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Pelican Technical Article:
Shift Cable Replacement

Jared Fenton
 

 
Time: 2 hours
Tab: $150
Talent:  
Tools:
Screwdrivers, socket sets, needle-nose pliers
Applicable Models:
R53 MINI Cooper S (2002-06)
R52 MINI Cooper S Convertible (2005-08)
Parts Required:
Shift Cables
Hot Tip:
clean around the shift housing
Performance Gain:
smoother shifting
Complementary Modification:
Short Shift Kit
 
   

  This article is one in a series that have been released in conjunction with Pelican Parts' new book, How to Maintain and Modify your new MINI. The book contains 240 pages of full color projects detailing everything from performance mods to changing your brake pads. With more than 500+ full-color glossy photos accompanying extensive step-by-step procedures, this book is required reading in any MINI owner's collection. The book is due to be released in late 2012. See The Official Book Website for more details.
 

Check out some other sample projects from the book: 

Need to buy parts for this project? Click here to order!
   
    

     Most front wheel drive cars nowadays use a series of cables to actuate the transmission gear changes. Because the transmission in front wheel drive cars is mounted transversely rather than longitudinally, it is difficult to come up with an actual mechanical linkage from the gearshift lever to the transmission. Having a cable operated system allows much more flexibility. NOTE: this arraignment is also used in some mid-engine cars, such as the Porsche Boxster.

     This system typically works very well, although there is a weak spot in the design. On the MINI, the spherical end joints at the transmission end are held by a rubber mount that can wear out and eventually tear away from the cable. In our case, the rubber surrounding the spherical end on the cable had worn away almost to this point. If it had separated, it could render the gearshift useless. Replacing the cables is well within the reach of the do-it-yourselfer, however you do need to gain access to the underside of the car.

     Begin by removing the air filter assembly (See our article on installing a performance intake system for more info). Underneath the lower airbox are the attachment points for the shift cables on the transmission (See Figure 2). Pry off the ball ends of the transmission with a screwdriver. If your cable ends are still good, I would recommend using a forked tool to apply equal pressure to each side of the rubber joint (See Figure 3). Once the ends are disconnected, squeeze the metal clips holding the cable ends into the black plastic holder and pry each cable end out (See Figure 4).

     Now jack the car up and place it on jack stands. Refer to our article on jacking up your car for more info. Under the car, you will see the exhaust running down the center of the car. Above the exhaust are a set of heat shields that line the inside of the tunnel. We will need to access the shifter housing which sits right above the center tunnel heat shield. You will need to remove the 10mm body nuts that secure the heat shield to the tunnel (See Figures 5, 6, 7 and 8). There are a total of 8 nuts as well as a small 8mm bolt that secures the center tunnel heat shield at the front of the car (See Figure 9). Now remove the oxygen sensor wiring from the two clips holding it to the heat shield. You don’t need to actually remove the oxygen sensor, just the loom going to it (See Figure 10).

     The center exhaust pipe is supported near the rear of the center tunnel by two rubber mounts bolted to a bracket. You will need to remove this bracket. There are 6 10mm bolts that secure the bracket to the car and 2 10mm bolts that secure the mounts to the bracket. Remove all of these bolts and rotate the bracket downward to free the exhaust mounts (See Figures 11, 12 and 13).

      Next, remove the two 15mm nuts securing the rear exhaust to the catalytic converter. Exhaust bolts tend to rust and/or corrode, so you may need to soak them in penetrant oil prior to removing (See Figure 14). Now separate the exhaust joint. There is a flexible exhaust section just in front of the catalytic converter that allows enough movement to work the joint free. It's also a good idea to support the rear section of the exhaust with a jack or jack stands (See Figure 15).

      Now, remove the heat shield above the exhaust and slide it out over the exhaust as shown by the green arrow. It will take a bit of work to free the shield up. Don't be afraid to bend the shield as needed to remove it (See Figure 16). You will now be able to see the two tabs holding the shift cable to the body directly above the catalytic converter. Pry the two rubber grommets holding the cables out of the tabs (See Figure 17).

