Is Your 2004 Ford F150 Stuck in Park?

Mine is – er, was. It began as an intermittent – now there’s a word that no wrench likes to hear – problem. Then, one day, Pam almost got stranded.

I’ve got a pretty good relationship with the dealership. They handle most of the maintenance work on this truck mostly because I don’t have a shop manual. (They’re important, y’know, and I have one – or a set – for all of the other vehicles, but that’s a story for another day.) The dealership treats me pretty good. They allow me into the service area to chat directly with the techs and even cut me nice price breaks often enough to matter.

shifter hack - before and after
Shifter hack – before and after.

There’s a procedure in the user manual for overriding the interlock on the shifter. (I wouldn’t have thought so, but Pam suggested looking there. For once I listened. Smart girl.) So override I did and went to let the pros have a look. Two birds, one stone, it was time for the 75K service interval anyway.

A couple of hours later they told me the shifter assembly needed to be replaced. Actually, it was just one part of the assembly, but I had to buy the whole thing: $370 for the assembly, $130 for the labor to install it, plus tax and what have you. They’d have to order it so in the meantime the tech managed to get this one working. My options were to order the part and schedule the swap, or leave it be and see how long the fix would last. When it failed (when, not if, I noticed the choice of words) I could call the order in and they’d take if from there.

I chose to let it go for now and take my chances. That was the end of June and now it’s the beginning of August. I was in Asbury Park one night last weekend when it failed. I applied the override and got on my way.

Today I implemented my own fix, which I suspect will last longer than theirs. Before I continue I need to tell you that I’m not recommending that you perform this hack on your own vehicle. It disables a part of the safety interlock that prevents you from accidentally shifting out of Park. I personally don’t have a problem with that because I’m an Old Guy that grew up without those damned interlocks, back when you could freely shift the transmission however you pleased at any time.

Let me describe the interlock system. There’s a button on the shift handle which, through a series of internal levers, must physically move a lock that trips whenever the lever is placed in Park. That kind of interlock has been around forever. Some column shifters, for example, required you lift the handle toward you before they’d move out of Park. Implementations vary but they all accomplish the same thing. But there’s an additional interlock here, one that prevents the button from moving unless the ignition is on and your foot is on the brake. Naturally, this is an electrical interlock. There’s a solenoid in the shifter assembly that, when electrically actuated, moves a smaller physical interlock within the button, allowing it to move. This second interlock is tied into the ignition circuit and the brake lamp circuit. Yes, what you’re thinking is true; if your brake lights fail in certain ways or if the fuse for that circuit blows, you’re stuck in Park. When the system is working properly you listen can carefully and hear the solenoid actuating as you press and release the brake. The override mechanism mentioned earlier is a tiny lever that, when pressed, simply does what the solenoid does – allows the button on the shifter to move. In fact, when the system is working properly you can see the override lever move when the solenoid actuates. Whenever the lever is not in Park, the lever remains in the override position.

In my case, I knew from testing that the ignition, brake, and brake lamp circuits were operating properly. The intermittent was that sometimes the solenoid would actuate and sometimes it wouldn’t. Solenoids are simple electromechanical devices. I’m guessing that there could be an intermittent open circuit, maybe caused by something as simple as a solder joint gone cold from vibration or age. Or the mechanical part of it is sticky or binding, where the correct electrical signal is present but it can’t physically move, sometimes. Either way, the shifter assembly needs to be removed for disassembly and troubleshooting. There’s where that shop manual, the one I don’t have, would be handy.

My fix is simpler. I took a few small zip ties, daisy-chained them together to an appropriate length, and positioned them such that the interlock override lever is in a permanently-overridden position. The small daisy-chain of zip ties doesn’t interfere with anything and has enough slack that it can be removed without tools, if necessary for some reason. The zip ties are bright yellow so they’re obvious to anyone looking in there.

The effect is that the shifter now behaves as they used to in the 60s. You can’t shift out of Park without deliberation, but you can do so without the ignition on and stepping on the brake.

