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Can't select gears - Isuzu 5-speed

I have an '87 Pontiac Fiero with the 2.5L 4-cylinder engine mated to the original Isuzu 5-speed transmission. Two days ago, the ability to shift the transmission jammed. Up until then, the car had worked perfectly. The gears didn’t grind and never popped out. The clutch still works fine and it is operated by a separate hydraulic system. The trans is shifted by two cables. The clutch pedal is fine, the hydraulics are fine, the shifter knob assembly is fine, the shifter cables are fine, the mechanism that connects the cables to the trans is fine, the clutch fluid is new and at the correct level. I know all of this because I have taken all of these things apart to see if any of them are causing the binding. They are not.

I can select 5th and reverse with the shift knob when the cables are connected. None of the other gears can be selected without forcing the lever at the trans into position by hitting it with a hammer. Once forced into position, all gears do work and will move the car.

What happened and how do I fix it?



Rebuilding your tranny will cost two or three times what the car is worth…

How many miles on the car, have you checked the tranny oil?? (too late now)…

I seriously doubt that a tranny rebuild will cost 2 to 3 thousand dollars. 94K miles. Yes the tranny oil level was fine when I changed it several months ago. It does not leak so it is still fine. Fluid was changed to Pennzoil Syncromesh as per GM recommendations.

The car is a Morphodite, some had Italian transmissions…GM has abandoned Pontiac, Izusu could not care less…GM is bankrupt. The entire engine cradle must come out of the car by lifting the body up off it… It’s worth 3 grand only in your dreams…

If the shift forks will no longer move, the mainshaft must have changed position binding everything up. Good Luck…

You said the rebuild would cost 2 to 3 times the value of the car. The car is easily worth $1000 even with the tranny problem. A friend of mine just sold his very similar but not quite as handsome Fiero for $2500. I don’t know of ANY Fieros with Italian transmissions. They had the Isuzus, the Muncies, and the Getrags as far as manual trannys go. The shift forks do move. I’m pretty sure I stated that every gear could be selected but by force. The car will move in each gear. I appreciate the wish for luck, I’d settle for some advice from someone who knew anything about Fieros.

bump for the extra-smart morning croud! :slight_smile:

When you have to shift it with a hammer, this is the market you are in…
There are “Fiero Club” forums that specialize in these cars and their problems. They include nationwide parts location services. You might get more action here if you include the word “Fiero” in your title line…

I checked your links. I’m familiar with eBay. I bought this car, as well as my first Fiero, two Yamaha V-Max motorcycles, and about 100 other transactions on eBay. I didn’t see any complete cars for less than $1000. This is a repairable problem even if I have to replace the trans. As a matter of fact, my parts car (third Fiero) has a good V6 and 5-speed that I could put in if it comes to that. The car is not totaled so buying another car isn’t the answer.

I am a member of the biggest and best Fiero forum which is Pennock’s. I tried there first and expanded my search for answers when I couldn’t solve the problem with information gleaned from there. I might get more hits with “Fiero” in the title but I doubt it. It is not a problem specific to Fieros or Pontiac or GM. It is a problem with the Isuzu trans which is an original part. I suspect a bit of foreign matter is lodged somewhere.

I put it in gear and drove around my neighborhood today. I did a circuit in first, second, and also reverse. The car starts and runs fine. The clutch works predictably and properly, the trans moves the car normally in each gear. There is no grinding or unusual noise while driving. I’ve been working the lever into and out of the gears. It seems to be helping slightly. I can now select fifth and reverse and disengage those gears by hand. I can also disengage 3rd and 4th by hand but I still have to knock them into position. This is an improvement over having to knock them out of gear with the hammer. I can occasionally disengage 1st and 2nd by hand. It is definately working loose. I just don’t know if this will continue to improve until it is useable again.

I’ve had several Fieros in the past. Started buying them when my oldest son started driving. The engine cradle does not have to be dropped to remove this engine and transmission! Evan tho the repair manual tells you to do so. How do I know this is because I use to remove the engine from the top all the time when my son would get one with a bad engine. You have to remove just about everything from the front of the engine to be able to do this tho. This was on an 84 and 85 Fiero. Now to your problem. Have someone try and shift the transmission while you look at the gear selector on the transmission. When they shift it from 5th to say back to first does the gear selector on the transmission try to move up or down? If it don’t then I think you may have a cable problem such as a broken shift cable or you could have a bent shift fork. I hope it’s the broken or miss adjusted shift cable.
Also to let you know you can put 350 cubic inch V8 pistons in this 4 cylinder. I think it lowers the compression when this is done. I’ve done it when I’ve rebuilt a 2.5 for my sons engine. Thought you would like to know.

Skypilot, thanks for your thoughts. I have eliminated pretty much everything from being the problem including the cables. The problem is positively internal unless there is some kind of electrical connection that has come undone that could cause this. Not aware of anything like that, though. I have removed the cables and am shifting the trans by the lever that the cables attach to. When I did my compression test, I found one cylinder with too-low compression, I repeated with oil in the cylinder and got the same results. This tells me that it is a valve problem and not the piston rings. I am looking into swapping heads to correct this. I have dropped two Fiero cradles and swapped them, engine and all. Since I have experience with this method, it would make more sense to continue to use the knowledge that I have with that process. I would never rebuild this engine or trans. I would go as far as changing the head but that is it. If it is worse than that, I’ll put in my V6. It isn’t a perfect setup but it would be cheaper, faster, and easier than a tear-down and re-build. Thanks again.

