The Toyota RAV4 is one of the most popular SUVs in history.
It’s renowned for its reliability and overall practicality as a no-nonsense, high-riding commuter vehicle.
If your Toyota RAV4’s transmission keeps getting stuck in Park, this article is here to help.
Why Does My Toyota RAV4 Keep Getting Stuck in Park?
A Toyota RAV4 can get stuck in Park due to a faulty brake light switch or fuse. Other common reasons include a broken shift lock solenoid, faulty electrical wiring, a stuck shifter button or a broken shift linkage.
If you’re unable to move your car out of Park, here’s a quick rundown of things you can check to get you back on your way.
1. Faulty Shift Lock Solenoid
The most common cause of a stuck shifter in the RAV4 is a faulty shift lock solenoid.
The shift lock solenoid keeps the shift lever locked in ‘Park’ so it doesn’t accidentally get knocked loose — allowing the car to roll away unintentionally.
When you step on the brake pedal, the solenoid unlocks the shift lever and lets you select any gear you want.
This shift lock solenoid, also known as a shift interlock, can sometimes become stuck due to corrosion and debris. It can also stop working because it’s not getting the signal to release the shift lever.
Fortunately, you can manually unlock the shift lock solenoid by removing the small plastic cover that’s just above the ‘Park’ indicator on your shifter console and pushing in the small plastic tab that’s behind the cover. While you’re pushing down the tab, you should be able to move the shift lever freely.
If you’re mechanically inclined, you can try removing the shift lock solenoid and cleaning it to get rid of the debris and corrosion that’s causing it to malfunction.
You can also replace it entirely which should run you about $100 for a genuine OEM part.
To get to the shift lock solenoid, you’ll need to disassemble the center console.
If your car is still under warranty, simply take it back to the dealer to get it repaired for free.
2. Blown Brake Light Fuse
Another common cause of a shifter getting stuck in Park is a faulty brake light fuse.
If the brake light fuse is blown, the shift lock solenoid won’t get the electrical signal to unlock and you’ll have symptoms similar to a faulty shift lock solenoid.
You can easily tell if your brake light fuse is blown if your brake lights aren’t lighting up when you step on the brake pedal.
If you don’t have someone around to help you check, you can simply park with the back facing a wall and you should be able to clearly see whether the brake lights are working properly.
A new set of fuses should only cost a few dollars and you can easily replace it yourself. Just make sure the new fuse has the same amp rating as the old one.
If you get under the dashboard on the driver’s side, there’s a small rectangular opening which lets you access the interior fuse box. Remove the plastic cover and check where the brake light fuse goes using the diagram printed on the cover. In the RAV4, as well as in other Toyotas, the brake light fuse is often labeled as the ‘STOP’ fuse.
Even if it doesn’t look burnt or broken, you should still replace the fuse. The only sure fire way to check if a fuse is blown or not is with a fuse tester or a multimeter.
If the shifter still gets stuck, check the other fuses, as well as the other fuse boxes, since there could be other electrical issues causing the problem.
3. Faulty Brake Light Switch
A faulty brake light switch can cause the RAV4’s shift lever to get stuck in Park.
The brake light switch is located just behind the brake pedal assembly and is responsible for unlocking the shift lock solenoid and turning on the brake lights.
It’s normal for the brake light switch to go bad after a couple of years as the electrical contacts can get corroded over time. The switch mechanism itself can also get stuck.
In some cases, the brake light switch can also get dislodged and just needs to be adjusted to make good contact with the brake pedal’s lever. This is usually the case if the brake lights stay on all the time.
To adjust the brake pedal switch, simply turn the entire assembly counterclockwise to release it from its mount and move it down a bit. Once it’s been adjusted, turn it clockwise to lock it back in place.
The same procedure is used to remove the brake light switch completely. You just need to unplug the electrical connector as well.
Brake light switches for the Toyota RAV4 start at around $50 and prices vary depending on the model year of your vehicle.
4. Electrical Wiring Issues
If your RAV4 has electrical wiring issues, it may cause the shifter to get stuck in Park.
Aside from the shift solenoid not getting the correct signal to unlock, wiring problems can also cause strange issues with the transmission’s electronics and the car’s ECU (Engine Control Unit).
