What Does the "Shift Lock" Do?

If you end up stuck in a remote area with a dead battery on your car and need to push or tow that vehicle, it will be a 'no-can-do' situation. Unless you know how to switch the transmission to Neutral manually. But there really is a way to do that, and you're about to find out how.
Mercedes C-Class W203 gear selector 11 photos
Photo: Tudor Serban/autoevolution
Nissan RogueBMW X5 E70BMW X5 E702015 Ford Mustang2015 Ford Mustang shift lockNissan Rogue InteriorOpel Astra shift lock locationToyota Corolla interiorToyota CorollaW203 Mercedes-Benz gear selector
People who live in big, crowded cities crave automatic transmissions. Furthermore, since these gearboxes had become more efficient than manual ones, even the most hard-core fans of the stick shifters had a change of heart. I know I did. I never considered buying a car with an automatic, but slow traffic and better gearboxes made me reconsider that option.

The first car I owned had a four-on-the-floor, and I learned how to shift gears even without touching the clutch pedal, and I absolutely loved to do that since most of my friends couldn't. And when the clutch disc was finally completely gone, that skill saved me. That's how much I was into manuals. But as the city traffic started to look more like a giant parking lot, I started to reconsider the automatics.

At that time, I had already driven over a hundred cars with automatics since I was already an automotive journalist. The first car I owned with an automatic was a Mercedes-Benz C-Class (W203) with a 5G-Tronic tranny. It is reckoned as one of the most reliable automatic transmissions that came from the three-pointed star brand. But, God, that was slower than slow! I tried to put it into manual mode a couple of times. Yeah... it wasn't faster by any means. I could've eaten a Big Mac between the first and second gears.

But once I found myself, and my car, stranded about fifty miles away from home with a dead battery. To add insult to injury, it was parked in such a position that I couldn't jump-start it without 30-ft-long leads, which I didn't have. Nobody does, actually. So, the only solution was to switch it from P to N, push it, and get the engine running. Still, the parking brake was foot operated, and I could release it. But then I needed to use the shift-lock trick to release it from Parking mode. Fortunately, I had the special, Z-shaped tool needed to release the gear lever and put the gearbox into Neutral.

W203 Mercedes\-Benz gear selector
Photo: Tudor Serban/autoevolution
Mercedes-Benz was so sure that customers won't have any troubles with their transmissions that they didn't bother to find an easier way to do that. You need to take out the rubber piece from the bottom of the cup holder located behind the gear selector, reach out with a special tool through a hole that you can hardly see a button that is located underneath the plastic trim of the center console (and there's no way to see it). After a few tries, errors, and words that I couldn't publish, I finally got it, and the car moved. I jump-started it and went to a quick-fix service station for a fresh battery.

So, if you end up like me, you need to know where the automaker hid that shift-lock button. There's no rule on where to place them. Some have them hidden deep under the cup holders and may be reached only with a special device provided by the carmaker.

The X5 from BMW, for instance, has an L-shaped red tool that should stay with the car next to the battery, which is located in the trunk. Get that tool, reach the cup holders at the bottom of the center stack, and remove the rubber lower cap from the left side. Underneath it, you'll see a squared hole where you can insert that special tool. Next, rotate the tool in the direction indicated by the arrows on that plastic piece, and it will pop out. Only now can you reach the shift-lock release mechanism, which is located even lower. You'll need that red tool again to fit it into the squared hole lower, turn it anti-clockwise.

BMW X5 E70
Photo: BMW
For many other brands, you will need a screwdriver. Take Toyota Corolla, for instance. Next to the gear selector, you'll find a small rectangular cap on the center console with the "shift-lock" wording nearby. Remove that cap with the screwdriver. I recommend you use a piece of cloth not to scratch the trims. After you release the cap, look inside the hole and find the red button (it might be silver, to make things worse) that should be pushed with the screwdriver. Don't take your foot off the pedal or the car might start rolling, especially if the parking brake is off.

If you own a Ford Mustang (congrats, but sorry about that!), you have to work harder than I did on my Merc.' First, in front of the shifter is a small rubber tray, which you have to remove. Then, use your natural levers (aka fingers) to pull up the chromed trim surrounding the gear selector, but pull gently. That shiny trim will pop out. Hopefully, the small plastic tabs that keep it in place won't brake. Then, look closely at the bottom of the shifter; in front of it, you'll notice a white plastic piece that has to be moved forward. If you don't have a screwdriver, try to do that with the metallic key that's hidden in the key fob. After you push that piece forward, you'll be able to switch the lever from P to N.

On the other hand, Nissan looks like it knows that things might go bad with their cars and placed a small opening next to the shifter. In the Rogue, for instance, you have to insert a screwdriver into that slot and push it down. Thus, the gear lever will be released, and you'll be able to move the car. This operation is also useful if the gear selector assembly is malfunctioning. Sometimes it happens, and you must keep your foot on the brake with the ignition in the first position (accessories) and only then perform the shift-lock procedure.

2015 Ford Mustang
Photo: Ford
Regardless of the brand you drive, you might want to know how to perform this procedure before you need it. Maybe you'll never have to, but it's better to be prepared for that. At least ensure you have the proper tools to release the shift lock.

Now, tell me, do you know where is that in your car? Please leave a comment below saying the make/model you drive.

If you liked the article, please follow us:  Google News icon Google News Youtube Instagram X (Twitter)
About the author: Andrei Tutu
Andrei Tutu profile photo

In his quest to bring you the most impressive automotive creations, Andrei relies on learning as a superpower. There's quite a bit of room in the garage that is this aficionado's heart, so factory-condition classics and widebody contraptions with turbos poking through the hood can peacefully coexist.
Full profile


Would you like AUTOEVOLUTION to send you notifications?

You will only receive our top stories