6 Causes of a Manual Transmission Being Hard to Shift

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.

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

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.

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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.


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:

13 thoughts on “6 Causes of a Manual Transmission Being Hard to Shift”

  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

  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

  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.

  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.

  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…

  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.

  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

  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 ?

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