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The Unexpected Costs of a Bad Shifter Cable

The Unexpected Costs of a Bad Shifter Cable

There are a few symptoms that indicate an issue with the shifter cable, including when the indicator light does not match the gear, the vehicle will not turn off, the vehicle starts in another gear, or the vehicle will not go into gear. These can lead to dangerous driving situations.

Auto Repairs Are EXPENSIVE


The life of a shifter cable is typically between 125,000 and 175,000 miles, although vehicles with manual transmissions may need to have their shifter cable replaced sooner. Shifter cables normally fail due to stretching, breaking, or bending.

This means that a faulty shifter cable isn’t a likely problem on a newer car or a car with very few miles under its belt, but it does happen. Check with a mechanic to see if the replacement is part of a nationwide recall or covered under a warranty.

Depending on the severity of the symptoms, the shifter cable can be replaced for a few hundred dollars and a few hours of your time. However, at its worst, the car may not turn off. Not only will you continue driving, but you could also destroy everything in its path.

Knowledge is power. Proper research can help us decide if the shifter cable is broken, how it got that way, and how much it will cost to repair it. This repair is necessary for a fully functioning vehicle and your safety.

This article answers some common questions about shifter cables, why they break, and the associated repair costs.

What Is the Shifter Cable and What Does it Do?

The shifter cable is the link between the shifter handle and transmission in a vehicle. It changes position as the driver moves the shifter handle between the gear settings of a vehicle.

It’s a simple piece in terms of understanding what it does, but the role it plays is quite important.

Automatic transmission vehicles normally have one shifter cable with a single shift lever. This lever is pushed and pulled into several different positions inside the vehicle.

Manual transmission vehicles have two shifter cables with two shift levers, one for vertical movement and the other for horizontal. The horizontal lever is pushed or pulled by one cable and moves along a single plane with three positions. The vertical lever moves the shifter up and down.

One can imagine that if there is a problem with the shifter cable, it’s serious business.

The shifter cable is only used when you press a button or push down on the shift lever. Then again, think about just how often you are putting your car into gear each time you drive it.

Why Do Shifter Cables Break?

Shifter cables fail due to stretching, breaking, or bending. Stretching shifter cables is a fairly common problem while breaking or bending is not.

Shifter cable stretching is more common in vehicles with manual transmissions because the shifter is used more frequently than automatic transmission vehicles.

If a shifter cable breaks or bends, it is not able to move the shifter lever on the transmission into the correct position for the right gear. If forced, the driver will cause accelerated wear of the shifter cable.

Both automatic and manual transmission vehicles have the same symptoms when the shifter cable is failing.

Symptoms of a Failing Shifter Cable

If a shifter cable is failing, you may notice the following symptoms:

  • The indicator doesn’t match the gear
  • The vehicle will not turn off
  • The vehicle starts in another gear
  • The vehicle will not go into gear

If the shifter cable is failing, the indicator light will not match the gear you are in. For example, if you move from drive to park, it may say you are in drive although you are in park. This means the cable has stretched and no longer moves to the correct spot.

Some people think this symptom is silly and a common problem in old cars. Drivers beware, though. This indication isn’t something to be taken lightly. Some may laugh that the car says drive when it’s clearly in park, but a more dangerous situation might be down the road if the problem isn’t addressed.

In some vehicles, the key will not turn in the ignition if the vehicle is not in park. If the cable begins to stretch, the vehicle may not reach the park position, meaning you may not be able to remove the key from the ignition or turn off the vehicle. Here, the seriousness of the problem enters the scene.

A broken or bent shifter gear could cause your vehicle to start in another gear besides park or neutral. This symptom could be an issue with the shift interlock solenoid or the shifter cable. In the process, the transmission is taking a brutal beating.

If you start your vehicle, try to shift into gear and the selector will not move, there is a problem with the shifter cable. The car will not be able to be used until this issue is solved.

Call a tow truck (or a junkyard). The repair could cost as much as $400.

Will a Car Run with a Broken Shifter Cable?

Driving with a broken shifter cable is very dangerous. If you know your shifter cable needs repair, avoid driving your vehicle. It is safer to have the car towed off to your mechanic.

Imagine driving without knowing what gear you are in as you try to turn off the vehicle. Not only will your vehicle continue on its path, but you will also lose power steering and power braking. You will damage your car and everything in its path.

