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.

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

  1. 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
  2. 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
  3. 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
  4. 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
  5. 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
  6. 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
  7. 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
  8. 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
  9. 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
  10. 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
  11. 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
  12. 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

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