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Car Stuck In Park – How To Put The Car In Gear?

by Jordan Harris
Car Stuck In Park

Is your car stuck in park and you are trying to find a way how to solve this problem quickly? If this is the situation you are into, then you are at the right place because there will be a lot to cover on this topic.

Having a problem like this can be a really frustrating thing to deal with. Why I’m saying this? Well, it’s simple, you just cannot move the car and this can be a real pain to sort out. Loading the car on a trailer could be close to impossible. So, I understand your struggle.

The important thing to know is that there is not a problem with the transmission itself. Which is the most important thing. Because you just don’t want to get a new transmission on your car. It is so expensive and costs a real fortune to do. But what could be the cause of this problem in the first place? Well, that’s what we are going to learn in this article.

First, we are going to cover the automatic transmission and how does it work. Then we will discuss the Park mode on the transmission and what does it mean. After, we will discuss the reasons for the problem car stuck in park. Knowing the reasons will help you diagnose the issue much quicker than expected. Then we will cover how you can fix it and also the cost involved in fixing this problem of a car stuck in park. So, if you want to learn more, follow along.

What Is An Automatic Transmission?

So, before we dive into the car stuck in park problem, let’s first familiarize ourselves with the basics of how transmission works. Not everyone here is proficient when it comes to automatic transmissions and how they work. That’s why it is good to start from the basics and start building up from this knowledge and learn the causes solutions for the car stuck in park. Now let’s get started.

A car transmission in simple words is a mechanical device installed on each internal combustion engine. Each engine has either a manual or an automatic transmission.

On a manual transmission, the driver is going through the gears by pressing and releasing the clutch pedal. But in an automatic transmission, all the hard work is done by the transmission itself. Meaning that the transmission is shifting the gears based on the gas and brake pedal input from the driver.

Car Stuck In Park

This transmission works with the help of transmission fluid, also known as hydraulic fluid. When the driver is pressing the gas pedal, there is a buildup of fluid pressure, and based on this pressure the gears are changed.

Automatics are quite complex, although they are pretty basic to use and do not require significant knowledge to use them. Even a kid could drive an automatic transmission car.

The layout is dead simple and it is composed of only a few letters. Usually, these are the PRND. But what do these letters mean? Well, PRND stands for, Park, Reverse, Neutral, and Drive.

They are also quite explanatory by themselves. When selected D, you go forward, when you select R you go backward, when you select N the car could roll. But what does P or car stuck in park mean? Well, that’s what we are going to cover next.

What Does Park Mean?

So, what does park mean on a car? This is quite essential to learn in order to understand the car stuck in park problem. Now let’s elaborate.

The park position is a position when the automatic transmission is locked up and basically, it could not be used anymore until the driver decides to put the transmission in drive, reverse, or neutral.

When the park option is selected the car won’t budge. The wheels will be locked and the car will simply not want to move.

Something similar to the situation when you put a manual transmission in gear and turn off the car. The car will not want to move unless you place it in neutral. And that’s also what happens in automatic transmissions. But what is the method of action of this Park mode?

It is quite simple to explain. Automatics have a special device installed in them, this device is called a parking pawl.

This device has an extremely basic method of action. Whenever you select the P or park, the metal tooth called parking pawl is locking the transmission and doesn’t allow the internals of the automatic to move. Meaning that unless another gear is selected with the gear lever, the transmission will stay locked and the car stuck in park will happen to you.

So, you get my point and this is probably one of the causes why the car stuck in park problem happens. But this doesn’t mean that because of this, your car is stuck in park. It could be something else that is causing the problem and trust me, there are a ton of other things that could cause you the problem of a car stuck in park.

Don’t Force The Car Stuck In Park

Now let’s discuss what you should not do if your car stuck in park problem happens. Knowing what not to do will help you as well.

So, what you shouldn’t do in case of a car stuck in park? Well, you shouldn’t force the shifter to go into gear.

Many people are not aware that they have a problem and they desperately try to force the car to go in gear by doing this they damage the shifter itself.

As you know there is a mechanism that allows you to put the car in gear and drive away. So, whenever the car is stuck in park and doesn’t want to move, it means that there is something wrong with the car.

This doesn’t mean that you should try even harder and do more damage than good. This is the most important thing to note.

You first need to learn the causes that could be causing this issue and then based on this input find the solution for the problem. And luckily for you, we are going to cover everything you need to know when it comes to the probable causes for a car stuck in park in the following chapters. So, follow along if you want to learn how to solve the problem.

Causes Why The Car Stuck In Park Happens?

Now let’s discuss the causes of a car stuck in park. Knowing the causes will make your life easier and the diagnosing process of this problem a real breeze. And you probably want to solve this problem quickly and effectively.

