What is a Short Throw Shifter & How Do They Work?

A short throw shifter or a short shifter is one of the most popular upgrades amongst car enthusiasts with a manual transmission, and for good reason too. Installing one is a great way to cut down the time spent on gear shifting.

Since short throw shifters aren’t expensive (and the results are generally good), these have become a common upgrade for keen drivers. Having said that, this upgrade is not for everyone.

In this guide, we take a brief look at what short throw shifters are, how they work, and whether you should get one.

What Is a Short Throw Shifter?

Car manufacturers make cars keeping in mind the variety of owners and uses they’ll have. For this reason, gear throws for race cars and daily drivers obviously won’t be the same.

Stock shifters on modern cars focus on being effortless and smooth — hence the long throw. This is fine until you actually want to shift quickly.

A short throw shifter serves this purpose well. Something as simple as shifting between two gears easily transforms into a fun experience — that’s usually unexpected on production cars, especially if you’re looking at non-performance-spec models.

How Does a Short Shifter Work?

Before we get talking about how short throw shifters work, let’s look at the basic functioning of your current stock shifter.

OEM gear shifter
Hours could pass in the time it takes to throw between gears using a some stock shifters.

A shifter is a shaft that is connected to the gearbox. As you step on the clutch and move the gear stick from one gear position to another, it slots into pre-defined ‘gates’, and the required gear gets selected. A short throw shifter does the same thing, but with new components that reduce the throws.

Installing just a shorter shaft on it’s own won’t make much of a difference, as it’ll just lower the gear knob but not do much about the throws. A short throw shift kit can make use of the stock gear stick but with the inclusion of a new linkage placed on the gearbox.

Depending on the make, you can also get a shorter gear shaft with a different pivot point and angle.

The Best Miata Short Shifters & Shift Knobs
A short throw shifter installed in a Mazda Miata

Regardless of which brand you go with, short throw shifters will reduce the distance between two gears and will require a bit more effort to switch, making the shifts more confident. And if you’re good with manual shifts, there’s a good chance that you’ll like one.

Short Throw Shifter vs Stock Shifter: What Makes it Better?

A stock shifter is how the carmaker intended to offer the gear-shift experience for all owners. If you’re running a stock shifter on your current setup and don’t find the throws too long or think changing gears requires too much time, short throw shifters won’t hold much appeal for you.

On the other hand, if faster shifts and a more engaging driving experience are what you’re after, a short shifter can be the perfect match. There’s no doubt about it — these are bound to create a world of difference in the way you drive and the short shifter benefits become noticeable, especially when you’re having fun behind the wheel.

A short throw shifter will be beneficial if you’re looking for:

  • better shift tactility,
  • marginally improved shift times,
  • spending less time keeping your hands away from the wheel

Imagine driving a well-modified car with taut steering, communicative chassis, perfect suspension geometry, solid power delivery, but a gearbox that’s slow to operate. That’d be a bummer!

In addition to that, if the short throw shifter you choose comes with a new shaft, you’ll find how great these look. Miles ahead of stock shifters without a doubt!

Cravenspeed short shifter, shift knob and shift well cover
This short shifter, aftermarket knob and well cover from Cravenspeed is pure beauty.

That said, there are some owners who, after installing and living with a short shifter, realized that they were better off with a stock shifter after all.

Even on certain sports cars, the short throw shifters might feel a bit too extreme for some. Since the throws become shorter, you’ll experience that the gear change is more confident but it also takes more effort to slot in gears.

Depending on your driving style and car, this can either be a kickass addition to your current setup or something that feels entirely out of place. I mean, a short throw shifter on a family minivan isn’t going to have any benefits.

We think this is a relatively small price to pay to have a first-hand experience. If you get it right, the experience of shifting gears takes your ride to a whole new level.

Pros and Cons of Installing Them

As exciting as it sounds to install a short shifter, this upgrade isn’t for everyone.

Let’s look at some of the pros and cons of installing them to further help you decide if you want one.

Pros

The biggest reason why a short shifter trumps every other modification is the relatively low price. You get an arguably increased level of interaction with the car, since the shifts are firmer. It instills confidence especially if you’re looking at shifting quickly — on a good gearbox.

