When you put your transmission in drive, your car is able to move forward. When you shift to reverse, you can back up. However, you need to know what gear you’re moving your car’s transmission into in order to drive safely. This is where the shift indicator (automatic transmission) comes into play.
When you move your transmission into gear, the selector should show which gear you’ve chosen. The shift indicator is a cable that attaches to the shifter. It works in tandem with the shift cable, but is a separate system. Over time, the indicator cable can stretch or even break.
You use the shift indicator every time you move from one gear to the next. That’s a lot of use when factored over the life of a vehicle. Of course, there’s no set lifespan for the shift indicator. It should last the life of the vehicle, but sometimes they do fail prematurely.
If the shift indicator fails, you can still drive your car without a problem. The issue is that you won’t have a visual identifier telling you which gear you’ve selected. This can lead to issues like dropping lower than drive, and trying to move the car in a lower gear, which can cause damage if you’re not careful. There’s also the possibility that rather than putting the car in park, you’ll accidentally put it in reverse, which can cause injuries to anyone (or anything) behind the car.
While there’s no predetermined lifespan for your shift indicator on an automatic transmission, there are a few signs that you can watch for that tell you the indicator is about to fail (or has already failed). These include the following:
Gear selection readout is slow to change
Gear selection readout does not change when you move from one gear to another
Gear selection readout is incorrect (shows you’re in neutral when you’ve selected drive, for instance)
Having an operational shift indicator isn’t a requirement for driving, but it definitely helps improve your safety and that of those around you. If you suspect there’s a problem with your shift indicator, YourMechanic can help. One of our mobile mechanics can come to your home or office, inspect your car and repair or replace the shift indicator if necessary.