Cold weather shifting issue

I have a 1993 Honda Prelude V-Tech, 5 spd manual transmission, with 160K miles. During cold weather I can not shift into 1st or Reverse. I can turn the engine off and shift into gear and then restart the engine. After warming up, it shifts fine. Any ideas?

Define “cold”. Upstate Minnesota reached -47F the other night. Anything is possible. If you’re in upstate Minnesota, do nothing until the weather warms up.

When I lived in North Dakota, my tranny would become extremely thick in the cold too until it warmed up. I too had a hard time shifting into first gear and reverse. I could barely even feel the gates.

The grease in the pilot bearing could get so thick that it would drag.

Oops, Honda doesn’t use a pilot bearing, maybe the clutch plate is freezing to the flywheel. I assume that once you get moving, you don’t have any further problems.

Are you saying that you can shift into gears 2 through 5, or that you can’t shift into any gear?

Cold is defined as about 30 and colder. What we have been experiencing now is defined as freeeezing!. The Honda is in the barn and all vehicles are snowed in. No problem shifting into 2 through 5.

Dirty gear lube will thicken up greatly in cold weather. Try changing it and see if that helps. Make sure the transmission is warm to get the old stuff out, and keep the new lube in the house until you’re ready to put it in so it will flow.

What temperatures HAVE you been experiencing recently?

Have you checked the fluid in the hydraulic clutch release system?

I have to admit that your being able to put it into these gears with the engine off but not when the engine is running and cold should be a clue, but it’s beyond me to figure out what it means. Other than perhaps the engine vibration is allowing movement in the shifting linkage that’s frozen when the vibration isn’t there. Vibration does have that effect on things mechanical.

You can try thinner ATF viscosity for winter.

I would suspect the master cylinder going bad, especially if it’s the original 20 years old.
May as well change the slave too.
In the future flush the fluid every 3-5 years.

You can try thinner ATF viscosity for winter.

Since this is a manual and NOT a GM product…it probably uses gear oil - NOT ATF. ATF is for automatics or SOME GM manual transmissions.

Excellent point, Mike, but he might have been suggesting a thinner fluid for the clutch release system rather than the tranny. I don’t know what Honda uses for hydraulic fluid. ATF would be common.

It could be the clutch disc in nearing its wear limit. But I think this is a problem somewhere between the clutch pedal and the release bearing. As mentioned above, check all the hydraulics for proper operation, and check for any extra play in mechanical linkages. Something is preventing the clutch from completely disengaging like it should. Wouldn’t hurt to lube the mechanical linkage points with some thin oil like you’d use for door hinges. And make sure nothing is preventing the clutch pedal from going fully to the floor.

Honda definitely doesn’t use ATF in their gear boxes. Its gear oil and get out the gold card if you plan on buying any.

We aren’t discussing the gear box. We’re discussing the hydraulic system (master cylinder, line, & slave cylinder) that moves the fork release the clutch when the pedal Is stepped on. I think the comment about using lighter weight ATF fluid misled some.

The hydraulic clutch uses DOT3. Gear box uses 75w85 GL-4 or GL-5. No ATF, and I would not use less than 75w85 gear oil. Fresh gear oil in a 21 yo gear box will make it shift silky smooth.

This Honda manual transmission uses 5W-30 engine oil.

Try changing the oil in the transmission.


I had the same problem with my transmission even at 6 months old. Keeping the clutch down in neutral for a few seconds before shifting in the 1st worked for me. This let the gears slow down so that 1st gear can engage without waiting for the 1st gear synchro to do its work

I did have the transmission oil changed last spring (10W-30 was used) and thought it was ok, but the weather was also warming up. Once it got colder this winter still the same issue.

You are saying you have 10w30 in it. I would recommend 5w30 for winter and 10w30 for summer and if its really really really freezing outside 0w30.