      Follow the cables back to the shifter housing. Now pry the plastic cover off the bottom exposing the cables inside. Pop the cable ends off the ball joints. For the cable on the side, you can use a 14mm open end wrench in between the cable end and the ball joint to pry it off to the side (See Figure 18). The other cable end is a bit harder to remove because of the rotation of the shift lever and also as it's difficult to find a fulcrum point to pry it off. You can grab the cable end with some channel locks and give it a good tug downward to yank it off. Once both cable ends are free, use the channel locks to pull the two cable retaining clips down and off and pull the cables out of the shift housing and free of the car (See Figure 19 and Figure 20 ). Be sure to remove the small o-rings on the end of the old cables, and slide them onto the new cables.

     Now feed the new shift cables through the holes in the shifter housing, (taking care that the small o-rings around the cable retainers seat properly) Refit the cable retainer clips and pop the cable ends onto the new shift lever ball joints and re-fit the shift housing cover. work the other end of the cables up under the subframe to the plastic retainer on the transmission. Clearance will be tight in this area. Now, mount the plastic cable ends into the slots on the side of the retainer until they lock into position (See Figure 21). Now route the rubber grommets on the new cables into the tabs on the body above the catalytic converter. At this point, refit the heat shield and bolt the exhaust back together using a new gasket.

