Manual Transmission Hard to Shift – Reasons and Solutions

Manual Transmission Hard to Shift – Reasons and Solutions

Gearheads love manual transmissions. In fact, knowing how to drive a manual is basicallya requirement to be considered a car enthusiast. As fun as it can be to drive one, there is one problem that tends to crop up with such cars: the gear shifter becoming less responsive over time.

There are a few different flavors of this problem depending mostly on the age of your vehicle. The more benign version is when you realize you have to put a little more effort into changing gears than you did earlier. This is a red flag but it can be easy to solve with a visit to the mechanic.

A more extreme version of the problem is when your gear shifter becomes completely unresponsive. This means you’re stuck wherever you find yourself having the problem, which means you’ll need to get your car towed to the nearest mechanic. It also means a more onerous process to get your car up and running again.

Although this may seem like a deathblow to your car, there are ways to address a manual transmission that’s become hard to shift. Before we get to what the solutions are, let’s take a look at what causes it in the first place.

What Makes Manual Transmission Gears Hard to Shift

Stick shifts undergo constant wear and tear because of the regularity with which they’re used. When that happens, it’s usually one of the components below that’s leading to the problems.


A clutch is responsible for channeling power from the rotating shafts in the engine to the wheels in a car. If your clutch isn’t working like it should, then you will notice the gear shift beginning to act up because it’s having a hard time drawing power from the engine.

Issues with the clutch pop up because of a fault in one of the six parts that form its internal structure. Usually, a leak in either the master cylinder or release cylinder of the clutch leads to a drop in pressure coming through from the component. This in turn will mean the clutch can’t channel power through the transmission chain efficiently. This is when you’ll begin to notice your stick shift acting up.


The main component in a manual transmission, of course, is the gear itself. There are the gears from one through six in most cars, a reverse gear, and a counter gear, which varies the angular velocity coming from the output gears.

Every one of these gears has small teeth built into them. The purpose of these teeth is to facilitate the engagement between the synchronizer rings and hub sleeve. There are also larger teeth in the gears, which engage the counter gear. If these teeth get damaged or worn out, then your car will have a hard time shifting between gears.

Synchronizer Rings

Cars with manual transmissions have a part called the gear synchronizer to make an upshift or downshift possible. They sit in the gearbox, synchronizing the speed at which the input and output shafts move. Each pair of gears in your car has a synchronization mechanism sitting in between it to orchestrate their timing during shifts.

These synchronizer rings have small teeth in them, which the hub sleeve engages first and then the gear. Much like in the actual gear mechanism, these teeth have a tendency to wear away over time because of all the friction that happens engaging with the gears. This leads to your having a hard time shift through the manual transmission.

Hub Gears

Hub gears are components that sit between the main gears in the gearbox. The job of the hub gears is to facilitate the engagement between two consecutive gears. So you’d have hub gears between the first and second gear, then the second and third gear and so on, acting as a link between them.

Although hub gears don’t affect the movement of a car like the main gears do, they still serve an important function. If they get worn out, then you will have trouble shifting gears.

Hub Sleeve

The hub sleeve has come up in our discussion a fair bit so far, so let’s find out what they do. We saw that there are the main gears in a car and there are hub gears. The latter acts as a bridge between the former. The hub sleeve is the part that determines when the hub gears engage and disengage with the main gears.

Just like many of the parts that we’ve talked about earlier, the hub sleeves, too, can undergo significant wear and tear over time. When that happens, the main gears and hub gears don’t interact like they should. This manifests itself in the form of a manual transmission that’s hard to shift.

Gear Oil

Gears are mechanical components that are in constant physical contact and rotational motion. In order for these mechanical interactions to happen smoothly, you need gear oil to lubricate these parts. The oil that’s used is highly viscous so that it can survive the high-temperature conditions within the gearbox.

Your gears can end up with not enough oil on them if there is some kind of leakage in the system. This can lead to it becoming harder to switch between gears.

Shift Fork

The shift fork is a part that connects the gear shifter to the gears. It slides gears into place or out of place, which allows your vehicle to enter or change gears. This also a wear part, which means that it will accumulate damage over time.

Any number of these issues can the reason for trouble shifting your car. Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to tell which one it is.

Solutions for a Problematic Gear Shift

As we’ve seen in the previous section, there are many things that cause gear shifts to become difficult. Still, these these can be broken down into two categories: lack of lubrication and wear and tear.

As a car owner, you should regularly check the oil levels in your gearbox and change it every 40,000 miles or so.

There is a chance that the gearbox oil levels are low because of a leakage. This is a slightly more complex problem. It can occur either because of a hole somewhere in the gearbox or because of an issue with the fluid lines. A mechanic will be able to diagnose which of those issues is causing the leakage.

The other main cause of this problem is wear and tear in the parts inside the gearbox. This isn’t an issue you can avoid, especially if you have an ageing car. The most important step you can take is to take your car down to the dealership as soon as you start noticing issues while shifting gears.

Cost to Fix or Replace Manual Transmission

The cost of replacing components in the transmission chain varies greatly depending on the make of the vehicle that you own. Fortunately, these repair costs are on the lower end if you own a car with a manual transmission.

Repairing parts like gears or hub components will usually cost you between $500 and $2,000, depending on the extent of work that needs to be done. That number can go up if you own a luxury vehicle.

A lot of these problems can be avoided, of course, if you replace gearbox oil regularly. That can cost between $50 to $200 depending on whether you hire a mechanic to do it and the type of car you own.

Final Thoughts

If you enjoy driving a manual transmission, then you need the experience of shifting gears to be as smooth as a hot knife through butter. If that doesn’t happen, you may find yourself in a situation where you can’t even get your car out of the blocks.

We’ve laid out all of the issues that could lead to your manual transmission becoming hard to shift. Keep a look out for the signs and take your car down to the local auto shop as soon as you begin to notice any issues.

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