The shifter, shift, or gear shift cable connects the gear shifter to the automatic transmission, allowing you to shift gears.
Depending on your vehicle, it either runs from the steering wheel to the transmission or from the floor console.
If it goes out, is starting to wear out, or is starting to deteriorate, you’ll want to replace it. But, how much does that cost?
The average cost of shifter cable replacement is about $250-$400. Here, you’ll pay an average of $50 for the parts and about an hour of labor for the replacement work.
However, depending on the make and model of your car, that could be up to four hours of work, or an average of $75-$300 in labor costs. Plus, you may want to replace bushings, links, and other parts at the same time – which can add to the total cost.
The table below shares a quick price comparison of shifter cable replacement cost estimates from reputable suppliers:
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How Much Does Shifter Cable Replacement Cost?*
Shifter cable replacement costs will depend on two major factors: the layout of the car and the local cost of labor.
For example, the following chart details cost estimates for different vehicles.
|Vehicle||Shifter Cable Cost||Cost of Labor|
*Note: Prices are estimates and were correct at the time of writing in May 2023. Cost estimates may have changed since. Our figures should be used as a starting point for your own research.
What Is A Shifter Cable?
The shifter cable or transmission shift cable connects the shifter handle and the transmission of the vehicle. Normally, this cable is tensioned so that when you adjust the shifter, it translates that as a mechanical force to the transmission.
Here, an automatic car has a single shift cable connected from the center console or the steering wheel to the transmission. On the other hand, a manual car has two, to account for both axes on the stick shift.
In this case, the mechanism is typically more complex and contains a selector lever, shift lever, and a selector assembly under the stick shift. This means it will cost more to repair than simply replacing a cable. However, you can also often remove the cable and simply screw a new one in place when the cable goes out.
If your shifter cable goes out, you cannot shift gears. This means it’s important to resolve the issue as quickly as possible once you know it exists. And, your mechanic may opt to manually inspect your cables and recommend a replacement when doing routine maintenance, such as when changing the transmission fluid or doing your yearly inspection.
However, the cable itself should last for 5-8 years – which means this is not a routine issue.
Shifter Cable Replacement Pricing Factors
Replacing a shifter cable will depend on factors like the local cost of labor, the make and model of the vehicle, and how much you pay for parts.
The following includes some of the most common cost factors you’ll have to consider.
Your transmission will impact how much work it is to take the shifter apart and replace the cable. Here, automatic cars have a simpler system, meaning they will normally have reduced fees.
For example, if you have to take apart a shifter link and replace both cables in a manual car, you could be looking at costs of up to $500.
However, manual transmissions are also more likely to have the shifter in the center console of the car and not in the steering column. That will save you on cost of labor.
Therefore, it will sometimes even out, especially if only part of the cable is damaged or worn. For example, if you just have to remove a cable and put it back in, the rest of the layout won’t matter as much. However, a manual transmission is more likely to have mechanical issues which means replacing more parts.
Layout of Car
It’s almost always cheaper to replace a shifter cable linked to a shifter in the center console of the car than to a steering column. That’s because if you replace a shifter cable in the steering column, you’ll have to take the cover off – which can be quite a bit of work.
Unfortunately, most automatic cars have a shifter cable in the steering wheel these days. If you know the layout of your car, you can usually estimate costs based on that.
If you have a center console with an automatic transmission, you can expect it to take about an hour to change the shift cable. On the other hand, if you have a manual transmission, you can probably add another half hour onto that.
And, if you have an automatic transmission with the shifter in the steering column, you can probably add another one to three hours to that.
You may want to simply replace the shifter cable. On the other hand, you may also want to replace the bushings, the shifter mechanism, the shifter link, or other parts.
What you do should normally depend on why the cable is damaged or worn down. For example, if you haven’t replaced it in 8-10 years, the rest of the car might be fine.
However, bushings also wear down. If the cable is worn down, the bushings are probably ready for a change as well.
Most importantly, those parts are cheap. In addition, spending a total of $500 now to replace the full system because it’s worn down could actually save you a lot over replacing the bushings separately at a later point.
Cost of Parts
Shifter cables are relatively simple mechanisms. This means they can be relatively cheap. However, they’re normally about $50 each.
That can go as low as $9.99 for a Chinese “made-to-fit” part from Amazon or up to $270 for an original equipment manufacturer part from a manufacturer like Honda. It very much depends on the manufacturer and what they are charging.
Often, you won’t want to go for a basic and very cheap cable. In most cases, going for a middle ground of a good-quality aftermarket part is good enough.
However, you can discuss options with your technician to see if they recommend the original equipment manufacturer part.
Cost of Labor
Labor is normally the most important cost of replacing a shifter cable. In most of the United States, you’ll pay about $50-$75 per hour for a technician to do the work for you.
However, that can go to over $200 if you’re in a very urban area (e.g., Seattle) or if you go to dealerships. Mostly, you’ll pay $50-$95 at a regular mechanic, $95-$200 at a chain shop like Pep Boys or Midas, and usually over $100 at a dealership.
Replacing a shifter cable can take anywhere from 1 to over 4 hours depending on how difficult it is to disassemble your vehicle. For example, if you have to take the steering column apart, it will always take more time.
