When Your Automatic Transmission Doesn’t Shift: Reasons Why Gear Shift Levers Can Fail

A stuck or unresponsive auto transmission gear shift lever can be frustrating. In some cases, if your lever is unresponsive or slow to respond, it can be potentially dangerous, especially if your car is moving. Since the transmission is a critical component of the drive train, when any part of it doesn't work, your entire automobile is potentially useless. Here are some ways and reasons why an automatic transmission's gear shift lever may have problems.

The lever moves, but car won't shift:

If the gear shift lever moves, but the car won't go into gear or changes gears slowly, a common reason is that the shift linkage is broken or needs adjustment. The shift linkage is the part of the transmission that directly connects the lever to the transmission. Shift linkages can be completely broken, or could be positioned wrong so that the lever's gear indicator doesn't match up to the transmission's actual gears. Another explanation, unrelated to the gear shift, is that there may be internal components broken or misaligned inside the transmission.

The lever is stuck in park and brake lights won't work:

Another problem is when the lever won't shift out of park. One reason for this could be that the neutral safety switch, or brake light switch in some cars, is malfunctioning. This often happens when the fuse for the switch goes bad. One way to check if the problem is brake light or neutral safety switch is to have someone stand behind your car, while it is in park, and see if the brake lights come on when you step on the brake. In modern cars, the problem can be temporarily bypassed by pressing the key or other object into the shift override slot while you keep your foot on the brake and move the lever. The override is usually located near the front of the gear shift console. This only temporarily bypasses the problem until you take your car to your mechanic to get the actual problem fixed.

The lever stuck in park, but brake lights work fine:

If the brake lights are working fine, but the lever won't move out of park or into first gear, then the problem may be in the shift console itself. Some cars have a locking mechanism that keeps the lever in place when the car is parked. Part of the reason for this is to keep the lever from being accidentally knocked out of park. The mechanism is usually controlled by a solenoid that is connected to the brake light switch or neutral safety switch. Like the neutral safety switch and brake light issue, you can temporarily override this problem by using the shift override slot.

Not being able to shift gears or get out of park can be irritating. Fortunately, these problems are usually not hard for a knowledgeable transmission repair shop to fix. Because the transmission is an extremely important component, any time your transmission "just doesn't go," take it to the shop and have it examined.