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Car Won’t Shift Out of Park (11 Causes & Fix)

If your car doesn’t shift out of park mode, it can be easy to assume that the problem is solely contingent on a shifting mechanism issue. However, faulty pressure sensors, a defective battery, or an ignition switch malfunction can contribute to the situation. Even your trusty anti-theft system can be at fault.

On this note, here is a list of the most prevalent reasons behind a car being stuck in park:

  1. Faulty Brake Light Switch
  2. Shift Lock Solenoid Malfunction
  3. Defective Shift Interlock Cable
  4. Low Brake Fluid
  5. Dead or Faulty Battery
  6. Blown Fuse
  7. Ignition Switch Malfunction
  8. Faulty Pressure Sensors
  9. Shifter Assembly Issues
  10. Problematic Transmission
  11. Anti-Theft System Activation

On most occasions, a faulty brake light switch is to blame for a car stuck in park. That is because the defective switch impedes the shift interlock system from disengaging, keeping the vehicle in park position.

This particular predicament will be explained in more detail in the next section, alongside other possible triggers for cars getting stuck in park mode.

Why My Car Won’t Shift Out of Park

Person Operating Car Gearshift

1. Faulty Brake Light Switch

As earlier explained, the role of the brake light switch in enabling the gear shifter to engage or disengage park mode is extremely crucial. A switch malfunction can prevent the appropriate signals from reaching the gear shifter or transmission since it cannot ascertain that the brakes are engaged in the first place.

And with the way the brake light switch works, it needs to confirm that the brakes are in effect and the vehicle is stationary before interacting with the shift interlock system.

Several things, such as normal wear and tear, electrical issues, corrosion, faulty manufacturing, and misalignment, can cause your vehicle’s brake light switch to become defective. So before you replace the suspected brake light switch, make sure that you address its underlying issue first.

2. Shift Lock Solenoid Malfunction

The shift lock solenoid is an electrical component in a vehicle’s automatic transmission system. It primarily prevents the shifter from being moved out of the park position without first meeting certain conditions, such as pressing the brake pedal and receiving the signal from the brake light switch.

As if these stringent requisites are not enough, the shift lock solenoid can also malfunction due to damaged wires or other electrical issues. Either way, a failing solenoid will not permit a vehicle to get out of park mode.

3. Defective Shift Interlock Cable

Like the shift lock solenoid, the shift interlock cable is another component that should operate seamlessly if you have no hiccups in shifting out or into park mode. This cable connects the ignition switch to the shift mechanism — both of which are important pieces in the shifting capabilities of any given vehicle.

If the cable connecting these components malfunctions or becomes damaged due to fraying, poor grounding, or disconnection, a car is likely to get stuck in park. That said, inspect the shift interlock cable for any of these indicators at the first instance of getting stuck in park or having difficulty getting out of that mode.

4. Low Brake Fluid

Sometimes, the culprit behind getting stuck in park is not always an electrical problem. It could be as simple as having insufficient brake fluid in your vehicle since low brake fluid levels can hinder the brake system’s hydraulic pressure and prevent a car from shifting out of park.

This is why it is always good practice to check your brake fluid reservoir and add fluid up to spec when needed. Checking for leaks is also recommended if experiencing recurring low brake fluid levels.

5. Dead or Faulty Battery

Depending on its make and model, a vehicle may have one or both the shift interlock solenoid and the shift lock release mechanism facilitating its ability to get out of park.

The shift interlock solenoid keeps the shifter unmoved unless it receives a signal from the brake light switch. Meanwhile, the shift lock release mechanism is a manual override feature that activates when a vehicle’s shift interlock system malfunctions or fails.

The thing with these components is that both rely on the battery to function. So if the battery is dead or has a poor connection, neither of these mechanisms will work. That could leave your car stuck in park unless you jump-start using a Blikzone Auto Roadside Assistance Car Kit (view on Amazon) or have a replacement battery handy.

6. Blown Fuse

A blown fuse in a vehicle’s fuse box can disrupt the transmission’s electronic controls (among other shifting-related mechanisms), resulting in that car getting stuck in park mode. This outcome is in addition to its failure to deliver in the following areas:

  • Protecting electrical circuits from excessive current flow
  • Supplying the shift interlock system and solenoid power
  • Safekeeping the shift interlock system from power interruption
  • Ensuring the shift interlock solenoid receives the necessary electrical power to release the lock mechanism when needed

7. Ignition Switch Malfunction

The ignition switch is, perhaps, the 2nd most important switch relating to a car’s shifting mechanism. Why? Not only does an ignition switch failure prevent a vehicle from recognizing that the key is in the “ON” position (leading to a locked gear shifter), but it also adversely affects the function of other shifting-related systems, as follows:

  • Transmission position verification
  • Activation of the shift interlock system
  • Electrical signal transmission

When a vehicle is unable to verify the transmission position or unable to send an electrical signal to the shift interlock system, it is likely to err in recognizing that required conditions have been met and that it is now okay for the vehicle to shift out of park — hence, getting stuck in that mode.

