Transmission Parking Pawl

► What is a parking pawl?

► How does a parking pawl work?

► Symptoms of a worn or broken parking pawl

► Parked on an incline and shifter stuck in Park

► Parking pawl repair information and cost

Get A Transmission Quote

Your content goes here. Edit or remove this text inline or in the module Content settings. You can also style every aspect of this content in the module Design settings and even apply custom CSS to this text in the module Advanced settings.

What is a Parking Pawl?

In this article we will discuss a device used in automatic transmissions (called a parking pawl) to lock the transmission’s output shaft (and wheels) from rotating when the shifter lever is placed in the Park “P” position.

A transmission parking pawl is a metal pawl (or pin) that engages a notched ring that is  attached to the transmission’s output shaft when the transmission shifter lever is placed in the “P” Park position.  When the parking pawl is engaged it restricts the transmission’s output shaft (and drive wheels) from turning in either direction.


DID YOU KNOW?  Contrary to common thinking, the primary purpose of the transmission’s “Park” position (and parking pawl) is to keep the engine’s power from reaching the drive wheels when the engine is running, not to stop the vehicle from rolling when parked – this is the job of the e-brake.

How does a parking pawl work? 

The parking pawl works by engaging a metal pin “pawl” into one of the notches of a metal ring that is attached to the transmission’s output shaft when the shifter level is placed in the Park position.  When the pin is in this position, the output shaft is prohibited from turning, which in turn prohibits the drive wheels from turning.  Moving the shifter out of Park disengages the pin, which frees the output shaft and drive wheels to turn freely.

Note: Relying solely on the transmission’s “P” Park position and the parking pawl to keep the vehicle from rolling when parked places undue stress on the pawl and other driveline components, which can cause excessive wearing of the pawl and lead to premature failure.

Symptoms of a worn or broken parking pawl

If your vehicle rolls forward or backward more than an inch or so after placing the shifter lever into “P” Park, the parking pawl may be badly worn.  If your vehicle rolls more than a couple of inches, or rolls freely, after placing the shifter into Park, the parking pawl may be broken.

Note: In a rear wheel drive vehicle, a worn-out universal joint (U-joint) also causes excessive roll after the shifter is placed in the “P” Park position.  In fact, a worn out U-joint is much more common than a worn or broken parking pawl.  Therefore, you must rule out the universal joint as the cause of excessive roll before replacing a parking pawl.  The cost to replace a U-joint is less than $50.  The cost to replace a parking pawl is at least $500 (and can be much higher) unless you do-it-yourself.

 

Parking on an incline 

When parking on an incline, undue stress is placed on the parking pawl unless the e-brake is set BEFORE the shifter lever is moved to Park.  If the shifter lever is placed in Park before setting the e-brake then the weight of the vehicle will rest on the parking pawl, not the e-brake.  Overtime, when the parking pawl is used in this way, it becomes worn and weak – leading to premature failure.

If the parking pawl fails while the vehicle is parked and unattended, it is free to roll as gravity dictates.  This is why you should always set the e-brake before shifting into Park when parking the vehicle, especially when parking on an incline.

Shifter lever stuck in “P” Park 

Parking on an incline without first setting your emergency brake before shifting into Park can cause the shifter lever to become stuck in the Park position.  This is due to the weight of the vehicle being placed on the pawl instead of the e-brake.  With the parking pawl holding the weight of the vehicle, it becomes lodged in the slot of the metal ring.  In order to free the shifter lever, you’ll need push the vehicle slightly uphill to take the weight off the parking pawl.  For this to work, once the vehicle is pushed uphill an inch or two, the brakes (or emergency brake) must be set quickly before the vehicle rolls back into the same position.

 

If you are NOT parked on an incline and your shifter lever is stuck in “P” Park, the problem may be a faulty brake light switch, shift interlock solenoid, ignition switch or an open electrical circuit in the shift interlock system.  For information on these components and procedures for releasing a stuck shifter click here: How to release a shifter that is stuck in Park.
Replacing a worn or broken parking pawl

Replacing a worn or broken parking pawl involves removing the transmission (or transaxle if your vehicle is front wheel drive) from the vehicle in order to access the pawl and replace it.  Replacing the parking pawl once the transmission is removed from the vehicle and the transmission case is opened is not difficult.  Removing and replacing the transmission is the most difficulty and costly part of the repair.

