6 Causes of a Manual Transmission Being Hard to Shift

Last Updated on May 28, 2020

In this post we are going to discuss why cars with manual transmissions sometimes have problems when it comes to shifting. The symptoms of a manual transmission that’s hard to shift can almost always be narrowed down to a problem with the clutch or transmission.

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Note that if your car is only a bit harder to shift when the weather gets cold, you may not even have an issue as gear oil thickens up as temperatures drop. This is normal but changing to a different brand (or even viscosity) may help. But keep reading to make sure.

Top 6 Causes of a Difficult to Shift Manual Transmission

When your stick shift transmission is gradually becoming harder to shift or all of a sudden becomes more difficult to shift into gears, the reason will almost positively be one of the following.

#1 – Clutch System

clutch flywheel

The clutch system of a vehicle is responsible for disengaging and engaging power to the transmission while in between the flywheel of the engine. There are 6 main parts of a clutch system:

  • Clutch master cylinder
  • Release cylinder
  • Clutch cover
  • Clutch disc
  • Release bearing
  • Release fork

The clutch disc and input shaft transmission are engaged together. And the clutch cover is connected to the engine’s flywheel.

When you push down on the clutch pedal, the pressure will transmit to the clutch master cylinder which pushes the release cylinder then pushes the release fork to disengage between the clutch cover and clutch disc. At this point, your car is in Neutral.

This means that at that moment the engine spin (power) does not transmit to the transmission. This allows you to easily change gears with a manual shift stick. However, if the clutch master cylinder or release cylinder is damaged or leaks, it will make it harder to shift gears.

This can happen because if the master cylinder or release cylinder is damaged or leaks, it can cause loss of fluid pressure which can make the clutch not disengage properly.

If the clutch and engine do not properly disengage, the manual transmission will be hard to shift into any gear, or even not be able to shift at all.

#2 – Synchronizer Ring

clutch synchro ring damage

The purpose of the synchronizer or synchro ring is to effortlessly engage the gear. The ring is made up of small teeth which allow it to smoothly be engaged by the hub sleeve and then into the main gear.

If the synchronizer ring were to get damaged or malfunction in some way, it would be difficult to shift the transmission.

#3 – Gears

damaged transmission gears

The manual transmission systems’ main component is the gear, which is made up of the counter gear, reverse gear, 1st gear, 2nd gear, 3rd gear, 4th gear, 5th gear, and sometimes 6th gear and more. Each gear has 2 teeth that are small and big.

The purpose of the smaller teeth is to accept the hub sleeve’s engagement with the synchronizer ring. If these small teeth were to become damaged or worn out, it would be difficult to shift the transmission.

And when a gear is shifted, the function of the bigger teeth is to engage the spinning counter gear which sends a transmission to the output shaft. If the big teeth are damaged or worn out, the transmission will make noise.

See Also:  Causes of a Car That Won’t Go Into Reverse

#4 – Hub Gear

Between two different gears, there is a hub gear that engages them. For example, the hub gear goes between the first gear and second gear, and it goes between third gear and fourth gear. It is really like a bridge between these gears.

Since the hub gear is connected to the transmission shaft, it cannot be turned freely. A damaged or worn out hub gear will create problems when it comes to shifting your manual transmission.

#5 – Hub Sleeve

The hub sleeve engages the main gears from the hub gear. Depending on the location in which the gear shifts, the hub sleeve can also move to the right and left. The hub gear is like the deliverer of the engagement that lies between the main gear and the hub gear.

There are small teeth on the hub gear that will synchronize with the teeth of the synchro ring as a gear shift takes place in the transmission. But if the hub sleeve were to get damaged or worn out, it would be difficult to shift the transmission.

#6 – Not Enough Gear Oil

gear oil

Gear oil, as opposed to transmission fluid for automatic transmissions, is what lubricates the gears of a manual gearbox. It is considered high viscosity (thick) since it has to put up with extreme heat.

If your transmission is leaking oil or even if you do not change it periodically, you will have low oil in the gear. Once this happens, it will eventually become harder to shift it and ultimately, damage to your transmission will result.

In addition, you may hear strange noises from your gearbox or poor vehicle performance.

Conclusion

Ok, so now you know the 6 common causes of a manual transmission being hard to shift. The reasons above most often occur with high mileage cars and trucks and some years and models are particularly susceptible to hard shifting issues.

