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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




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.

What is a parking pawl?

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.

  Parking Pawl  

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. See Important Tip below.

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.

Transmission Parking Pawl 

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.

Dislodge parking pawl 

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.

parking brakeIMPORTANT TIP:
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.

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