Sudden Shift to Park

I did a horrible thing to my 1994 Pontiac Grand Am. I’ve been having overheating issues lately, and this last round of repairs obviously didn’t work since my fan refuses to come on. (I’m sure that’s a loose wire.)

No, the terrible thing I did was shift directly to park from drive (automatic transmission) while braking. I estimate I was going about 10 miles an hour at the time. I heard a horrible cranking sound that I’m pretty sure was my emergency break kicking in.

My question is: Did I just destroy my transmission or are there failsafes in place to protect it from stupid owners?

No, the “cranking” noise that you heard was a ratchet device that luckily prevented the Park Pawl from engaging. If it had engaged, you would have come to a screeching halt with your drive wheels locked. Your emergency brake (I assume that you meant brake, rather than break) is a separate device and has nothing to do with the Park position of the transmission.

Truthfully, if your engine has been chronically overheating, you may have sustained engine damage already. Although I would normally recommend that you have your transmission fluid changed at this point, due to the possibility of some metal shavings in the fluid as a result of your “Park Adventure”, I would suggest that you first have the engine examined for damage to the heads before investing in a transmission fluid change.

The car may not be worth the cost of the transmission fluid change if there is significant engine damage. Sorry for the bad news.

The engine was previously given a clean bill of health despite numerous overheatings; it runs “surprisingly well.” I’ve never allowed it to heat up to the danger zone. I always shut it off before it hits the red area on the gauge (which is what I was trying to do this time when I was distracted by spotting my boyfriend on the road ahead of me.)

Check for a missing air dam under the radiator. There may not be enough air going to the radiator. The air dam is used to redirect air to the outside of the car to reduce drag. Then it was discovered that it could be used to direct air into the radiator. The front end of the car doesn’t have to have a large opening to let air in anymore because of the air dam. Your car is also old enough to need a new radiator if you don’t already have one. Sorry about the parking pawl, but not all of these events cause damage and it may never be a problem.

It’s always possible that no trans damage was done. If there is no noise while it’s running and if the shifter seems to work fine along with holding the vehicle on a hill then you may be fine.

It’s always possible to destroy the parking pawl or break a transmission case but this should be apparent pretty quickly.

A friend of mine years ago did this on purpose, TWICE, on a 67 Camaro RS and did it from 40 MPH.
Clank, screeching and smoking tires from being locked up, but no damage was done at all.

Had a new radiator put in two years ago. I’ll ask about the air dam. Thanks!