Have you ever tried to leave for work in the morning, only to find that your automatic transmission is stuck in the park? If so, you are definitely not alone. Although worrying, this problem is much more common than you think.
Fortunately, when a transmission sticks in the park, it is often due to a minor mechanical defect. Such a problem rarely requires major mechanical intervention or heavy repair to fix. With a little background knowledge and a few minutes of quick diagnosis, the root cause of this problem can be discovered.
Read on to learn more about why your transmission is stuck in the park and what it takes to fix it.
Understand how transmission “parking” works
Over the years, automakers have made great strides in increasing vehicle safety. As a result, automatic transmissions are designed to incorporate several safety features, which prevent a vehicle from moving except when intended.
All automatic transmissions now rely on a device called a parking clutch, to prevent involuntary movement of the vehicle when it is in the “park” position. When a vehicle is placed in park, this lever-like device, which is connected to the transmission output shaft, disengages a specialized parking gear. The parking route does not deviate from that park gear when another shift lever selection is made.
See also: Different types of transmission (and how to recognize them)
Possible Reasons for an Employee’s Situation in a Park
These are the most likely reasons why a vehicle’s transmission will fail to release from its park position.
Related: 3 Reasons for a Stuck Parking Brake
#1 – Tilt Induction Ratchet Pressure
When parking on a steep grade, the transmission’s parking pawl can experience tremendous pressure when it engages its corresponding parking gear.
In these circumstances, the parking pawl and parking mechanism support the entire weight of the vehicle. This often makes it difficult to exit the parking lot, leaving drivers stranded in the process.
In this case, this pressure must be released to be successfully transferred to any drive gear. This often requires the assistance of a second person, who can create enough movement to facilitate proper disengagement, by rocking the vehicle back and forth.
However, for steep slopes, this process may require the use of a secondary tow vehicle.
To avoid such a situation, you should apply the parking brake when trying to stop on a slope, before parking your vehicle. This places all of the weight on the vehicle’s parking brake assembly, as opposed to the parking brake and parking mechanism.
Also read: What happens when you drive with the electronic brakes on?
#2 – Translator Block
To prevent a vehicle from accidentally starting or reversing, engineers generally provide all vehicles with a relay interlock system. This lock manually prevents the shift lever from moving out of park until the vehicle’s brake pedal is depressed.
However, sometimes locking systems fail in the active position. To prevent drivers from locking them in such circumstances, most manufacturers equip their vehicles with an unlocking lever. Using this release allows the driver to cancel the shift lever lock on their vehicle.
The shift lock on some vehicles can be bypassed by turning the key to the accessory position and placing the shift lever in neutral, where the vehicle can then be started.
However, if this is ineffective, the manual shift lock control can be accessed, which is usually activated by inserting a wrench or small flat-head screwdriver.
The location of this manual control varies from vehicle to vehicle, although you can consult your owner’s manual for more details. It’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with these procedures now, rather than trying to search for such information when you find yourself in the middle of a field-related problem.
#3 – Brake switch failure
As mentioned above, most vehicles are equipped with a relay lock that depends on the operation of the brake pedal for its disengagement. This system detects the operation of the brake pedal by activating a brake switch.
If this switch fails, the interlock function may be adversely affected. Normally, a vehicle’s shift lock will act as if the brake pedal had never been pressed.
The easiest way to diagnose such a problem is to have an assistant check the operation of your vehicle’s brake lights. If the brake lights do not come on when you press the brake pedal, your vehicle’s brake switch is likely defective. This is a presumptive diagnosis, which can be verified later by testing with a multimeter.
If the vehicle’s brake switch is indeed defective, it will need to be replaced to prevent this problem from occurring again.
In many cases, this is a relatively simple job to do and requires little to no cost to purchase a replacement sensor. Replacement brake sensors can usually be obtained from any local parts dealer.
See also: Neutral Safety Switch Replacement Cost