8. Faulty Pressure Sensors

Faulty pressure sensors, such as those related to a vehicle’s transmission or hydraulic systems, can potentially cause issues with shifting gears (difficulty or inability to shift out of park included). After all, pressure sensors are fundamental to monitoring the fluid pressure within the transmission or hydraulic systems and providing feedback to the control module.

So if a pressure sensor is malfunctioning or providing inaccurate readings to the transmission or hydraulic systems, it can disrupt the normal operation of the components involved in gear shifting. This can result in the shift interlock system being erroneously activated, preventing the car from shifting out of park.

9. Shifter Assembly Issues

Compromised components within the shifter assembly, such as a broken lever or faulty linkage, can impede shifting out of park mode. Current overdraw, specifically in the context of the electrical system, can also adversely impact a vehicle’s shifting mechanism.

Other areas potentially affecting the same damage include the shift lever, shift cable, and detent release mechanism. Mechanical obstructions in the shifter assembly can also lead to the shifter’s inability to move out of the park position.

10. Problematic Transmission

Certain transmission components, such as the gear selector or the torque converter, can cause a car to remain stuck in park. How, you ask? Well, these components make gear selection and power delivery possible. But despite being robust components, they can malfunction or get damaged.

The gear selector is often subject to damage from regular usage and the natural effects of wear and tear. In addition, mechanical issues such as broken linkages or damaged detents can contribute to its failure.

But the most common cause of damage is mishandling or misuse. Some car owners are guilty of this behavior. Nevertheless, exercising discipline and being mindful of potential repair expenses can effectively control this situation.

As for the torque converter, manufacturing defects, fluid contamination, and overheating are some of the things causing it to fail (if not hasten its normal wear and tear).

Due diligence in upkeep goes a long way in preventing these failure points from occurring too soon. However, damage to the torque converter may still be influenced by other factors beyond what is mentioned here.

11. Anti-Theft System Activation

Lastly, we have your car’s anti-theft system. While this feature is designed to protect your vehicle from intruders while you are away, it can also be the reason for you to unceremoniously get stuck in park.

The anti-theft system being activated incorrectly is the only reason such a situation would even take place, and encountering one or more of the following could lead to it:

  • Malfunctioning key fob
  • Faulty door, hood, or motion sensors
  • Wiring issues that can disrupt the communication between the system components
  • Battery or power supply problems
  • An aftermarket mod that is either incompatible with some of your vehicle systems or one that triggers a false activation of your anti-theft system
  • Software updates or glitches

Why Is My Car Stuck in Park on a Hill?

Black Jeep Parked on a Hill

When a car gets stuck in park on a hill, it is usually due to the operation of the parking pawl or parking brake. The parking pawl is a metal pin that engages a notched wheel in the transmission. In normal circumstances, it prevents a vehicle from rolling when parked.

Parking pawl

Now on a steep hill, the weight and force exerted on the parking pawl can make it difficult to disengage, resulting in the car remaining stuck in park. Thankfully, the following maneuvers can get you out of this “stuck” situation:

  • Apply steady pressure to the brake pedal.
  • Turn the ignition to “ON” or “ACCESSORY” without starting the engine.
  • Slowly release the brake pedal while maintaining pressure until you feel the car release from park. Once the car is out of park mode, engage the parking brake to prevent rolling.

Parking brake malfunction

If it is not your parking pawl to blame, you must have a parking brake malfunction. Try the following steps:

  • Confirm that the parking brake is fully disengaged. Pull the release lever or press the release button for the parking brake and ensure it is in the released position.
  • Apply steady pressure to the brake pedal while attempting to shift out of park. If the parking brake is still engaged, the car may not shift until the brake is fully released.
  • If the parking brake remains stuck, there may be a mechanical issue with the parking brake mechanism. In this scenario, it is best to have the vehicle inspected and repaired by a professional.

If your parking brake checks out, it must be due to insufficient brake pressure. And we are not talking about you being lightfooted.

