This repair procedure has be kindly supplied by Mark of South Africa who suffered a major defect on the gearbox linkage on his car. A problem/defect of which unless you are pre warned will cost more than the car is worth if the car is left with Mercedes Benz dealers for investigation and repair. Although all of us know our cars are worth more to us than the book price.
Thank you Mark for the information and photo's

Manual Gearbox Failure of transmission Cable bushes failure

Good Day Lofty,
As promised, after replacing the gearshift cable assembly on my 167 000 mile W169 A170, the why and "How-to:-
Part number:-

1) Firstly, why one needs to do it and how to identify the problem.

The problem is that Mercedes rely on 4 small, flexible plastic bushings at the end of each cable to transfer all the gear shifting forces from the gear lever in the passenger cabin to the shifting levers on the gearbox.

Gear bush debris As you can see from the photo, these gear cable linkage bushes wear out and disintegrate.

At first the forward and rear movement of the gear lever is without play when engaged in any gear but, as these bushes start collapsing, the lever will have more and more fore and aft "wiggle"/play when engaged. Eventually you might be driving along and want to change into 5th and the gear lever will be distinctly loose and disengaged. If trying to engage reverse at the point of failure, the same effect will be felt and you will not be able to engage reverse, The gear lever flops around in the 5th/reverse shift area.

This is if the bush on the main gear lever ball-joint fails as it did on our car. If it is the one on the side selector then you will not be able to engage 1st or 2nd gear and there will be a solid "lock" feeling when trying to engage 1st/2nd or 5th and reverse.

. If the bush on the main shift lever in the engine bay fails, then your gear lever will flop about in all gear positions.

The main gear lever bush on my car failed while driving as I tried engaging 5th gear. I stopped and inspected the usual culprit in the engine bay (that small black plastic cup clip) but it was present and correct and the levers were all working and attached.

Loose bush and eye It is clear to see that any attempt to move the lever to the right to engage 5th or reverse pulls the ball out of the eye and you cannot change gear if this bush fails.

Back in the car I found that, by carefully fishing with the gear lever I could get it engaged with the cable again and then had 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th. Enough to drive home carefully.

2) Repair of the problem

There are three repair options: 1 A quick fix, 2.An intermediate repair and 3 Full replacement of the cable linkage. which is the official Mercedes "fix" for the issue (that's if they don't tell you the entire gearbox needs to come out to "investigate the cause"!)

If opting for the easy, cheap fix, you will need about an hour. The intermediate fix will be about two hours. For the full cable replacement, estimate 3.5 hours without a car lift - 2.5 hours with one.

Mercedes, of course, do not sell the offending parts that cost a few quid to make - they only sell them as part of a 160 pound complete gear linkage/cable assembly. The Mercedes Part number for the cable assembly is: A 169 360 13 73.

You could, however, get a cable assembly from a breaker's yard and use the rod-ends/eyes to repair your car using the intermediate solution (which I suggest as the most reliable and least anger-inducing solution if a gear lever bush has failed.

Either way, you are in for a bit of work.

Firstly, check if the rod ends in the engine bay are at fault. If they are, you have only two options - quick fix or cable system replacement.

3) Investigation and repair/replacement of gear cables/links
To get sight of, and access to, the bottom of the gear lever you need to start by removing the middle console.

First, place both seats in the full rearward sliding position to get working room - you will need this. Trim removal

Next, gently pull up on the rear of the gear lever collar trim. This clips out.

Ash tray trim
Now you can then pull on the rear of the ashtray/gear lever surround trim panel. This held in place by 4 clips around the gear lever cut out. Once this has been lifted up about 45 degrees you can then slide the front lip out from under the dash section. You will need to twist the gear lever cuff trim at an angle to slip it through the cutout. Lift the ashtray/gear lever surround trim clear and put it to one side.

Rear console. Front console.
Next, there are 4 screws to remove - two in the front just below the lip under the fan/air distribution panel and two at the rear of the console, under the rear ashtray - remove the ashtray by pulling it to the extreme of its movement then push down on the retaining clip in the rear-middle of the top lip. The screws are in slots at the bottom of the aperture you will have exposed.

Make sure the hand brake is fully engaged then pull off the leather hand grip. If you cannot budge the hand grip, then you need to be very careful when lifting the console and ensure that any trim is pushed slowly over the grip as you slide the console higher. When the console is about 3 inches away from the floor at the rear, you will be able to undo the cigar lighter/12v socket power feed plug.

