Reader Question: Austin,
I was recently visiting a friend and while he was driving his car 1990 Mercury Sable up a steep hill and complaining about it dogging, I shifted his car into low gear. After I had left, his linkage broke and he wants me to pay for it.
Now before this happened he was asking me about his shift lever because it flopped around on the column, so I believe the issue was preexisting. I stated that shifting into low gear is not an issue and that I have done it hundreds of time in all my cars. Even the car rental company told us to use the low gear while traveling up and down the mountains.
What is your professional opinion?
My gut feeling is there was a problem before you drove this vehicle. I personally do not think the fact that you selected a lower gear had anything to do with this.
What I think happened was, the shifter was worn/weak/damaged prior to your using the vehicle and when you moved the shifter lever into the low range gears like you did you might have placed the shifter in a position it has not been in before and caused the shifter to break. I bet the shifter would have eventually broken when your friend was behind the wheel it is just a matter of time.
Replacing the shifter handle is probably not that big of deal or expense depending on what actually broke and what has to be removed.
I think you can buy the shifter separately new or you might be able to find one used in a junk yard.