If you’re curious and want to know how exactly a manual transmission works, check out the video below:

 
 

Comments

  1. 97 isuzu rodeo 5 speed manual. Drove to work fine, left work, started engine, pulled up 20 ft, changed into 2nd gear, car knocked off, after that car will not go into gear. Drove home in 2nd. Changed clutch slave cyclinder. Clutch is fine. I dont know Whats else it is? Please advise. Not worth putting alot of money into

    Reply
  2. My car is a peugeot 207 when engine is off gear stick goes in easy but when engine is on it won’t especially first gear what is wrong with it

    Reply
  3. My 4 by 4 colt 2001 while i was driving it just automatically stopped engaging gear and it start to drive by small gear lever and it could not go to reverse.I want to know what is the problem and causes.

    Reply
  4. Just wanted to throw this out there. Our 1999 Ford ranger was almost dry as a bone with brake fluid. There was a small leak from the hose to the reservoir. Put a clamp on, filled it up, shifts great.

    Reply
  5. 2002 Honda Accord EX with a 5 speed manual. I have noticed the last few days that many times when shifting from 1st to 2nd it almost feel like it’s slipping, then this morning I had to force the thing into 4th gear on two different occasions. I am not sure what’s going on. Any thoughts? The KBB on this old thing is less than $800 so I am trying to get an idea if this is going to be worth the cost to fix it…I’m afraid the answer will be no…

    Reply
  6. Have a 1991 Honda Accord, I was driving it and could not shift gears suddenly. I did notice the clutch pedal sticking. Made it back home and found that the slave cylinder was completely empty. I refilled it with Dot 3 brake fluid and had to pump the clutch pedal several times to get it to even move. That worked for one day, next day still no shifting so we bleed the clutch and was working great. A week later, once again very hard to shift, cylinder is still full. However I did notice fluid underneath the master clutch cylinder. My mechanic has not looked at it but saying could be a total replacement of nearly 1200 bucks. It is a 1991 and I only 2000 bucks for it, I don’t see spending that much. I love my little car and just hoping it is the clutch master cylinder, I believe I could replace it myself. Any thoughts ? I would be grateful.

    Reply
    • First thing you should do is fire your mechanic, preferably out of a cannon over shark infested waters. Second, go on YouTube and watch some clutch replacement vids specific to your car. There are probably a hundred of them as that was a popular model if afterwards you think your capable of doing it then it would seem to me you just found yourself an honest mechanic. And if any other issues come up then remember YouTube has tutorials for almost everything and is a great resource in times of needing solutions to problems. Good luck my ninja, I hope this helps.

      Reply
    • Everyone on here worried what there car is worth and if it’s worth it to spend money to fix it, I think its funny because just because kbb says it’s worth 2000 or even less doesnt mean anything, all brand new high quality tires are alone going to run over a 1k. Kbb doesn’t create the value of your car, I have a 2000 Buick regal doesn’t say its worth much but I have hundreds of hours in labor and 1000s in upgraded parts. I can expect 1/5 return on my labor and cost combined if I were to sell it.

      Reply
      • 1/5 my expense would still be 5x more than kbb and theres obvious reasons for that. Dont just rely on those appraisal sites like kbb to make a decision on fixing something. If you love your car why not spend the money

        Reply
  7. Hi so I have a 2006 Mazda rx8 and I’m having a problem shifting gears it won’t go into gears and if I force it in it will grind and the engine will seize but now I’ve changed the clutch, master clutch cylinder, and the slave cylinder but also what I don’t get is when I jack the car up from the back and the wheels are free the gears are able go in without a problem but when I put the e-brake and keep in mind the car is still lifted, the gears won’t go in. It’s only when the wheels are freely rotating is when I’m able to shift but one I put the ebrake or put the car down it won’t go into gear someone please help me

    Reply
    • if there’s resistance from the wheels still, then the clutch may not be properly aligned and therefore not disconnecting completely.

      Reply
  8. Had a 1998 Pajero that I sold a year ago. It was intermittently difficult to engage 1st or Reverse gear when stationary and especially with a cold engine (fast idling). With the clutch pedal depressed you could notice some drive torque getting to the wheels when you were pushing the gear lever against the synchro while trying to get it into gear.

    After checking many things, it is possible it was a clutch fault (#1 on your list), but some symptoms did not fit. The clutch was original (>300,000 km) and so probably worn and would engage near the top of the pedal travel. So it should have been well and truly released with the clutch pedal on the floor. Also, I never noticed any drive torque when I was idling in gear with the clutch pedal depressed.

    My guess is that it was due to cause #7, being a worn or damaged pilot bearing where the transmission input shaft sits in the middle of the flywheel. Any torque getting through this bearing tries to rotate the input shaft against the synchro trying to stop it (when the vehicle is stationary).