Power Socket. Front socket. Hand brake Trim.

This power plug pulls out sideways and not from the bottom of the socket. You can now lift the rear of the console higher. As you do so, note how the carpet is slotted between two lips along the lower edge of the console. The trim is precise - getting the carpet back exactly as it was will be vital to your health later on when re-fitting things otherwise the screw holes will not align and you will have to go back and slot the carpet in again until they do.

As you lift the console clear of the brake handle you will see the front cigar lighter/12v socket power lead, un-clip this by pulling the connector sideways (and not down) from the socket. Now you can lift the entire console out of the car.

Easy, fast fix option
If you want to do an emergency/easy/cheap/fast fix with a cable tie, this is all you need to do for now as you can get your fingers in under the gear pedestal to secure a cable tie to the eye which has a collapsed bush and tie it to the gear lever or to the side activation arm.

Do not make the tie too tight as you need to have a little bit of lateral movement on the eye/lever.
Fast fix
This fix lasted at least 500+ changes on my car (and had to be cut, undamaged and fully serviceable, when the full repair was made) as I went to get the new cables and back. Perhaps, with two stout ties it will last the life of the car - your mileage may vary and you undertake that as a permanent fix at your own risk. It is, however, the fix that is the least time-consuming and costly.

Intermediate gear lever rod-end replacement option
If the rod-end eye has failed under the gear lever or the side shifter arm, you can find a donor cable set from a breaker (or even buy the new set from Mercedes) and rather replace the rod-ends on the existing cable set. Removing the entire old set and replacing it is possible but then so is self-flagellation.

I would suggest just replacing the rod-ends if the issue is on the gear lever/shift arm eye as the rods/cables are not worn and hardly likely to fail.

Put some paint or correcting fluid on the rod and rod-end junction/threads to clearly mark where the rod-end is set. You can also count the number of exposed threads as an alternative. Now, pull the round collar towards the eye against the spring and slip the rod end off the rod. Remove the replacement rod-end from the donor set and replace it on the rod end in the vehicle. Clip it on to the gear lever or side shifter arm ball joint and you are done.

If you do it properly, then the gear change will be smooth and positive. If you get the spacing wrong, you will be in for a bit of fiddling and re-adjustment to get it all re-set properly.

Side arm When doing the one on the spring loaded shift arm, be careful not to load the arm (it is plastic) sideways or front/rearwards. Brace it carefully and un-clip and re-clip the replacement rod end with care . If you break the arm you need to replace the entire pedestal and that is around 240 Pounds new or around 100 Pounds from breakers.

The front gearbox linkage rod-ends cannot be replaced as above and you will have to replace the entire cable set if they have failed and you do not wish to rely on cable ties. As mine had issues on both the front and rear links, I opted to replace the entire set with a new one - it is the wife's car and in our country she would be in mortal danger if stranded on the side of the road waiting for a flatbed. A few hundred Quid is, therefore, not at issue when it comes to her safety and peace of mind.

Replacing entire cable set
If replacing the cables with new, you will need to go a bit further than just taking out the console.

You also need to remove the right (on my car the driver's side) lower dash trim panel and the entire pre-moulded carpet section. You cannot get access to the firewall entry for the cables on the left side as the air conditioning evaporator and lower fan box is in the way on that side.

Unscrew the two screws on the trim panel and pull it clear and place it to the right side of the foot well. You cannot pull it clear unless you unscrew the OBD socket and bonnet release and that is just too much effort as you have enough free movement to remove the carpet moulding with it hanging loose so there is no need to take it out completely.

Next, un-clip the door ledge trim panel and then remove the outer kick-panel trim moulding from the outer wing area of the foot well. It simply pulls away.

Now the next bit is either fast or complicated - - it depends on your willingness to cut two slits in the rear of the carpet trim around the seat rails (under the seat where they will never be seen) or if you want to preserve the carpet moulding intact.

If you want it to be preserved intact, then you need to unbolt the seat rails and remove the seat. If you are happy to cut two slits in the thinnest section of the moulding and lift the carpet away from around the seat rails, simply cut it where shown. I opted for the cut.

Carpet cut At this point you can remove the battery box/fuse cover lid.

