How to Adjust a Vehicle’s Shift Linkage
If you have a vehicle with both manual and automatic transmissions, knowing how to adjust shift linkage can be a valuable skill. We'll take a look at what goes into shift cable adjustment here.
What Is a Shift Linkage?
A shift linkage, also known as a transmission linkage, is a system of cables that connect a vehicle's gear selector to its transmission. The gear selector, usually referred to as the gear shift, connects to the transmission and rotates so that your car ends up in park, reverse, neutral, or drive when you want it to.
So yes, the shift linkage is rather important to a working car.
The shift linkage will look different in various makes and models of cars, but the basics remain the same. In all cars, there are two shifts: a column shift and a floor shift. Both shifts have attached cables and work like arms or levers to move in different directions.
Depending on the car, the placement of the shifts will vary, but ultimately these mechanisms are there to make sure your car can shift in connection with your transmission.
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How to Adjust a Shift Linkage
If you need to fix the shift linkage in your car and you want to try it out on your own before heading to a mechanic, here's what you need to do.
Step 1 - Get Ready
You'll need a car jack and a second person for this job.
Once your friend is situated behind the wheel, jack the front of the car and put wheel chocks behind the back tires of the car.
Safety Note: Blocking the wheels while you're jacking a car is a critical safety step. Don't work under a car unless you're absolutely sure it won't roll.
Step 2 - Tighten the Transmission Bracket
Have your helper the shifter into a neutral position. Once it's in neutral gear you will then go and check the position of your shifting arm on the transmission. Double-check and make sure the stick is in a neutral position so that it is easier to line up the engine side of your cable.
Then locate the transmission bracket and find the two nuts on the bracket. Tighten the nuts. If you don't know what you're looking for, it may be a good idea to google an image of your specific car's transmission bracket beforehand.
Step 3 - Check the Connection on the Engine
Check the shift cable where it attaches to the transmission shifter arm. Use your wrenches to place tension or remove tension on the cable until it forces the shifter on the engine block into neutral as well. Then tighten the locking screws to keep the cable sleeve from moving in the future.
Step 4 - Check the Progress
Once you've done this, have your friend in the car shift the car through the gears. If the cable appears to be loose or wiggly still, you need to tighten the nuts a little more. Go through the process until you can shift the gears while the cables stay secure and in place.
Make sure to not tighten the nuts too much. If you overtighten, things can bend and break, and then you're looking at a full replacement—not just a minor repair.
If you've gone through all these steps but your shift linkage still seems to be struggling, it may be time to get professional help from a mechanic. Basic repairs should cost you less than a hundred dollars while extensive repairs can cost upwards of two hundred and fifty.
How Do I Know My Shift Linkage Is Bad?
Here are some of the most common signs you need a shift linkage adjustment:
- Thumping or clunking sounds
- Squealing or whirring sounds
- Leaking transmission fluid
- Trouble shifting
What Causes Shift Linkage to Break?
Believe it or not, the most common cause of shift linkage problems comes from stretching in the cables. This is more common in cars with a manual shift because when you forget to shift gears at the right time your cables stretch and your car struggles to get the right gear. Stretching is much more uncommon in cars with automatic transmissions, but it does still happen on a rare occasion.
Over time, even with basic use, cables in the shift linkage can break and bend. Sometimes it just happens. Slamming the gears or poorly navigating manual transmission shifts can accelerate the decline of shift linkage in cars.
Can you Drive on a Damaged Shift Linkage?
The short answer is yes, sometimes you can still drive with a damaged shift linkage. Just because you can though, does not mean that you should. Driving on a damaged shift linkage could lead to larger problems with the shift linkage and transmission, and can even lead to larger problems in the car.
If you suspect that something is wrong with your shift linkage, the smart thing to do would be to get it looked at quickly. This will save you lots of time and money in the long run.
Do Shift Linkage Repair Kits Work?
Because having your shift linkage repaired at a local shop can sometimes cost as low as thirty or forty dollars, these kits aren't always worth it. Some of the shift linkage repair kits we've seen online go for double that, so unless you already have the gear you need, we definitely recommend just going to a professional and getting it done right the first time to save time and money
If you want to prolong the life of your car in general, including the life span of the shift linkage, there are some basic things you can do to keep things running smoothly. Set up a maintenance calendar so you never miss any area for too long. Check out our car care tips, and pay special attention to seasonal changes as well as basic things like oil changes and tire rotations.
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