The required brake pressure to shift your car out of park is often unmet due to insufficient brake fluid in the reservoir, air in the brake lines, or a brake fluid leak. This scenario is also characterized by a noticeable loss of braking power even before you find yourself and your car stuck in park mode.

If you encounter any of these situations while shifting out of park on a hill, I suggest not to push your luck if the above troubleshooting steps do not work. Call roadside assistance or a friend to give you a lift, and consult a qualified mechanic as soon as possible to administer the necessary repairs on your vehicle.

How to Remedy a Car Stuck in Park

Car Gear Stuck in Park

Once you have narrowed down why your car won’t shift out of park, the next thing to do is get it unstuck — so that you can drive your way to safety and have your four-wheeler and suspected components thoroughly checked.

There is no cookie-cutter approach to doing this, as how you remediate the situation will depend on what has caused this mechanical hiccup in the first place:

Faulty Brake Light Switch

Look for a small access panel or hole near the gear shifter. Next, insert a key or screwdriver into the hole and push it down. This will manually override the brake light switch and allow you to shift gears (and out of park mode) temporarily. Once home, replace the faulty brake light switch immediately.

Shift Lock Solenoid Malfunction

The access panel for the shift lock solenoid is typically located near the gear shifter, similar to the brake light switch. However, the general location of the access panel can vary between vehicles. Nonetheless, the process is the same — insert a thin object into the slot and apply gentle pressure to release the shift lock mechanism and enable you to shift out of the park position.

Defective Shift Interlock Cable

For the shift interlock cable, you will find a release button or lever instead of a slot in its covered access panel. Removing the cover and pressing or pulling the button/lever while simultaneously pressing the brake pedal will allow you to manually disengage the shift interlock and shift out of park.

Low Brake Fluid

Locate the brake fluid reservoir under the vehicle’s hood and replenish the fluid level until it reaches the specified range. If this is the only problem, hydraulic pressure should be restored after, and you should be able to shift out of park effortlessly.

Dead or Faulty Battery

If the battery is dead, jump-start your vehicle. Charge your depleted battery for a few minutes, then attempt to shift out of park while keeping the jumper cables connected. If your battery is faulty, replace it.

If jump-starting does not work or you have determined that the battery is not the primary issue, move on to doing the shift interlock override. This is the same procedure as item #2 in this section.

Blown Fuse

Referring to your owner’s manual for the exact location of the fuse box and the corresponding shift lock mechanism fuse, check if the suspected fuse is blown. Replace, if needed, with a new fuse with the appropriate rating. If the fuse is the only hiccup, replacing it should enable you to shift gears normally.

Ignition Switch Malfunction

Manually overriding this malfunction entails doing the same procedure as item #2 and pressing the shift lock release mechanism after. Apply steady pressure and try to move the gear selector into your desired gear as you do the 2nd half of this step.

Shifter Assembly Issues

Unlike most items in this section, manually overriding the shifter assembly or any of its components is ill-advised. Whether or not you have the proper knowledge and tools, it is better to nip the root cause in the bud than experiment with temporary fixes and suffer further damage to your vehicle.

Faulty Pressure Sensors

There may be ways to override pressure sensors, but the act is not recommended. The reason is that pressure sensors are integral to a vehicle’s braking system — and their malfunction can indicate a potential safety issue. This means bypassing these faulty sensors can translate to bypassing important safety mechanisms, effectively compromising your car’s braking capability. The only way to fix them is through proper diagnosis and replacement.

Problematic Transmission

Regardless if the gear selector or torque converter is at fault, manually overriding the gear shift in such instances is not recommended. It is best to have a qualified mechanic repair or replace these erring components to resolve your shifting problem.

Anti-Theft System Activation

Using the key fob or entering a specific code or sequence normally works for disabling or resetting this system — but only if the key fob is not part of the problem. Otherwise, consult your owner’s manual for OEM instructions on deactivating the anti-theft system differently. If these first two approaches do not work still, contact the OEM or a qualified automotive locksmith for assistance.

For any of the methods specified here, remember that they are all temporary fixes. That said, it is highly recommended to address the underlying cause of the problem and opt for a long-term resolution as soon as you get the chance.

Conclusion — Car Won’t Shift Out of Park

Encountering a situation where your car won’t shift out of park can be frustrating. However, understanding its common causes and corresponding fixes can help you address the issue effectively. But it never hurts to seek assistance from an automotive professional if you are uncertain about the problem source or unable to resolve the problem on your own.