5 Causes of a Hard to Shift Manual Transmission (Especially 1st to 2nd)

(Updated on June 25, 2020)

A vehicle with a manual transmission means you have to manually change gears by shifting the transmission. Although this can offer a fun and rewarding experience for the driver and require less maintenance for the vehicle, there are situations that could arise where your manual transmission shifting becomes more difficult.

Sometimes it will get to the point where you can’t even change gears at all. Once that happens, the vehicle will might as well be undrivable. You will have to get it towed to the nearest auto mechanic or dealership to have the transmission checked out

Top 5 Reasons a Manual Transmission is Hard to Shift

Hard shifting with manual transmission usually has to do with a problem in the gear system or with the clutch. Either one of the parts of the gear system is damaged or it is just completely worn out from too much use.

Below are five of the most common causes of a manual transmission being hard to shift gears.

1) Damaged Master Cylinder

how to bleed clutch master cylinder

The clutch system is comprised of a variety of components. There is the clutch master cylinder, the clutch cover, the release cylinder, the release fork, and the release bearing.

If any one of these components is damaged, particularly the release cylinder or the clutch master cylinder, then you will have difficulty shifting gears.

2) Damaged Gears

manual transmission gears damaged

There are lots of gears in a manual transmission system. There is 1st gear, 2nd gear, 3rd gear, 4th gear, 5th gear, reverse gear, and sometimes a 6th gear. There is also a hub gear which goes between 1st gear and 2nd gear, and then 3rd gear and 4th.

If any one of these gears becomes damaged or worn out, then you will have trouble shifting them.

3) Damaged Hub Sleeve

transmission hub sleeve

When the hub gear bridges between the main gears, the hub sleeve (or synchronizer hub) is what actually engages these gears. It can move either right or left, depending on where the gear has shifted. The sleeve helps ensure the hub gear teeth synchronize with the synchronizer ring’s teeth.

If the hub sleeve is worn or damaged, then synchronization won’t be there. This will cause shifting difficulties and other problems.

4) Damaged Synchronizer Ring

synchro ring damage

The synchronizer ring has a lot of small teeth which allow the hub sleeve to easily engage it, so it can go into one of the main gears.

If there is damage or wear to the synchronizer ring, then it won’t be able to engage with the hub sleeve. As a result, you will have shifting issues.

5) Low Level of Transmission Fluid or Gear Oil

check transmission fluid hot or cold

It is important to flush and change your transmission fluid (or gear oil) every once in a while. If you have signs of burnt transmission fluid and you don’t change it or if you have a transmission fluid leak, then your gears won’t be getting the lubrication they need.

Low transmission fluid is not something to be ignored. This will not only make it harder for you to shift gears, but your transmission will get damaged as a result. Furthermore, you will hear lots of strange noises coming from it too.

How to Fix

Where the transmission is concerned, nothing is going to be an easy or affordable fix. If you have low transmission fluid or gear oil, then that will be the most affordable problem to fix.

But if there is a leak, then you will have to seal the hole or replace the fluid lines. This will still be more affordable than having to repair or replace the entire transmission.

One thing is for sure though, if you wait too long to fix whatever is causing the shifting problems, then your transmission can become permanently damaged. Don’t let this happen to you. Get your vehicle to the nearest mechanic as soon as you experience shifting problems.

62 thoughts on “5 Causes of a Hard to Shift Manual Transmission (Especially 1st to 2nd)”

  1. My car has gears are hard to shift between 1 and 2nd gear, early in the morning,I have changed the clutch,the master cylinder even the gear cables,now I don’t know what to do. It’s a GWM Florid 2011 model.

    • same like me. hard to shift early morning. after 10 to 15min drive then ok. but still can feel the rough and stiff a bit while changing. any clue?

