6 Causes of a Manual Transmission Being Hard to Shift

Last Updated on June 14, 2021

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.

See Also: How to Identify What Transmission You Have

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:

 
 

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

  1. 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
      • Ford fiesta 2006 manual, when the car gets heated approximately after 30 minute of driving, gears become more and more harder to shift, while when the car starts they shift smoothly. The transmission oil’s level and quality is fine.

        Reply
  2. 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
  3. 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
  4. 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
  5. I got a Vauxhall zafira sometime won’t go into gears when driving some days it’s fine reserve sometimes grinds also there a squeaky when driving anyone please help me tuck garage they said can’t find out wrong

    Reply
  6. I have a 2011 Passat 2.0 diesel can’t get it in to 1 2 5 and reverse but drives and run in 3 and changes into 4th fine clutch peddle is very soft and stays down tho

    Reply
  7. I have a 2003 Toyota Celica GT. Its hard to shift into reverse and when i shift gears and let off the clutch the car jerks and results in a very unsmooth shift sometimes i hold the clutch for a second after shifting and give a bit of gas before letting off the clutch but i feel like im ruining my clutch and transmission. Its been bothering me because i absolutely love this car but i dont want to get ripped off and end up paying big $$$ for maintenance i do not need. Someone help!!!!

    Reply
    • If you let off the clutch in first gear the same way, is it buttery smooth or do you still have a bit of jerking?

      One thing you could try is have a friend who has been driving stick for a while try it out and see what they think. This is one of those times where you’ll really only be able to tell if there’s a problem if you can try it out in person.

      Reply
  8. Hi i drive a chev spark – 2011. i have trouble going into 1 gear — i have to try 2x before it engages. all other gears are working perfect and also this problem is seldom – does not happen all the time. at times all gears are working fine with no hassle.

    Reply
  9. My Honda Civic 2005 Manual Trans.
    Issue is: I have hard time shifting to gears most of the time specially 1st, 2nd gear and reverse gear. the 3rd, 4th and 5th gears are bitting well, but not that very smooth compared to other cars. Sometimes when it wont get into 1st gear, I have to put it back to neutral, wiggle it left and right hard and put into 1st or 2nd gear and it will bite. And you can feel that i’s not properly snug fit to gears although it can drive you will feel that it’s not 100% engaged. And the 1st gear has a vibration as you move car slowly forward and vibration decreased as it goes to higher gears. When it’s on speed there is no problem, but you will feel thugs on slow speed specially at low gears. and when changing gears is not smooth, like it’s always like a poor revmatching effect that you have to feel some torque brake effect always down downshifting.

    I already replaced with brand new Clutch kits and flywheel, but shifting to gears is not solve. I have all 4 motor mounts replaced, changed strut mounts also. When I press clutch, it press and goes back in like normal, and I don’t see any leaks as the fluid reservoir is always the same level. I replaced the transmission fluid, but does nothing.
    What should I do? I have read online about, input shaft bearing, or clutch master, or syncho issues and stuff, but I don’t read any specific blog that perfectly describe my issues.

    Reply
    • I’m not sure. If you don’t have anything obvious wrong with the shifter linkage, it sounds like the issue may be internal to the transmission. One thing you could try is picking up a used transmission from a salvage yard, swapping it in, and see if that fixes the problem. Otherwise, you may need to look into a transmission rebuild to repair the unit you already have.

      Reply
  10. Hi, I have a 2007 Audi S5 manual 6 speed car, and recently experienced difficulty getting the car to engage into reverse and gear 1 after 30 minutes of driving, the rest of the gears are fine. I have had the gear linkages replaced 2 years ago which solved the problem but now has come back. A different mechanic now says its the clutch that needs replacing but i’m not convinced as it appears to be showing the same syptoms as when the gear linkages were replaced. Can you advise?

    Reply
    • When the car is warm, is it easier to shift into first after shifting to second, then first?

      Perhaps the gear linkages were the problem, but something is causing the gear linkages to wear out very quickly.

      Reply
  11. I have a 96 Mustang GT With a manual transmission I changed the transmission fluid put it back togather now I have to force it into 1&2 not so much 3&4 but in neutral my shifter falls to the right I put the cup back on the bottom of shifter never had prob previously. Does anybody know what the problem could be?

    Reply
    • Do those have a direct linkage, or are they cable shifters? I would check the shifter linkage to see if something got bumped or put back together incorrectly after the maintenance.

      Are you running gear oil that has the factory recommended viscosity?

      Reply
  12. Hi there. I have a 2017 Audi A4 manual transmission with only 45,000km on the clock. I am having some problems getting it into first gear. It mostly happens when I stop at a red light on the way to work which is only a short 30 min journey. All other gears are fine. Only first gear and it is intermittent, so not happening all the time. Any ideas what this could be please? Thank you in advance.

    Reply
  13. Hi Sean. Thanks for the reply. Yes it is easier to get into first gear after going to second gear. Also double clutching can also help get back into first gear.

    Reply
    • Yeah, sounds like it might be a worn synchro or maybe even the synchro design from the factory. Some cars are tricky to get into first in some driving conditions (such as weather or transmission temperature). Do other A4 owners experience this issue?

      To be perfectly honest if it were my car, I would probably just deal with it and do the second-first shift every time I needed to get the car moving, unless the issue got worse over time. If the car’s under warranty, you could stop by the dealership to see what they have to say about it. If this is a common customer complaint, there is probably a technical service bulletin (TSB) out for the issue.

      As an aside, most cars will lock you out of first if you are moving faster than like 2 mph, so if that’s what you’re experiencing it’s pretty normal.

      Reply
  14. Hi i have renault clio dynamique 2010,and the gear seems to get stuck from going from 1-2.seems to change gear fine when parked?
    Any ideas?

    Reply
    • When you say it gets stuck, do you mean you’re stuck in first and can’t get it out of gear? Are you having problems getting it to go into gear from neutral?

      Reply
  15. HI there
    I have a Kia picanto M.T model 2014 and its been a day that at night time i experienced grinding noise while applying reverse gear it happened 5-6 times then when i apply 3rd gear the gear shifting appears to be slightly more hard than previous what can be the problem and do I need to worry over this ?

    Reply

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