'What is an A/T shift lock and when do you use it?' [Newbie Guide]

Updated Mar 01, 2021 | Same topic: Beginner's Guide

That little tab on your transmission’s shift panel serves a purpose.

If you happen to be driving an automatic transmission vehicle, the shift panel will have a lever sliding along a row showing a combination of letters and numbers, all denoting the gear selection.

It’s a pretty straightforward arrangement, especially since ease of use is a major selling point of automatics.

2020 Kia Sportage automatic transmission shot

Automatic transmissions come with more sophisticated functions than manual gearboxes

However, you might find a small slot or tab on the panel. Chances are you’re wondering what this tab is for, and if it should be part of your vehicle’s normal operation. It’s referred to as a shift lock release button (even though it isn’t meant to be pressed easily) and is an essential part of how your transmission works.

The shift lock is a feature that prevents you from engaging the transmission’s gear without using the brake first. When you move the shift lever from Neutral into Park, the lock engages.

>>> Related: Top 6 common mistakes while driving an automatic car

The next time you start the car, the shift lock will require you to step on the brake pedal before moving the lever from Park to Drive or Reverse. This is to ensure that you don’t accidentally accelerate the vehicle suddenly and cause an accident.

Shift lock tab

The shift lock tab can be found on the shifter panel 

>>> Related; Car maintenance: 5 signs of automatic transmission problems

One thing to remember about the shift lock is that it’s actuated by the car’s battery, and when the battery has run down, you won’t be able to shift the transmission out of Park (to have the vehicle towed, for instance). This is where the lock release tab comes in.

The tab on some models can be unlocked using the car’s physical key, while others might require a narrow metal object such as a flat-tipped screwdriver.

In either case, all you need to do is insert the object inside the tab or slot and push down, while pulling the shift lever into Neutral and switching the ignition into the On position to unlock the steering. Release the parking brake, and you should be able to move your car.

More handy beginner guides at Philkotse.com.

Joseph Paolo Estabillo

Joseph Paolo Estabillo


Joseph holds a degree in Journalism from the University of the Philippines Diliman and has been writing professionally since 1999. He has written episodes for CNN Philippines' motoring show Drive, and has worked on corporate projects for MG Philippines and Pilipinas Shell. Aside from being Philkotse.com’s Content Lead, he also writes content for numerous car dealerships in the U.S., spanning multiple brands such as Alfa Romeo, Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, and Maserati, among others.

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