7 Causes of a Hard to Shift Manual Transmission (And Tips to Fix)

(Updated on June 6, 2022)

Manual transmissions give a driver more control over the performance of their vehicle. Although a stick shift can offer a fun and rewarding experience, there are certain issues that can make it very difficult or impossible to get the car into and out of gear. 

How does a Manual Transmission Work?

Manual transmissions contain a set of gears that connect to an input and an output shaft. This gearset is linked to the driver via a shift fork and a shift lever. As the driver moves the shift lever from gate to gate, this changes which gear inside the transmission engages with the output shaft.

Synchronizers (or synchros) are a part of every modern manual transmission. Synchros help match the speed differential between one gear and another when you move the shift lever into a different gate.

Lower gears offer more torque, but require a higher engine speed for a given wheel speed. Lower gears are best for acceleration. Higher gears offer much lower torque, but turn the wheels several times for every rotation of the engine. These gears are best for fuel economy and top speed.

Most manual transmissions offer one gear that is close to a 1:1 ratio. In other words, the input shaft connected to the engine and the output shaft connected to the wheels are spinning at roughly the same speed.

Top 5 Reasons a Manual Transmission is Hard to Shift

Hard shifting with manual transmission often has to do with a problem with the gear system, the synchros, or with the clutch adjustment. Below are five of the most common causes of a manual transmission being hard to shift gears.

1) Damaged Master Cylinder

clutch master cylinder

The clutch system is comprised of a variety of components. There is the clutch master cylinder, the clutch cover (or pressure plate), the slave cylinder, the release fork, and the clutch release bearing (also called the throwout bearing).

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

2) Low Clutch Fluid

how to bleed clutch master cylinder

Like the braking system, most clutch systems use hydraulic fluid to transfer the force you apply to a pedal in the cabin. This force pushes on the clutch fork, which then pushes the pressure plate springs. This disengages the clutch.

If your clutch fluid is low, you will not be able to transfer this force from the clutch pedal properly. Clutches are not designed to be on-off switches. If your clutch fluid is low, your clutch may start to have a very abrupt engagement point.

This could make it difficult to take off from a traffic light and hard to shift. If you have no clutch fluid at all, you may not be able to even get the car into gear. 

3) 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 or even 7th 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 may have trouble shifting them.

4) 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.

5) 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. Synchros have made the practice of double clutching all but obsolete.

When you go to shift to the next gear and the speeds aren’t aligned, synchros do the work for you. 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.

You can usually mitigate synchro issues by taking your time with your shifts. Don’t rush the gearbox. When you go to shift gears, the transmission should easily accept the shifter into the next gate. This minimizes the use of your synchros.

6) 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) according to your vehicle manufacturer’s recommended interval. 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 you’ll hear all sorts of strange noises which typically mean damage to your transmission. So at the very least, top off your transmission fluid and monitor its level to confirm no leaks are present.

7) Bad Shifter Cable

Many vehicles don’t have a direct shifter linkage due to packaging reasons. This means the transmission and shifter are located in different parts of the car. On vehicle architectures such as these, a shifter cable is used to link the shift lever and the transmission shift fork.

If your shifter cable is stretched or misaligned, you may have trouble putting the car into gear. This may be as simple as a cable adjustment or a cable replacement. It certainly beats dropping the transmission and replacing the clutch.

How to Fix

The path you’ll want to take to fix your manual transmission will depend on which of these issues is the root cause of your shifting trouble. If you have air in your clutch lines or need a clutch pedal adjustment, those will likely be the most affordable problems to fix.

Bleeding the clutch is very similar to bleeding brakes. You will have a bleeder screw that needs to be loosened, and a partner to help you pump the clutch pedal.

If your transmission is leaking, 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.

If you wait too long to fix whatever is causing the shifting problems, your transmission may become permanently damaged. It’s always best to take your vehicle to the nearest mechanic as soon as you experience shifting problems.

106 thoughts on “7 Causes of a Hard to Shift Manual Transmission (And Tips to Fix)”

  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.

    Reply
    • 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?

      Reply
      • 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.

