The shifter in your vehicle’s cabin takes input from you to shift the car in the required gear by the driver.
When the driver moves the shifter in the cabin to shift the vehicle from, let’s say, “Park” to “Drive,” the motion of the moving shifter is transferred to the transmission position sensor via a shifter cable.
The connections on both ends of the shifter cable can wear out and get loose over time, or the shifter cable can completely break or extend. This can result in a loose shifter that does not change any gears regardless of any input.
This Is Why Your Shifter Moves But Doesn’t Change Gears:
The exact cause of a loose shifter can vary according to the specific vehicle, but the most probable cause of a loose shifter is a bad shifter cable or loose shifter cable connections on the shifter and the transmission end.
- This Is Why Your Shifter Moves But Doesn't Change Gears:
- Main Cause of a Loose Shifter
- Symptoms of a Bad or Failing Shift Selector Cable
- Can You Drive a Vehicle with A Broken Shifter Cable?
- How Much Does It Cost to Fix a Car Shifter?
Main Cause of a Loose Shifter
We have discussed the two possible causes of a loose shifter in detail below.
1. Shifter Cable Loose at The Transmission or The Shifter
The shifter cable connects the shifter in the cabin to the transmission position sensor (AKA transmission range sensor, AKA neutral safety switch).
The cable is fixed at the end with nuts and bolts, and room for adjustment is available on both ends in the case of shifter cable replacement with a slightly different length. The connections on both ends can get loose due to the vibrations and daily wear and tear.
This can cause the connecting ends of the shifter cable to move freely in the adjustment slot instead of being fixed at a calibrated position. This causes the shifter to move freely or not change gears or change into incorrect gear regardless of the input at the shifter end.
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2. Broken Shifter Cable
The shifter cable connecting the shifter with the transmission is prone to stretching, bending, wearing, and tearing over time.
Stretching of the cable can cause the shifter to change into incorrect gears compared to the shifter’s position. For example, when a shifter with stretched shifter cable is moved from “Park” to “Drive,” the active gear reported on the dashboard might be “(N) Neutral” or “(L) Low Gear.”
The Shifter cable can sometimes completely break and completely cut off the shifter and the transmission connection. However, complete tearing of shifter cable is unlikely to happen on most vehicles.
Suppose the shifter cable is still intact and is rigidly attached on both the transmission and the shifter end upon inspection. Then the problem might be in your vehicle’s transmission range sensor or in the transmission itself. However, this is something that rarely happens.
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Symptoms of a Bad or Failing Shift Selector Cable
A bad or failing shift selector cable or its connections can show the following symptoms.
1. The Shifter Does Not Change Gears
When moved from one gear to another, the shifter will not change the gear on the gear indicator on the dashboard. This is caused by a broken or disconnected shifter cable, and the shifter might also feel lighter while shifting.
2. The Vehicle Won’t Turn Off
The vehicle might not let you cut the engine if the gear is not actually in “(P) Park” or “(N) Neutral.” In case of a stretched or bent shifter cable, the shifter, when placed in the park position, the vehicle might still be in another gear that does not allow the car to shut itself down or remove the key.
3. Indicate Incorrect Gear
A loose shifter connection or stretched or bent shifter cable can cause the vehicle to show up a different gear on the dashboard compared to the shifter position in the cabin.
How Do You Test a Shifter Cable?
You can test a shifter cable by monitoring the shifting operation in a vehicle. You can perform a short test to check the integrity of the shifter cable in your car.
1. Start your vehicle and press on the brake pedal for the car to allow you to change the gear from the “(P) Park” position.
2. Change the gear into reverse by placing the shifter next to the “R” sign and check whether the dashboard confirms if the reverse gear has been activated.
3. Confirm if the reverse gear has been activated by letting the car brakes go for a short instance and check if the car moves backward.
4. Perform the same check with the “(N) Neutral” and “(D) Drive” positions on the shifter.
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Can You Drive a Vehicle with A Broken Shifter Cable?
It is very unsafe to drive a vehicle with a broken shifter cable. A car with a broken shifter cable will not change gears on any user input.
If your vehicle’s shifter cable is damaged, it is advisable not to drive it to the mechanic, either call the mechanic to replace the shifter cable at your place or flatbed tow the vehicle and take it to a nearby workshop.
How Much Does It Cost to Fix a Car Shifter?
Replacing the Shifter cable is not a very difficult job. The Job complexity varies from vehicle to vehicle depending on how accessible the cable is from both the shifter and the transmission end.
If the shifter cable linkage has become loose from either end, then it can be tightened with a labor cost of around 30-50 USD.
But if you suspect that your complete shifter cable is broken, bent, or stretched, then new cables cost about 80-120 USD, and labor for the cable replacement sets you back another 100-200 USD.
If you find yourself in a situation where your gear shifter moves but doesn’t change gears, it is best to search for a mobile mechanic that can travel to your place and replace the shifter cable. You should never attempt to drive the car in this situation, even if you manage to get the car in Drive mode.
Every since I was a little boy, I can remember spending the afternoons in my dad’s repair shop. I got my first car at 16 and it was the best feeling ever!
I have contributed to various automotive publications but decided it’s finally time to settle for something constant.