Can not get car out of parking gear

We have a 2008 Dodge Caliber* that we got from our in-laws, that doesn’t get much use. We can not get it out of the parking gear. It’s not the you-can’t-take-it-out-of-park-unless-your-foot-is-on-the-brake (YCTIOOPUYFIOTB) mechanism. We can see that moving, and when we have a foot on the brake, we can move the shifter to the right, and pull it down enough to get the reverse lights to turn on, but it won’t go all the way into reverse. Without a foot on the brake, the shifter is just locked in place in Park.
Some backfill:

My son was home from college over the break, and drove it then. When he first started it, it was hard to start, but he drove it for a while. I started it just to put it into our driveway before the heavy snowfall last weekend, and it stayed there as the temperatures plummeted.

My wife tried to start it yesterday, and the battery was dead. She began to back it out with the car off, but hit a snow bank, so she put it in park, and her and the kids dug out some snow from around it. After that, she could not get it out of park. She found the manual override for the YCTIOOPUYFIOTB mechanism, but had the problem described above. We got it jumped by AAA**, but he couldn’t get it out of park either. He took the cover off so we could see better, but we can’t see what’s hanging it up.

It’s still around zero, so maybe something is just frozen. It’s parked on the road now (it had been blocking our driveway) so I have some time. I’ll look at it when it warms to a balmy upper 30s this weekend. If it stays stuck, is there anything I could look for inside the shifting mechanism? Or could it be a stuck cable somewhere else in the car?

There are three bolt heads I can remove to get better access inside it. Also, how do I remove the shifter handle? Does it unscrew? The shifter handle is preventing me completely removing the cover plate, making it hard to see.

I did try turning the car off, and restarting it to see if that would reset anything, and we also tried rocking the car back and forth while trying to get out of park to see if there was something held in place by pressure, but no joy.

  • It’s an automatic transmission, but as no-frills as possible. Manual locks and manual windows. I didn’t even know you could get manual windows any more.

** He said the battery was taking a charge, but I’ll look at this more closely after fixing the parking gear problem.

As the wife ran it into a snow bank, the parking paw may be jammed. You could try rocking the car back an forth.

Also with the extreme cold and snow, the shift cable may be frozen or there could even be ice jammed in a mechanism somewhere near the trans-axle. If you have a warm-up coming soon, you could wait to see if that fixes things or have it towed into a heated garage for a day or so. If that does fix the problem, you may want to have the cable fixed as it could happen again.

This implies that there is a hill involved (either the slope of the pavement, or the snowbank itself). If the parking pawl is heavily loaded due to the weight of the car on a hill, it can be very difficult to get it out of park. You might try putting a shovel or other pry bar under one of the wheels to try to lever the car uphill just a smidge (so as to unload the parking pawl) while someone else tries to shift out of park.

When parking an automatic-transmission car on a hill I always set the parking brake before I put the transmisison in park; this prevents the pawl from being too heavily loaded. Likewise, when starting out again, I put the transmission in gear before releasing the parking brake.

The OP doesn’t make a lot of sense but if I understand it right the shifter will move from P to R and turn on the back up lights, but the trans is still in park.
If this is so then either the trans linkage (most likely a cable) has either come off at one end or has broken and despite the shifter moving the trans lever isn’t.
BTW that foot on the brake system is called a shift lock.

This seems to make it clear that the shift interlock is releasing. Being able to move it just enough to get the reverse lights suggests that something is jammed but perhaps the cable has enough give in it to allow a little bit of motion.

I wouldn’t expect that backing into a snow bank would get snow packed around the shift linkage, as that’s probably a couple feet off the ground and in the front, but depending on the particular situation it could be possible. If time allows, it makes sense to see if it works okay after it thaws.

One approach would be to disconnect the shift cable from the shift lever on the transmission. You could then see if the shifter (inside the car) moves normally, and see if the lever on the transmission can be moved manually (make sure the car can’t roll when doing this). If the parking pawl is bound by the weight of the vehicle, jacking up a front wheel off the ground should alleviate it.

Usually there’s a setscrew to allow the handle to be removed. Unfortunately, my repair info has virtually nothing on the transmission and shifter, assuming it’s not a CVT.

Let me know the engine size in liters, and whether or not it’s a CVT, and I may be able to come up with more info.

This probably won’t work but I’ll throw it out there as something to try before you have to get it towed etc. We had this happen once, and what we did was turn the steering wheel pretty far both left and right, then a couple guys pushed on the back and rocked it some. Something must have popped back into place because it worked. Silly, I know, but there you are.

