Best of Deals Car Reviews Repair Shops Cars A-Z Radio Show

My car doesn't want to get into gear first thing in the morning

Hi there,
I drive a 2007 Ford Focus (manual trans), and it’s been acting funny lately.

Here’s the problem: Lately, when I start the car and try to put it into gear (either 1st OR R,) the shifter won’t budge. While the engine is off, I can put it in gear just fine. After I wait a little, turn the car off and on again, etc, I can get the shifter into gear if I really push it HARD. (I know I probably shouldn’t do this, but… I was terribly late and desperate!) Okay, so I get the car into first and manage to pull out of my parking spot without having to reverse. When I go to get into second gear, I’ve still gotta push the shifter REALLY hard (again, bad!! I know!) but maybe a little easier. Where I live, it’s stop-sign city, so I have to stop and go a lot, and within a few minutes of this (maybe 3 or 4 cycles of N, 1, 2, maybe 3, N) I can shift smoothly again and the car feels totally normal.

The strange thing is, this happens sporadically, and I can’t seem to see any external factors that correlate with the problem, except that it seems to be worse when the car’s been sitting for a couple days. Sometimes the car shifts just fine, and sometimes it won’t get into gear at all. In general, the car’s in pretty good shape: no accidents, scheduled maintenance, etc. I guess the only caveat is that a couple years ago,TWO people learned to drive stick in this vehicle, so maybe the transmission has taken some abuse.

SO: any ideas? I know I should probably take it to a mechanic, but I’m a broke-ass grad student who just moved 3000 miles away from her usual beloved car repair man. I’d be grateful for any advice.


Being broke is a drag. Been there.

But it sounds like the clutch master cylinder is the problem.


Your clutch is the problem. If you keep driving it this way, pretty soon you’ll have a clutch problem and a transmission problem. If you can’t afford to repair in now, then walk or take a bus until you have more money.

Check the fluid level in the clutch master cylinder ASAP. If it is low, topping it off might improve the situation until you can get to a shop. Forcing the lever can cause expensive damage.

I have trouble getting into gear first thing in the morning myself, but my car doesn’t. Different subject.

Is there a grinding sound when you try to get it in gear or does it just not want to move? If it does, then I’m 100% on board with the clutch master cylinder or slave cylinder. If there is no grinding sound, its just hard to move the stick, then it might just be the stick itself. By the stick, I really mean the linkage.

I believe these use a cable between the stick and the transmission. If one of the seals in the ends of the cable were to go bad and let water in, then the cable will start to rust to the sheathing, which will make it harder to move the cable after it has sat for awhile. After you move the cable a few times, it gets easier. If this is the case, it will get harder and harder to do those first shifts and it will take more of them to brake the cable free.

If you live in cold country and if by sporadic you mean cold days, then if water is getting into the cable, it could be icing up.

Another place that could be the problem is the ball and socket where the cable connects to the transmission. It also has a boot on it and if the boot gets torn, it will let water in there and do the same thing.

Thanks for taking the time to respond.
Keith: there’s no grinding sound. Just the sound of me cursing. I live in Philadelphia, so it’s probably not ice in the cable (yet).
Sounds like I need to bite the bullet and take it in to a shop, and ride my bike in the meantime.

Thanks again,