Now pull the carpet edges away from the seat and disengage them from the dash center section. Then pull up and away from around the seat rail fittings. Once this is pulled out and away, you can lift the rear section of the entire moulding upward (using the fuse box/battery cover cut out is useful to wiggle it about) and as you lift the rear, the front will slip out from under the pedals and you can remove the entire flooring moulding from the car.

I suggest replacing the battery box cover on top of the appropriate area to stop things falling into the fuses while you work on the repairs.

You will now have sight of the gear lever pedestal and be able to remove the grey (on my car) sound deadening pad just in front of it which lays on top of the cables tunnel where runs forward to the bulkhead. Sound pad moved
Pull away the sound deadening pad under the middle console so that you can see the cables where they run forward to the firewall. I am reasonably slim and could barely get my fingers into the space. Your mileage may vary.

Next, you need to remove the air filter box from the engine bay.

Remove the screws that secure the top flap of the air box (with the ECU and cables) and remove, in order, the air filter, the ECU assembly and top flap from the air box ( it pulls away rearwards from the clips on top of the rear lip of the air box - set it aside on top of the inlet manifold), unbolt the two 8mm bolts from the front left and rear left of the air-box, twist and remove the plug retainer on the left lip of the air-box, pull away the inlet tube from the rear of the air-box and un-clip it from the front grille, lift the air-box out and set to one side.

Now, nun-clip the rod-ends/eyes from the gear linkage on the gearbox selectors. Now Lift the white and black locating blocks out of the bracket on top of the gearbox. You will need to press in on both sides to release the small square tabs.

Locator block
Inside the vehicle, lift the white and black locating blocks out of their brackets and ensure the rod-ends/eyes are un-clipped from the gear lever and the shift arm.

Tie some stout string to the connector blocks and measure off about 12 feet of this (or unroll about this much from the roll).

Back in the engine bay, if you have a hoist, remove the skid plates and reach up and over/around the gearbox and pry out the grommet holding the cables in place in the cut out on the firewall.

Grommet access
If you do not have a hoist, there is no easy way to do this and you must reach in under the firewall, behind the engine where the cables go into the cabin . This might take some time and much speaking in tongues.

Now, push the loose ends of the cables down beneath the steering column and pull/wiggle the cable assembly out into the engine bay. You will need to help the inside locator blocks pass through the firewall cut-out by reaching in under the dash section and getting them aligned with the cut out.

Remove the old cable set from the car.

Undo the string and tie it to the inner connector blocks of the new cable set making sure this is passed under the steering column and up towards the firewall cut out.

Re-fitting is the reverse of the removal - aided by tugging of the string from inside the car to get the cables inside the vehicle. Take note that the firewall cut out passes through the front panel, the lower floor panel and the inner panel so you need to ensure the rod-ends/eyes do not get caught between these layers of metal. You will also need to jiggle the locator blocks to get them through.

Pull the cables into position and snap the locator blocks in place. The white one is on the right side and the black one on the left inside the car and these snap in place at different heights. Snap the locator blocks on the gearbox bracket into place inside the engine bay.

Make sure the gear selector levers are in neutral then connect the rod-ends/eyes to the levers on the gearbox. Connect the rod-end/eyes at the gear lever to the lever and the shift arm inside the car.

Now reach in under the firewall in the engine bay and push the grommet into place to seal the firewall aperture. Once again, if you have a hoist, this is easier to do from under the car with the skid plates removed.

Replace the air-box, air filter and air filter box flap/ecu carrier.

Replace the driver foot well carpet, upper and side trim panels, center console and other trim panels.

As mentioned before, if you do not get the carpet lined up in the slots around the console lower lip, you will not get the console screw holes lined up. If they are out of whack, re-check the carpet fitting with the console and other trim panels.

Have a cup of tea (or whatever you wish) and celebrate saving a quoted 3 hours at a Mercedes workshop for the same job.

If I find a source for the rod-ends/eyes I will let you know as that will solve the biggest part of this issue, the cost of getting them from a donor set or from a new set.

Really, that a plastic item costing a few pence (the bushes in the rod-end eyes) can immobilise the entire car is ridiculous - as is Mercedes' policy of not selling the rod-ends/eyes for the interior (and most stressed joints) as a service part.

I hope all the above serves to assist fellow owners if they suddenly have a floppy or recalcitrant gear lever on a high mileage manual A class W169.
Mark D Young
South Africa

Back to page index W169
Purchase DVD.
Please Make a Donation.