Note: Whenever the transmission is removed from a high mileage vehicle (125,000 miles or more) a rebuild should be seriously considered.  Doing so will save you time and money in the long run, assuming you plan to keep the vehicle for awhile.

Parking Pawl Replacement Cost 

Replacing a transmission parking pawl involves removing the transmission from the vehicle and opening up the case to access the pawl.  Thus, the cost to replace a parking pawl is high.  A good deal on replacing a parking pawl is any price under $500.  But, depending on the year, make and model of your vehicle, the cost can exceed $1,000.

 

IMPORTANT

When parking your vehicle, SET THE E-BRAKE BEFORE SHIFTING INTO PARK, especially when parking on an incline.  This way, the weight of the vehicle is held by the e-brake rather than the parking pawl.  Following this tip will eliminate the parking pawl from becoming lodged and subsequently causing your shifter lever to lock in Park

Street Smart® Technical and DIY Guides

Reflashing and ReprogrammingWhat is reflashing / reprogramming? What are your options when your vehicle needs reflashed after a new transmission is installed. Typically for 2005- Ford and GM 6-speed, 8-speed, 9-speed and 10-speed vehicles.
Automatic Transmission Repair CostsWhat is a fair price to pay for various transmission repairs? What kinds of repairs does a transmission need?
Automatic Transmission Rebuild CostsDoes your transmission need rebuilt? Fair price guide for the price range of a transmission rebuild.
Remanufactured Transmission Options and CostsConsidering a remanufactured transmission? Here are costs and options for how to purchase.
Get a Free Transmission Estimate by EmailWant an estimate for a remanufactured transmission? Fill out the form here to get an estimate via e-mail.
How to Replace a Transmission Torque Converter Clutch SolenoidWhat is a transmission torque converter clutch solenoid and how to replace one if it goes bad.
How to Replace a Transmission Pressure Control SolenoidWhat is a transmission pressure control solenoid and how to replace one if it goes bad.
How to Replace Transmission SolenoidsGuide to various automatic transmission solenoids, how they work, and DIY instructions.
How to Remove and Install an Automatic Transmission - (RWD)If you are facing a transmission replacement, you can reduce the cost considerably by removing and re-installing the transmission yourself. Here we provide step-by-step instructions for removing and replacing a transmission.
How to Replace a Transmission Speed SensorFor most vehicles, the speed sensor is plugged into the transmission (or transaxle). When the speed sensor fails the speedometer stops working and shifts may become erratic. Replacing a speed sensor is easy.
How to Release a Shifter Lever That is Stuck in ParkNothing is more frustrating than getting into your car and the gear shifter lever being locked in Park. Here we explain how to release the shifter, the causes, how to repair and the estimated cost.
How to Install an Automatic Transmission Oil CoolerInstalling an auxiliary transmission oil cooler can protect your transmission from overheating and failure. Excessive heat can ruin a perfectly good transmission very quickly. Coolers are inexpensive and easy to install.
How to Check the Condition / Level of your Automatic Transmission Fluid and Change Fluid / FilterLearn how to check the condition of transmission fluid, what the different conditions mean and what, if anything, you need to do to keep your transmission running smooth. Learn the correct procedure for checking transmission fluid level. Many people do it wrong, so here is the easy way. Keeping clean fresh fluid in your transmission is the number one thing you can do to protect the transmission from premature failure. These DIY transmission fluid and filter change procedures are easy to follow.
How to Replace a Transmission Neutral Safety SwitchThe neutral safety switch is a safety feature that prevents the engine from starting when the transmission or transaxle is in gear. When the switch fails, the engine may not crank or it may start in gear.
How to Flush Your Automatic TransmissionA transmission fluid flush can be performed without a transmission flush machine - and it's safer for high mileage vehicles.
What is Limp Mode?When a transmission fault is detected by the OBD-II system, the transmission may go into fail-safe (or "limp" mode as it is also called) in order to protect the transmission from internal damage
Transmission Diagnostic Trouble CodesDiagnostic Trouble Codes P0700 through P0799 are transmission related OBD-II codes. Any code within this range point to a transmission related fault..
How to Inspect and Repair CV Axles and CV JointsCV (constant-velocity) axles, (also known as half-shafts), are used in front-wheel drive vehicles to transfer the engine’s power from the transaxle to the two drive wheels.
Auto Repair SafetyWhen working on or around any vehicle injuries can and do occur. Please read these Safety Precautions before starting your next automotive service/repair project.