    Is this something that you have observed or am I dreaming ?

    Reply
  9. I have a 2005 Jeep tj 6 cylinder I replaced the slave and master slave and still my Jeep will not go into gear when running any advice on what to do next thanks

    Reply
  10. 2008 vw jetta 5spd. Gears hard to get to move. …fluid levels ok. But at lt i had trouble getting into 1st gear or even moving it. After 5 min. Car still running. I got it forced into gear n ran smoothly. But gears hard. Im 73. Clutch replaced long ago. Tkng to mech. Pray i get estimate as car runs great when in gear n real quiet….i just got new tires brakes but could it be clutch? When in reverse i have to crumch gears to get it to go bkwards.. Everything wks….gonna get it ckd out monday to see what it is…we had since new. So i pray its not something big. I put 2500 4 sale as is on it. Cars in great condition. Hope to sell as is to someone who will have money to fx it. I need automatic at 73 its busy in orlando. Want to mk life easier….i only have liability n no road service n on linited ss income. I need to mk life easier 4 myself n not worry about car troubles. I live in sr housing. Just need car to see dr n get groc. Dont drive much. Buts been a good car….hope its not transmission..will mech give estimate n tell me what it is?

    Reply
    • I’m sorry you’re having issues shifting. It could be something as simple as needing to adjust the shift linkage or a gear fluid change. A dragging clutch is also common for Volkswagens where there is too much slack in the clutch pedal (easy fix). I think it’s great you’re driving a manual at 73 but completely understanding wanting to go to an automatic.

      Reply
  11. Hi,

    My Kia 2009 Pro’ceed has been acting up too. Mostly 1st and 2nd gear is really difficult to shift. I don’t want to just bring it to a garage for them to automatically say it’s the worst case scenario i.e. most costly.

    This isn’t occurring when it’s cold or warm it has been continuous the last month or so.

    Any advice on the most likely diagnoses??

    Thanks!!

    Reply
    • First, check the twin exhaust pipe outlets standing 10-12ft away, if they appear to have shadows of black soot around them like most Ceed’s then there is a good chance you’ve been thrashing the gearbox too hard and have worn out the syncromesh in lower gears.

      Second, good luck.

      Reply
  12. My Toyota Corolla AE110 5A gear does’t shift to any gear, only when the car engine is switched off and is stationery it shifts gears, what could be the cause?

    Reply
  13. I have a 2009 Nissan Versa 6 speed tranny. I don’t have trouble shifting gears. But when I release the clutch the rpms go up for a second and then it catches. Fluid is full and stuff but what should I do or check.

    Reply
  14. I’d loved to have watched the manual demo, but the man clearing his throat all the time was horrible to listen to. Btw. My Kia Cerato 2007 diesel manual sticks in 1st and 2nd gears, and reverse so I’m trying to figure out which part of the clutch system it could be.

    Reply
  15. I have a 2012 nissan frontier with a 5 speed manual. The truck shifter was vibrating and having a hard time staying in 1st gear. I took the transmission out and noticed where the shifter mounts to the transmission that a spring that is held in by the plate is bent over on the top. Is that my problem or what is the problem?

    Reply
  16. My car honda accord 2005 manual have gear shifting intermittent problem. gear wont shift and very hard specially 1&2 also 3&4 but not hard as 1&2. when engine is off it shift smooth what could be the reason. pls. reply . thanks

    Reply
  17. My 2011 Subaru Impreza is giving me problems. I just had all the oils and fluids topped off and had an oil change done. I am having an issue though, with my stick shifting. When I go from 2nd to 3rd or 3rd to 4th, it takes longer to kick into that speed, and I can hear the RPM’s sounding louder or like they are running too hard. I know I need to take it in and have it looked at, but I was curious to know how much something like this would cost to fix.

    Reply
  18. my jetta 5 tsi 2010 model is having a problem with the reverse gear, it hardens when engaged to reverse. after the gear has been engaged it stuck there in such a way that it doesn’t automatically comes back to it normal position when shifting to gear 1. yo have to pull it up forcefully for it to engage gear 1.

