Gear shift won't come out of Park: 2 common causes

By Vlad Samarin June 25, 2023
It's a common situation when the engine starts, but the transmission shifter is stuck in Park. There are several possible reasons, however these two are common:

1. Brake light switch problem:

The brake light switch is the part that tells the vehicle computer that the brake pedal is depressed. A faulty brake light switch is a frequent culprit when the shifter won't come out of Park.
Brake light switch Brake light switch.
To confirm, check if your brake lights are working when you press the brake pedal. If not, it's likely that the brake light switch or its electrical circuit has a problem and must be tested first. Read more: Brake light switch: symptoms, problems, testing, replacement.

In most cases we see it's the brake light switch itself fails. In some cars, a blown brake light fuse can also cause this problem. The brake light fuse can pop if the brake light wiring or one of the bulbs is shorted. To confirm, check the brake light fuse; your vehicle's owner's manual has the information where the fuse is located. Read also: How to Check a Fuse in a Car.

If the brake light switch is bad, it will need to be replaced. The part is cheap, however it must be installed and adjusted properly. In some cars, a brake light switch can even get damaged if not installed correctly. For this reason, we advise to taking your car to your dealer or a qualified local mechanic for repairs.

2. Shift Lock Solenoid Issue:

The shift lock solenoid is a safety mechanism that prevents the shifter from being moved out of Park without the brake pedal being depressed. Normally, when the swift solenoid works, you can hear a click from under the shifter at the moment the brake pedal is depressed. If the brake lights work, but there is no audible click from under the shifter, it's possible that the shift lock solenoid is not working.

Your mechanic can test the shift lock solenoid with a multimeter.
Shifter assembly Shifter assembly.
The shift lock solenoid is a small part, but in many cars it comes with a shifter assembly as one unit. If the shift lock solenoid is confirmed bad, but a new shifter assembly is too expensive, check for a used part on eBay or with your local auto recycling facilities (auto wreckers).

Is there a way to release the shifter lock manually?

Manual shift lock release Manual shift lock release.
In most automatic cars with a shifter lever, there is a manual shif lock release. It can be used if the shifter cannot be moved out of Park in case of a discharged battery or for other reasons. How it works:
1. Set the parking brake.
2. Find a small shift lock release slot near the shifter covered with a cover.
3. Remove the cover and insert the key or a small screwdriver to unlock the shifter; check your vehicle's owner's manual for the exact procedure.