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Summary
  • A transmission shifter cable is a cable that links the shifter handle and the transmission.
  • Faulty shifter cable symptoms you should look for include an inconsistent indicator, difficulty in shifting gears, and unusual noises during a gear shift.
  • Avoid driving your vehicle if it has a faulty shifter cable because it increases the risk of accidents.
  • Most transmission shifter cables last between 125,000 and 175,000 miles, but some might wear out as early as 75,000 miles.
  • You might spend anywhere from $20 to $620 on a replacement transmission shifter cable.

Whether you drive a vehicle with a manual or automatic transmission, your vehicle has at least one transmission shifter cable helping you switch gears with ease. A broken or stretchy cable can make it hard for you to select the correct gear, so it’s important to be on the lookout for any signs of breakage.

What Is a Transmission Shifter Cable?

A transmission shift cable consists of a stiff, woven metal wire rope inside a durable woven steel sleeve encased in tough plastic. At the top, usually inside the vehicle, the cable is attached to the shift lever by way of a rotating tube that moves with the lever in some bracketed bushings so that the lever at the bottom of the tube will follow the movement of the manually operated shift lever.

car shift cable image
A transmission shift cable consists of a stiff, woven metal wire rope inside a durable woven steel sleeve encased in tough plastic.

The cable’s sheath is sealed at both ends to prevent moisture and contamination ingress that would foul the cable. The sheath is anchored both by the shift lever and on the transmission so that it can’t move, but the cable that travels through it can smoothly transfer the movement of the shifter to the input shaft on the transmission input shaft for crisp gear selection. Each gear position has a detent so that the shift linkage “clicks” into the position selected and doesn’t move on its own.

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What Are Some Broken Shifter Cable Symptoms?

Here are some bad shift cable symptoms you can look for:

Inconsistent Indicator

If the gear indicator doesn’t match the actual gear setting the transmission is in, then this can be a sign of an automatic transmission shift cable problem. Take note, however, that this can also be an issue with the indicator itself, which is more often the case.

For example, even if you’re already in park, the indicator might still point to reverse. The gear indicator might also point in between gears, which can make it hard for you to gauge whether your transmission is actually in the correct gear.

Difficulty in Shifting Gears

Broken or rusted shift cables (inside the sheath) can make it hard to shift gears on both automatic and manual vehicles that use shift cables. If the cable sheath’s seals have failed and rust or dirt has joined the cable in the sheath tube, the cable will become very stiff so that the shifter is hard to move. A broken shift cable won’t provide any resistance, so the transmission can’t be placed in gear.

If the cable sheath’s seals have failed and rust or dirt has joined the cable in the sheath tube, the cable will become very stiff so that the shifter is hard to move.

– Richard McCuistian, ASE Certified Master Automobile Technician

All modern vehicles with automatic transmissions have a neutral safety switch, which prevents engines from starting if the transmission isn’t in park or neutral. If the shift cable has failed so that the transmission gets stuck in reverse or drive, you may not be able to start the engine because the starter will be locked out.

Unusual Noise When Shifting Gears

In manual transmission equipped vehicles, a faulty shifter cable can cause the transmission to make unusual noises. A squeaking noise when shifting out of gear most likely means the cable is not properly attached to the lever. Any bumping, grinding, or whirring sounds can also indicate a worn cable that needs replacing.

You can always tell if the shifter doesn’t feel right. Suspect the cables when the shifter starts to feel different.

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What Does a Transmission Shifter Cable Do?

In automatic transmissions, a shift cable connects the shift lever to the transmission. If you change gears from park to reverse, the gear selector pulls the shift cable until the lever locks into reverse gear.

Manual transmission shift cables function similarly, but are usually two instead of just one. Most manual vehicles have one shifter cable for vertical movement and another for horizontal movement. The manual transmission needs both cables to function properly. If only one of the cables is broken, you’ll find it hard to switch gears.

Transmission Shifter Cable FAQ

Can You Drive a Car With a Broken Shifter Cable?

It is best not to drive your vehicle if it has a faulty shifter cable. The most significant issue is that you may believe you have placed the vehicle in park when it may actually not be in park, which can allow the vehicle to roll away.

Even if you are able to start your engine, you might find yourself stranded later if your transmission gets stuck in gear. For example, if you accidentally left your car in reverse, your ignition key won’t turn, and your engine won’t start. This can be dangerous, especially if you’re stranded in an unfamiliar area late at night. Keep you and your passengers safe by immediately bringing your car to the mechanic once you notice any of the symptoms mentioned above.

How Often Should Trans Shift Cables Be Replaced?

Depending on your vehicle’s make, model, and how often you use it, shift cables should last for a long time. In automatic vehicles, you can expect quality shift cables to last from 125,000 to 175,000 miles. Manual vehicles require you to move the shifter more frequently, so the cables can wear off faster than automatic vehicles. Having said that, take note that most shift cables never give any trouble at all for the life of the vehicle.

See also  Where is the Shifter Cable Located?

Keep in mind that some might only last around 75,000 miles if the cables are of poor quality, extremely bent, or exposed to water intrusion. To ensure your shift cables are fully functional, be sure to keep up with your vehicle’s maintenance schedule.

How Much Does It Cost to Replace a Transmission Shifter Cable?

Several factors will affect the price, such as your vehicle’s make, model, and the product’s brand. However, if your shift cable is broken, expect to spend anywhere from $20 to $620 on a replacement.

Where to Get a New Transmission Shifter Cable for Your Ride

It isn’t safe to drive your vehicle if the transmission shifter cable is faulty. Good thing CarParts.com carries an excellent selection of transmission shifter cables to help you complete repairs in no time.

You can shop for replacement cables for your ride without leaving your home. Just visit our website, and look for the vehicle selector tool. Input the specifications of your make and model to narrow down your options to the transmission shifter cables that fit your ride.

We want to give you the peace of mind you deserve when shopping for parts online. So, we only source our products from reputable brands in the industry. We also have a team of industry experts who vet our products to ensure quality and functionality.

Do you have questions before finalizing your order? You can call us on our toll-free hotline. We have a 24/7 customer service team ready to answer all your queries.

Shop and order your transmission shifter cable 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 Technical Reviewer at CarParts.com

Richard McCuistian has worked for nearly 50 years in the automotive field as a professional technician, an instructor, and a freelance automotive writer for Motor Age, ACtion magazine, Power Stroke Registry, and others. Richard is ASE certified for more than 30 years in 10 categories, including L1 Advanced Engine Performance and Light Vehicle Diesel.

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.

File Under : Transmission , DIY Tagged With :
Garage Essentials
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