So, half a grand in parts and labor, before tax? Or a couple of zip ties? The difference will put lots of gas in the bikes. See you on the road.

Update, November 24, 2012: I’ve noticed that this is a popular post. Between the comments and the email, well, this is apparently a common failures. And here I just read in Fortune magazine about how hard Ford works to make sure their parts are reliable. But I digress. I simply wanted to add that my fix is working just fine to this day. Haven’t touched it. No problems.

38 thoughts on “Is Your 2004 Ford F150 Stuck in Park?”

  1. So if your solenoid acts up, you flex-cuff it and send it to Soledad Prison?

    Sounds like the geezer Chevy P-10 Step Van I drove for work back in the day. Only this one had a loose shifter cam on the tranny that locked out the starter circuit. I unhooked the connector under the instrument panel between “downstairs” and “upstairs,” jumpered it so it was always on, and put a Dymo(r) tape warning next to the key: “Warning: this truck will start in any gear.” All both of them, not counting reverse.

    Don’t ya love out-engineering them “professional” engineers at the factory?

  2. Thanks! My f150 just exhibited this problem for the first time a couple days ago. I was stuck in a parking lot — looked in the manual and found the override. I got it to work, but my husband and I are taking a road trip to a family wedding soon, and I’ve been worried the whole assembly was bad and would need to be replaced. Your diagnosis and fix is great. I’m totally doing it.

  3. I was hoping you could buy just the solenoid and not the whole shifter assembly. Mine seemed to work intermittently and when it got real cold it more or less stop working completely. This idea of strapping down the manual release button is great! Thanks for the idea I did the same and I have not issues….

  4. Thanks for checkin’ in, Mike, and glad it worked for you.

    Can’t stress it enough, though: keep an eye on your brake circuitry, there’s a tie-in there somewhere.

    Since the hack I’ve had to replace the center brake light lamp. Not sure it it was related or not, probably not. I recall thinking how cool it would be if after the replacement the interlock solenoid click would return. It didn’t.

    I’m coming due for an interval service and I’m sure that they’ll ask how I’ve been making out with the thing. Remember, as far as they knew back in the summer they got it working with no clue as to how long it might last. I guess I’ll tell ’em their fix didn’t last all that long, but mine did.

  5. Wow, thank you for this post. It works like a charm. I’m sorry to say that I doubted this at first.

  6. where is this override mechanism located? I cannot find it in my owners guide. I have taken off the bottom cover of the steering column but cannot take off top cause I do not know how to get gear shifter and ignition switch off.

  7. It sounds like you have a column shifter, Dana. I’m not sure where that would be in your case because the truck I wrote about has a center console.

    It doesn’t sound reasonable that Ford would describe an override for one type of shifter and not the other, so it’s got to be in your manual. The truck (and it’s manual) aren’t here right now but this evening I will look and update this note.

    Note that I didn’t have to *remove* the shifter or any other parts, other than the plastic cosmetic cover so I could reach the override lever.

  8. Well, Dick, from your other messages I see you’ve learned that popping the cover off the console is an easy no-tool operation. Glad to hear this hack worked out for you, saved you some $$$.

    Now, you really do want to make sure that the other subsystems that affect the interlock are working properly. If your brake lights, for example, aren’t working you could get rear-ended. Might not hurt – that’s one strong pickup – but it could prove costly in other ways. I covered that in the original article.

    Thanks for reading!

  9. Wow,so glad theres a fix for this Rick. Thanks for posting. I reciently took mine to the dealershp for them to tell me its a $400 fix. I said no I cant stick that kind of money in it. Cost me $100 just for them to look into it.

    Thanks, cant wait to try tonight!

    Garrett

  10. You’re welcome, Bob.

    Just keep in mind the stuff about disabled interlocks and stuff, okay? I don’t want to hear about any accidents later on.