Car Stuck In Park

Nobody wants to have his car stuck in park for a long period and not be able to use it. That’s why we are going to discuss all the probable causes for this problem in the following chapters. So, pay attention to them because one of them is causing you this headache of a car stuck in park. Now let’s elaborate on them.

1. Stuck Parking Pawl Mechanism

The first and most common reason for this problem of a car stuck in park is a stuck pawl mechanism on your vehicle. The pawl mechanism can get stuck and cause you a ton of issues along the way.

It can get stuck by itself because of malfunctions. The only way for you to get the car out of park would probably be to push it back and forth so the locking pin also known as the pawl gets unstuck.

But what most often is causing this problem is when you park your car on an inclined road. In this situation, there will be too much pressure on the pawl. So, it would be quite difficult to release it and be able to shift into drive or neutral.

You will be needed an extra pair of hands. You will need someone to pull the car with their car on the incline so you to be able to release the pawl mechanism. Either way, not an ideal situation but that’s how things go and you might have problems like this when you park on a steep hill.

So, if this happens to you once, you should better avoid parking like this in the future if you don’t want to have this problem again and again. Now let’s move to the next possible cause stuck in park problem to happen.

2. Brake Light Switch

Another cause for car stuck in park is the bad brake light switch. This is a small switch located on top of the brake pedal and has a role to detect whenever you press on the brake pedal and activate the brake lights.

So, you can give it a test if your car stuck in park happens. Press on the brakes, if the brake lights turn on then the problem lies elsewhere. If the brake lights don’t turn on, then the cause of the car stuck in park problem is probably a bad brake light switch. But why is this the case, what has this switch with my shifting mechanism? Well, it has a lot to do.

The simplest explanation is that this shifting mechanism needs the input from the brake pedal to allow you to shift the car into gear or in neutral. If the car doesn’t get that signal from the brake light switch that you pressed on the brake pedal, the car simply won’t like to go into gear.

This is a safety feature. It prevents your car from lurching forward if you start your car in gear by accident. So, you need first to apply the brakes and then start the car. If you apply the brakes and there is no signal from the brake switch, the car doesn’t have a confirmation that you are holding the brake pedal. So, it won’t let you put the car in gear. And you will face the car stuck in park problem. Now let’s move on to the next probable cause for this problem.

3. Bad Shift Interlock Solenoid

Now let’s cover the next possibility for a car stuck in park and that is the shift interlock solenoid. If the brakes are working fine and the brake light turns on, the brake switch is probably good. What could be bad is the shift interlock solenoid.

This solenoid is involved in the same system of pressing the brake to allow you to start the car and put the car into gear.

This solenoid is specific for this safety mechanism and if the solenoid is broken, you will not be able to shift the car into gear. But how this solenoid works in reality?

It is quite simple to explain. When you apply the brakes, this sends a signal through the brake switch and into the shift interlock solenoid which is located on the shifting mechanism itself. Meaning that the car stuck in park problem will occur if there is a bad solenoid and the signal doesn’t reach the interlock mechanism.

In this situation, you will have only one option and that is to override the system. Each vehicle features a shifter release in case of an emergency. Meaning that you will be able to release the shifter and put it into gear in order not to get stranded. How you can do this, we are going to discuss later in this article, now let’s move to the next probable cause for car stuck in park.

4. Bad Ignition Switch

And the last thing that could probably cause a car stuck in park problem is a bad ignition switch. This rarely happens. But it still can happen if there are malfunctions on the ignition switch. This problem most often happens in cars with a badly worn ignition switch. But what is the method of action? How does this switch is affecting your ability to put the shifter into drive?

Well, it’s quite simple to explain. The faulty ignition switch is not sending a signal to the shifter interlock solenoid that we covered above. The solenoid doesn’t get information that the ignition is on. So, the interlock mechanism will not budge and will remain in the locked position.

So, if this switch doesn’t work, the solenoid will never receive a positive signal that will tell it to allow you to put the car into gear. In this case, the car stuck in park forever. Or at least until you figure out how to override the interlock mechanism and make the car start and go in gear. Remember that this is only done in emergency situations like these and it is not recommended to do it whenever you please. So, how you can do it? We will answer that in the following chapter.

How To Use Interlock Override And Fix This Problem?

Now let’s see how you can release the car stuck in park. There is a method, and this method will involve overriding the interlock mechanism and this will allow you to put the car into gear and continue driving to the shop where you could sort this problem out.

It is worth noting that this override function will not work if your car is stuck because you parked it on an incline and the pawl is stuck. For this, you will need someone to push you in the opposite direction and make you able to release the gear lever and put it into gear. Now let’s discuss the method of overriding to release the shifter.

The Method To Get A Car Stuck In Park Out Of Park

For this method, you will need to insert the key into the ignition and start the car. Starting the car would make it easier for you to, later on, put the car into gear.

