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How To Fix a Stuck Gear Shifter?


How To Fix a Stuck Gear Shifter?

Your car may have the standard manual override feature on the center console to bypass the gear shifter interlock. However, this temporary solution can’t fix a stuck gear shifter. You must investigate the problem, detect the cause, and solve the problem to get a permanent fix. 

Here are a few ways to fix a stuck gear shifter:

  1. Test and replace a blown brake or stop light fuse.
  2. Inspect and replace a broken brake switch.
  3. Take the gear shifter out and clean the unit. 
  4. Inspect and fix a failing or broken shifter switch.
  5. Replace the gear shifter interlock solenoid if damaged.
  6. Check for ignition switch failure and get a new one.
  7. Investigate other probable causes and fix them. 

Some of the issues discussed here are more common than others; other problems have simple and inexpensive DIY solutions. This guide explains the typical causes and troubleshooting methods to fix a stuck gear shifter.

1. Test and Replace a Blown Brake or Stop Light Fuse

Most modern cars require you to step on the brake to move the gear shifter from the park mode. A blown brake or stop light fuse won’t send the necessary electric signal to the gear shifter, and thus it remains stuck. 

Here’s how you can test and replace a blown brake or stop light fuse:

  1. Press the brake pedal and check if the stop light comes on. 
  2. If not, check the brake and stoplight fuses. One fuse is generally inside the cabin, and the other is under the hood.
  3. Refer to the manual to identify the fuse (brake, stop, tail light, etc.)
  4. Turn on the ignition key and use an electrical tester to check if the fuses are all right.
  5. Replace the blown brake light fuse with a new one with the correct amperage.

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2. Inspect and Replace a Broken Brake Switch

Check the brake switch when inspecting the tail or stop light fuses. Additionally, a broken brake switch won’t turn on the stoplight and won’t activate the gear shifter switch. Thus, your gear shifter will be stuck. You may try to clean and fix the brake switch or replace it. 

Here’s a short video that’ll help you locate, take out, and test the brake switch:

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3. Take the Gear Shifter Out and Clean the Unit

Your gear shifter may have some detritus buildup. Coffee and soda spills, dust, lint, and a host of other substances can also clog the mechanical components inside the gear shifter. Luckily, the solution is easy — you just have to clean the shifter. Unfortunately, this means you have to take the unit apart. 

Taking apart a gear shifter requires a lot of elbow grease. The specific steps vary, but most cars require you to take apart several nuts, screws, and wire harnesses to disassemble the gear shifter console. 

You can try to clean the unit without dismantling it, but there are electrical components inside. So, it’d be safer and more convenient for you to clean the part outside the car. Use a degreaser for the mechanical parts and a dielectric cleaner for the electrical components in the shifter unit. 

Here’s a thorough video tutorial about cleaning a gear shifter:

4. Inspect and Fix a Failing or Broken Shifter Switch

Most gear shifters have a switch with a metal strip that activates the solenoid when the electric circuit is closed. If you take apart the gear shifter to clean it, you can use the opportunity to inspect this switch and its metal strip. Sometimes, this metal strip is too far from the plate. 

There are two options to fix a failing or broken gear shifter switch:

  • Buying a new switch to replace the old one. 
  • Bending the switch’s metal strip a little to make it work. 

Watch this video from the ~20th minute to repair your gear shifter switch for no cost:

5. Replace the Gear Shifter Interlock Solenoid if Damaged

The solenoid in modern gear shifters is sturdy and durable. However, the part can malfunction or even fail in some cases. Cleaning the gear shifter and testing its switch should tell you if those are the cause of your problem. 

Otherwise, test the gear shifter interlock solenoid:

  1. Connect the gear shifter interlock solenoid to a battery.
  2. Energize the solenoid and check if the plunger works.
  3. If it does, you have a problem elsewhere. 
  4. If it doesn’t, replace the gear shifter interlock solenoid.

Instead of a battery and wires, you may use a power probe for the solenoid like in this video:

Generally, solenoids are connected to a lever that facilitates the gear shifter’s movements. You should check if the lever and other mechanical parts in the unit are in good condition. Also, test the electrical components for continuity as you have already taken apart the gear shifter by now. 

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6. Check for Ignition Switch Failure and Get a New One

Your gear shifter is an integral part of a larger electrical circuit. The other integral parts are the brake light switch and fuses, battery, and ignition system. An “on/run” ignition switch must complete the electric circuit along with the pressed brake to regulate the gear shifter interlock.

Thus, a failing ignition switch won’t complete the circuit, and the gear shifter will remain stuck. Inspect the ignition switch, and replace it if it is broken. However, check the battery first before buying a new ignition switch.  

A dead battery has a few telltale signs. However, a gear shifter won’t work without electricity in the circuit. The previous steps in this guide should solve your problem, but check the battery’s charge and condition if none of those issues is to blame. Also, check the battery’s connections. 

7. Investigate Other Probable Causes and Fix Them

Gear shifters are integrated with the entire transmission system in your car. Thus, there are too many variables at play. You have to inspect these variables as probable causes if the common issues and fixes cited until now don’t solve your problem.

Parking Pawl Is Jammed or Locked

Suppose you park your car on an incline or slope without applying the emergency brake. This act leads to enormous pressure on the parking pawl mechanism in your car’s transmission. Subsequently, the gear shifter may get jammed or locked in park mode. 

A practical remedy is to push the car in reverse or up the inclined slope to disengage the jam in the transmission’s parking pawl. Also, you should always apply the emergency brake before moving the gear shifter to park mode when on a hill, steep slope, or any kind of inclined ground.

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Transmission Parts Are Worn Out or Failing

Some of the following problems are all related to critical components of your car’s transmission system:

  • Shifter linkage problem
  • Worn-out cable
  • Broken actuator
  • Loose nuts
  • Damaged bushings
  • Misaligned or malfunctioning levers

You need to inspect the whole transmission system in your car, both inside the cabin and under the hood. Most vehicles with manual transmission have two cables serving as the gear shifter linkage. Those with automatic transmission typically have only one cable. This cable is strong but not invincible. Essentially, you need a comprehensive diagnosis to detect the root cause. 

Normally, electrical and mechanical transmission issues should have other symptoms. If nothing major is wrong with your car, a stuck gear shifter is likely due to one of the failures listed in this post. Fixing them per the solutions in this guide should solve your problem. 

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Final Thoughts

Always start your inspection with simple components, like fuses and switches. Subsequently, proceed with cleaning the gear shifter and checking for failing parts in it. Plan a greater investigation only when your gear shifter is not stuck due to the usual suspects.

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