The shift cable both pushes and pulls as it operates, so it’s a relatively rigid steel cable in a relatively stiff housing. On an automatic transmission car or truck, the shift cable connects from the driver’s shift lever to the shift lever on the transmission. If the driver’s shift lever is on the steering column then the cable runs from there, under the dash, and through a grommet on the firewall, then to the transmission. If the shift lever is on the center console the cable will be attached there and run directly to the shift lever on the transmission.
Indications that there might be a shift cable problem would be stiffness in shifts, or looseness in shifts, or (in the case of a broken cable end), an inability to shift gears.
Costs of Shift Cable Replacement
Illustrated below are some estimates on the shifter cable replacement cost on some common automatic transmission vehicles, using $100 an hour as a labor rate:
|Car Model||Labor Time & Cost||Factory Shift Cable Cost (Excl. Labor)||Aftermarket Shift Cable Cost (Excl. Labor)|
|2005 Silverado 1500 4WD (5.3L Engine)||$110 (1.1 hrs)||$179||Pioneer cable costs about $77|
|2002 Volkswagen Jetta Automatic (2L Engine)||$140 (1.4 hrs)||$170||Dorman cable costs about $89|
|2001 Toyota Highlander Automatic (3L Engine)||$140 (1.4 hrs)||$393||RZX part costs about $60|
|2000 Honda Civic Automatic (2L engine)||$140 (1.4 hrs)||$115||-|
Shift Cable Replacement
The replacement procedure involves disconnecting both ends of the shift cable and unbolting or detaching any attaching clips, pulling the firewall grommet if there is one, then, removing the cable. Installation of the new shift cable is the reverse.
In most cases, there are panels either on the center console or on the column and under the dash that needs to be removed. Often, things in the engine compartment need to be moved out of the way to access the transmission lever.
One additional thing is that the cable adjustment needs to be set. Some older models use a threaded section on the cable that allows the length to be effectively adjusted.
Most newer vehicles have a plastic locking mechanism with a procedure where the lock is released, the cable is set in a particular gear position on both ends, then, the lock is secured down.
Shift Cable Replacement on Manual Transmission Vehicles
There are far fewer manual transmission vehicles produced than automatic transmission vehicles these days. Most manual transmissions are shifted with a lever that acts directly on a shift forks. Some operate the shift forks with levers, and then, some do use cables between the shift knob and the transmission.
For a couple of examples, a 2008 Volkswagen Jetta with a 2.0-liter engine and a manual transmission uses a pair of shift cables between the shift lever and the transmission. A factory cable assembly costs about $123 and the labor time is estimated at 2.7 hours, making the job to replace the shift cables about $393 in total costs.
For a 2002 Saturn SL with a dual overhead cam 2-liter engine and a manual transmission, a cable assembly from the shifter lever is used. The labor time to replace the shift cable is around 2.2 hours. A factory part costs about $185, and an ATP cable costs about $48. The total cost to complete the shift cable replacement would be about $425 using OE parts, or about $268 using aftermarket parts.
The problems that occur with shift cables are about the same whether they are used on automatic or manual transmissions. The metal cables themselves are designed to slide freely inside of low-friction sleeves.
Age and wear can lead to the sleeve binding on the cable or allowing slack in the cable movement and imprecise shifting. The end attachment points can break off.
The complex plastic cable adjustment mechanism is also prone to breakage, especially if an older cable has to be removed and reset. And sometimes, if a rigid cable is bent during other work, it can develop a binding problem.
1) Can you drive a car with a broken shifter cable?
Generally not. Without a means to shift between gears and neutral, or to shift between park and drive, for example, it’s very difficult to operate a vehicle safely.
Every vehicle is different, of course, but an average time to replace a shift cable is about an hour and a half.
Typically not. Whether a cable end has broken or the cable itself, the cable length is critically important to how it operates, and it’s not generally possible to make a repair that preserves the correct cable length.