Spirited drivers, for instance, will instantly realize that shorter throws are much better. It’s not just about the way a slow change feels but also the time you have away from the steering wheel.

A short shifter will make the gearbox feel less laggy and the shifts will generally feel much quicker in comparison.

Certain short shifter kits come with custom gear sticks. Get a cool-looking one for your car, along with the gear knob of your choice, and see how that enhances the visual appeal of the cabin.

Lastly, short shifter installation isn’t a long process. For the kind of benefits it offers for the driver, it’s certainly not one that you shouldn’t consider.

Cons

On the flip side, getting a short throw shifter may not always be a wise decision. For starters since this is an aftermarket modification, and if your car is under warranty, you might lose that.

It’s also not the best fit if you enjoy a laid back driving experience — shorter throws will need more effort. With the stock set up and long throws, you’re not putting too much effort in switching between gears.

Some critics have also mentioned that short throw shifters can add to wear and tear in the long run. But ultimately it comes down to your shifting technique, and how good you are with manual gearboxes.

Who’s It Aimed At?

Clearly anyone and everyone who’s looking at more engaging gear shifts. As mentioned above, short shifters do come with their own list of cons as well. But if you’re all geared up for short throws and quicker shifts, a short throw shifter kit is bound to put a smile on your face.

If you have a sporty car or enjoy operating manual gearboxes, and you’re looking for more interaction with the machine, you’ll appreciate this upgrade.

For anyone else, with a vehicle on which a short throw isn’t necessary or enjoyable, getting one will be a bad idea. On a slow car that you use to drive to work and don’t want the almost ‘click-clack’ gear change, it’s better if you skip this upgrade.

Things to Keep in Mind When Installing a Short Throw Shifter

For the kind of benefits you get, installing a short shifter seems like an easy task. The system isn’t the same with all brands, but you must keep a few things in mind while installing a short throw-shift kit like:

  • all the parts must be lubed properly
  • the gear stick shouldn’t hit the transmission tunnel
  • the screws aren’t over-tightened
  • if the new shifter is curved, it needs to be installed in a way that it doesn’t hit the center console
  • the gear stick slots into each gate without any obstruction

The movement, although tighter than before, needs to be smooth. Once you’ve nailed this bit, you can go ahead and tighten the screws, before taking your new short throw shifter for a test drive.

Should You Get One?

There isn’t a simple yes or no answer here. A short throw shifter is available from numerous brands, at different price points, and in various types of kits.

Depending on the brand you choose (and also the make of your car), it can be something that requires only changing the gear stick and the corresponding attachments to the gearbox, or one that requires you to fit a new linkage on to the gearbox (under the bonnet).

The good part is that these kits don’t require any modification. If you have a quality automotive tool kit and you’re confident using them, the swap can be done in your driveway in an afternoon.

Nissan 350z with short shifter and weighted gear knob
A weighted gear knob combined with a short shifter really improves a Nissan 350z‘s gear changes.

Daily Driving

What does a short shifter do if you use it on your daily driver, and is it any good? It all comes down to the way you drive because while the added interaction is appreciated by keen drivers, it can also be annoying for some.

A gearbox with throws that are too long, especially on cars that are bound to go fast, can be a pain in the neck for a lot of people. If you happen to be one of them, giving a short throw shifter makes all the sense in the world.

Some kits also offer some level of adjustability, which means you can change how short the throws are by moving the pivot point. This can be helpful if you want an improved gear shift but don’t want the throws to be very short.

On the other hand, you’ll also need to consider that shorter throws mean you’re going to put in more effort to switch gears, and it might not feel as easy to engage with as your current stock shifter.

Competitive and Track Use

Track days are full of surprises so it’s a good idea to have both your hands on the wheel as much as possible. With a short shifter on board, you’ll spend substantially less time keeping your hand on the gear knob.

Expect to see short shifters in cars built for competition use
Expect to see short shifters in cars used for autocross and other competition use.

Depending on the gearbox and the kit, there’s a high chance that you’ll like how positive and confident the shifts are. And on the track, that instantly translates to a lot more fun. It can also reduce false shifts.

So go on, find a kit that fits your car, and take the proverbial leap of faith, because gear shifts will no longer be the same.

What do you think about such a stealthy modification? Let us know in the comments section below.

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