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2001 Subaru Forester: gearshift button sticking early in the morning

So my geriatric 2001 Forester, now with 201,000 miles on it, has developed an issue with the gearshift release button freezing up first thing in the morning. I squeeze the button to shift out of park and it doesn’t go in, and then it does and I don’t have a problem for the rest of the day. I’ve tried shaking the car to see if that helps, I can’t tell if it does or not.

My best theory is that the transmission is literally freezing overnight. I have to leave at 5AM for work and it’s been at or below freezing for several weeks (this morning it was about 18°), and I don’t remember this happening in summer or fall last year. I found that when I waited a couple minutes, the button worked. It’s also been about 40-50k miles since the transmission fluid was changed, although the color on the dipstick looked okay when I checked it a couple weeks ago (I was changing differential oil and checked the transmission dipstick while I was at it).

Also possibly related, the parking pawl (sp?) is clunking really loudly when it disengages if the car hasn’t been driven for several hours.

Do you firmly set the parking brake/emergency brake before you put the transmission into “park”?
If not, then you may be putting too much stress on the park pawl.
Always yank the e-brake lever firmly before putting the trans into “park”.


It froze up completely this morning. My dad took a look at it while I used my Mom’s car to get to work. Turns out the little plastic bits under the gear indicator that make up the mechanical interlock with the brake pedal had come out of alignment.