Buying the Best Column Shift Mechanism
A column shift mechanism (also known as the "Three on the Tree") is a type of gear shifter that's located on the steering column of your car rather than on the side of the driver's seat (which has been the standard for many modern cars for the better half of the 20th Century all the way to the 21st Century). With that said, here's what you need to consider when buying a replacement column shift mechanism.
Considerations When Shopping for Column Shift Mechanism
- Buy the Column Shift Mechanism Online Instead of at Shops: The three on the tree shifter was dropped from use in passenger cars back in the 1970s, so much so that many a Millennial probably don't even know what a shifter is unless they're owners of well-preserved and expensive vintage cars. As such, if you're interested in buying a column shift mechanism replacement, your best bet is to buy it online. That's because auto shops likely don't have the part available or might need to salvage the part from the scrapyard.
- Get a Shifter with the Linkage Cable Included: If you're going to buy the mostly rare and already phased out technology of a three on the tree, then make sure it comes with a linkage cable. That's because there are column shift mechanisms on sale without the linkage cable included, which means you have to hunt for that separately on top of paying for the three on the tree, which could mean you spending more than if you bought both as a package deal.
- Purchase Only a Shifter That's Engineered with High-Quality Materials: On top of having perfect fitment for your make and model of vintage vehicle, your chosen column shift mechanism should be made of high-quality materials including durable steel. This will ensure that the replacement will at least last as long as or even longer than the stock part you're replacing. On top of that, the mechanism should be certified by a battery of quality tests.
- Watch Out for the Remanufacturing Origins of a Used or Refurbished Shifter: Because this is phased out technology for vintage cars that have been out of production for decades, the spare parts for this shifter are likely refurbished, remanufactured, or otherwise used. As a buyer, it's in your best interests to not buy a used shifter without checking its remanufacturing origins. It might be stolen scrap three on the tree sold with damage on it already.
- Be Careful When It Comes to Installation: Get an easy-to-install column shift mechanism (complete with instructions) since many mechanics are probably unfamiliar with how to fix or install this old tech. Otherwise, find a vintage car repairman or restorer to help you out in installing this mechanism. Also have a technician check the overall health of your vehicle prior to installation to find out the cause of your old shifter's breakdown. This will prevent the failure of your new three on the tree.
The Bottom Line
There are some cars where the gear lever is put on the steering wheel a la your levers for your turn signals or windshield. They appeared in the 1930s and were common in the 1940s-1950s. It was phased out in the 1970s. There are some pickup trucks that make use of it in the 1980s. With that said, there are thankfully online sites for auto parts that sell these mechanisms brand new instead of used and with some mileage on it already.