Hard Shifting Honda CRV

The manual transmission on my 2001 Honda CRV with 107,000 miles has started to be hard to shift into gear. This car still has its original clutch. The shifting is hard when the car is cold, then returns to normal once the car has warmed up. Is the hard shifting a sign that I need a new clutch, or is there some other problem? Thanks!

It may be a simple as changing the transmission lube. Has it ever been replaced? Note: It may mean changing the type of fluid if this is a winter only problem. I suspect this is it, but it should have shown up last winter, did it? Check what the recommended fluid is in your owner’s manual. If it is a single weight lube, consider moving up to a synthetic multi weight lube with the higher number equal to the one recommended in the manual. If you have had a lube change it may be they used the wrong lube.

It may also be a sign of clutch or transmission problems. When you say it is “difficult” do you mean it clashes when you try to shift or that it feels like it is in molasses when you try to move the shifter? Is it the same for all gears? Is it different shifting between gears as apposed to shifting into first or reverse?

The problem might be due to a worn out clutch master cylinder.

This component is positioned under the hood. When it’s cold, the seals in the master cylinder can contract where the proper hydraulic pressure isn’t produced to operate the clutch. As the engine heats up, and the underhood temperatures increase, it heats up the master cylinder where the seals expand. Hydraulic pressure is then restored, and the clutch functions normally.

I’d be looking at the clutch master cylinder for internal leaking when it’s cold.


Thanks for your comments. To answer your questions:

  • The transmission fluid hasn’t been replaced in a while, so I’ll start with that.
  • This is the first time this has happened, even though “winter” here is only about 50 degrees. Its been in much colder temps with no problem.
  • By “hard to shift” I mean: initially it won’t go from neutral into any gear, then as it warms up, I can get it in gear, but I have to push hard on the shifter. There’s no gear clash, or any feeling of molasses.

Thanks for your comments. Is there a way to test the clutch master cylinder, short of replacing it and seeing if that fixes the problem?

I have seen more slave cylinders go bad than master clyinders, but it could be either. The slave is close to the clutch. Hold the clutch down for a while and see if the shifting gets worse. If it does, you may have a leaking cylinder.

Yes. While this problem is occuring, observe the operation of the slave cylinder while stepping on the clutch pedal. And observe how far the piston on the slave cylinder moves. Now drive the vehicle where this problem disappears. Now observe the slave cylinder again while stepping on the clutch pedal. If the piston in the slave cylinder moves farther when the engine is hot than when the engine is cold, it pretty much indicates there’s a problem within the master cylinder.


Thanks for all the comments. It turns out that the clutch hydraulic fluid reservoir was empty. I’ve topped it off, and that helped, but it still shifts hard at first. I’m thinking air might have gotten into the hydraulic line. Does anyone know how to bleed the clutch hydraulic line on this car?

The reservoir shouldn’t be empty. It means there’s a leak somewhere.

If there’s no evidence of leaking at the slave cylinder, look under the dash, drivers side firewall and see if fluid is running down the firewall from the master cylinder. If there is, the master cylinder requires replacement.