  11. I have a 2005 column shift, same problem. I was considering breaking off the little pin part of the lock. Would this cause any other problems ? Also how did you get the bottom part of the steering column cover back on ???

  12. Kelly, I’m not sure how the column shift would compare – mostly since I don’t have one. If your interlock works as I’ve described, though, there’s probably also an override documented in the manual for those times when something fails. All my hack did was cause the override to be permanent. Simple, as hacks go.

    All of my actions were within the console, too, so I didn’t have to deal with the steering column cover.

    I was bummed when I found that I couldn’t really get hold of a standard Ford shop manual for the vehicle, like I have for my other cars and motorcycles. About the best I could do is subscribe to it and read it online. Yeah, you can rent a section by the day, but it isn’t like having the pulp. What I have found is that others must feel the same way, so when they figure stuff out they post. IOW, Google’s your friend!

    Good luck, thanks for writing, and please follow-up here with the story of your success. I’m amazed at the responses this post has gotten over the years.

    Finally, for the record, my fix is still going strong on my truck with no ill effects whatsoever.

  13. Thank you so much for posting about your 2004 F150 being struck in Park. I was searching for info on the same problem with our truck, after sitting at the dealership most of the day, just so they could tell me it would cost close to $700.00 to fix it. My wife, like Pam, thought to look in the owners manual, when she found out that we were stuck in Park and was able to find the switch to unlock it. I am certainly going to try your zip tie remedy on our truck. Hopefully, our fix will last as long as yours has.

  14. Appreciate your taking the time to write, Curtis. My fix is an easy one and you shouldn’t have any trouble at all applying it. Just remember, you’ll be disabling a safety interlock so check to be sure your brakes and brake lights lights are functioning correctly. I’m guessing that the dealer checked all that, but it never hurts to make sure.

  15. I can’t thank you enough! I jammed my husband’s 04 lariat out of park last night and then couldn’t get back into park. I found this, he did it and it’s working! Thank you so much! You saved us lots of $$$, and saved me from his wrath!

    1. Thanks for checkin’ in, Jackie, and I’m glad my post was helpful. I haven’t thought about the thing getting stuck out of park, but there’s no reason this shouldn’t work for that, too.

  16. Yep just thanks, for keeping this page up. I never got the override to work. This will get me to work, and thats what really works for me.

  17. Thanks for this brother! Couldn’t get my of f150 out of park and I found this. Haha $5 fix and I was back to work. Hell if I’m paying $400 for that

    1. Glad to hear it, Steven. Just remember that the interlock is a part of the overall safety system on the truck – including the brake light circuit. Please check and make sure that the rest of your stuff is working properly.

  18. 1/21/16 Worked for me but put parts of zip ties between the plate and the gap. Worked like a charm and the zip ties didn’t come loose.

  19. Hi guys the fix for this is quick and easy if you are at all mechanically inclined. First you will need to remove the 4 screws that hold the floor shifter in place and then tilt it to the passengers side. Remove the two screws that hold the solenoid unit to the shifter. open the plastic taps and remove the solenoid and circuit board from the holder. Unplug the circuit board. To the right of the solenoid plunger you will see a switch. Check where this switch is soldered to the circuit board most times the three connection become loose and need to be resoldered and that’s reassemble and you should be good to go.

    1. Shawn, that’s what I call an excellent contribution and I thank you.

      I haven’t tried to verify it works, but it certainly sounds like it could be a viable, permanent solution. Wouldn’t be the first time for this kind of failure.

      I feel compelled to add, though, that at least for my case, you’re six years and fifty five thousand miles too late!

      But all kiddin’ aside, I’m glad you wrote and I hope that someone finds your solution valuable. This has been one of those funny posts that has gotten a rather large number of views and continues to bring me lots of email so I’ll probably hear some feedback eventually.

