The Signs & Symptoms of a Bad Shifter Cable

Written by mitchell brock
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The Signs & Symptoms of a Bad Shifter Cable
The gear lever cable is found on automatic and manual transmissions. (Photodisc/Photodisc/Getty Images)

The shifter cable runs from gear lever to the transmission linkage. It does not matter whether the vehicle is an automatic or manual transmission, because both transmissions have shifter cables. Since the manual transmission has more moving parts, most of the problems recorded occur in this type of transmission. Gear shifter cable problems affect the transmission, linkage and clutch. A number of signs and symptoms point to a shifter cable going bad.

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Gear Lever Play

Excessive gear lever play is a good sign that the shifter cable is going bad. When too much slack is in the shifter cable, the gear lever will feel loose or delay the engagement of the next gear. The shifter cable is stretched, the connection is loose or the cable is not adjusted properly. A loose or worn shift cable in a automatic transmission is visible when you transfer the gear lever from park to drive. The gear marking shows that the transmission is in one of the other gears, such as first gear, when it actually is in drive.

Vehicle Does Not Start

The vehicle will not start if the vehicle is not in neutral or park on an automatic transmission. The shifter cable is not engaging the linkage because of a broken cable, worn cable, damaged cable bushing, cable adjustment or stiff cable. After playing with the gear lever, you can generally get the vehicle to crank, but a broken shifter cable will not allow the gears to shift and the vehicle will remain in the last gear it was in before the cable broke.

Free gear lever

Some pressure is felt when shifting gears. If there is free play in the gear lever or the gear lever feels lighter when transferring gears, the shifter cable is damaged. Most likely the shifter cable has fallen off or broken and needs replacement or to be reattached.

gear lever Stiff

The gear lever will become stiff if the shifter cable is going bad or requiring repairs. It is common for road debris to build up on the shifter cable, causing it to become stiff. A stiff shifter cable can prevent the operator from shifting into gears, especially reverse, or make him use more force to shift from gear to gear.

Car Stalls

A car will stall if the shifter cable is going bad. Once you release the clutch on a manual transmission, the car will jump and stall if the shifter cable did not engage the next gear. A symptom such as this also occurs if you do not accelerate after the release of the clutch, but drivers with manual transmission experience will gear lever there is another problem besides their driving ability.


During gear shifting, you may hear a grinding noise or chatter because the linkage is not engaging the transmission properly. This occurs when the shifter cable is loose, worn, stretched or the cable bushing is damaged. The vehicle will also show this symptom if the cable is not adjusted properly.

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