      • That’s fairly normal behavior for a manual transmission. Gear oil is thicker when cold, which means each shift takes a bit more effort and won’t feel as smooth. This is especially true in the winter time with colder temperatures. It’s nicer on the synchros if you try not to shift too aggressively until the transmission has warmed up (about 10-15 minutes). You can drive normally, just don’t force anything. If your gears are grinding, this may be worth looking into, but otherwise you’re probably fine.

  2. I have trouble every once in a while getting from 1st to 2nd…. it literally will not shift to 2nd. Like something is blocking the stick. Most of the time it’s fine but once in a blue, I have to go to 3rd. I go back to first, I wiggle it, play with it, but it just won’t let the stick into the 2nd gear.
    What’s up with that?

    • This is the exact reason I came to this page. My 2nd gear is doing the same thing. 98% of the time I have no problems at all and then all of a sudden, i’m just coasting down the street struggling and praying it goes in. Taking it in to be checked tomorrow. I do have a feeling it is some thing with the transmission fluid though.

      • Hi
        i have Mazda bt 50 2009 model, i’m struggling with shifting of gears especially 1 and 2 i have changed clutch kid and master cylinder but the problem is still persisting

  3. Mine is a VW polo vivo, when I start the car it shifts normally but after driving for sometime and I get to a stop sign (after disengaging the current gear – I do not change down when I stop)the gears won’t engage. I need to wiggle it out for a couple of seconds looking for any available gear,after take off I then I shift upwards also using the same technique as some gears will be locked/stiff or loose.

  4. i have the same problem but then the oppsite when the car heats up hard to shift into gear but when cold shift like butter….

    • My truck is grinding a lot and getting harder to shift into reverse. And after driving it a minute it’s getting harder to shift gears. What could this be and is it affordable?

      • Grinding noises are not cheap noises. 🙂 My advice is to figure the problem out as soon as possible to minimize transmission damage.

        If you’re lucky, the gears may be salvageable and the fix could be as simple as topping off the transmission fluid. Check to make sure the transmission has enough gear oil. Check the transfer case too if you have a 4×4 model.

    • Hard two get into first gear clutch seems fine and shifts thu ok linkages all move freely. Going to drain oil tomorrow and re top up Toyota starlet 98 model

  5. Hi. I just bought a 2013 Citroen DS4 and I sometimes have trouble shifting from 4th to 3rd. Nothing too much, just a little point in the very begining (from 4th to 3rd) where I have to push the stick slightly stronger (would expected it to be a little smoother). I just bought the car but from what I could see it happens not always but most of the time and not when the car is off (I think also when it’s on, but standing still).
    What could this be? Thanks

    • Does it grind if you force it? If so, I would guess the synchros are worn.

      If it doesn’t grind and just feels blocked completely, it could be the motor mounts. Worn motor mounts are soft and can make it hard to shift because the transmission will twist a bit when you come off the throttle to shift, making you miss the gate.

  6. No grinding, but my manual VW Jetta is becoming increasingly hard to shift. All gears are stiff, especially reverse. At first it seemed just like something needed greasing. But its just cables under the shifter. Any ideas? Thank you for your help!

    • Check to make sure you have enough clutch fluid and the system is bled. Next, check to make sure the clutch pedal is adjusted within spec.

  7. The gear shift moves completely all the way down but wont change gears at all. No clicking noises nothing but stays running the whole time to

    • Can you get it into first if you put it in to second, then from second into first? Some vehicles are tricky to get into first unless you use second to help sync it up.

  8. I have experienced also of hard shifting the 1st to 2nd gear position after the transmission of our isuzu crosswind had been overhauled.what’s this all about?

  9. I just changed my transmission on my jetta 1.4 tsi 2011. If i must change gears from 1st to 2nd, my rev count should be below, otherwise it will not engage. I also realized afterwards that i used 80w90 and not 75w90. Could the oil type be an issue?

      • I just discovered that the transmission oil was over the limit. I had about 5 liters and drained 1 liter and I was able change gears without difficulty.

  10. My 2000 ford ranger has trouble shifting, mostly in lower gears. I can feel a distinct “notchiness” like the gears are meshing together in steps. It used to smoothly click into place.

