Rough-shifting manual transmission

Hey all-- usual “long time listener, first visit to site” disclaimer.

I have a 2003 Ford Ranger that’s having a consistent problem with the clutch/transmission. Short version is it becomes gradually harder to shift into gear with the clutch pedal floored-- it doesn’t slide into gear easily and I can feel it “chunk” into place when it does, sometimes in a “stage” or 3. There’s a definite physical block there somewhere.

Currently I can only put it in reverse with the engine off (with engine off, there’s little to no resistance) otherwise I get grinding with the pedal floored, and first/second sometimes need it off as well. After driving a bit it lightens up, and can usually get it to chunk into gear while rolling with some pressure and a little left/right wiggle. Seems like it need so be in just the right spot for it to engage.

This all started with a clutch replacement at the dealer for another (much less problematic noise-related) issue… it was under warranty and the first thing they would do before anything else was the non-covered clutch. Since the problem has started, I’ve had the master & slave cylinders replaced a few times each over the past 18 months. The problem will go away for a few weeks/months, but then eventually come back gradually.

So… any thoughts? Same dealer is now checking to see if a new clutch/pressure plate can be covered. It’s over the default one year parts coverage, but it’s been in for the same problem pretty much every 2 to 3 months for the same issue.

Thanks for any and all info,


It sure does sound like the clutch is dragging. When the transmission becomes hard to engage, has the pickup point of the clutch pedal moved closer to the floor? If so I would suspect something in the hydraulic clutch release mechanism.

If the master and slave cylinders are not defective; the hydraulic system has been adequately bled of air; and air is not getting back in somehow, the problem is a dragging clutch. It could be the disc sticking on the splines, the pilot bearing binding up, a warped disc, a clutch cover that is not releasing correctly, loose friction material on the disc, and maybe something I have not thought of.

Your mechanic will have to go back in and look at things more closely to make sure that something has not been missed.

Hope this helps.

Thanks for the reply-- it has been bled with each replacement of the cylinders. I’m not sure if air is getting back into the system somehow… that would seem to be consistent to it being fine for a while and then gradually getting worse and worse. Though pumping the clutch doesn’t seem to help much once it gets to this point, which I would assume would be the case if it was air in the system.
I’ve also heard that there are rubber plugs in the shift rail bores on some manual transmission Rangers that have a tendency to crack/leak/otherwise fail. Could something like that cause the issue?

Thanks again, --Rook

If you can shift into the gears easily with the engine off, the problem is probably not in the transmission. The synchronizers are doing their job by blocking the shift until the clutch dog sleeve matches the gear speed i.e. the input shaft has stopped turning. If something is dragging the input shaft along, you will have to use a lot of force to get the synchronizers to stop it and allow the clutch dog sleeve to engage the gear dog teeth.

One way to test how much the clutch is dragging is to block the front wheels; raise the rear wheels onto stands; start the engine; engage any forward gear; leave the clutch pedal on the floor; and see if the rear wheels start turning. If so, see how much brake pedal force is required to stop the rear wheels. You could get a standard measurement by doing this when the problem is not evident.

BTW does this Ranger have the T-5 five speed transmission?

Hope that helps.

I believe it’s a Mazda M5OD-R1 transmission, though I could be wrong. 5 speed indeed… how would I go about verifying that?

Will see if I can get the truck up on jack stands tomorrow-- currently getting some snow.

P.S.-- just re-read the first reply and yes, the catch point is much closer to the floor now than when it’s working properly. I can also feel it give a subtle lurch when I start it in gear and the clutch is floored.

What would be the recommended next course of action? Go in and bleed, check for leaks, etc… start replacing parts? Sounds like, again from the first reply, there are a number of things that could cause the drag issue. Right now it’s almost un-drivable, what with having to be off to get into reverse or first, so whatever the bug in the system is I really want to make sure it’s squashed at this point.

From what you describe, the problem is most likely the hydraulic clutch release system. IIRC the Ranger has a master cylinder that is hard to bleed of all air because the cylinder axis is pointed downward. Some mechanics have said that the only way to correctly bleed all air out is to bleed the master cylinder off the truck, seal the outlet fitting, install the master cylinder, and then finish bleeding the lines and slave. I have not done one of these yet but I can see the problem. Also the position of the master cylinder might make pumping the pedal ineffective.

If sounds like the master and slave cylinders have been replaced enough times to rule out a defective part. I think you may need to look at the interconnecting lines, especially the flexible rubber hose for signs of bulging, leakage, or blockage. Alldata has a pinpoint troubleshooting tree. It is at the vehicle level - transmission & drive train - clutch - testing & inspection - pinpoint tests - test C hydraulic system checks.

  1. fluid level
  2. inspect for leakage
  3. check internal operation <1mm rise in reservoir when pedal pressed
  4. clutch pedal reserve > 25mm (1 inch)
  5. free play < 13mm (0.5 inch)
    If all this checks out, get back to us with the results and we can go from there.

That subtle lurch is the result of the clutch sleeve in transmission finally stopping the input shaft and transferring the rotation momentum to the output shaft hence to the wheels. When you do the rear wheels free test, try shifting into first as you regularly would and see if the wheels start spinning even before the shifter makes the final engagement, i.e. you will feel the shifter try to engage, the wheels will start to spin, and then the shifter will go the rest of the way to engagement.

I wish I could see the situation in person because it sounds like the solution is simple but the right part has not been changed yet.

Hope that helps.

Wanted to post a follow-up… thanks again for all the advice and assistance.

The dealer agreed to cover most of the cost of parts (and all labor) given the long history. They suspected it would need a new clutch, but when they opened it up everything looked fine.

Apparently they suspected that it wasn’t seated properly when they last installed (~10,000 miles ago), so they re-installed it and double checked everything. They also held onto it for a week or so to make sure there wasn’t a leak that was letting air in the system.

I have it back now and the clutch is catching much higher and it’s shifting fine.

I’m still going to keep an eye on it, as it’s been “solved” before and just came back over the course of a few weeks/months.

Thanks again for all the information and advice,