     From the top of the car, inside the engine compartment, pop the new cable ends onto the ball joints on the transmission. Now get in the car and work the gearshift, checking that each throw operates smoothly.
Shown here are a set of new shift cables for the MINI Cooper S.
Figure 1
Shown here are a set of new shift cables for the MINI Cooper S. Over time, the rubber that surrounds the spherical ends of the cable can wear or even tear loose, rendering the shifter inoperable.
Large Image | Extra-Large Image
Remove the air filter assembly to access the upper shift cable connection to the transmission.
Figure 2
Remove the air filter assembly to access the upper shift cable connection to the transmission.
Large Image | Extra-Large Image
Use two screwdrivers to pry the spherical ball joints off the connection points at the linkage.
Figure 3
Use two screwdrivers to pry the spherical ball joints off the connection points at the linkage. BMW specifies the use of a two armed tool to apply equal pressure to either side of the ball joint. With care, the screwdriver method will work. You can also use a an open end wrench to pry the ball joint off.
Large Image | Extra-Large Image
Once the cable ends are removed, squeeze the metal clips that hold each cable into the plastic retainer and pry them out (green arrows).
Figure 4
Once the cable ends are removed, squeeze the metal clips that hold each cable into the plastic retainer and pry them out (green arrows).
Large Image | Extra-Large Image
Jack the car up, place it on jack stands and remove the 10mm body nuts that secure the heat shield to the center tunnel.
Figure 5
Jack the car up, place it on jack stands and remove the 10mm body nuts that secure the heat shield to the center tunnel. Remove the nuts shown here on the driver's front side (green arrows).
Large Image | Extra-Large Image
Shown here are the body nuts to be removed on the passenger front side.
Figure 6
Shown here are the body nuts to be removed on the passenger front side. (green arrows).
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Moving down the center of the car, remove the body nuts in the middle (green arrows).
Figure 7
Moving down the center of the car, remove the body nuts in the middle (green arrows).
Large Image | Extra-Large Image
Keep moving towards the rear of the car and remove the body nuts towards the rear of the shield.
Figure 8
Keep moving towards the rear of the car and remove the body nuts towards the rear of the shield.
Large Image | Extra-Large Image
Don't forget to remove the small 8mm screw securing the front of the heat shield right above the catalytic converter.
Figure 9
Don't forget to remove the small 8mm screw securing the front of the heat shield right above the catalytic converter.
Large Image | Extra-Large Image
Remove the oxygen sensor wiring from the two clips holding it to the heat shield (green arrow).
Figure 10
Remove the oxygen sensor wiring from the two clips holding it to the heat shield (green arrow).
Large Image | Extra-Large Image
Remove the six 10mm bolts holding the exhaust mount bracket to the body (green arrows) as well as the two 10mm bolts securing the exhaust mounts to the bracket (yellow arrows).
Figure 11
Remove the six 10mm bolts holding the exhaust mount bracket to the body (green arrows) as well as the two 10mm bolts securing the exhaust mounts to the bracket (yellow arrows).
Large Image | Extra-Large Image
Once you rotate the bracket down, you can see how the exhaust mounts hook inside at one end.
Figure 12
Once you rotate the bracket down, you can see how the exhaust mounts hook inside at one end. (green arrows).
Large Image | Extra-Large Image
Rotate the bracket down further and move the exhaust mounts to release them from them.
Figure 13
Rotate the bracket down further and move the exhaust mounts to release them from them.
Large Image | Extra-Large Image
Next, remove the two 15mm nuts securing the rear exhaust to the catalytic converter.
Figure 14
Next, remove the two 15mm nuts securing the rear exhaust to the catalytic converter. Exhaust bolts tend to rust and/or corrode, so you may need to soak them in penetrant oil prior to removing.
Large Image | Extra-Large Image
Now separate the exhaust joint.
Figure 15
Now separate the exhaust joint. There is a flexible exhaust section just in front of the catalytic converter that allows enough movement to work the joint free. It's also a good idea to support the rear section of the exhaust with a jack or jack stands.
Large Image | Extra-Large Image
Now, remove the heat shield above the exhaust and slide it out over the exhaust as shown by the green arrow.
Figure 16
Now, remove the heat shield above the exhaust and slide it out over the exhaust as shown by the green arrow. It will take a bit of work to free the shield up. Don't be afraid to bend the shield as needed to remove it.
Large Image | Extra-Large Image
Up above the heat shield are the two tabs that hold the shift cables in place (green arrows).
Figure 17
Up above the heat shield are the two tabs that hold the shift cables in place (green arrows). Pry out the cables to free them from the center tunnel.
Large Image | Extra-Large Image
Now, pop the cable ends off the ball joints.
Figure 18
Now, pop the cable ends off the ball joints. For the cable on the side, you can use a 14mm open end wrench in between the cable end and the ball joint to pry it off to the side (yellow arrow). The other cable end is a bit harder to remove because of the rotation of the shift lever and also as it's difficult to find a fulcrum point to pry it off. I grabbed the cable end with some channel locks and gave it a good tug downward (green arrow). Once both cable ends are free, use the channel locks to pull the two cable retaining clips down and off (fuchsia arrows).
Large Image | Extra-Large Image
Once loose, pull the shift cable retaining clips down and off.
Figure 19
Once loose, pull the shift cable retaining clips down and off.
Large Image | Extra-Large Image
Slide the shift cables back and out of the shift housing.
Figure 20
Slide the shift cables back and out of the shift housing. Don't forget to remove the small seals on the end of each cable and fit them to the new cables.
Large Image | Extra-Large Image
Feed the new cable ends up through the engine compartment into the black plastic retainer and pop them both into place (green arrows).
Figure 21
Feed the new cable ends up through the engine compartment into the black plastic retainer and pop them both into place (green arrows).
Large Image | Extra-Large Image
Need to buy parts for this project? Click here to order!
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Comments and Suggestions:
Steven6817 Comments: My 2005 mini will go into gear fine but when I move it from 2nd to 3rd its very stiff. Shifting to 1st to 2nd is easy but when I go either right or left its very stiff.
June 30, 2014
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: This could be a cable issue. Try disconnecting the cables from the transmission and seeing how the shifter moves once disconnected. If still stiff, the cables may be binding. - Nick at Pelican Parts  
Buzzard Comments: "Use a small prybar or trim panel tool to lever the cable ends off." That worked, but I used a piece of wood across the plastic box to spread the force of the fulcrum. All back together now, and just read the o-ring part. Oh well, should be easier the second time.
June 23, 2014
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: Glad to help. Thanks for the follow up. - Nick at Pelican Parts  
Buzzard Comments: OK, got the cover by inserting a thin screwdriver blade around the lip and twisting. Now struggling to get the ends off the ball joints. 'a goog tug" is not cutting it...any other suggestions?
June 20, 2014
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: Use a small prybar or trim panel tool to lever the cable ends off. - Nick at Pelican Parts  
Buzzard Comments: ..."now pry the plastic cover off the bottom exposing the cables..." A little more help here would be appreciated, The plastic is brittle, and I don't want to break it.
June 20, 2014
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: Thanks for the follow up:

OK, got the cover by inserting a thin screwdriver blade around the lip and twistin - Nick at Pelican Parts
 
Tam Comments: Doing the clutch a couple weeks ago I broke one of the rubber bushings on the cable end, trying to separate it from the tranny.
I Was dreading this job as I'd assumed the shift cables went through the firewall. Looks easy-peasy though especially since I'll have my car up on a lift. Thanks for the write-up!
April 25, 2014
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: Thanks for the feedback. Glad we could help.
- Nick at Pelican Parts
 
Magicc Comments: Had to get the shift cables repaired for a newly bought 2004 Mini Cooper S. Now it seems that the upper gears don't always go into gear and grind. Is there an adjustment that I can do so that it easily shifts into 1st, 3rd, 5th, and reverse?
April 18, 2014
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: I do not believe there is an adjustment Something may have been repaired incorrectly. - Nick at Pelican Parts  
Minimonster Comments: My daughter on her mini cooper had a limp gear stick which would not engage some gears. The RAC man managed to glue the joint on the gearbox end as a short term fix.Two new cables were fitted and now OK.
March 27, 2014
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: Thanks for the follow up. We appreciate it.
- Nick at Pelican Parts
 
jo Comments: my sons car also wont move in gear. the shop guy said it needs another transmission. you think it could be the cable
January 16, 2014
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: The cable is easy to check, have them look into it. It may need a rebuilt unit. - Nick at Pelican Parts  
esstanlio Comments: @ Nick. I'm going to replace it all. both cables and the shifter. Not sure which shifter yet but any of the reputable after market shifters is going to be a step up. It would have been easier to sell the car if the engine didn't run so spectacular. That Brazilian motor just wants to go fast...If I could come up with a way to retain the cables and not bind them up I would but we're talking about a complete revamp of this set-up.
August 5, 2013
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: Thanks for the follow up. We appreciate it. - Nick at Pelican Parts  
esstanlio Comments: well my wife hasn't been able to go 30k in her 2002 S without shifter linkage problems. this is the third time the cable ends have "popped" out. We're on our second set of cables tooat 50k i think. needless to say I'm not impressed with how its engineered. I could pull the cables off the ball ends by hand.i think the balls need more press or retainers of some kind...sigh
July 27, 2013
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: Check that the ball ends are not worn. This does not sound right to me. Thanks for the info. - Nick at Pelican Parts  
Lisa Comments: Could this be a reason why my 207 mini cooper will shift into gear but will not move?
July 5, 2013
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: If the cables are faulty, the shifter will move, but it will not engage the gears. itis possible. I would inspect the shift cable operation at the transmission while you work the shifter. - Nick at Pelican Parts  
JohnR Comments: Mini owners take note: On my 2002 MCS, they broke at 90,000 miles. Unfortunately they broke while in 50 mph heavy rush hour traffic, center lane, in the rain on a Friday afternoon. Fortunately I felt the shifter go limp as I downshifted and I immediately shot through a hole in traffic right at an exit lane. Had I not got the car off the road that split second, I would have been just another car broken blocking the center lane in rush hour traffic. I recommend replacing cables at 100,000 miles even if they are still working.


August 24, 2012
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: Thanks for the info and mileage tip. Glad you were able to keep the car safe when the cables failed. - Nick at Pelican Parts  

Check out some other sample projects from the book: 

 

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  Applies to: R50 MINI Cooper (2002-06) - R53 MINI Cooper S (2002-06) - R52 MINI Cooper Convertible (2005-08) - R52 MINI Cooper S Convertible (2005-08) - R52 MINI Cooper S Convertible (2005-08) - R56 MINI Cooper (2007-) - R57 MINI Cooper Convertible (2007-)
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