      • My 2009 Hyundai iload got stuck In first gear but I’m able to move the shifter/gear stick around as though it’s not locked in gear at all. Can any one help

      • It sounds like the shifter cable may have broken or become detached at the transmission. Double check that your vehicle has a cable shifter, it probably does (I’m not familiar with that particular model). You might need to replace it or simply reattach it.

  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?

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
      • 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.

    Reply
  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….

    Reply
    • 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?

      Reply
      • 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

      Reply
  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

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
  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!

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
  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

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
  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?

    Reply
  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?

    Reply
      • 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.
        Thanks

  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.

    Reply
  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

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
  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

    Reply
  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

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
  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?

    Reply
  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?

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
  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.

    Reply
  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

    Reply
  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.

    Reply
      • 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?

    Reply
  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

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
  21. i have just bought a chevralay spark but i am strugling changing gears can you tell me what could be the problem

    Reply
  22. My Panda Cross 4×4 is suddenly very difficult to engage gears, 1 and 2 are worst, 3 and 4 not good, 5 not bad and reverse perfect. It was fine until it had a few days doing nothing because of steering lock problems now sorted. Its worst when cold but still hard to engage even when warm.

    Reply
  23. Hey I have a 2004 Mitsubishi eclipse. 5 speed. Last week I lost reverse completely and now 1st is hard to get into and will slam in even with me taking all the time in the world letting my clutch out. 1st into 2nd is getting a little hard too. I’ve only owned for about 2 months and all I know is the guy before me apparently put an upgraded clutch kit into it. It also feels like it’s got a short throw aswell. Any advice would be nice. I’m lost as of now. Checked both master and slave. Flushed the trans two times and also bleed the system to make sure there wasn’t any air in the he lines coming from the master. I’m leaning towards the forks but I’m not to experienced in manual transmissions

    Reply
    • You might have to drop the transmission to inspect the clutch assembly and shift fork. Before you do that, check the clutch pedal assembly to make sure it doesn’t need any adjusting. Sometimes the clutch pedal can be bent on flimsier assemblies which causes issues with shifting.

      Reply
  24. I have toyota hilux that I just bought last year october 2020 and the problem of my truck is intermittent:

    1. I Need to play with the clutch pedal and find a certain height for the shift to gear in. Both for reverse and 1st.

    2. Once I get to accelerate it’s smooth sailing but if i go back to a full stop or park, I always need to play with the clutch pedal and feel that spot where the gears wills engage.

    Any thoughts? Thanks in advance!

    Reply
    • Have you tried bleeding the clutch? Wondering if there’s air in the system.

      Check the clutch pedal assembly to make sure nothing looks out of place. The clutch pedal itself may need adjustment.

      Reply
  25. Hello, I have a 94 Honda Accord LX. When I make right turns it struggles to catch the gear (engine revs really high) left turns are ok. Also when I’m driving each gear shifts hard, with the 3rd gear shifting the hardest. Does it sound like I need a tranny or should I do basic maintenance first?

    Reply
  26. okay, i got a jzx100 chaser r154 transmission with a twin plate clutch, my problem is that when i switch from 1st to 2nd its hard to get into second, its like i have to push hard to make it go into gear, but the rest of the gears are perfectly fine and smooth, its just going into 2nd. Do you have any idea on why it does that?

    Reply
    • I’m not sure. Is it a new transmission? Could be the synchro design, and if second is much taller than first that could make it a little harder as well.

      Reply
  27. Hi, I have a 2012 Opel Corsa (Vauxhall Corsa for UK), manual, with 50k miles. I just bought it. Switching gears is becoming harder and harder. It is not specifically one gear , and sometimes one of them refuse to go at all. My clutch pedal is normally smooth. I would think as it is a general issue and the car starts to be old, it is either the fluid or the master cylinder ? Gonna go and have it checked in couple of days.

    Reply
    • Have you checked the gear oil? Make sure you have enough fluid, and I would consider replacing the transmission fluid if that hasn’t been done yet.

      Reply
  28. 2009 ford focus, 200k. Hard to shift into any gear after the car has sat for a couple of days, the worst is reverse.. but after driving for 30 minutes, no problems shifting into any of the gears.. I noticed the other day the clutch pedal wobbles side to side?. I also have to rev to 2500,3000 rpm to get going. Otherwise no loss of power or slippage.. ford focus has a hydrologic clutch and uses the brake fluid as its fluid and its definitely at max and has been replaced around 199k by a Mechanic. Is my clutch going? Or is the shifter cable having issues?

