Troubleshooting a Locked Shift Lever

If the gear shift lever in your car is stuck or locked, it could be a sign of other problems in the linkage or transmission of your vehicle. Alternatively, the issue could small and easy to fix. It could also be isolated to the gear shift itself. Before you take your car into the repair shop and face an expensive bill to find the answers to your problem, try the fixes suggested here.

Quick Fixes

Sometimes, a locked or stuck gear shift lever can be caused by a simple problem.

Gear Fuse

Many cars come equipped with a fuse that enables or disables the shifting function in your car. If your car is stuck in park, or in another gear, you should first check in your car owner's manual to see if you have one of these types of fuses. If it does, check the fuse associated with the shifter to ensure that it's not blown. These fuses are cheap, so depending on where you get yours, a new fuse shouldn't cost you more than a few dollars. If the problem is a blown fuse, replacing it will fix the problem.

Stuck Parking Brake

Another common problem that causes the gear shift lever to stick in park is related to the parking brake. If you park your vehicle on an incline and allow the vehicle to roll backwards before engaging the parking brake, the parking brake may get stuck. Many vehicles now have a sensor that disables the shifter while the parking brake is engaged. In theory, this is safety measure that protects you from damaging any components, but when the parking brake gets stuck, being locked out of using your gear shift is an issue.

You may be able to correct the problem by pushing the vehicle forward ever so slightly; even an inch or two may help. This may allow you disengage the parking brake, which in turn, may enable you to shift the vehicle out of park.

Gear Shift Sensor

Another thing you may want to check is the gear shift sensor underneath the brake pedal. Many vehicles come equipped with a sensor button located underneath the brake pedal that must be engaged before the shifter can be used on the steering column or the console. Sometimes the sensor button gets stuck. Therefore, you can apply some WD-40 or another penetrating spray to help loosen up the button so that it will engage.

If the button is stuck and the penetrating spray works to solve the problem, you may still want to take your vehicle to a mechanic have the sensor button replaced, as it will probably fail again in the future.

Symptoms of Bigger Problems

If you've tried the above quick fixes, and none of them seem to help, this could be an indication of a larger problem.

If you live in an extremely cold climate area, and the vehicle has a locked shift lever during a particularly cold spell, the problem could be with a frozen shift lock solenoid or other electrical component in the system that controls the gear shifter.

Unfortunately, a frozen or locked gear shifter could also be the result of a problem with your vehicle's transmission, which is much more serious. Unless you're able to definitively diagnose and fix the problem on your own, you may have no other choice but to take your vehicle into a transmission shop to have them inspect it and provide the appropriate repair.