Difficulty Shifting Gears on Manual (Ford Ranger 2001)

Ford Ranger 2001
4 Cylinder
4x2 Drivetrain
~150K Miles

The problem with the vehicle is that it won’t shift into gear easily and smoothly. It started occurring just this last Friday or Saturday (2011-06-24 or 2011-06-25). I was driving around 35 MPH, slowed down to a stop at an intersection, and when I put it back into 1st Gear to begin driving, I had extreme difficulty shifting the gear. I cut the ignition and started again, was able to put it into 1st Gear and made it home by coasting (getting into any of the other Gears was just as difficult, fortunately I was in the neighborhood). Following this, I tested it while parked the next day. Same issue. Then I tried double-clutching, which seemed to help out, but I only did it parked, since I didn’t want to strand myself on a road (I’ll take that risk when I go to a mechanic, though).

I’ve read this on the Car Talk Discussions (http://community.cartalk.com/discussion/741209/hard-shifting-honda-crv/p1) and from my years of listening to Car Talk, I’m pretty sure it’s the clutch (master/slave cylinder) and I’m also aware that it could be the transmission fluid requiring a change. I haven’t changed the transmission fluid at the 60K & 120K interval per Ford’s suggested maintenance schedule (I got it around 50K-60K from a dealership, so I’m not sure if they may have done it preemptively).

A couple other details. For the past year or so, I’ve been driving 100 Highway miles for 4-5 days a week, for work (50 to work, 50 back home).

Are my assumptions right, or is it possible that my whole Transmission is getting ready to go? Are there any other details I should provide?

Thanks in advance

Edit: I’m going to take it into a mechanic, as noted above, but I was wondering how much it should approximately cost to do the transmission fluid and then how much it would be to replace the entire clutch (even if it’s just the slave cylinder, I’m going to follow Tom & Ray’s advice on replacing the whole thing once they’re in there).

Have you checked the clutch fluid level? If the fluid is low enough it could cause these symptoms.

Before you worry about the clutch or the transmission, make sure the fluid level is correct.

If the fluid is OK I’d suspect the master or slave cylinder before the transmission.

Can you shift gears easily with the truck sitting still and the engine OFF? If so, it’s not the transmission, although you should have the transmission lube replaced anyway.

Oh, I forgot that detail; yes, when the truck is parked, E-Brake on, Engine Off, I can shift the gears quite easily.

The most I’ve ever done on this truck is change the oil, so I’m not really sure how to check the clutch fluid level. Would it be relatively easy to do and top up myself?

Thanks for the help

Have you checked the transmission oil? When is the last time it was changed?

Manual fluid is probably not the issue, though it could be. this sounds like a pretty quick failure, which means the master (or likely slave) failed. Peri - of course you can shift with the engine off, neither end is moving

I had an older ranger I had the clutch cable bracket at the firewall crack. I had these same symptoms, until the bracket completely went. Does your clutch use a cable or a hydraulic unit?

the bracket was an easy fix. (if it is a cable)

The clutch fluid reservoir is on the firewall, right next to the brake fluid reservoir. Topping it up is as simple as removing the cover and pouring in clean brake fluid. Brake fluid is used for the brakes and the hydraulic clutch.

The thing is, the clutch fluid reservoir is at a slight angle (maybe an off-set of 15 degrees from 90), so the fluid looks like it meets one side of the step but it doesn’t touch at all on the the side that’s furthest from the ground. I moved the reservoir a little so that I could get it perpendicular and checked the clutch fluid reservoir; it’s below the step by about 1/4" to 3/8", so it’s not low, to me at least. Is it still worth topping off with DOT-3 brake fluid, even though it’s going to sit at an angle when I’m done topping off? Also, I noticed it was pretty dark, so should I do a complete clutch fluid change? I’ve read elsewhere that it’s a good idea to do so if it’s dark.

Also, I’ve tried driving it a couple times for the past 2 weeks and noticed that it’s not as bad as before, but it’s still noticeable. Double-clutching does relieve it of all resistance, but I’m not sure how much longer I can get away with this? Any suggestions?

I had the same problem with my 97 Ford Ranger. Sometimes I could not put it into gear unless I turned it off first. Been having this problem for years. I had the clutch fluid replaced, and the truck had a complete tune up about 2 years ago. Clutch problems still keep happening off and on, just far enough apart that I would forget there was a problem. Now today, the “turn the engine off” trick did not work. I can not get the clutch to push in and I can’t get it into gear no matter what, also there is dark fluid all over the place. I had the clutch problem looked at before and they always said the same thing, “we replaced the clutch fluid and it looks fine to us”. I think the clutch locking up is a symptom of a bigger problem. We’re going to have to have the poor thing towed to have it looked at, before we know for sure.

@Libby So how did everything come out? Was it the Clutch Master & Slave Cylinder?