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Summary
  • The gear shifter allows the driver to change gears on a manual transmission. For automatic vehicles, this is called the gear selector or “PRNDL.”
  • With a manual transmission, the driver has to step on the clutch pedal to disengage the clutch and transmission from the engine. As the shifter is moved, the shifter fork fits into the groove of the synchronizer sleeve which engages the gear clutch teeth of the speed gear.
  • The gear selector in automatic vehicles doesn’t slide gears to complete a shifting mechanism. Instead, the shift linkage moves a lever in the transmission to operate the manual valve that directs fluid in the valve body to move the vehicle into the desired operating range (drive, reverse, etc.)

You need to shift gears to get your vehicle moving regardless of whether it comes with an automatic or manual transmission. But how exactly does a simple push or pull of a car shifter affect your vehicle’s movement?

In this article, we’ll be talking about a simple-looking yet intricate part of your vehicle—the gear shifter.

What Is a Gear Shifter or Gear Selector?

man driving the car with manual gearbox
Gear shifting on a car with a manual transmission requires the driver to step on the clutch pedal.

The gear shifter in a car refers to the stick that sits between the driver’s and front passenger’s seat, which allows the driver to change gears on a manual transmission. It has a shift knob on top that shows the shift pattern.

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For automatic transmission vehicles, this is called the gear selector. It is also somtimes called the “PRNDL” (pronounced as “prindle”) regardless of the actual letters or numbers used.

How Does the Gear Shifter Work in a Manual Transmission?

Gear shifting on a car with a manual transmission requires the driver to step on the clutch pedal. This then disengages the clutch and transmission from the engine by releasing the pressure plate that sits on one side of the clutch.

As the driver moves the shifter, the shifter fork fits into the groove of the synchronizer sleeve. Once a shift is made, the sleeve moves toward the speed gear and presses the stop ring against the speed gear’s cone area.

The friction generated between the speed gear and stop ring produces equal speed from both parts, which allows the sleeve to engage the gear clutch teeth of the speed gear. This then completes the gear shifting mechanism in the car.

How Does the Gear Shifter (Gear Selector) Work in an Automatic Transmission?

In the case of an automatic transmission, there is no driver-operated clutch, which means the gear selector doesn’t slide gears into mesh to complete a shifting mechanism. Instead, a vehicle with an automatic transmission uses a planetary gear set system. This won’t require the driver to shift gears manually or cause an interruption of torque flow to change gear ratios.

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An automatic transmission usually has a shift linkage that connects to the transmission. When the driver moves the gear selector, the shift linkage moves a lever at the transmission. That lever, in turn, operates the manual valve inside of the transmission. The manual valve then directs fluid flow through the appropriate passages in the valve body to move the vehicle into the desired operating range (drive, reverse, etc.).

How Much Does a Gear Shifter Cost?

An aftermarket gear shifter can cost anywhere between $50 and $500, depending on your vehicle’s year, make, and model. Other factors that might affect the price include the brand, finish, and your vehicle’s transmission type.

Customizing Your Car’s Gear Shifter

car gear shifter manual
An aftermarket gear shifter can cost anywhere between $50 and $500, depending on your vehicle’s year, make, and model.

After some time, the gear shifter on a car could wear out and need a replacement. Or, if you’re looking to spruce up your ride, buying a custom gear shifter is definitely one way to get it done.

Check out some of these custom gear shifters for your next aesthetic upgrade.

Race and Lightning Shifters

Race and lightning shifters are typically used in automatic racing transmissions. These shifters come with a pistol-like grip and reverse gear lockouts. The design of these shifters also provides a quick throw and allows for ultra-fast action because of their simple mechanism.

Short Shifters

Short shifters provide a shorter throw between gears by replacing the stock shift lever and pivot bearings. Because this type of shifter has shorter throws, your hand tends to travel less and speeds up the shifts in the process. This type of shifter also makes it easier to maintain high engine revs for maximum power.

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How to Get a Replacement Gear Shifter for Your Car

It’s never a good idea to drive with transmission problems, and this includes a defective gear shifter. A faulty gear selector is likely to make it hard for you to switch gears, which means you’re at greater risk of getting into an accident. For your own safety, it’s best to replace your broken shifter as soon as possible. Luckily, getting a new gear shifter is fast and easy with CarParts.com. 

CarParts.com offers a wide selection of gear selectors at different price points, so you’re sure to find one that best suits you and your vehicle. Our vehicle selector also makes it easy to browse through our catalog. Just input your car’s year, make, and model, and you’ll see all the available products that are compatible with your ride. If you’re in a rush to get back on the road, you’ll be pleased to know CarParts.com also guarantees fast shipping. Order by 12 p.m. ET, and you can expect to receive your new gear selector in as fast as two business days.

Don’t wait for the worst-case scenario to happen before replacing your faulty gear shifter. Check out our catalog of high-quality gear shifters at CarParts.com today!

About The Authors
Written By Automotive and Tech Writers

The CarParts.com Research Team is composed of experienced automotive and tech writers working with (ASE)-certified automobile technicians and automotive journalists to bring up-to-date, helpful information to car owners in the US. Guided by CarParts.com's thorough editorial process, our team strives to produce guides and resources DIYers and casual car owners can trust.

Reviewed By Contact Center Manager and Technical Reviewer at CarParts.com

William “Bill” Guzenski has produced hundreds of how-to videos for the automotive community. He’s an ASE Certified Master Automobile Technician, and is affiliated with the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA). He loves attending race events and car shows throughout the country, as well as traveling in his 40-foot motorhome, exploring abandoned mines and ghost towns.

Any information provided on this Website is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace consultation with a professional mechanic. The accuracy and timeliness of the information may change from the time of publication.

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