A car with a broken or failing shifter cable is unpredictable and hazardous. A mechanic needs to diagnose this problem to differentiate between parts that have similar symptoms. Only when the parts are replaced can your vehicle properly function.

Yes, a car will run with a broken shifter cable, but that doesn’t mean you should drive it.

How Much Does It Cost to Replace a Shifter Cable?

There are many things car owners don’t want to hear from their mechanics including anything related to the transmission, like a shifter cable

Even one mechanical issue related to the transmission could cause engine failure, so it is important to make the necessary repair.

The variations of each make and model affect the price of parts.

The average cost to replace a shifter cable in an automatic transmission is between $290 and $330, with parts priced around $125 and labor priced between $165 and $205. The average cost to replace a shifter cable in a manual transmission is between $200 and $450.

Although you may be able to start the vehicle with a worn or failing shifter cable, it is very dangerous to drive meaning this repair is essential for your car’s health and your safety.

Some shifter cables may be hard to find, especially for older cars. This means a trip to the junkyard for used parts might be in order. Consider this: Do you really want to use a used shifter cable? It’s an important part. Sometimes when this part breaks, it’s a sign to let that old car go once and for all.

Can I Replace a Shifter Cable Myself?

If you are not a mechanic or car professional, replacing a shifter cable is a fairly difficult task.

First, you will have to disconnect the cable from the shifter. On some car models, this means removing the center console to get to the mechanics and then reattaching it when finished. Next, you will have to disconnect the cable from the engine control arm. 

At this point, you will need to determine if the shifter cable needs to be replaced or if it is merely a broken anchor.

If the shifter cable is broken but the anchoring points are good, connect the new cable. Lastly, check for functionality.

Although the number of steps may seem small, this is a big job. What happens if you go through the steps and the car doesn’t function properly? This job is best left to a professional. Call a few mechanics to ask for quotes.

It’s kind of like electric work – anybody can change a lightbulb, but not many people are qualified to safely rewire a house. As is the case with any hazardous work, it’s better to rely on a professional.

Otherwise, you could sell your car to a junkyard.

Is Fixing a Vehicle with a Broken Shifter Cable Worth It?

The shifter cable is an essential piece of technology of which many of us are hardly aware. Without it, we aren’t able to drive the vehicle, and may not even be able to start it.

While shifter cables are known for failure on certain car models, the majority last between 125,000 to 175,000 miles on average for a vehicle with an automatic transmission. Vehicles with a manual transmission may wear out sooner due to the heavy stress they are subject to.

This is true about a manual transmission. Sometimes the model costs less and is mor fun to drive, but there is more maintenance involved. People are often surprised how much it costs to install a new clutch and that the repair happens earlier than they think.

Most of us drive with a destination and schedule in mind. Leaving your house or work only to learn your car won’t start is a problem none of us want to deal with. Not only could this situation occur, but we could also end up driving a car that will not shift into park, taking down everything in its path.

For a few hundred dollars, this is a repair worth fixing. Don’t let symptoms continue for too long before having it repaired.

If you can’t afford the repair or simply don’t want to due to the vehicle’s age or other circumstances, you could sell the car to a mechanic or store it.

Another great option is sending the car to a junkyard. Junkyards are always happy to take in cars for valuable parts, recycle what remains and offer payment in cash.

The Shifter Cable is Taking Us Places

When we get into our car and the car won’t start, we worry but imagine driving your car and losing the ability to turn it off. What do you do with a vehicle that won’t shift into park and turn off?

To better understand our options, we need to know the symptoms of a broken or failing shifter cable. We can explain these symptoms to a mechanic for a professional diagnosis. For only a few hundred dollars, the shifter cable will be repaired giving you a functioning vehicle and peace of mind.

If you can’t afford to have a mechanic repair the shifter cable, you could try repairing it yourself, although it is not recommended. Don’t drive the car until this repair is made as the possible outcomes are incredibly dangerous. 

If your vehicle isn’t worth the investment of this repair, deliver the vehicle to a junkyard. Use that cash payment towards something worth the investment and wave goodbye to that problem.

Vehicle repairs help you stay on the road but come at a cost. There are pros and cons to each decision but don’t let the vehicle decide for you. You know your needs better than anyone and can make an informed decision.

It’s hard to put a price tag on the peace of mind that a healthy shifter cable offers.