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B&M is famous for designing and building some of the best shifters in racing. But when B&M’s engineers decided there were improvements that could be made to the shifter design of the Jeep JK Wrangler, it wasn’t about nanosecond-quick shifts and winning races on the drag strip or road course. This time their focus was on helping the Wrangler do what it does best even better: go anywhere no matter what the terrain.
The weakness of manual-transmission equipped Wranglers is that the shifter can have a tendency to pop out of gear on the trails. B&M’s option, called the “Precision SportShifter,” fixes that problem with a beefy unit that uses spring-loaded detents to provide solid engagement for every gear. Besides that, the unit gets rid of the sloppy feel of the stock shifter and reduces shifter throw by 35-percent. The case is cut from billet aluminum and the internals are super-strong chromoly steel to provide years of trouble-free service.
We’re installing a new B&M SportShifter into a 2012 Jeep Wrangler JK, but it will work with Wranglers from 2007 through 2017. That spans both the Jeep TJ and JK models...basically anything with the NSG370 six-speed manual transmission. While we’re at it, we’ll also be installing a B&M Shift Stick to go with it. The Precision SportShifter will work with the stock stick, but the B&M stick is designed for better ergonomics and includes four O-rings in the housing that connects to the shifter, which cuts vibrations and noise in the cabin.
Follow along as we tackle this relatively easy install that will produce big dividends.
Here’s where we are starting. The stock shifter has super-long throws like a truck with lots of slop. Notice the shifter knob is no longer stock; the original plastic unit broke long ago.
The first step is to remove both the shifter knob and the knob for the transfer case selector. The knobs can be a bit of a pain to remove because they tend to get stuck. Begin by using a plastic pry tool to remove the collar on the bottom of the knob. After that, pull the knob straight up and off. Twisting from side to side can also help it come loose if it is stuck.
With the knobs for both the transmission and transfer case out of the way, you can remove the center console. Pull the parking brake up as far as it will go, and then lift up firmly but gently at the rear of the console (at the cup holders) to get the internal clips to release.
Once you pull the console, there is also an inner boot around the shifter that must be removed, but that is relatively simple. The next step is to remove the stick shift. It is held in place with a single T45 Torx bolt. If you can’t get the shift handle to come off by hand, use a pair of vise grips on the shaft then hit the vise grips with a hammer to get the stick to pop loose.
There is a foam doughnut -- Jeep calls it a gearshift lever seal -- that has to come out before we can pull the shifter unit. It is squeezed tight between the top of the transmission and the bottom of the transmission tunnel, so to get it out you must go underneath the jeep to remove the skidplate, lower the front of the fuel tank (because it is attached to the transmission crossmember) and unbolt the trans crossmember so that the transmission can be lowered a few inches. Sounds like a lot, but all the bolts are easily reachable and this part of the process took less than 10 minutes.
Once the transmission is lowered, carefully remove the foam insulator. You will need to start from underneath the Jeep pushing in and up on the doughnut to get it through the hole in the transmission tunnel. Once you have enough of it through, you can finish removal from up top.
Apparently, the foam for the isolator can degrade over time. Despite my best efforts at being gentle, the doughnut tore. I could have tried gluing it back together again, but a new piece was $25 from my local Jeep dealership, so I just sprung for a new one.
Now the stock shifter can be pulled, but first make sure it is in the neutral position.. There are just four T30 Torx bolts holding it in place, and it comes straight up out of the transmission tunnel.
On the left is B&M’s Precision SportShifter. On the right is the stock shifter that we removed from the Jeep. You can see the B&M unit uses a CNC billet housing, while the stock unit is cast.
Here’s a look at the underside of both. It is difficult to see, but the B&M shifter has much stronger spring-loaded detents to keep the shifter from popping out of gear. Also, the internals are strong chromoly steel.
The larger main housing of the B&M shifter won’t fit into the isolator doughnut without trimming the foam a bit. Lay the housing centered in the foam and trace around it with a marker.
Trim the foam about 1/4 of an inch inside the lines you marked. Make sure the foam fits tight around the shifter’s housing. Remember, the purpose of the isolator is not only to keep noise and vibration from getting into the cabin, but it also seals off the transmission tunnel from water if you are off-roading through creeks.
The shifter linkages inside the transmission are fairly simple. All you have to do to make sure the new shifter mates up properly is make sure the transmission is in neutral when you pull out the stock shifter. Formerly, B&M recommended a bit of RTV silicone to seal between the transmission housing and shifter, but now they include a flexible gasket. After struggling to keep the gasket in the correct position, I found it was better to install it on the underside of the shifter housing (There is a dowel pin with a tight fit that holds it in position.) which seems to work better.
The new shifter secures to the transmission with the stock Torx bolts. It might be easier to reach the bolts to tighten them if the transmission is raised back into position, but you’d just have to lower it again to install the isolator doughnut.
With the B&M shifter in place, gently install the isolator doughnut around it.
Now it’s time to go back underneath the Jeep to raise the transmission and bolt up the transmission crossmember, the fuel tank and the skid plate.
B&M’s Precision Sport Shifter will work with the stock stick, but we chose to go with B&M’s purpose-built stick for this application. Not only is it slightly shorter for shorter throws, it also has four O-rings in place of the stock stick’s rubber isolator. Over time, the stock isolator can break down, causing a mushy feel from the stick. The B&M unit won’t suffer from that problem.
Now we can re-install the inner boot and center console.
The cherry on top is the B&M shifter ball. It comes with the stick, but if you want to use a custom shifter knob, the stick will accept any with a 3/8-16 thread. There is even a lock-nut underneath so you can lock down the shifter ball with the logo centered.
And here’s the finished product. There’s a big difference in the shift feel just driving the Jeep on the highway, and we can’t wait to take it off-roading soon to see how it performs on the trails.