similar objects should be inserted and held in the slot.
  5. Keep the brake pedal pressed down.
  6. Then pull your shifter out of park.

Reasons Why Car Is Stuck in Park

Car Stuck in Park

1. Increased Pawl Pressure

If you park your car on a steep incline, there is more weight that the parking pawl will have to manage than if it was on flat ground. Because of this added pressure on your gear shifts, it wedges itself into gear.

In these cases, the only solution is to remove the vehicle from the steep ground or even put it in drive and not park.

To do this, you have to move or rock the vehicle by enlisting help from someone else, or if not, call for assistance from a tow truck that will presumably ease this pressure.

If you want to avoid this situation in the future, you should always set your parking brake before you stop on a steep incline.

You put the vehicle’s entire weight on the brake assembly by applying the parking brake before placing the transmission in park.

2. Malfunctioning Shifter Interlock

Most modern vehicles come standard with a shift interlock system. This feature keeps you from moving the vehicle out of park without first stepping on the brake.

This is done so that you don’t accidentally shift into drive or reverse while inside a parking spot or roadblock (and potentially cause a collision).

In some cases, mechanically inclined people decide to override these restrictions in order to move the car more easily. The overrode selectors will disengage and unlock your connector by pressing its center button until it is unlocked.

If you turn your car key to the accessory position, you may be allowed to override the system. Next, put the shifter into Neutral and start your vehicle.

There is also an option of accessing a manual shift override with a flathead screwdriver. Still, many vehicles have a different location for this feature, so check your owner’s manual for more information.

3. Brake Switch Failure

In order for the automatic gear shift to function correctly, it requires a functioning brake pedal. The motorized switch for the brake interlock uses a sensor that takes note of when the brake pedal is applied.

However, if this sensor fails, it has been detected that you are not stepping on the brake. Therefore, you might experience the car stuck in park even if you are pressing down on the pedal.

Suppose a friend steps out of their vehicle and observes your vehicle rolling even though you need to stop. In that case, one can assume that there is a problem with the automatic gear shift mechanism.

As a result, the instrument panel or dashboard lights turn on and off according to this condition and do not match where you’re going or how fast you’re moving through traffic.

To diagnose faulty brake interlock failure, a multimeter will be used by an independent mechanic to check over all-electric signals and determine what caused this malfunctioning across multiple checks and engine light alerts.

Fortunately, it is simple to replace a brake switch. There is no special skill or experience needed to perform the task.

Also Read: Brake Light Blinking (Causes & How To Fix)

4. Transmission Failure

On rare occasions, you’ll find that certain parts of the transmission require repair from problems like a faulty shifter solenoid.

Checking for these kinds of issues requires specialized diagnostic tools and prior knowledge about your car’s individual needs in order to get things working properly again.

There are several possible parts that can be the ones to go bad within the transmission that makes your car stuck in park. You can usually find a replacement for them depending on what’s been damaged, but sometimes you have to remove the whole unit.

Also Read: How Long Does it Take to Rebuild a Transmission? [+ Cost]

What Is the Park Setting on an Automatic Transmission?

How to Fix a Car Stuck in Park

When vehicles are in park, they don’t move. This is by design through the inclusion of a parking pawl, also known as a dog. When the shifter is placed into Park (P), it engages with this special mechanism to keep the vehicle from moving about.

However, when you shift out of that position, the parking pawl disengages and allows the transmission to engage with the appropriate gear for your needs.

How to Fix a Car Stuck in Park

1. Adjust the Weight

If you have a car stuck in park due to the weight of your vehicle, there are a few different ways that you can ensure your vehicle releases its grip.

First, you could try to relieve some of this pressure on the transmission by simply pushing the brake pedal down firmly as you give the gear shift lever a good shove and by rocking back and forth slightly in hopes that it lifts some of the weight off and you fix the car stuck in park.

2. Look at Brake Lights

In order to determine whether the car stuck in park is not a result of excessive pressure on the car’s brake pedal, we recommend having somebody look at the brake lights as you are pressing the pedal.

If the lights are still not working, check the fuses. If everything is working properly, you need to check other reasons why the car switch may not be working.

You may need to disable the security system if the car has one. Even if the brake lights are working, there is a chance the brake switch can be defective since it can belong to two different circuits.

3. Override Shift Interlock Solenoid

There is a way to disengage the shift lock solenoid in some cars. First, you want to locate the shifter cover and make sure there is a release.

If there’s no one visible, check your owner’s manual for the exact location of the shift lock solenoid override.

Disengaging the shift lock solenoid will be different for every car. Depending on your owner’s manual, you may need to follow a different process, but it usually gets done following these steps:

Step 1: Turn Off the Car

Make sure that the vehicle is not running before you begin.

Step 2: Set the Parking Brake

Before you do any other thing, raise the parking brake as far up as it can go.

Step 3: Go to the “RUN” or “ON” Position

When your key is in the ignition, set it to “RUN”, and if it has a push-to-start, push the button without touching the brake pedal.

Step 4: Locate the Override Slot and remove it

Your vehicle’s shifter should be capped with a piece of plastic. It is usually located on the left of the shifter, just above the car shifter.

