The transmission in any vehicle is nothing more than a deeply embedded fear—a fear of the day when it will finally go belly up and cost you a small fortune to replace.
For that reason alone, some drivers are fearful of certain things, like parking on a really steep hill.
Just the act of parking it on a steep hill won’t do anything. It’s “how” you park it. If you put the parking brake on, your vehicle is safe. If you simply put it in park, it can definitely cause damage to your transmission’s Pawl (over time). Manual transmissions are fine.
There are a lot of reasons to pine for the good old days of manual transmissions. They were hardcore and putting it in first gear when parking was no big deal.
With an automatic, however, it causes wear and tear on the transmission mounts and the gear it’s set in at the time you park.
What Kind of Damage Will it Cause for an Automatic Transmission?
The damage doesn’t occur overnight. However, you will start to notice little things here and there. One of the first things that are likely to happen is you will notice that the gear shifter is a little more tight and difficult to move from Park to Drive.
When you place your vehicle in Park, a metal rod/arm inserts into the gear, holding it in place. This arm is known as the “Pawl” and it will probably be one of the first things to go if parking on steep hills is something you do often.
If you have trouble shifting the gear knob out of Park and into any of the other positions, it’s an indication that there is a degree of unnecessary stress on the Pawl.
If you continue to park on steep inclines, the next symptom will be a grinding noise in the transmission or you will hear it when you shift out of Park and into Drive.
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Is There a Way to Avoid It?
There is a specific order you have to follow when you put the parking brake on. You can’t shift it into park, then put the parking brake on. If you do it that way, the Pawl is holding your vehicle in place, with the parking brake just sitting there, unstressed and unused.
When you pull into a steep driveway or parking spot, press down on your brake hard, while you’re still in Drive. Engage the parking brake. Now put it into park. That way, the majority of the stress will be on the parking brake and not on the Pawl.
You have to do this when you’re starting up and moving out of the parking space as well. Before you release the parking brake, shift it into neutral and apply pressure on the regular brakes.
Now, release the parking brake and shift it into Drive. If you don’t do it this way and simply release the parking brake, the weight of the car will shift, slamming into the pawl, which previously had no weight on it. In fact, leaving a parking spot can potentially damage your transmission components more than parking on the Pawl can.
That’s because there is a small degree of impact on the Pawl when you release the parking brake and the vehicle settles back onto it.
Does Parking on a Steep Hill Cause Major Damage?
Not generally. However, it’s not cheap to replace the Pawl of the transmission or engine mounts. It’s not an easy DIY job either. The average cost of replacing the Pawl is $500. But you will also have to replace the U-bolt in most circumstances, which is usually an additional $50.
It’s a difficult DIY job because you will have to drop the transmission from the bottom of the vehicle and open up the transmission case just to access it. You have to remove the original from the transmission and replace it with the new one.
Then you need to replace the casing and remount the transmission. Transmission mounts are a little cheaper to replace. If you take it to a mechanic, it will cost between $250 to $300, half of which is labor.
This is also another DIY job that’s not quite as labor intensive as replacing the Pawl. Replacing the Pawl is not something that you want to take to the mechanic if you know enough about the work to do it yourself.
You will need a jack, preferably a hydraulic jack, to apply enough pressure to the transmission to lift it up, relieving the pressure on the bolts below the rubber mounts, located on the cross member.
If you can get yourself and a hydraulic jack underneath the vehicle, it will make things much easier. You don’t have to use the jack to lift the vehicle, just to help raise the transmission so removing the bolts and mounts is much easier. It’s best to center the jack on the transmission as best as you can.
Once you remove the cross-member bolts, you can safely remove and replace the rubber mounts.
Cost for Pawl and Rubber Mounts Parts
If you don’t want to fork over several hundred dollars to the mechanic, these are DIY jobs, if not the easiest in the world. On the bright side, it’s a whole lot better than replacing a timing chain.
The cost for a brand-new Pawl, depending on the vehicle, is pretty cheap, from $18 to $40. The average cost of brand-new transmission mounts, directly from the manufacturer of your vehicle, is around $150.
As usual, it’s much more cost-efficient to do your own repairs (assuming you’re mechanically inclined) rather than take it into the mechanic.
All Things Considered
Parking on a steep hill, without setting the parking brake, won’t cause deep, internal damage to your transmission.
But it will cause associated and external damage over time. The best way to park on a steep hill is to hold the regular brake, engage the parking brake, then shift it into Park.