The next step will involve locating the override slot. Finding this slot could be a real pain. For example, many of the manufacturers have this slot around the shifter, you will notice a small plastic cap that seems to not have a purpose.

But what you should really do is to remove this cap and stick a small screwdriver into this small hole and hold it like that.

And while you are holding the screwdriver, depress the brake pedal and put the car into gear at the same time. Overall, that’s all you have to do in order to get your car into gear and continue driving.

What is the hardest thing is finding the override slot. Just to give you a hint, on column shifter Ford cars, this is located under the steering wheel. In a Honda Odyssey, it’s located on top of the column shifter. So, if you have a column shifter you can expect to find it on the top or underneath of the column shifter.

For console shifters, this cap is located close to the gear lever. Either on the front or at the rear. For more specific information about the location of this override function on your car, you can go online and look for your specific model because these override functions are often well hidden and sometimes can be a real pain to find them and do this procedure to release car stuck in park. Now let’s elaborate on the cost.

Cost To Fix This Problem Of Car Stuck In Park

But what is the cost to fix this car stuck in park problem? As you know if you release it once, you didn’t fix the issue but only allowed the car to move to the shop where you will need to fix the problem. Depending on the components, we are going to discuss the costs involved in this work. We will list the DIY costs as well as the costs that you will be paying if you want to sort this problem at a shop. So, follow along.

Let’s start with the most common problem. And that is when you parked the car on an incline and the parking pawl mechanism got stuck. In this case, you will need to call a friend to pull your car with his car. This is the cheap way if you want to do this for a cup of coffee. But if you don’t have a friend, you will have to call a tow company and you most likely will have to pay $100 or more depending on how fast they sort your problem.

If there is a faulty brake light switch, you will have to pay somewhere between $75 and $100 at a shop. If you replace it by yourself, you will have to pay about $30 for the part only. Which is ideal.

If there is a problem with the interlock solenoid, then you will have to pay between $150 to $300 at a shop to sort out this problem. If you do it by yourself you will only pay for the part alone. About $50 in total.

If the ignition switch is causing the problem you will have to pay between $130 and $300 to fix this issue at a shop. Or about $40 for the part alone.

Nothing Works, Car Still Stuck In Park, What To Do Next?

In case you have tried everything and the car stuck in park still persists. It means that you need to call someone who has more experience solving this stuff.

Car Stuck In Park

There are on-call mechanics that come to your home and help you tackle some problems in your car. You can also pay for a tow service to tow your car. Then bring it to the nearest shop to get it sorted out. This understandably costs some money. But you will have to be prepared to spend a few hundred dollars on this car stuck in park problem if you want to sort the thing out. If not, you will never sort it. Unless you are really good at mechanics.

Shifter Being Stuck in Park – Need-to-Know Facts

  1. Vehicles with automatic transmissions have a key-shift interlock safety feature that locks the shifter in the Park position each time it is placed there, and the key must be in the ignition switch to move it out of Park.
  2. In addition to the key-shift interlock, many vehicles are also equipped with a brake-shift interlock that requires the brake pedal to be depressed and the shifter button to be pushed before moving it out of Park.
  3. The main components that control the locking and unlocking of the shifter are the ignition switch, brake light/stoplight switch, and shift interlock solenoid.
  4. Pre-2010 vehicles may not have brake-shift interlock, so owners should not assume their vehicle has it without verifying.
  5. To release a stuck shifter, set the emergency brake, turn the ignition switch to ON/RUN, locate the shift lock override slot, insert a small object, depress the brake pedal, and move the shifter to the desired gear.
  6. If the brake lights are not working, it could be due to a blown brake light fuse or a faulty brake light switch, which is a common reason for a stuck shifter.
  7. A faulty shift interlock solenoid is another possible cause, but it is important to rule out an open circuit in the wiring first.
  8. In some cases, a beverage or other sticky liquid spilled on the solenoid or locking mechanism can cause it to malfunction, but cleaning it with alcohol may resolve the issue.
  9. A malfunctioning ignition switch can also cause a stuck shifter, but it is less common.
  10. The transmission parking pawl is the least likely cause for a stuck shifter, but it can happen if the shifter lock bypass procedure does not work and the vehicle is parked on an incline without the emergency brake being set.

Conclusion To Car Stuck In Park

In this article, we have covered quite a bit about the car stuck in park problem. First, we understood what is an automatic transmission and how this transmission works in reality.

Then we covered all the probable causes for this car stuck in park problem. The most common things are the interlock solenoid and the brake light switch. Also, if you have parked your car on an inclined road, you should consider that this could also be a possible reason because the parking pawl could not be released and the car put in gear.

Lastly, we covered the method of how to bypass the interlock mechanism and put the car in gear, drive it to the nearest shop, and the cost that you will have to pay to get these things sorted the right way.

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