Shift Cable Buyer’s Guide
- Whether you’re driving a vehicle with automatic or manual transmission, one of the key parts of your car’s transmission system is the shift cable.
- The shifter cable links your car’s transmission to your shifter handle. It’s essential to ensuring that your transmission system is properly interpreting your chosen gear setting.
- Typically, a car with automatic transmission has a single shift cable. A car with manual transmission has two shift cables: one for vertical movement and one for horizontal movement of your shifter handle.
- Shift cables are expected to last for five to eight years. Depending on your usage and other external factors, your shift cables may need replacement sooner rather than later.
- You can purchase OE replacement transmission shift cables individually or in pairs. The cost starts at around $30 and goes up to $315.
The transmission system is one of the most important components of your car. This complex system of gears, shafts, and cables bring the power of your engine down to your wheels allowing your car to move in a carefully controlled fashion.
Whether you’re driving a vehicle with automatic or manual transmission, one of the key parts of your car’s transmission system is the shift cable.
What Does a Shift Cable Do?
The shift cable has many names. People have called it the shifter cable, control cable, gear shift cable, transmission shift cable — the list goes on. All these names refer to a short, sturdy cable that links your car’s transmission to your shifter handle. The shifter handle, of course, is the one you use to choose the gear setting when you drive. This means that the shifter cable is essential to ensuring that your transmission system is properly interpreting your chosen gear setting.
Typically, a car with automatic transmission has a single shift cable. A car with manual transmission has two shift cables: one for vertical movement and one for horizontal movement of your shifter handle.
How Long Do Shift Cables Last
Since your vehicle’s shifter cable or shift cable is constantly tugged to and fro as you shift gears, it’s bound to wear down after a while. While there’s no set lifespan for shift cables, they are generally expected to last for five to eight years. Of course, depending on your usage and other external factors, your shift cables may need replacement sooner rather than later.
The most common damage that happens to the shift cables is stretching. This happens more often in manual transmission vehicles simply because gears are changed much more frequently there. Breakage or bending can also cause failure of the the shift cable, especially if you tend to quickly shift gears or slam the shift handle while changing gears.
Signs of a Bad Shifter Cable
There are many signs that your shifter cable has sustained some major damage. Most of them have to do with poor gear handling. Here are some common signs that your shift cable needs to be replaced:
Inaccurate Gear Shift Indicator
If your gear shift indicator shows drive when you’re in park or generally doesn’t match the gear you selected, it could be a sign of a faulty transmission shift cable.
Loose Shifter Handle
When you’re shifting gears, you probably noticed that there’s some sort of resistance while moving your shifter handle. If you suddenly think your shifter handle feels too loose, there might be a problem with the shift cable being stretched. This results in decreased elasticity in the cables and little to no resistance when shifting gears.
Inability to Shift Gears
If your gear is stuck in any position, or if you’re able to move the gear shift but it doesn’t shift the transmission, then your vehicle might be suffering from stretched out shifter cables. In some extreme cases, this could actually mean that your shifter cable is already broken.
If it takes your transmission system a couple of seconds to reflect your gear shift, it might point to a bad shift cable. Sometimes, when the transmission shift cable is too stretched out, it causes a delay in the shifting process.
Your transmission system is designed to make gear shifting as smooth as possible, especially if you’re driving a car with automatic transmission. Although this usually points to low transmission fluid pressure, it could also be a sign of a bad shift cable. If you notice that shifting to another gear causes your car to jerk or you feel a jolt in your steering wheel, you might have a problematic shifter cable.
Hard gear shifting and slow gear shifting can be especially problematic. Not only do these symptoms point to a problem with your transmission system, it can also damage some parts of your engine.
Car Starts in Another Gear
Your car should always start in park or neutral unless you accidentally left it in another gear. If your car doesn’t start in park or neutral, there might be a problem with either the shift interlock solenoid or the shift cable. Symptoms of failure of these two parts can look very similar, so be extra cautious when diagnosing the problem.
Car Won’t Turn Off
In some cases, if your shifter cable becomes too stretched, you might not be able to turn your vehicle off or even remove the key from your ignition at all.
Replacing Your Shift Cable
Depending on the type of transmission you have, some of the symptoms listed above might not apply to you. However, it’s still important to verify the problem with your shift cable in case you notice any of the signs above no matter what type of transmission you have.
In case your shift cable becomes stretched, bent, or broken, you will have to replace it immediately. But first, you have to be sure that the problem actually lies with your shifter cable. In some cases, the problem is just a faulty connector. If this happens, you can simply replace the broken connector to solve the problem. Sometimes, low pressure in the transmission fluid can set off similar symptoms as those mentioned above.
Here’s another tip for automatic transmission vehicles. Most cars with automatic transmission allow adjustment of the shift cable. Before buying a replacement shift cable for your automatic transmission vehicle, try adjusting your old shifter cable first to see if that solves the problem.
How Much Does It Cost to Replace a Shift Cable?
You can purchase OE replacement transmission shift cables individually or in pairs. The cost starts at around $30 and goes up to $315.
The usual factor that affects the price is fit. Shifter cables can be more expensive for specific makes and models. Many car parts sellers allow you to input the make, model, and year of your car so you can easily identify which particular shifter cable will perfect fit your vehicle.
How to Replace a Worn-out Shift Cable
A shift cable helps your vehicle shift gears while driving. If you experience a delay, stiffness, hear grinding noise, or when the vehicle stalls while shifting gears, the shift cable might be worn-out. Once the shift cable is broken or stretched out, the entire transmission assembly will be affected--rendering the vehicle useless.
We prepared the tools, tips and steps to help you replace your vehicle's worn-out shift cable.
Difficulty Level: Moderate
Tools that You'll Need:
- Adjustable wrench
- Screwdriver set
- New shifter cable
Tips and Reminders:
- Always wear recommended safety equipment like closed-toe shoes, an industrial-grade dusk mask, safety goggles and gloves.
- Check your replacement parts and make sure that they are compatible to your vehicle's make and model.
- Consult your vehicle's service manual before buying a shift cable. It's important to know the exact make and model to avoid any problems during installation.
- Some vehicles will require you to remove the entire center console to access the shift cable assembly. Make sure to remember how to reattach the center console once you're done.
Installing a shifter cable will take about 45 minutes for an expert DIYer and an hour for a beginner. It's a fairly easy project, so roll-up your sleeves and have fun!
- Park your car on a solid, level surface and make sure that the emergency brake is engaged.
- Locate the shifter cable by removing the rubber boot covering your shifter's base. The shift cable is connected to the base of your vehicle's shifting arm.
- Use an adjustable wrench to remove the securing nut holding the other end of the shifter cable. Lubricate the securing nut if necessary.
- You will see an anchor mounting locking a sleeve from moving. Move the shifter to slide the sleeve out of the anchor mounting.
- Open the hood to locate the engine's shifting arm. The other end of the shift cable is connected to it. Repeats steps 3 to 4 and remove the shift cable. If the problem is a broken anchor or anchor arm, shop around for a replacement part.
- Go back to the shifter and slide the sleeve on its anchor to secure it. Make sure that the shifter is aligned with the shifter's bolt. Apply the necessary torque to lock the securing nut into place.
- Reattach the shifter boot or center console before proceeding to the engine bay.
- In the engine compartment, connect the shift cables' sleeve onto the anchor mounting. Align the anchor mounting to the shifting arm, and then use an adjustable wrench to secure it into place.
- Shift through the gears to test if the cable is hitting the right gears. Turn on your engine and take your vehicle for a drive.