What To Do If Your Car’s Automatic Shift Lock Light Is On

The automatic shift lock light indicates a bad or failing shift indicator. Try engaging the brake or take it to an expert to get fixed.
Written by Jim Donaher
Reviewed by Melanie Reiff
If your car’s automatic shift lock light is on, your shift indicator may be bad or failing—especially if you can’t tell what gear your car is in!
We’ve all been there before: you’re driving to work and see a light on the dashboard you’ve never seen before. You’re positive it wasn’t on yesterday, but you have no idea what it could mean. What do you do? Is the car going to fall apart, or can you push off repairs for a bit?
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What is the automatic shift lock light on my dashboard?

The automatic shift lock light is an indicator of your car’s shift lock release in automatic transmissions. This light is also known as the Engine Start Indicator Warning Symbol. It has two purposes:
  • Indicating you need to engage the brake to start the car’s ignition or shift out of neutral
  • Indicating the shift indicator or other necessary parts are failing or have gone bad

What does the automatic shift lock light look like?

The automatic shift lock light may look different from car to car, but it always consists of two parts: a foot, shoe, or boot on or near a pedal. Watch out for those symbols illuminated on your dashboard.

What does the automatic shift lock light mean?

Cars with automatic transmissions made in the early 1990s through the present have a safety feature known as a key-shift interlock. Cars made from 2010 to now have another safety feature: a shift lock release. You have to press down on the brake pedal in addition to turning the ignition switch.
Now that you know what to look for, what does it mean if the automatic shift lock light has suddenly appeared on your dashboard?
If the automatic shift lock light is lit up on your dashboard, it usually means you need to depress the brake to shift your car out of neutral or start the ignition.
If you can complete those actions and the light is still on, there may be more significant problems in the shifting system, like a failing shift indicator. Here are a few common symptoms of a bad or failing shift indicator:
  • Check engine light: The shift indicator might be failing, but there are plenty of other parts in the shifting system that could be causing the problem, like a cable.
  • Wrong gear reading: Your shift indicator isn’t reading correctly if your car goes into neutral when you put it in drive. This can be a hazard by causing your car to be in the wrong gear at the wrong time.
  • Shift indicator stops moving: There’s a problem with the indicator if the shift indicator doesn’t move when you move the gear selector. It could be as simple as a misalignment issue, but it could also mean the shift indicator is failing and needs to be replaced.
An illuminated automatic shift lock light means there’s an issue with the shift indicator. There could be a more serious issue somewhere inside the shifting system, but it is most commonly a failing shift indicator

How to turn off your automatic shift lock light

If the automatic shift lock light is on, try engaging the brake to either start the car’s ignition or shift it out of neutral. However, if you tried that and the check engine light is also illuminated, you need to take your car to a mechanic. A trusted mechanic can diagnose and fix the problem for you.

How to find cheap car insurance

The automatic shift lock light helps keep you safe by indicating when there’s a problem, and the right car insurance policy protects your wallet from major out-of-pocket expenses. Car insurance can get expensive, so how do you save money?
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The automatic shift lock light on your car’s dashboard means there is an issue with your shift indicator or a deeper issue in the shifting system as a whole.
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