    Reply
  19. Got a 56 plate Ford Fiesta Ghia. Car has been sitting idle for about 3 weeks, got in it today, started fine but gear lever is so stiff and needs two hands to get into gear. Once in gear it chugs along fine but it’s too hard to go from 2nd to 3rd gear or 4/5. Any suggestions please

    Reply
  20. Hi I got a 1987 Toyota 2e sprinter…I love it to death…The car had literally no problems until recently when I had trouble shifting down to first gear for even the slowest momentum…gear only goes in when the car comes to a full stop.Mechanics advised me to change the clutch pad despite no issues with the remaining gears…

    Reply
  21. My 1993 corrolla . Some times have problems with change down after high speed or long distances .each time and have tendency of darmaging the clutch once the said above happened.

    i replaced clutches on several occasion and even master cylinders but it keep repeating it self after long distance .What could be the couse of having the stiff in gear changes and eventually darmages the clutch often .

    Reply
  22. I have a 03 f150 my engine light came on , so I hooked my code reader to it an there were 3 codes for transmission one was sift solenoid one was clutch solenoid an the other was the other solenoid, so I changed all 3 put new fluid an filter an it still says all 3 or not working an it still has a shutter when you take off an then it catches but will no shift out of 2nd gear an the o/d button on shift lever is blinking , I check to make sure the wire was not pinched seem to be good’

    Reply
  23. I have a 06 Nissan Sentra speed manual first thru fourth no problem at all but when I try to go into 5th 6th or reverse it’s not there all most like that end of the pattern is not there?????

    Reply
  24. i have a 2003 kia sorento manual transmission. sometimes i have some trouble in shifting the stick from gear 1,2,3 and reverse gear. the problem is erratic. some days no problems at all, the shifting will be smooth. the clutch pedal sometimes sticks on the flow after depressing it for some time in traffic. could it be a result of low gear oil?

    Reply
  25. I have my nissan sunny(2008) manual gear getting harder to shift after few hours in traffic. It gets normal again when the traffic is eased and vehicle starts to move fast.

    Reply
  26. Am driving a Hyundai Grand i10 when it is moving or idling it doesn’t wanna shift the gear especially from gear one to two and from reverse but when the engine is off it shift all gears smooth without any problem

    Reply
    • Make sure your clutch pedal is adjusted properly and that you have enough fluid in the clutch master cylinder (assuming you have a hydraulic clutch system). I would bleed the clutch system to make sure there’s no air in the lines. If your fluid level is low, you may need a new clutch master or slave cylinder.

      Reply
  27. Hey guys I have a 2003 Nissan XTerra and sometime won’t get out of 3rd and now hard to get into 4th gear.
    Anyone had this issue or can help knowing why?

    Reply
    • Automatic or manual? If it’s automatic it could be in limp mode. If it’s manual you probably have an issue with one of the internal components, since 3rd and 4th tend to use the same collar.

      Reply
  28. My 2006 mazda 6 3.0 manual transmission. The clutch goes to the floor and then I have to use my foot to bring it to the top again and it make a screeching sound when pressure is on the clutch and it doesn’t get into gear period. What is the problem and what parts are needed to get on the road again

    Reply
    • First, make sure you have enough clutch fluid and that you’ve bled the system. If you have low clutch fluid, you likely have a leak. Figure out where that leak is coming from before going any further.

      Sometimes when the clutch master and slave cylinders go bad, they start to leak. A master cylinder may leak internally where you won’t see any clutch fluid in the engine bay.

      This happened on my Mazda MX-5. One day driving to work I found myself without any clutch fluid. I tried to pinpoint the leak and didn’t see anything. Since I had recently replaced the slave cylinder and didn’t see any leaks in that area, I ruled that out. I happened to have a replacement clutch master cylinder lying around, so I swapped out the master cylinder (took about 15 minutes). After I replaced the clutch master cylinder and bled the system, the clutch worked perfectly.

      If the clutch master and slave cylinders check out, it could be an issue with the clutch assembly itself. Since troubleshooting this would require dropping the transmission, I would check the clutch assembly last.

      Reply
  29. Hello
    I’m leaving here my problem .
    Seat ibiza 2009 1,9 tdi Diesel , changes the gearbox oil 6 weeks ago , problems getting into 5th.
    Went to the mechanic , he drove the car saying it feels fine . But the next day it happened again. When driving in 4th , fine , when I want to switch to 5th its like all of a sudden the gear rod encounters some kind of blockage and then it’s going into 3rd. The only times when worked in 5th is when I need to give it a hard hit just to overcome that blockage .
    What can it be ?

    Thank you

    Reply
    • I wouldn’t force anything or you could end up making it worse. Does double clutching help? It might be the synchros.

      If the mechanic drove it fine, find out if he was driving any differently than you have been.

      Reply
  30. i have a isuzu dmax 2008. it wont shift to L, PRND32 are all working. when i shift to L it wont engage instead it goes back to 2.

    Reply

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