You’ll also have to calculate in shop fees and any potential parking fees. For example, if your mechanic can’t get to your vehicle to do the work right away but you leave the car for a few days, you might pay a lot fee – which can be $5-$25 per day.
In addition, you’ll normally pay a 5-20% shop fee over the cost of labor and the cost of the parts.
Signs Of A Bad Shifter Cable
A bad shifter cable has a few very recognizable symptoms.
You can normally spot them through the following:
1. Shifting is Difficult or Unresponsive
If your gear selection or shift stick is suddenly very hard to move or gears don’t shift as they should, it may be a shifter cable issue.
However, this can also be a result of the transmission or the gearbox having issues. For example, if the gearbox fluid is low or if the transmission is slipping.
However, if the shifter cable is broken, you won’t be able to shift through gears at all. If the shifter cable is stretched, you’ll have difficulty shifting through, because it requires more force to create the same mechanical tension at the end.
In either case, you’ll be able to look for other symptoms of a damaged shifter cable to verify the issue.
2. Key Doesn’t Remove from Ignition
If you put your vehicle in park or neutral and turn the engine off, but then can’t remove the key, it normally means the vehicle is not actually in the gear you set it to.
This is often a shifter cable issue – as the gear will be different from the selected gear, because the cable tension is different than is required to change the tension.
This is dangerous, because it can mean that your vehicle can roll or be pushed.
You can try shifting gears until you can remove the key from the ignition to see, which you’ll be able to do when the car is in “park”. However, not all cars have this tell, as not all vehicles limit key removal to when the vehicle is in “park”.
3. Gear Doesn’t Match Selection
If you try to set park, neutral, or another gear and you get something else, it’s a good sign that it’s a shifter cable issue.
Here, the issue may also be caused by slipping gears in the transmission or a damaged selector. However, in these cases, it’s also very likely that you’d hear grinding, scraping, or have more resistance when shifting through gears.
Therefore, if you just have issues with the gear not matching the selection and not other symptoms, it’s likely to be a gear shift cable issue.
4. Vehicle Starts in a Different Gear
If you start your car and you’re not in park or neutral, it means something is wrong with the gear selection.
However, this could also be a solenoid issue, which means you’ll probably want to run a diagnostics as well. This will tell you if the issue is actually a solenoid problem or not.
5. Physical Damage to Cable
In most cases, the first step to assessing whether an issue is a shifter cable problem is to inspect the cable.
If it’s rusted, corroded, wearing thin, snapped, or loose, tightening or replacing it will likely resolve the issue. Unfortunately, on many vehicles, you’ll have to do most of the work of dismantling the steering assembly to check this in the first place.
How Do You Replace A Shifter Cable? (Video)
If you’re into DIY, you can usually replace a shifter cable yourself, and without spending too much time on it.
Here, you’ll likely want to look for your car’s service manual upfront. You’ll also want to ensure that you have the tools on hand before you get started.
Things You’ll Need:
- Service manual for your vehicle
- Replacement shifter cable and bushings
- Potentially: Replacement shifter solenoid
- Screwdriver set
- Wrench set to match your vehicle (Imperial or metric)
The process of accessing your shifter cable will vary a great deal depending on where your shifter is located.
If you have a center console, accessing the cable will be easy. If you have a steering wheel shifter, you’ll have to disassemble the cover first.
Before you get started, park your car on a flat service, set it in park if you can, chock the wheels, and turn the engine off. Remove the key from the ignition if you can and if you can’t, leave the doors open.
Then, unplug the battery from the left terminal and tuck it up out of the way. Attempt to start your vehicle to remove any residual power from the vehicle.
- Center Console: Remove the frame and trim from around the shifter. This may require removing clips or small screws. Check your manual. Remove the rubber sleeve around the shifter. You’ll have direct access to the shift cable. On some cars, you’ll have to remove the full center console. Make sure you follow your service manual and take pictures so it’s easier to put everything back together.
- Steering Wheel: Check your vehicle’s manual and find the bolts for the sleeve for your steering column. Undo them and remove the sleeve. Remove any panels as necessary. From there, you should have access to the shifter cable.
- Unbolt the nut holding the shifter cable to the base of the arm.
- Then, pull the cable out of the anchor. You may have to wriggle the shifter to do so.
- Open the engine compartment or go under your car and find the two points where the shifter cable attaches to the transmission shifting arm.
- Remove both nuts and slide the sleeve out of the anchor.
- Inspect the anchors and the arm to ensure they aren’t damaged. You’ll also want to inspect the rubber bushings. If they show signs of wear and tear, you’ll want to replace them.
- From the shifter side, slide the cable into the anchor and then bolt it in place.
- Repeat at each of the two points on the shifter arm.
Then, test your vehicle by turning it on and shifting through gears. Make sure everything responds as it should before taking a test drive.
Replacing a shifter cable is a must if yours is going out. Not doing so puts you and your car at risk. However, this job normally costs $250-$400 including parts and labor. While you can save money by buying aftermarket parts or by doing the work yourself, that isn’t always the best call for your vehicle. In addition, a new shifter cable should last at least 5-8 years, meaning you won’t have to replace it again for a very long time.
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