How To Tell If You Have Automatic Transmission Shift Cable Problem? (4 Symptoms)

Automatic transmission cars have almost completely taken over the market because of how they are easier to drive than manual transmission cars especially if you are driving in the city or in places with heavy traffic.

That said, there may be times when your car won’t be able to properly automatically shift especially if there are problems with the shift selection cable.

How can you tell if you have an automatic transmission shift cable problem?

You have a bad shifter cable when the following symptoms are present:

  • The indicator doesn’t match the gear you are at;
  • Turning the car off is a struggle;
  • The car starts at another gear; and
  • The car won’t go into gear.

When you see these symptoms, it is time to have your shifter cable replaced.

Automatic Shift Cable

It is important for your automatic transmission car to have a shifter cable that’s working properly because this cable is necessary for your car to be in the right gear while you are driving.

As such, the moment you notice any of these symptoms, it is high time for you to take your car to the nearest mechanic to have it diagnosed and fixed.

Can you drive a car with a broken shifter cable?

When you are driving an automatic transmission car, it is much easier for you to cruise through the road knowing that you no longer have to look at your engine’s RPMs too much and then shift gears whenever there is a need for you to do so.

That’s why automatic cars have been much more popular than manual cars for a very long time already as they make things so easy for the driver.

In that regard, one of the more important components of an automatic transmission car is the shifter cable.

What this shifter cable does is that it acts as the link between the shifter handle and transmission in your automatic transmission car. Basically, it is responsible for shifting the gears in your car whenever you are moving the shifter handle inside the vehicle. Without it, you won’t be able to shift from one gear to another.

While automatic transmission cars do have an automatic shifter, the shifter cable still responds to when you move between the different positions on your shifter handle such as when you shift from drive to neutral or to reverse.

As such, without this shifter cable, there will be no link between the shifter handle and the transmission. 

But what if you have a faulty shifter cable?

We have established that you can’t drive shift gears without a shifter cable.

So, what happens if the shifter cable is only faulty or broken only instead of being totally absent? Can you still drive with a broken shifter cable?

For the most part, yes, you can still drive with a faulty shifter cable.

That’s because a broken shifter cable will still work but not in the way that it should be. It may still function from time to time but it will function in a faulty way that can make it extremely difficult for you to drive properly.

As such, just because you can drive with a broken shifter cable it doesn’t mean that you should actually be doing so.

How do you test a shifter cable?

Now that you know what the shifter cable does and whether or not you can still drive with a faulty one, how would you even know that the shifter cable is damaged or not? How do you test a faulty shifter cable?

Before that, what you should know is that it isn’t uncommon for shifter cables to fall apart or break from time to time.

That’s because, like all car components, these cables are prone to wear and tear as well especially when you consider the fact that these cables often go through movements that can damage them.

As such, shifter cables can eventually get damaged or may end up getting worn out due to stretching, breaking, or bending.

However, a shifter cable that has stretched is far more common than breaking or bending. Nevertheless, your shifter cable can become faulty due to the usual course of a vehicle’s daily functions.

So, how do you test whether or not your shifter cable is faulty or damaged?

Well, in response to that, here are some signs and symptoms that may indicate that you have a faulty shifter cable that is in need of repair or replacement:

1. The indicator doesn’t match the gear you are at

When you are driving an automatic transmission car, one of the things you will notice is that there is an indicator light that will tell you which gear you are at. For example, if you move from “drive” to “park”, the indicator will say that you are at “park”.

However, if you have a faulty shifter cable, there is a good chance that the indicator light won’t match the gear you are at.

That’s because the cable has stretched so much that it won’t end up moving to the gear that you shifted to when you moved the shifter on your car. As such, even though the positioning on the shifter may be right, the indicator won’t recognize that you have shifted gears precisely because the shifter cable did not even shift your transmission.

2. Turning the car off will be a struggle

Another symptom that will tell you that you have shifter cable problems is that your car won’t be able to turn off properly. It will be a struggle for you to do so, and there are pretty good reasons why this happens.

So, as the shifter cable stretches, what happens here is that the car won’t recognize that you moved the gear to “park” even though the shifter on the gear says that it is in “park”.

When your gear isn’t in “park”, you won’t be able to remove the key from the ignition or even switch the vehicle off. This can be dangerous because you won’t even know what gear you are at when you finally turn your vehicle off.

3. The car starts at another gear

In relation to the above-mentioned instances, when your shifter cable has stretched too much, your transmission won’t even recognize that you actually shifted gears with the shifter inside the car.

As such, even when you are at “park” or “neutral” on the shifter, the car might not actually be in the right gear.

So, when you start your car, it might be starting at another gear aside from “park” or “neutral”.

This can be problematic in the long run as it will be very difficult for you to have complete control over your car once you’ve started it because you don’t even know which gear it is at.

4. The car won’t even go into gear

Finally, when you start your vehicle and you try to shift from park or neutral into gear, what happens is that the gear selector in the transmission won’t even move if there is a problem with the shift selector.

That’s because the cable may have been broken or has probably stretched too much to the point that it is already beyond repair.

So, when that happens, you won’t even be able to go into gear as the broken shifter cable prevents transmission since it is basically the link between your shifter and the transmission.

If this is the case, you won’t even be able to properly use your car unless the problem has been remedied.

How much does it cost to replace a transmission shift cable?

When you do notice that your shifter cable is broken or faulty, the one thing you should do is to have a mechanic diagnose the problem so that he can fix it.

In most cases, the mechanic might recommend a replacement especially if the shifter cable has become too worn or stretched out beyond repair.

But there are still some cases where you can still have your shifter cable repaired. Still, the cable will only go so far until you will need a replacement.

Nevertheless, while you might not want to hear about the costs that you will have to bear when you want your shifter cable replaced or repaired, you have to understand how important the transmission is because a simple issue with the transmission can cause engine problems that will end up costing you more money in the future. As such, it is important that you have your shifter cable issues remedied immediately.

In most cases, the average cost to have your shifter cable replaced in an automatic transmission car can be somewhere between $300 and $350, give or take. It will depend on the car you have and on how much the parts are.

Meanwhile, the price can be broken down with parts costing somewhere close to $125 and labor expenses somewhere between $175 and $225. The labor cost may depend on where you are living.

There are also cases where some shifter cables may end up becoming too difficult to replace because of how old your car may be. As such, it might take more time and effort on the part of your mechanic to have it fixed because he would have to dig deep to find the right parts for the job.

As you can see, the cost of replacing your shifter cable isn’t cheap.

In fact, it might even be very expensive for a lot of people out there.

Then again, replacing your shifter cable can go a long way when it comes to saving more money because, for the price of a few hundred of dollars, you can potentially prevent further damage to your engine. 

Trust us when we say that having your engine repaired can be very expensive. And when the damage was done due to the faulty shifter cable, you would be regretting the day you decided to skip on having your shifter cable replaced promptly because you didn’t want to spend $300.


It Still Runs: The Signs & Symptoms of a Bad Shifter Cable

Auto Blog: Symptoms of a Bad or Failing Shift Selector Cable