      Now, MY question. Since you seem to know your way around a soldering iron, Shawn, maybe you’ve got some idea why I seem to be going through an inordinate number of relays at position R203 in the main fusebox behind the passenger-side kick-panel. Examination seems to indicate the relay runs hot. When it fails, the mini-display goes blank with a “check gauges” error and the PCM remains offline (obviously, since R203 provides its power). Pulling and re-inserting the relay gets things going again most of the time, but eventually it needs to be replaced. I keep a spare or two on hand just in case.

      Last time it happened the relay was fairly new and the usual reinsert didn’t help so I rapped it a few times on a hard surface and reinserted. It’s been working ever since. Any clues?

      Thanks! Have five nice days.

  20. I’m dealing with this, dealer wants 831.41 to replace the shifting assembly! Needless to say, I’ll be looking at this myself this weekend!

    1. Please, Gavin, don’t forget to come back afterward and share whether you took the low-tech or higher-tech fix, and how it worked out for you.

      Zounds, $831.41 is an awful lot of money! The dealership wanted only (!) around $500 when I posted almost six years ago.

      Thanks for writing. We’re waiting to hear more.

  21. Great. 2005 f150.Shift interlock has broken 4 times.Bought truck new.American rigging override now.Thanks for info.Override procedure is in manual under transmission heading.

    1. Thanks for checkin’ in, Chandler.

      I’ll add that I haven’t had a bit of trouble to date with permanently hacking the override as described. Happy rigging.

      I’ve got a new article in the hopper, this one regarding a twenty-cent bushing that hold the cable-end to shift lever on the transmission. Watch for it!

    1. Hi Mark. Are you saying that the cruise control has some dependency on whether or not the shift lever will move out of Park? Please, tell us more.

      I haven’t noticed any issues with my cruise control. Knock wood.

  22. My shifter got stuck in park so my husband forced it out now I can’t get the key out but all the gears work they want to charge me $800 to fix it say it’s the shifter ass. Can anyone tell me what I can do before I spend that much

    1. This is a new one on me, Gina, but I’ll throw a couple of things out there anyway. Never know, something may help.

      The ‘stuck in Park’ problem, I’m told, stems from a problems with a tiny circuit board in the (my, that’s expensive!) shifter assembly. When the button on the shift lever is depressed it fires a relay which actuates a solenoid to move a latch that unlocks the lever, allowing you to move it out of Park. There’s a bit more sensing that’s going on, like you need to have your foot on the brake, and probably other stuff as well. All in the name of safety, of course. When all the sensed conditions are met the relay-solenoid-unlatch stuff happens. When that little circuit board has a problem, though, the conditions no longer matter and the unlatch thing never happens.

      My hack – er, fix – simply uses the documented bypass procedure to manually perform the unlatching. Sort of permanently. One could accomplish the same thing by manually performing the bypass every time. But that’s a hassle.

      (I should point out that someone, in the comments, provided a pretty good description of the circuit board and how he repaired a gone-cold solder joint, for a (much) more elegant fix than my hack. I haven’t tried it, but it sounded very, very reasonable.)

      Next, the stuck key. There’s another interlock that prevents the key from being removed unless the lever is in Park. I haven’t investigated further, but my guess is that it’s a physical linkage of some kind that prevents the key from turning counterclockwise to the point that it can be removed – UNLESS the shift lever is in the Park position.

      So, my worry is that your husband may have disturbed that linkage when he forced it out. That may have been an error. I’d have to examine the linkages to say for sure.

      At this point, if I were you, I’d have a good look at the linkages involved. When the lever goes into Park, make sure it goes fully into position. I know that mine can settle just shy of Park and the key won’t come out. The button on the lever won’t fully pop out either. Shoving the lever forward pops the button out and then the key comes out. If the parts are metal, look for something bent. If the parts are plastic, look for something broken. You may need to dig into the steering column to see what prevents the key from turning fully counterclockwise.

      In my opinion, there are WAY too many moving parts in there. Perceived safety be damned! Ptooey!

      Please let us know what you find, Gina.

Go ahead and say it.