New 2011 Subaru Forester Grinds 2nd Gear when it's cold outside

Hi - I have a brand new (2 months old) 2011 Subaru Forester 2.5x that has a 4 cyl engine and a 5 speed manual transmission. This past week it’s been cold here in New Hampshire and in the morning when I first drive the car, I have trouble shifting from 1st to second gear.

When I shift from 1st to 2nd, I hear/feel some grinding noise as I try to engage 2nd gear. This only seems to happen when the car has been sitting around in the cold for a long period of time. Our garage has been cold (34 deg this AM) for the past week and when I drive out of our driveway and on our street I encounter this problem.

Normally, this problem only happens the first time you shift out of first and into 2nd. However, the other day, when it was very cold (5 degrees out) it happened several times as I drove down the street. After it happened the first time that morning, I stopped the car and drove from a dead stop, shifting from 1st to 2nd. I had problems 3 or 4 times trying to shift to 2nd. I ended up double clutching the car to avoid making the grinding sound.

I took the car to the dealer. The couldn’t repeat it but I didn’t expect it to, because the car was warmed up and it was warmer during the day (low 30’s by the time I got to the dealer that afternoon).

The mechanic changed the transmission oil and checked the magnet in the pan to see if there were any metal pieces. He did not find any metal pieces.

That was two days ago. Unfortunately, every morning since then the car has had the same problem. Once the transmission has been warmed up it runs flawlessly and I have no problems shifting.

I’ve made sure I am fully depressing the clutch for each shift. The past few days I’ve been taking the car out on an early morning test run and like clockwork, it has problems on the first shift into second, and it usually works fine after that.

Any ideas on what to do? I have an appointment next week to leave the car with the dealer overnight. They will test drive it to see if they can reproduce the problem.

Any ideas what might be wrong? I have a workaround solution to avoid grinding the gears. I simply double clutch shift into 2nd for the first few times that I shift after the car has been sitting in the cold for a while. However, this is less than ideal for a brand new car.

Thanks in advance!

You are doing the right thing by leaving the car at the dealership, so that they can try to duplicate the problem when it is really cold. And, in the meantime, you are doing the right thing by double-clutching.

However, you have to bear in mind that you can’t provide the diagnosis/suggested repair to the dealership unless you are willing to pay the cost of unsuccessful repair attempts. The dealership has to do the diagnosing in order for any repairs to be covered by warranty. So–don’t even bother attempting to give them a diagnosis. Just describe the symptoms, and–if possible–be there in the AM when the mechanic test-drives the car.

If the dealer still maintains that they cannot duplicate/cannot fix the problem, then you need to “kick it up a notch” by contacting Subaru customer service via the toll-free phone number listed in your Owner’s Manual.

Ultimately, you have both a long-term Powertrain Warranty and you have the protection of a Lemon Law, so there is no need to tolerate the situation.

There might be nothing wrong with the car. The dealer can check to be sure the clutch disengages completely when the car is cold. The trans fluid is getting thick in the cold but changing to a lighter weight fluid might not be advisable.

If they say there is nothing wrong you might have to amend your driving a bit on cold mornings. I suspect the motor is running at a faster than normal idle when cold. This causes the motor speed to not fall much when you make a shift until the motor warms up. I suggest you let the car warm up a minute or two in neutral with the clutch out. Having the clutch out gets the trans gears spinning and helps warm up the trans fluid.

When making your shifts when the car is cold make the shift slowly. This allows the motor speed to drop and makes it easier on the synchro to match speeds without a grind. The double clutch technique is good too.

A little grind now and again won’t do significant harm to the trans. The gears are “hardened” and made to handle an occasional grind. I think with more time getting used to the car you’ll find a way to minimize the grinding.

I think you are right to have the dealer rule out a mechanical problem. My '03 Honda Civic does the same thing and I’ve learned how to handle the cold shifts successfully. I think you can do the same with your new Subaru.

Thanks Fellas. I think Uncle Turbo is on the right track. I enlisted the support of my wife today. She test drove the car and had the same problem. I asked her to start the car, then drive it around. she got a little buzz noise when shifting to second.