    Reply
  29. Hi, I’m in a 2017 ford focus st, when I shift the gear Its smooth for 75% of the shift, and I have to push hard to engage it for the last bit. This only happens at 1-3rd gear for some reason and only in the last week. It doesn’t always happen but it is noticeable when it does.

    Reply
    • Check your shifter linkage to make sure it’s connected to the transmission correctly and working properly. Have you done any quick shifting or hard driving recently that may have caused the problem?

      Reply
  30. Hi, I have a 2007 Hyundai atos prime 1100. When the car is on it intermittently has issues changing into gears – namely first & second. It seems to be getting harder & harder. I’ve noticed the rubber on the clutch cable is damaged. To test, I changed gears while the car is on and it changes much easier. Sometimes when I try to change from 3rd to 4th, it makes a grinding noise as if the clutch isn’t all the way in, but it is. Does this sound like a clutch kit replacement or a cylinder replacement??

    Reply
  31. Hi have an ibiza 2l diesel. Suddenly clutch pedal is soft, bite point low, setting off with no acceleration pedal, just releasing clutch (I know done cars do this but mine never did) and worst, it won’t select 1st or reverse unless I switch the engine. All of these problems are only noticeable on start up, after driving I can select 1st and reverse, bite improves and softness, but still not quite normal. New clutch? TIA

    Reply
  32. Gearbox was whining in 5th and 6th gear had it repaired 6 months ago together with a new clutch and flywheel on Movano ,but now difficulty in engaging 1st and 2nd,any ideas ?

    Reply
  33. i have hyundai accent 2010 model 1.6 but and also i bought new clutch kit and mater cylinder but i am struggling to change gear its hard to change it

    Reply
  34. thank s for this site, really helpful , great pix, am off to measure, drain and replace clutch and gear fluid first before summoning professional help on my 15 y old Honda CRV, where all the gears are hard to access for the last 3 weeks .

    Reply
  35. I have tata bolt 2016, my car’s all gears working fine untill car runs long and engine became heated, revers gear is becoming harder first then start other gears also slowly having problem. Next morning when start all gears are working fine.

    Reply
  36. Hi! I have Hyundai Starex van and having difficulty shifting from 2nd to 3rd gear. More often I have to double-clutch to be able to shift it.
    What could probably the problem? Thanks

    Reply
  37. I have an Izusu Highlander 2000. I hope someone can help me. When i start my car in the morning it is very difficult to shift the gear specially when reversing. But after running the car for at least 15 minutes it is ok. What could be the problem? My clutch master is new, my clutch lining was also replaced but i still have the same problem shifting gear. I can hear some noise when i try to stop while the gear is on the 2nd gear. Any idea what could be the problem?

    Reply
  38. I have a tata indigo 2006 model. I’m having problems shifting into 2nd gear. I have to move the gear lever all the way to the bottom left and there has to be a click otherwise it doesn’t engage even if the gear lever is all the way to the bottom left.

    Reply
  39. Hi.. I have a Toyota Corolla.. When the car is completely stationery, it is hard to shift between gears. At other times say in a month, the shifting becomes smooth.

    The engine is completely off and the car is stationery

    Is this the synchro gear ?

    Thank you for your help and advice ! Much appreciated

    Reply
    • Most manual transmissions are harder to shift when the car is off. Are you pushing in the clutch pedal while attempting to shift gears while the car is off? Pressing the clutch pedal will make it easier.

      Reply
  40. Hi, I have a ford ranger. I’m struggling to find 1st & 2nd gear, it’s hard stiff.

    However, going from 3rd till 6th its fine, and what I’ve noticed the gear leaver is loose when selecting.

    Reply
    • How long has it been since you noticed the problem? Has it gotten gradually worse over time?

      I wonder if there’s an issue with the shift linkage on those gates. 1st and 2nd share a collar inside the transmission, so perhaps there is an internal issue. I’m not sure.

      Reply

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