Manual Transmissions



I drive a 1996 Saturn SL with 242,000 miles on it. Sometimes, after backing up quickly or uphill and stopping, it is very hard to shift into a forward gear. After about 30 seconds it will reluctantly go into first gear, a little less reluctantly into second and so on into fifth gear. Then after that it performs normally. I have also experienced this after coming to a brisk stop at a light where I shift into nuetral and the reluctant shifter does its act before the unappreciative audience behind me. It has been suggested to me that this might have to do with something called a “slave cylinder” in the transmission. Is my slave going on strike? Will it be necessary for me to emancipate this car that I really like or is there an inexpensive fix for it?


Do you notice the fluid level in you clutch master cylinder decreasing?


Chances are that your clutch is no longer fully disengaging, leading to the suspicion that your master or slave cylinder is no longer healthy. It can be failing without losing fluid, as fluid can be passing the piston seal inside the cylinder without leaking to the outside.

If one of them is failing, my recommendation is to change them both. Chances are good that of one is failing the other is right behind.


I have checked the transmission dipstick and it appeared to have enough fluid. I am having difficulty finding a mechanic that wants to work on a Saturn.


What would I experience if the clutch is not fully disengaging. Other than these occasional hard to shift episodes, the car performs smoothly and efficiently (over 35mpg avg.)Where is the slave cylinder indicated on a Saturn SL? Neither the owner’s manual or the repair manual that I have even mention a slave cylinder.


The question was whether the fluid level is dropping in the clutch master cylinder, not the transmission itself. Big difference. See if your owner’s manual has a diagram. Here’s what the part looks like:


I would not expect the owner’s manual to mention the slave. But it or the repair manual should tell you how and where to check the clutch fluid. Check that first.


If the clutch is dragging, shifting to reverse will be noisy and difficult. With the engine idling in neutral, step on the clutch and hold it to the floor for a count of 5. Then attempt to shift to reverse. It should do so easily and with no crunching/


You would experience occasional hard to shift episodes and perhaps difficulty shifting out of reverse.

As Joseph said, you need to get a repair manual from the parts store, about $20. The master cylinder will be at the end of the rod that gets pushed in by the clutch linkage when you push eth pedal. The slave cylinder iwll be attached to a level coming out of the area at the rear of the engine, it’ll be on the other end of the tube that comes from the master cylinder.

The way the system works is that you have a tube filled with hydraulic fluid with a cylinder at each end containing a piston with an “O” ring, the piston being connected to a rod sticking out the end of the cylinder housing. When you push the pedal, it pushes the piston in the master cylinder. That piston pushes the fluid in the tube, which then pushes the piston in the slave cylinder. The rod connected to the piston in the slave cylinder pushes a lever that slides a release bearing (also commonly called a throwout bearing) that pushes some spring loaded levers to disengage the clutch, which is clamped between the pressure plate and the flywheel. If fluid is leaking past the “O” ring on either the master or the slave cylinder it affects your ability to disengage the clutch.


I don’t think anyone ever told you where the slave cylinder is. I have never seen a Saturn engine, but if you look at your engine, the belts are on the ‘front’ end (probably passenger side) and the ‘rear’ end attaches to the transmission. on the lower half of the rear end will be a shallow bell-shaped cover. The clutch is inside that cover. Attached to the side of that cover or to the transmission will be a small hydraulic actuator that presses the clutch release lever to disengage the clutch.

Since your problem seems to be related to hills and fast stops, I would be looking at engine and transmission mounts, or possibly worn or loose cables or bushings on the shifter linkage. If it is related to hills or fast stops, it is not likely an expensive transmission repair.


let off the cluth then press it down again- - -goes right into gear now doesnt it?


Yes, when it is hard to shift back into first, if I hold down the clutch pedal and count to five then the shifter operates normally! Now, how long can I nurse this baby along before this technique no longer works?