Q: Cannot shift out of park and the engine won't start

asked by on October 31, 2016

I cannot shift the gear out of park and my engine also cannot start. I suspect this is the problem of bad transmission shift cable or bad transmission range sensor. How to differentiate between these two? Thank you

My car has 131000 miles.
My car has an automatic transmission.

Hello. The shift interlock system keeps your car in park until you turn the key and step on the brake. It will not release the shifter until these two things occur.

The first thing you need to do is check all your fuses. Not just the fuses that would seem to power the suspected circuits, but all the fuses. We never know if another fuse or multiple fuses may power the suspected fuse that powers the shift interlock system. Check your brake lights. If they are not working, this indicates the brake light switch could be bad. The shift interlock is released when you push on the brake pedal.

The procedures following the brake lights and fuses require a test light, a wiring diagram and knowledge of electrical theory. There are several other components involved in the shift interlock system: the transmission range switch, the shift interlock relay, the shift interlock solenoid, and the ECM.

As far as the engine no crank condition, it is possible that these two are related, but it is also possible they are two different problems.

The transmission range switch could cause both of these problems. There is a small cover that can be removed on the left side of the shifter housing. Remove it, put the key in the ACC position. You can use a screw driver to release the shift interlock system manually.

Once you can move the shifter, put it into neutral and attempt to start the car. If it starts, this is a very strong indication you need a shift transmission range switch, also known as the neutral safety switch. If you can move the shifter freely once you manually unlock it, this confirms if the shift cable has any problems.

It’s important to note that if the motor cranks, then the this is a no start condition with other failures. If the motor does not crank, it is a no crank condition that could be related to the transmission range switch.

If you still require assistance with this, I recommend having a local expert, such as one from YourMechanic, diagnose the stating issue and shifting problem with your car so that both issues can be resolved.

The statements expressed above are only for informational purposes and should be independently verified. Please see our terms of service for more details

Get an instant quote for your car

Our certified mechanics come to you ・Backed by 12-month, 12,000-mile guarantee・Fair and transparent pricing

What others are asking

Brake, Battery sensor, lights, and a crackling noises.

The issue sounds to be a ground return wire on the speakers is shorting out with a ground circuit in the vehicle causing the lights and sensors to register a warning light. The brake light could be coming on for...

Gear shifter stuck.

I have seen this before. Dodge has a safety device that keeps the shifter from being moved into lets say "Drive" if the brakes are not applied. If this electronic lock fails, the shifter will not be released and will...

Rattling at idle, stalling in reverse - 1976 Pontiac Grand LeMans

Hello there, thanks for your question. In many cases, clicking and rattling noises, though they sound bad, are relatively minor with your 1976 Pontiac Grand LeMans. The most common causes for this would be due to the alternator, power steering...

Dies sometimes while idling and belt broke started smoking and died

The serpentine belt can break simply because it has reached the end of its service life. Another cause of breakage is if one of the driven rotating elements seizes. That would cause the belt to suddenly stop on that element...

1991 Chevy S10 cranks but won't start. Replaced distributor,fuel pump, and ecu. Injectors will not pulse

You most likely have a bad ignition spark control module.

Key on engine won't turn over and the lights and power good. I have a 5 speed and a 2.3 liter engine.

Hi there. Sounds like the starter solenoid is sticking and the engine will not start. Take a pry bar or something and tap on the starter solenoid and then retest the starting situation. If the engine starts up good, then...

Alarm kill Switch Cannot turn off

Most aftermarket alarm systems have some sort of control module that is tied into the ignition system to prevent the vehicle from starting. Depending on the brand and the installer, it could be under the dash somewhere or under the...

Battery died. Now can't get into my car to pop the hood and charge it.

Hi there. The car could have made the door latches locked out. This prevents the doors from opening during an event of power loss during an accident. This happens, but the mechanical key should still open the doors. If the...

Do you have to remove the transmission on a vacuum pump replacement for 2010 VW Jetta?

The by-the-book way of replacing the brake booster vacuum pump involves removing the transmission in order to have enough room to do the repair properly, but some experienced technicians can complete the job without removing the transmission. This repair should...

Related articles

How to Troubleshoot a Car That is Hard to Start
"Car not starting" is a common complaint among car owners and is caused by faulty car batteries, spark plugs, car starter, or fuel pump.
How an Automatic Transmission Works
An An automatic transmission allows a vehicle engine to operate within a narrow speed range, just like a manual transmission does. As the engine achieves higher degrees of torque (torque is the rotational power of the engine), the gears in...
How to Buy Good Quality Transfer Case Fluid
Do Do you drive an all-wheel drive, or four-wheel drive vehicle? If so, you can bet it most likely has transfer case fluid. The transfer case fluid is found within the transfer fluid case. This case can sometimes be called...