Friday after work my plan was to grab some dinner at Taco Bell, then head out of town for the weekend. This is not at all what happened. What did happen is as follows:
I get to Taco Bell and go to put my car in park. Instead of the normal Clunk through the handle when it moved up to Neutral, though, there was a pop, and the shifter moved freely back up into park, and really into any position you wanted to put it in, with no resistance.
I took my foot off the brake and continued to roll forward until I hit the curb. This was uphill.
Now, because this is an automatic, when it’s in any gear and the engine is turned off, the trans is effectively in neutral (in Park there’s a rod which jams it up and keeps it from moving). Knowing this, and that the car was now stuck in Drive, I left it running (up against a curb so it wasn’t going anywhere) while getting in the trunk and blocking the rear wheels (What, you don’t have wheel chocks in your trunk?).
Turned off the car and it rolled downhill onto the chocks. I confirmed it was kaputt by trying to start the car - despite it saying “P” it would not start, as the Neutral Safety Switch knew it was still in “D” so I did what was reasonable...
I went inside and had a beefy 5-layer burrito and a medium Baja Blast.
Fueled by “meat” and mountain dew, I was able to reach under the car (without burning myself on the cats now) and determine that, yes, the shift linkage was totally broken off the transmission.
Isn’t rust a wonderful thing?
I was able to get in touch with a coworker/friend to run me back to my place to grab jackstands (I’m not about to crawl under a car on only a scissor jack). He couldn’t stay and help, but there wasn’t room for two under there anyways. Worst case scenario, I was only 6 miles from home so I could walk back if needed, and there was an autozone next door. I asked, they didn’t have the linkage in stock.
Of all places to be broken down, a Taco Bell next to an Autozone is a pretty good option.
Drawing the occasional odd glance from passers-by and other Taco Bell patrons, I lifted the corner of the car and put it on a stand. At this point I was able to get underneath, and take the picture you see above.
I formulated a plan, and grabbed a handful of zipties from my toolbox (What, you don’t have a fully loaded toolbox in your trunk?). Essentially, I made a chain from zip ties, one end clamped onto the nut and the other on the end of the shift linkage. This would allow it to “Pull” (which moves P -> R -> N etc.) the linkage but it would just buckle if I tried to “Push” (moving D -> N -> R etc.) the selector.
I thought about it for a moment, and remembered that one of the many free screwdrivers from Harbor Freight that I’d broken was still in my toolbox.
Taking the shaft and another handful of zipties, it was back under the car to rig up the shaft as a ‘splint’ for the selector.
By this point it was getting dark and my flashlight was reflecting on the flat of the screwdriver, but you get the idea.
With everything in place, I got in the car for the moment of truth - I turned the key on and moved the gear selector. There were detents again! But was it actually engaging the gear it claimed? I moved into Park and bumped the starter - and it turned.
Satisfied, I crawled back underneath, snipped off the stray ends of the zipties so they don’t melt into my cats (which would smell bad) and lowered the car back down. After putting all the tools away...
I drove home without issue. I can’t manually go into 2 or 1 since the linkage jams up, but for P through D, it works.
On Monday I’ll take it to a shop, I have no days off from work to fight with the level of rust on that nut and I really wouldn’t want to anyways. I wouldn’t be surprised if this fix shows up on /r/justrolledintotheshop.