    The stick can rattle a bit too, which made me wonder if it was mounts that could be the issue. It has new fluid in it, but if anything that seemed to make it worse (I used a valvoline brand to spec). Sometimes I have a lot of trouble shifting at all, other times it is just notchy.

  11. My 2007 chevy aveo5 is shifting hard into all gears and grinds into reverse I’ve replaced the transmission and clutch the flywheel and bearing I’ve replaced master clutch cylinder master slave cylinder and I’ve bleed the system till there was no air and it still does It I’m literally stuck please help me

    • Verify the clutch pedal is adjusted properly. It sounds like your clutch isn’t disengaging all the way. A clutch pedal adjustment is often necessary after replacing the clutch.

  12. I had this same issue in my 94 jeep wrangler, changed out the master cylinder(for my jeep it was super easy and cheap) and the problem was resolved

  13. Hi, I have a hilux ute 1st and 2nd gear are pretty hard to engage, doesn’t help if I double clutch. The first few shifts in the morning are good and than it gets hard to engage again. The mechanic thinks it’s the clutch so he has book me in for a replacement but I’m just sure if that’s the issue. Thanks

    • Manual transmissions tend to be harder to shift when the gear oil is cold. If you think it’s much harder to shift than it should be, it wouldn’t hurt to run it by a local mechanic to see what he thinks.

    • There could be a lot of reasons for gears not engaging, unfortunately. Check to make sure you have sufficient gear oil and that it is the right type of oil for your vehicle.

  14. My polo vivo 2012, 1.4 wont take the reverse gear, instead of shifting into it, it goes to 1st gear, when i shift to 1st gear it goes to 3rd gear. It stopped taking gears last night. But this morning it took reverse then after some hours nothing again. Any ideas?

  15. I have a 2008 Honda Civic. When we first drive the car, gears seem okay (maybe slightly stiff, but okay). After driving around for at least 10-15 minutes, gears get really stiff, specially in 1st and 2nd. Really need to force it into 1st/2nd. If we don’t drive it for a while (couple of hours, or overnight), then gears seem okay again. BTW, fluid is full to max line.

    We plan to take it to a mechanic soon, any advice on what to look for when they diagnose the car?

    • The easiest thing you can do is to replace the gear oil. Perhaps the current transmission fluid is old, or it’s the wrong viscosity for the car. Make sure you use a viscosity that is recommended by your owner’s manual.

  16. My Mitsubishi Adventure’s shifter is stuck in 2nd gear, and it’s so loose it can move in any direction. I let a mechanic see it and he noticed that a knot is missing under. He put a knot but still stuck in 2nd gear tho not as loose as before.

  17. I just had someone update my gear oil and fluid oil but still car gears wont change smoothly like before… what could be the problem ?

    Opel Astra CDE 1.6

  18. I have an issue with my Ford focus 2011. Gears are fine until I have been motorway driving for about 35 mins. I find it hard to down shift when exiting the motorway. Driving around town etc is fine so I know its not the clutch. I have changed gear oil, transmission oil, and break and clutch fluid. It was OK for a few times but now it has gone back to how it was . Any ideas please.

      • I had this on a 1.4 Fiesta a few years back. Turned out to be a nylon bush on the gear linkage – not sure if it’s the same on the Focus.
        Simple fix – I drilled the pivot hole slightly larger – gears were smooth again.
        Just a thought – it is quite a common fault on the Fiestas. (The pivot in inside a small casing at the front of the box where the shift goes into).

  19. My dad has a Ford-f150 XL,and we replaced the synchros and had the transmission fixed it also has new oil and stuff.Any ideas on to help?

  20. I ve kangoo 2001 after oil drip and refill it struck on hill when changing to first gear
    Its toed but wasnt fixed till now
    Any hints for the mechanic

    • Give the mechanic as much detail as possible. If you can help him or her replicate the issue, that will make the diagnostic process much quicker and could save you money.


Leave a Comment