Saturn - got new clutch, now it grinds

We got the clutch replaced on our 1996 Saturn several weeks ago and ever since we get grinding when shifting from 2nd to 3rd. The mechanic said the synch ring was shot and it wasn’t their fault…this problem did not exist before the replacement. Can someone advise me on whether this sounds plausible and what we can do to rectify it?

Yes it sounds like the Sych is going bad, no the mechanic probably did not cause it as he did not touch the inside of the trans. THE ONLY thing he could have messed up and that MAY be causing your problem is the shifters alignment… I would have him double check that the shift cable is adjusted properly; otherwise it sounds like it was just bad luck. IF the clutch was not disengaging I think you would be getting the grinding noise in all gears.

Ask your mechanic if they drained the gear oil when they pulled the transmission. Even if they didn’t, chances are that some would have leaked out when they pulled the axles out. If they did, or some leaked, ask what they put back in, if they put gear oil in, they need to drain and refill the transmission with Dexron III ATF. If they put any gear oil in at all, they gears will grind. This manual transmission does not use gear oil, it uses automatic transmission fluid.

If they claim they didn’t put anything in, then check your fluid level in the transmission. Your owners manual explains the procedure. You have to remove the snorkel between the air cleaner and the throttle body to have access, but that is easy to do. Then look down on top of the transmission and you will see a cap that is folded over. It should be red but it is likely covered with grime. Clean it off, flip it up and pull out the dipstick. The engine should not be running for a manual transmission when doing this check.

The fluid should be bright red and up to the line on the dipstick. This fluid does not get brown like it does in an automatic tranny because it is not subjected to the heat and pressure that is inside an automatic. If it is low, fill it. If it is even slightly brown, change the fluid because it got contaminated.

Thank you both! I will look into both of your suggestions. If it is the synch, is it worth it to have it fixed? The car is in VG shape and has always been garaged and well-maintained, but it does have 185K miles, and of course it’s 15+ years old…
Thanks again.

What may have occurred is that the new clutch installed AND working as it should…is releasing the pressure plate ENTIRELY…as it is supposed to…your old clutch may not have been…this would enable the engine to still turn/spin the transmission shaft…and thusly assist the tranny in shifting from 2nd to 3rd gears by speed matching the engine rpm to a speed that the trans shaft needed to be spinning in order to make that 2nd to 3rd shift (if there was a bad synchro)…now that the input shaft of the trans is not in continuous motion between shifts…as it should NOT be…You are now putting the smooth shift task onto the Synchros in the tranny… The new clutch may have simply revealed an issue that was there without your knowledge…because it was masked by the failing old clutch…and its INABILITY to fully release…The guys here will know what I am talking about (the sharp ones anyway) This is a possibility…If you understand these mechanical type of things.


Is shifting to reverse smooth and quiet? Also, does the clutch release at the same distance from the floor as before the work?

The reverse shift is smooth, and the pedal seems to be the same as before.

That would somewhat indicate that the repair was done properly. Have you checked the oil level in the transmission? And you might try shifting in 2 steps, step on the clutch and shift to neutral, release the clutch pedal, then reapply it and shift to 3d. Try that and post the results.

It would seem to me that if there’s a problem with the synchronizer assembly it should have been more noticeable with an aged clutch.

Food for thought. The synchronizer assembly is a bit shaky and it’s showing up now because the adjustment is affected in some way; maybe even due to manufacturing differences. A tiny bit of difference at the pressure plate or throwout bearing can be multiplied at the pedal.

When the 2nd/3rd synchro on my 1988 Chevy Beretta started grinding during up-shifts, using the shift technique (double clutching?) described by Ron helped. The faster and more forceful the shift, the worse the grinding. Slow and methodical shifting reduced the grinding. I remember the grinding was more noticeable during cold weather and after I had the clutch replaced.

Ed B.

Rod and Edb bring up a good point–if it’s in fact a bad synchro, and if you’d rather not rebuild the transmission, you should be able to get by with a double clutch shift into 3rd. From 2nd gear: Clutch in --> shift to neutral --> clutch out --> clutch in --> shift to 3rd. The extra step (letting the clutch out in neutral) is matching the turning speed of the wheels to the transmission (“rev matching”) thus making the synchro unnecessary. Same story if you downshift from 4th or 5h into 3rd, except while the clutch is out in neutral you’ll need to give it some gas to bring the RPMs up to where you expect them to be in 3rd.

If you ignore the problem and keep grinding it into 3rd you’ll do more serious damage pretty quickly.

I will be trying the double-clutch technique to see how that goes, but in the meantime: is it worth it to consider fixing this issue? I assume it’s basically a tranny rebuild or even replacement…

It does seem that if there is no grinding when shifting to reverse and the oil/oil level is correct and “double clutching” reduces the 2d to 3d grind syncronizer wear looks to be the apparent problem.If the clutch replacement was done to correct a dragging clutch it is likely that the syncro wear was the result of the failing clutch. But the location of 3d at the input/output idler makes it the first to fail when low oil weakens the idler. It’s a shame that manual transmissions are usually totally ignored until they show signs of failure.

If “methodically” shifting eliminates the grinding you might get several more years of service from the transmission. You might investigate a rebuilt unit but the price us often prohibitive and a used transmission might be no improvement.

As Knox said, if it will slip into reverse smoothly without grinding, the clutch is fine…I think these cars used a cable shift mechanism, like a manual outside mirror…They may have disconnected this shift cable when installing the clutch and now, it may simply need to be adjusted to spec so it shifts correctly…Also, if they added the incorrect gear oil, if may be lubricating the synchronizers TOO well…These parts depend on friction to work properly…A gear oil intended for a limited-slip differential might cause synchronizer problems…I suspect your transaxle uses some type of ATF as the lubricant, NOT gear oil…

Try this. Depress the clutch pedal very lightly with the tip of your toe and determine how much free play is in it.
This does not mean disengage the clutch; just verify the looseness. I don’t know the spec on this car but assume a 1/2" or so.

Start the car, put it in gear, and slowly let the clutch out. Note at what point the clutch grabs and starts moving the car. Again, not knowing the spec, figure on about an inch or better.

If the clutch is not engaging until the pedal is halfway up or something like that then I’d say there’s a clutch problem. This of course translates into not fully disengaging the clutch, that keeps the mainshaft spinning, and there’s your gear grind or crunch.

here’s my report:
Double-clutching only helps if you basically let the engine rev down to idle. Going into reverse is fine. You can shift directly from 2nd to 4th without issue. I believe the correct fluid is in the transmission. What should I do…?

here’s my report:
Double-clutching only helps if you basically let the engine rev down to idle. Going into reverse is fine. You can shift directly from 2nd to 4th without issue. I believe the correct fluid is in the transmission. What should I do…?

here’s my report:
Double-clutching only helps if you basically let the engine rev down to idle. Going into reverse is fine. You can shift directly from 2nd to 4th without issue. I believe the correct fluid is in the transmission. What should I do…?