Many times, people have issues with their automatic transmission and wonder why because automatics don’t have a stick shift or clutch. They may do all the shifting automatically, but they can still have issues with it. Sometimes, drivers may find it challenging to get their vehicle out of Park and into the right gear, whether it’s Reverse or Overdrive.
Shift Interlock Problems
The issues you face with shifting an automatic transmission can come from many different problems, including the shift interlock feature. The shift interlock feature requires you to press down on the brake pedal before you shift into gear. It’s designed to prevent an unintentional shifting out of Park when you aren’t ready. Therefore, if you have trouble shifting your transmission, you might be experiencing a malfunction with the interlock system. If the interlock switch isn’t releasing fully or is worn, it won’t let you shift from Park to gear. Along with such, the brake lights might not be getting a signal from the brake-light switch telling it to illuminate. Therefore, the transmission might think that you aren’t pressing on the brake even if you are.
Sometimes, the links that connect the transmission and the shift lever or the shift cable might be corroded and can’t operate freely. However, either option could also be too full of grease to work correctly. Moisture, dirt, and grease could all collect on or in the brake-light or interlock switches, as well as on the shifting cable and any related parts. This moisture or dirt can reduce operation of the components and make it harder to shift your car into the right gear. If that happens, you’re likely to have problems shifting from Park when the transmission and engine are cold, e.g., when the car sits for hours while you are at work. When the engine gets warmer, and the other parts of the vehicle get warmer, the grease or dirt might get softer, which makes it easier to shift gears.
Your vehicle uses transmission fluid, which helps to coat all the moving parts and keep the transmission cool and running smoothly. If your transmission is low on fluid, you might find it harder to shift from Park into gear. However, you’re also more likely to notice a decrease in overall transmission performance, such as harsh shifting or sluggish shifting. You don’t have to change the transmission fluid often, but it is a maintenance item, so you should monitor it and have the fluid replaced at the recommended interval. You can find this information in your owner’s manual.
When you park your vehicle on a slight incline (or steep one), the transmission’s parking pawl has more of a load. The pawl is a bar that engages the teeth of the transmission gear so that the vehicle doesn’t roll backward. In most cases, this happens when you don’t engage your parking brake before taking your foot off the brake pedal. The vehicle rolls backward slightly, and the weight of it on the parking pawl causes it to be more challenging to get out of Park and into gear. You can avoid this problem by engaging your parking brake before you shift into Park or take your foot off the brake pedal.
If you can’t shift out of Park, you can still move the car. Many vehicles allow you to override the shift lock and put the car into gear to go to a mechanic. Close to the shifting mechanism, there should be a small door with a cover. If you pry the cover off, you can insert your key or screwdriver inside and press the release, allowing you to shift out of Park and head to your mechanic to find out what is wrong.