2002 Ford Escort- occasionally won't come out of park

Every now and then, I can’t get my car out of park. It is as if the brake isn’t kicking in. I often have to keep trying for 10 or 15 minutes. Any ideas? Seems to do it more when the weather is colder.

There are at least two possible issues.

  1. You aren’t using the parking brake and the transmission is getting stuck in park when on a slight (or great) incline.
  2. The brake interlock is failing in some way (solenoid or brake switch issue). You can test this easily on a Ford. Next time it is being difficult, turn your key back all the way off. Now turn it clockwise one click (all electrical stuff will still be off). This will unlock the steering wheel and the shifter, but won’t activate the transmission/brake interlock. Now, if you can shift to neutral, you will know that it is a problem with the interlock. (Till you get it fixed, you can shift out of park and then start the car in neutral.) The first thing to check would now be the brake light switch.

Thank you. I am never on an incline so #1 probably isn’t the cause. Someone else mentioned the brake light switch but the brake light is coming on. Would this still be the problem?

ON my Ford the BOO (brake on off) switch controls both the lights and the shift. The switch or the wiring near it can often be the cause of this kind of problem. If the brake lights are going on, it is not the switch or there are two switches. If there is one switch, the problem could be somewhere after the circuit branches. Try the above-mentioned diagnostic and see what happens.

Check the switch and wiring as suggested above. I have a '97 and had to replace the solenoid (under the shift console). I’m assuming it didn’t change much through '02 since most of the car stayed the same. The design of that thing may be the worst I’ve seen - between the non-holding cup holders and the recessed shifter trim it invites a fairly regular deluge of just about any liquid that enters the car. Mine was thoroughly gunked by whomever had it before me.

While you get it sorted out look carefully on the shift console - to the right of the shifter you should see a little round pop-out trim piece. If you pop it out you can poke something skinny down there as a manual override for the interlock switch. I’m not suggesting that you make this your solution - just a way to get the car out of park while you’re sorting it out. This procedure is probably described in the owner’s manual.

A switch isn’t “either working, or it’s not working”. A switch can be “working” but causing a voltage drop to the solenoid it serves. Some times the voltage through the switch will be “just enough”, and sometimes it won’t be. So, a switch which passes enough current to cause a lamp to light, may not pass enough to actuate a solenoid.
Check switches for ohms and or amps.

I popped out the little button and used a screwdriver and the manual override is working. What exactly needs to happen now. Any ideas why it only occurs when it is cold outside?

Lots of electrical things work worse as the temperature gets lower. Hellokit’s advice above is right on – the switch (or some other part of the circuit) might have a ‘high resistance’ contact; that will almost certainly get worse as temp drops. Another plausible cause is the solenoid itself; maybe it’s getting mechanically stiff at cold temp’s. In any case, tracing the voltage at you proceed through the circuit is probably the way to go. And remember to check at the ‘ground’ side (if there is one) of the last element in the circuit. Don’t be fooled by seeing that “+12V is there all the way to the solenoid/switch/whatever”. You need that last ground connection, too. In fact, starting at the last element – and its ground – would be a good way to see if the voltage is dropping somewhere. After that, you can do your search based on what parts are most easily available.

Yes, it will be a pain to trace the circuit, especially if you have to do it outside in cold weather. But if nobody comes up with bettter advice from their experience, that’s what you’ll have to do.

hellokit & art are right - mine also only had problems when it was cold out. You’ll need to pull the console and get to the wiring and solenoid underneath. This isn’t that hard to do. The rear part is held by only 2 screws & a couple of clips - pull both front seats forward and fold the backs down toward the front. There are two screws in the rear near the floor. Put the parking brake on all the way, pull up on the rear of the console while pulling back gently and the front clips will release. You need just a little bit of wiggle/force to now get the trim past the parking brake lever.

Now two more screws are revealed - seats all the way back to get to those. Then pop the plastic pop rivets in the front. Two short screws hold the shift knob on the shaft. Pull those to remove the knob and the whole front piece lifts off (you’ll have to pull it back to at least Neutral, so leave the parking brak on). This will take all of about 15 minutes. You can now easily inspect the wiring, plugs & see how the whole mechanism works.

Unfortunately if you do need to replace the solenoid, you will probably now need to pull the whole shifter since - for some ridiculous reason - it is held on with bolts on top & nuts below rather than just screws. Unless perhaps that was changed sometime before the '02 model. I would start by just cleaning everything up - have a can of electronics cleaner handy.

You can leave the console disassembled and drive around so you can try things & test. You just won’t have a visual for the gear selector, so you need to count and keep track of which gear you’re in.

Hint: if you have the center console off, don’t know which gear the transmission is in, you give it a little gas, and if the scenery in front of you begins to recede, the transmission is in REVERSE. In this case, STOP, move shift lever to another position, and try again. Keep stopping and repositioning the gear shift lever until the vehicle moves in the desired direction. Pizza-pie.