Common reasons for wiring issues include:
- Corroded wiring
- Wiring chewed up by rodents
- Water damage
- General wear and tear
Damaged electrical wiring can be difficult to track down so you’ll need to take your car to an auto electrician who can carry out some basic tests on your vehicle.
Aside from getting stuck in park, major electrical issues can cause issues like:
- Dash won’t light up
- HVAC doesn’t work
- Windows don’t work
- No stereo
- Random errors on instrument cluster
Related: 7 Most Common Toyota RAV4 Hybrid Problems
5. Improper Installation of Aftermarket Electronics
Installing aftermarket electronics can sometimes cause electrical issues that will prevent your RAV4 from shifting out of Park.
Common aftermarket products that can cause transmission issues include:
- Aftermarket head unit
- Trailer wiring harness
- Aftermarket lights
- Aftermarket car alarm
To check whether your aftermarket electronics are causing an issue with your RAV4 getting stuck in park, unplug all the non-stock wiring and bring the car back to stock condition.
If you had the work done by a shop, it’s best to take it back and have them troubleshoot the issue. Dealers typically don’t like working on modified cars and will likely blame the aftermarket installation first before attempting to properly troubleshoot your issue.
6. Broken Shift Linkage
A broken shift linkage will keep the transmission in Park even if the shift lever moves freely.
The shift linkage or shift cable connects the shift lever to the transmission. If the linkages or the cable itself is broken, the transmission will stay in whatever gear it was before the connection was broken.
You can easily tell if the shift cable is broken if the gear indicator on the dash stays in ‘Park’ no matter what position the shift lever is in.
To check whether the shift cable is the problem, you’ll need to disassemble the shifter console to see if anything looks broken. You can manually pull on the cable to check if that makes the transmission switch gears.
If you suspect that the shift cable is the problem, you can take it to a local mechanic or your local dealer to make sure.
Shift cables for the 3rd gen RAV4, for example, cost around $300. An expert mechanic or tech can tell you for sure whether you need a new shift cable or not.
7. Transmission Fluid Not up to Spec
If you haven’t changed your RAV4’s transmission fluid in a while, it might cause the transmission to get stuck in Park.
Old and degraded transmission fluid can make the RAV4’s automatic transmission malfunction.
In general, it’s often recommended to change out the transmission fluid every 30,000 to 60,000 miles.
If your RAV4 is leaking transmission fluid, it will also cause the transmission to get stuck in Park.
In some cases, the transmission may shift back into Park on its own if it doesn’t have enough transmission fluid in it.
8. Stuck Shifter Button
Older RAV4s have a shifter button that can get stuck which can cause you to have problems shifting out of Park.
First and second generation RAV4s have shifter buttons that can become stuck over time which can make it difficult to shift gears.
You can easily clean out the shifter button by spraying some WD-40 or silicone spray on it. This will loosen up any built up debris and get rid of most stuck shift lever issues.
Related: 6 Most Common Toyota RAV4 Problems
9. Deformed Shift Cover
The RAV4’s shift lever can get stuck in Park or may be hard to move out of park if the shifter’s slide cover becomes deformed or gets filled with debris.
Fourth generation RAV4s from 2013 to 2015, in particular, have a TSB (Technical Service Bulletin) to fix defective shifter slide covers.
These model years of the RAV4 have shifters that can get sticky or bind because the slide cover can easily get deformed or stuck in place by foreign debris.
Despite the binding or stickiness, you can still shift out of Park if you put a little more force into it.
If you suspect that the slide cover is an issue, it’s best to take your car back to the dealer or your local mechanic to get a proper diagnosis. They may have a way to easily fix the deformed or binding slide cover.
10. Locked Steering Wheel
If the steering wheel is locked, you won’t be able to turn the key or push the start button to start the car or shift your RAV4 out of Park.
This is by design and not necessarily an electrical or mechanical issue.
To get your RAV4 into gear, simply turn the wheel slightly left and right while stepping on the brake and shifting out of Park.
11. Improper Shifting Procedure
If you shift your RAV4 into Park then release the brake pedal before putting on the handbrake, the transmission can bind and make it difficult to shift out of Park the next time you try to drive away.
To avoid this issue, you need to pull on the handbrake first before putting the car into Park and releasing the brake pedal.
This ensures that the transmission has properly shifted into Park and is not stuck in between gears.
Related: 25 Best & Worst Toyota RAV4 Years