Q: Hard shift when I take off

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Every time I shift from park to drive (takeoff) on my automatic 2011 Camry ES V6, the car shifts very hard and makes a clunking noise. This happens most often when I'm parked on a hill. The car has 35k miles on it and otherwise feels normal.

The first question that comes to mind regarding this issue is if the parking brake is being operated and if it is being operated correctly. Automatic transmissions use a pin, called a parking pawl, to lock the transmission in place when you shift it into ‘PARK’. The transmission in turn prevents the wheels from moving. This pin is very small in comparison to the vehicle, about the size of an average pinky finger, which is why you need to use the parking brake to assist the transmission in keeping the vehicle stationary. Without use of the parking brake or even with improper use, all the weight of the vehicle rests on the parking pawl. When you shift the vehicle out of park the clunk you hear is the parking pawl rubbing against the cavity it sits in to lock the transmission in place. If this problem seems to be occurring when you’re parked on a slope, I have a simple parking procedure you can try. After you maneuver your vehicle into its parking spot, while your foot is on the brake and with the transmission still in gear, firmly apply your parking brake, then shift the vehicle into park. This will allow the parking brake to carry most of the weight of the vehicle and allow the parking pawl to slide in and out of the locked position easier and reduce unwanted clunking. While this is the most common solution, there is also a technical service bulletin which could also improve hard shifting. The straightforward process of re-calibrating both the engine and transmissions computer with a dealer specific scanner, will update and reset the computer to just as it was when it came off the assembly line. Therefore it is vital you visit a Toyota dealership to resolve this issue. This process will allow the vehicle to learn and adapt to your specific driving habits and therefore provide a smoother shift.

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