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Floor Shifter Sticking on 97 Cougar

I have a 97 Cougar with the V8 and auto trans that has an issue with the shift not wanting to shift out of park.

Issue: The car will start and run fine but when I try to shift out of park the release button will not depress all the way and I have apply a good deal of pressure to it while working the shifter lever back and forth before it finally moves out of park.

Once I get the car out of park for the first time everything works fine. I can move through all the gears including park without issue. It is just that first time where the shift is sticking.

I have tried setting the parking brake, making sure the car is level and the trans is not bound, pumping the break while working the shifter everything I can think of to prevent the shifter from sticking but no change.

The problem has slowly gotten worst over time with at first the button sticking a bit but then going in, to the current condition of the shifter just not working at all. This will occur any time the car has been put into park and shut off. No matter if the car is level or on a hill or incline. The mornings are the worst when the car has sat over night with it taking several minutes of working the shifter to get it out of park. After that it will still stick but not near as bad.

So, is this a neutral start/safety switch issue? I have been reading up on this and what problem these cause when going out and none of those issues are a clear path to my problem. Those appear to be more the car not starting or turning over at all vs. the shifter sticking

Have you tried lubricating the button and the mechanism associated with it?

You say the button sticks. It seems more like the button is the problem, and not the neutral safety switch.

It’s either the linkage, the pawl, or (not really, but you mention it) the neutral safety switch. Before you try to start the car, get the shift into the neutral position and then try to start it. I think it will start. If it does, the linkage is worn or the pawl is damaged (more likely), and the neutral safety switch is fine.

If you have a habit of parking the car on an incline or decline, and not engaging the e-brake before you put the car in park, then you likely have damaged the pawl. This part locks your transmission when you put the car in park, but it is not really up to the task on steep inclines or declines or if you let the car roll a little back or forth after you put the car in park.
If you can park on level roads and engage the e-brake, just leave the car in neutral and see what happens.


Thanks for the replies. I am going to check into removing the shifter and trying to lube it. I found on several sites issues like mine where this seemed to fix it. While I have been working on cars for a long while never had problem like this before.

Kizwiki - I always use the e-brake but I purchased the car used from my father about 2 years ago so not sure if he did the same. I did try at one point leaving the car in neutral but it would not let me remove the key. IE Key was in run postion and trans in neutral but I could not turn the key to the off position and remove it. I assumed this was another safty feature on the car.