Modern vehicles with automatic transmissions typically have a 'shift lock' feature to prevent unintentionally moving the gearshift lever from park (P) to reverse (R). The shift lock is a small button in the gear selector that drivers have to press when selecting gears. In most cases, the shift lock works with the brake pedal, a safety feature that prevents passengers from fiddling with the gear stick and mitigating unnecessary accidents.
As such, the driver has to press the brake pedal to activate the shift lock release, and only then can the driver move the selector lever while pressing the shift lock button. On top of that, most cars have a key-shift interlocking feature that necessitates inserting the key into the ignition and turning it to the ON position before the driver can shift out of P or park.
However, not all vehicles with automatic gearboxes have a physical shift lock button on the selector lever. Newer cars with continuously variable automatic transmissions (CVT) and gated gear selectors have the entire shift lock mechanism in the brake pedal.
But in older cars, knowing how to override the shift lock mechanism could be a lifesaver when the battery goes kaput or when the car breaks down and requires towing.
How to use the shift lock button in an automatic car
In vehicles with conventional automatic transmissions and shift lock buttons in the gear lever, there are instances where pressing the button is necessary. For instance, you must press the shift lock button when moving from park (P) to reverse (R) and neutral (N) to reverse (R).
However, you can move the lever from reverse (R) to neutral (N) and drive (D) without pressing the shift lock. In all instances, pressing on the brake pedal is necessary, but some vehicles allow moving between gears without depressing the brake pedal.
But in an emergency where the vehicle must be in neutral (N), there's a manual shift lock override button that allows the lever to disengage from park (P), which is helpful if the car has a dead battery or mechanical issues. The shift lock release button hides underneath a small, plastic-covered slot in or around the center console.
Using the tip of the vehicle key or a small screwdriver, gently pry out the rubber cover and press the button to release the shift lock, enabling you to move from park (P) to neutral (N). Consult the owner's manual to find the manual shift lock release button specific to your ride.