Those pieces of plastic in the hole are just plugs that you can remove. Just pop them out with a flathead screwdriver.

Step 5: Push the Override Slot down

Put a screwdriver into the override slot and push it downwards. Repeat the process for the remaining steps.

Step 6: Press the Brake

Just as you would typically do when changing a shifter, press the brake pedal with your foot.

Step 7: Move the Shifter to Neutral

Hold the shifter in Neutral with the one hand while still pressing the brake and screwdriver into the override slot with the other hand. There is nothing wrong with turning off the car. However, if the car is in drive or reverse, it won’t work.

Step 8: Start the Engine

With your car successfully started, you’ll be able to drive away. You can park the car and remove the screwdriver now. Since your vehicle is already in “Neutral,” this method will work every time without fail.

This is a temporary solution for a car stuck in park. You should take your car to a mechanic to have everything checked out so that you can stop doing this whenever you need to start your vehicle again.

3. Wiggle the Steering Wheel

First off, you might want to check to see if your steering wheel lock rod is installed correctly.

Sometimes this part can be stuck and prevent your steering wheel from spinning freely. Having one of these rods in place can also make it very challenging to start your car because it will be difficult for you to shift the position of your shifter.

The best way to correct this problem is by pulling gently on the steering wheel both ways and then trying again after loosening up that part of your vehicle.

Even if you do not have an aftermarket steering wheel lock rod installed, there will still be a steering wheel lock.

4. Warm Up Your Car

If you reside in a colder part of the country, there’s a chance that your car is frozen, and you can’t get it to start no matter how many times you turn the key.

The first thing to do when this happens is crank up some heat. Let your car warm-up for a couple of minutes to see if that lets things thaw out enough to let it go.

Keeping your car in a garage is the best thing you can do. This will make your car last longer and prevent such an event from happening.

5. Replace the Ignition Switch

It is important to check the ignition switch as well. Car systems rely on the ignition switch to tell them when the vehicle is running.

So you’ll tell if your ignition is faulty if a) your car decides not to start or b) you can’t get your keys out because they won’t budge.

While an ignition like this might sound costly, there are several budget-friendly options from companies you know and trust – all for less than $50.

6. Take Your Car to a Mechanic

If you have a car stuck in park and none of the above work, you need to have a tow truck drive your vehicle back to the dealership for another look, adding to the repair cost.

A technician will need to inspect your vehicle for more issues that could lead to a failed Park gear shift. Nonetheless, when the problem is fixed, you should not have any more trouble moving out of park.

Check out this video to see how to fix a car stuck in park

How to Prevent Car Stuck in Park

The steps below will prevent you from having a car stuck in park in the future and may even be the reason you’re stuck today.

1. Don’t Apply Force on the Shifter

This is most likely an inconvenience to you. But attempting to brute force your way through the transmission issue will be counterproductive and only cause more expensive damage.

Transmission repairs are expensive. The best thing to do would be to follow the steps outlined above, as they’ll help you in resolving any problems with your car’s transmission.

2. Don’t Forget to Press the Brake

It is not uncommon for new drivers to forget they have to apply the brakes before shifting out of park.

If this happens, you won’t be able to shift out of park until you apply sufficient pressure on the brakes. Slightly press your foot on the brake and then try to shift out of park again.

3. When on a Hill, Use Your Parking Brake

You should always put your parking brake on when your car is parked on a hill. It’s already a habit for most drivers who grew up driving a manual-transmission car because it makes them feel safer in general, though there are at least two benefits of doing this.

First, in case your transmission fails overnight while you’re parked, your car will roll away and crash into whatever is in its way.

Second, disengaging the parking pawl helps reduce angled parking’s impact force. (though activating/disengaging it should be done regularly for maintenance).

3. Ensure That the Parking Brake Is Disengaged Before Starting the Car.

The instrument cluster on modern cars will typically display a warning if your e-brake is engaged, but the smell and weird feeling you feel while driving should provide enough clues to tell if it’s on.

Frequently Asked Questions – Car Stuck in Park

What Causes the Gear Shift to Be Stuck in Park?

There is an open circuit in the shift interlock system. This can result in the shifter getting stuck in park when this open circuit gets in the way of communications between the brake light switch and ignition switch with the solenoid that releases the lock of a shift lever. So first, check whether the shift interlock solenoid is powered.

How Do You Release an Automatic Shift Stuck in Park?

You will need to apply the brake pedal to shift the gear out of park. This can be tricky, but it’s an important step you won’t want to miss. If you neglect to do this correctly, your shifter interlock may end up not functioning at all, which means you’ll be unable to get your car out of park because of a “car stuck in Park” problem with your automatic gear shift. However, an interlock failure will cause the automatic gear shift to remain in park even after engaging the brakes.

Where Is the Shift Lock Override Located?

The shift lock release mechanism allows drivers to change between automatic transmission options in modern vehicles. A shift lock button is usually situated at the top or side of the car’s gear selector lever and enables drivers to keep their vehicle in park if they have stepped out of the vehicle.

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