When you put your gear selector in drive, you expect to be able to move forward. When you shift to reverse, you expect the car to back up. When everything’s working right, that’s what happens. However, if there is a problem with the shift selector cable, you might encounter some problems.
All transmissions have at least one shift selector cable (automatic transmissions usually have one, while manual transmission have two to account for both the X and Y axis on which you can move the shifter). In both types of transmissions, the cable does the same thing. It tells the transmission what you want to do. Based on that input, the transmission shifts into the specified gear.
Your shift selector cable is used every time you move the gear shift, whether you’re parking the car, or putting it into second gear to handle a steep incline. That means it gets a lot of wear and tear. The most common problem is for the shift selector cable to begin stretching (before it breaks). Eventually, the wear will become enough that the cable might snap.
Another issue is presented by the shift selector linkage (what the cable connects to). Many cars use plastic connectors and linkage components. These can become brittle over time, and break. When that happens, the symptoms are identical to a broken shift selector cable.
With that being said, your shift selector cable doesn’t have a specified lifespan. It lasts as long as it lasts. In most cases, you should get at least five to eight years out of it, but premature failure isn’t uncommon. Knowing the signs and symptoms to watch for can help make the situation easier to bear (and have corrected). These include:
Moving the gear shift doesn’t shift the transmission
Transmission is slow to shift gears in comparison to shifter movement
The gear shift indicator on the shifter is inaccurate (shows drive when you’re in park for instance)
There is no feeling of resistance when you move the gear shift
If any of these symptoms sound familiar, YourMechanic can help get you back on the road safely. One of our mobile mechanics can come to your home or office, inspect the system, and replace the shift selector cable if that’s the problem.
This article originally appeared on YourMechanic.com as How Long Does a Shift Selector Cable Last? and was authored by Valerie Johnston.