Have you ever driven down a wet road in a 4-wheel drive during a heavy blizzard or on a very bumpy road when suddenly you notice your 4-Wheel Drive Shifter Is Loose? Your transfer case shift selector is just flopping around with no resistance. The transfer case shift lever is usually quite stiff but suddenly it feels loose and disconnected, sort of similar to a game console joystick. What could be the cause of this happening and how can it be resolved?
A transfer case shift selector is held in position by a linkage and a rubber bushing. Over time the rubber bushing gets soft and perishes, resulting in it simply breaking off or not holding the lever firmly in position any longer. Alternatively, the linkage could break or the linkage junction could work loose and fall off, causing the transfer case shift selector to flop around loosely.
let’s now look at how it can be repaired and how to determine if it is the rubber bushing or the linkage that failed. Later we will also look at an emergency fix when stuck in 4H, as well as the components required to get the 4-wheel gear shifter repaired.
Table of Contents
4-Wheel Drive Shifter Is Loose: Dangling
There is a third scenario, depending on the make and model, but there is a nut on the adjuster rod that could become corroded and either break off or work itself loose, also resulting in a loose shifter lever.
How does one go about determining this? Well, you will need to physically climb underneath the 4-wheel drive with a flashlight and inspect the linkages as well as the rubber bushings for cracking, tearing, or broken and completely missing components.
Below is an extract from an actual explanation of how it happened:
Got us a monsoon of a storm today, the kind with a foot or two of standing water on the roads, where there were a bunch of cars pulled over with flashers going. Came upon about a 1/4 mile low stretch, figured I’d put it in 4WD at least till I got to the other side. Shifted fine, 4 HI, drove through, no problem, hit a small bump just before coming out of the water (only about a foot to foot and a half deep) and noticed the transfer case shifter bounced forward about 3 or 4 inches. Put my hand on it and it freely moves all the way up & down. No resistance, doesn’t engage anything.Extract taken from dodgeforum.com.
Next, let us look at what the actual cause of the rubber grommet failure is.
Loose Shifter – Shift Selector Bushing Failing
Like most things, rubber grommets and bushings, unfortunately, do not last forever and become susceptible to the effects of wear and tear as well as heart and oil. These all accelerate the rate at which a rubber grommet can perish prematurely.
You could have a situation where the grommet will come apart and cause the linkage to just float around. This will occur when you hit a small bump in the road. The linkage may have fallen out the lever of the transfer case.
Let us look at how heat and oil affect rubber grommets.
How does Heat affect Rubber Bushings?
Rubber is made up of many atoms and molecules. (Molecules are groups of atoms that are bonded together.) A human cannot see these molecules with the naked eye. The molecules are always vibrating around and bumping into one another. Now when the material gets hotter, the molecules vibrate more vigorously and more intensely. This bumping into one another harder is the reason why the material expands a little each time. The scientific terminology for this phenomenon is called thermal expansion.
Thermal expansion is responsible for many of the cracks you see in roadways, sidewalks, rubber bushes, grommets, and seals constantly exposed to heat. The constant variation of temperature from very hot to very cold is caused when you drive the vehicle to when it is parked overnight. The engine temperature and heat given off inside the engine may cause the materials to expand and contract over and over again, eventually leading to cracks.
How does Oil affect Rubber Grommets?
How does the oil of an engine affect the rubber bushings on a vehicle?
O-rings in engines and gearboxes use heat and oil-resistant rubber. Over time, exposure to substances like petroleum degrades this rubber. Leaks worsen rubber breakdown; oil exposure hastens the degradation, leading to quick perishing. Contact with hot oil causes the rubber to pop off or tear, loosening or dislodging its secured components due to a bump or movement.
Next, let us look into how we can replace the bushing and secure the linkage back in place.
Repair Linkages and Replace the Selector Bushing
4WD drivers often report loose shifter linkages causing the shifter to flop without resistance. This leads to issues engaging or disengaging 4H mode when the rubber bushing or linkage dislodges.
Repairing the linkage is usually straightforward unless internal damage occurs in the transfer case. However, a broken linkage in 4H mode poses a problem.
In this instance, if you desperately need to engage 2H mode you will need a quick fix. This can be done using a pry bar to remove the linkage so it is out of the way. This will allow you to manually move the lever at the transfer case and engage 2H mode.
Junction and Linkage Damage
Slight shifter movement is often normal due to drivetrain vibrations on uneven roads. Worn rubber mounts may exaggerate this, potentially causing bending or breakage at the junction. Lower-positioned transmission and transfer case mounts amplify the movement. Excessive play may indicate broken linkage or damaged junction due to wear or rust causing a loose shifter.
Broken or Missing Tension Bolt
If your transfer case shifter has a setup that includes a bolt that is positioned on the lever with a tension setting then this part is for you. This is the kind of setup you will find in the Ford F150.
The bottom part of the shift rod is shaped like a small U and slots over a small pin. There is a nut and bolt that is used to adjust the tension, fasten it, and keep it in place. If this nut and bolt fall off, your shifter will be loose and lack tension.
Have a look at the below images and notice the missing bolt on the image on the right.
The bolt can work itself loose due to constant vibration from perhaps regularly driving on a corrugated dirt road or a very bumpy road surface. Once the bolt loosens and falls off there will be no tension on the lever.
If the bolt breaks off inside the tension-setting arm, you will need to remove the entire arm and drill out the bolt first. This can be drilled and backed out with an easy-out of the same diameter.
Your other option is to drill a bigger hole and use a tap to clean the bolt threads out of the hole treads. Re-tap it with a slightly bigger thread and replace the bold with the appropriate size.
The last and easiest option is to buy a new linkage and replace the entire unit. This will result in slicker and easier shifting between 2H and 4H, especially 4Lo.
So there are a few things that could cause the 4-wheel drive shifter to not engage or be stuck in 4H mode. They could be any of the following:
|Broken linkage||Linkage physically fractured or damaged|
|Missing linkage||Linkage components absent|
|Broken or missing Bolts and nuts||Fasteners securing the shifter are damaged or absent|
|Missing Rubber Grommet||Absence of the rubber grommet|
|Perished Rubber Bushing||Rubber bushing degraded or deteriorated|
Take the time to investigate what the possible cause is by crawling underneath and having a look around with a flashlight. We have established that it could be a problem if you are stuck in 4H or 4Lo mode and you desperately need to engage 2H mode to safely drive on a high traction surface such as tarmac roads. In this instance, you will need to physically pry the transfer case into 2H and have it repaired at your next convenience.