I’m not familar with your transmission but the manuals I have opened used detent lockouts to prevent shifting into a gear without disconnecting from the previous gear. The balls and detents wear, the springs can break and jam and the raceways can become galled. If the transmission uses a single rail shifter it may be somewhat simple to repair. Find a manual and familiarize yourself with the operation.

I’ve never opened up a transmission and I have very little knowledge about the inner workings. This is a daily driver so I don’t want to take it out of service unless absolutely necessarry. Believe it or not, it is up and running again. After beating the crap out of it for several days, I decided to connect the cables and try to “drive” the problem out of it. My first several shifts were very stiff and I had to jerk the shifter into each gear. After a few miles of interstate driving, I took an off ramp to an intersecting interstate. The down shifts felt surprisingly good. I got down to third and went back up through fifth as I got back up to speed. When I got to the next exit, I got off and stopped for gas. Each shift was very similar to what it had been prior to freezing up. It does feel a little different but it does work. It is not grinding into gears, there is no transmission noise, it is not popping out of gears, it has as much power as it ever did and maybe A LITTLE MORE! It felt pretty strong. I’m going to take it all apart again tomorrow and replace the gasket, drain the fluid, strain it through a paint filter, put it back in, and button it all up again. I hope this never happens again!

I drained the fluid and strained it through a paint strainer, poured it back in and repeated twice. I got lots of tiny metal flakes but more important, I got two big chunks of metal and some tiny bits of blue plastic. My speedo gear is still there and it is red so I don’t know what the plastic could be. I’m gonna drive it for a while and see if any more shavings get washed down to the bottom. I guess I’ll be draining and filtering until it is all cleaned up.

I drained the fluid and strained it through a paint strainer, poured it back in and repeated twice. I got lots of tiny metal flakes but more important, I got two big chunks of metal and some tiny bits of blue plastic.

Sorry to tell you bad news, but there is damage to the insides of the transmission, and only by removing it and cracking it open will you find out specifically what’s wrong and what it will take to fix it. Hoping and praying will not fix this. Metal shavings and chunks of metal are not normal wear and clear signs of damage. Once you go through the trouble of dropping a transmission and opening it up, you may as well check for other worn parts that may also need replacing, also known as a rebuild. Since you have no experience with rebuilding transmissions, you will need to find someone who does.

Perhaps whacking the shift levers with a hammer is the answer…After you filter all the obviously unnecessary parts and pieces of parts out of the transmission oil, you are good to go! Drive on! I would increase my liability coverage to $500K just in case…

Caddyman, I’ve been trying my best to ignore your obnoxious replies but you persist so it looks like someone needs to say something to you. I see you are a “top 20 contributor” and I looked at some other threads to get an idea of what you are posting in other places. I was not surprised that I couldn’t find any posts from you that had any actual helpful ideas or information. I don’t know why you get your kicks from jabbing at people who come here for help but you are wasting bandwidth. I don’t want to see you get into trouble so you should probably get off the computer and finish your homework before your mom finds out. Please be quiet, the adults are talking.

I’d say you are right. I put it all together and drove around a bit tonight and everything was perfect and then it got bound up again. It may be self destructing from the inside out. I know something broke inside and filtering the shavings out won’t repair the damage already done. If I could just get it to the point of not breaking any further, I would be satisfied. If it grinds into a gear or two (which it still does not do), I can live with that as long as it remains functional. Whatever is wrong with this transmission happened before I got it so who knows how long it has kept on working? I have no intention of rebuilding this tranny. I know that is the only way to be SURE it is reliable but I have another engine/trans that I can use.

Have you considered a used transmission if you can find a wreck somewhere?

Caddyman, I’ve been trying my best to ignore your obnoxious replies

Relax. Caddyman does get a little direct and has some very firm personal opinions from time to time, but I don’t see where he has been offensive or obnoxious, at least this time.

Let’s try an not let personalities get in the way of communication. Frankly I agree with his opinion this time. If you want it fixed, it is going to cost you some big bucks.

I’m very new here (first post) and judging from your response, Caddyman obviously has a reputation. Here’s a re-cap of his “advice”:

Rebuilding your tranny will cost two or three times what the car is worth.
have you checked the tranny oil?? (too late now)…
Good Luck…
The car is a Morphodite,
some had Italian transmissions…
GM has abandoned Pontiac, Izusu could not care less…GM is bankrupt.
It’s worth 3 grand only in your dreams…
this is the market you are in…(completely different car from eBay)
Perhaps whacking the shift levers with a hammer is the answer…
After you filter all the obviously unnecessary parts and pieces of parts out of the transmission oil, you are good to go! Drive on! I would increase my liability coverage to $500K just in case…

The one and only thing he said that COULD have been helpful was to suggest trying a Fiero forum. Even there, if I were sensitive, I could take that as “go somewhere else” but I like to give people the benifit of the doubt.

If his (and your) opinion is that the car has internal transmission damage, I agree too! I posted back at the beginning that was where the problem was. After consulting two different internet forums, friends, family, and professional mechanics, NO ONE had ever heard of a problem like this. Will it cost big bucks to fix? Maybe. That remains to be seen. If whatever broke is finished breaking, I could theoretically clean out the debris and keep using the trans. If it is like a crack in a winshield that keeps getting worse, it would HAVE to be fixed/replaced.

The wierd thing is that there have been no adverse effects on the performance of the tranny. Once in gear it works perfectly. Once the crap is cleared from the shifter, it shifts perfectly. This being a do-it-yourself forum, you should appreciate someone who doesn’t want to run to his local transmission shop at the first sign of trouble. I accept defeat slowly but I am realistic. I’m going to try to clear it once more. If there is any more trouble, I’ll be reaching for my V6. Thanks for keeping a clear head.