She then told me, however, that normally, before she drives around, she lets the car warm up for a couple of minutes, with the transmission in neutral (like Uncle Turbo suggested). Then she engages the gears and drives away. She grew up in New Hampshire, and her father taught her to do this (they did not keep their cars in the garage normally.

I think the car is fine - I need to modify my driving habits to let the transaxle warm up a little. I can always double clutch if I’m in a hurry to go and can’t let the transaxle warm up a bit.

When I took the car to the dealer, they replaced the transaxle fluid and used the factory recommended all synthetic oil so I think we’re OK. Also, he said that the clutch seemed to be working properly - otherwise we’d probably have issues when the car was not moving (which we do not have).

Thanks all for your replies. I’ll drive the car around for a while and see if the modified warmup procedure helps. I think it will because once warmed up, the transmission shifts really smoothly.

I forgot to mention that I grew up in NJ (warmer climate) and never knew that you had to warm up the transmission!

My Subaru WRX is very difficult to shift when transmission is cold (<25F). I shift it very carefully and it warms up very quickly goes away.

Subaru at times has had some iffy sychronizer ring fitment on their manual transmissions. The syn. ring is essetially a brass brake shoe that is designed to stop a a gear from spinning as it meshes with its mate.

I’ve taken new gears out of the box along with a new syn. ring (dry parts with no oil) and even with a large amount of force applied one could still rotate the syn. ring on the gear that it mates too. In reality, the ring should lock solid on that gear.

Whenver I did a manual trans repair for a gear gnash problem (warranty or customer pay) I take an old worn syn. ring and lap the surface of the gear cone with valve lapping compound. This will allow the syn. ring to lock that gear down. All of this requires disassembly of the transmission of course.

That said, now the sticky part. You will find no one at Subaru corporate aware of this and the same probably goes for the Subaru dealers and techs. There is no warranty operation for this procedure but that’s not uncommon with Subaru. There’s a lot of haze.

Eventually, and if bad enough, this gear gnash will start eating away the syn. ring and the edges of the gear teeth; in this case, second gear.

There’s a possibility an additive that will stiffen up the transmission oil may help some.
Another hint when shifting is do not drag the shifter quickly from 1 into 2. As you shift make a very quick pause in the neutral position between 1 and 2 before going on into 2nd.
Either one of these tips could save going into the transmission. Hope that helps.

Thanks all for the replies.

OK4450 - Your tip about not dragging the shifter quickly from 1 into 2 helps. I also did this when I first encountered this problem and it avoided the grinding sound. It wasn’t a true double clutch, but I tried shifting into neutral (but keeping the clutch deployed) and then shifting into second and it worked without any grinding. Also, plain ole double clutching worked too (shift into neutral, release clutch, tap the gas to rev the engine, depress the clutch and then shift into 2nd gear).

My guess is that you need to put some more miles on this before yo can really declare a problem. If the vehicle is HOT I bet it goes away. This is all caused by all the brand new parts in the tranny…they need to get to knoweach other better… with mileage. Just double clutch for a while to rack up some miles…I bet it goes away…and when the weather warms up it will help greatly. These are just teething issues…but grinding is not good so avoid it…Get nice and warm before driving…The tranny fluid is thick (you do NOT want THICK fluid it makes everything more sluggish in the trans) when cold and everything is tighter in the tranny when new…AND COLD… This will go away in time, heat and warm weather will all help… Dont panic yet… methinks

I have the same issue with the 2011 WRX! To make things worse I live in Vail Colorado so I have to deal with it for most of the year. I have around 16k miles on the car and the issue is still there however like everyone has mentioned there are ways around it. I have noticed that shifting a couple times while still parked helps… probable just warming it up like people have mentioned. Let me know if you find a solution!! im taking my car in tomorrow to put on snow tires so I’ll ask and see if they have anything to say.

I suggest that instead of latching onto this very old post, you start your own new thread. There is a rectangular button that says “Ask a Question” on the right hand column of the page - that will allow you to start your own posts.