This may sound screwy, but don’t rule it out: You say the backup lights come on, but do the brake lights come on when someone steps on the brake pedal? On some cars, as part of the brake safety interlock system, (like mine), if the brake light fuse is blown, the transmission won’t shift out of park. Check the fuse, and if it’s blown, replace it. That may be the simplest fix. If the fuse is good, then it probably is something more mechanically complicated.

A little more info to address the posts above:

Our driveway has a small slope, with downhill towards the back of the car. The car is now parked in the street, which is flat. I tried rocking the car when it was in the driveway, but not again after it was in the street. We turned the steering wheel some, but not all the way left and right.

I’ll have to look tonight to get the engine size, but it would be the smallest available. I don’t know what CVT means. If it costs more, it probably doesn’t have it, but if it’s cheaper, it probably does. My father-in-law worked for Chrysler, and got a car every two years, or something. He always got the most inexpensive options they’d allow (I think they were required to get AC so they could resell them at the end, or else he wouldn’t have got that).

I can get the reverse lights to come on, but I have to be actively pulling back, like if I was bending something. If I release it, it moves back up and the light goes off. I don’t think it ever gets into reverse, I think it’s just moving far enough that it’s triggering the lights.

The tow truck driver lifted the back wheels to slide it out of the driveway (over packed snow, not dry pavement). He then lifted the front wheels to park it. But that didn’t jar anything loose.

I’m pretty sure the brake lights go on.

I can leave it where it is until the warmup, so if that will potentially fix it, I’ll wait until then to worry too much or start taking it apart.

ETA: CVT = Continuously Variable Transmission. I don’t think it has it, but I’ll check. I’ve only driven it a couple times, so I can’t go by memory of how it handled.

[nitpick] parking pawl [/nitpick]

The car has an electronic Shift Lock mechanism. The dead battery probably was the problem the first time. Other message boards mention burnt out brakelights (as mentioned above). After that, I don’t know.

There is a manual override to the Shift lock. From the Owners Manual:

When you put your finger in the hole there should be some sort of lever that you can move that will disengage the lock mechanism.

We’ve done the manual override, and we can see the mechanism working when we press the brake pedal. It’s not the shift interlock.

Brake lights work.

I found an oil change receipt that says it’s a 2.0 liter engine, and also says it has VVT. But VVT seems to be variable valve timing, and not related to CVT. Still trying to see if it’s CVT, but not sure where to look.

I had a car that the shift lever cable started fraying. I could get it into R-N-D-2-1, and lost P, in time I had a hard time getting R, at which time I replaces the cable.

In this car P was not needed as I could start the car in N, along with remove the key in any gear, and the E brake worked great.

Your transmission would be a CVT, as it’s the only available automatic transmission on the 2008 Caliber. The only other transmissions are a 5 speed and 6 speed manual.

I’m a little drunk, and I don’t post very often, but this sounds like the notorious “broken pink thingy” that some Dodges get. It’s a common problem for the LX models but it’s not inconceivable that they use the same thing in a Caliber. Not a difficult fix but a bit of a PITA. Google “broken pink thingy” for more information.

Heh. I thought Godinama would have to come back when he was sober to tell me the actual word “thingy” should be, but that is the word everyone uses.

Thanks, I’ll be on the lookout for something at least similar with my car.

Well I fixed it*. I took the cover that surrounds the gear shift assembly off, and on the left is the cable that does the shifting. From what I can tell, when initially moving the shift to the right, it’s supposed to pull the top part where the cable attaches up and to the right, but doesn’t. I suspect that if I opened the gear shift assembly, I’d find some broken pink thingy.

The manual shift-interlock override is behind a small hole on the right side of the cover. I drilled a similar sized hole on the left side, so that when I pull the shift knob to the right to get out of park, I can push the cable attachment up with my finger. I can then move the shifter down as normal. Since I’m only ever going to do that when starting the car from being parked, it shouldn’t be too much of a burden.

I never could get the shifting knob off. I removed a collar off the bottom of it, and a cap off the top of it, but there didn’t seem to be any thing to push or unscrew to loosen the knob itself. I tried just pulling up, but it didn’t budge at all.

Thanks again for everyone’s help and advice.

  • For an appropriately lax definition of “fix”. I think of it as a bonus anti-theft capability.
    ETA: To confirm what cochrane wrote, the stocking tag for the gear shift assembly did say CVT on it.

sniff sniff I just love happy endings. Good job!:smiley: