Volkswagen Jetta transmission engagement issue

I just purchased a used 2004 Jetta with 45K miles. Overall the car is terrific. However, when the car is cold, the transmission does not engage immediately when shifting from park into reverse or drive. There is about a 2-second delay before the transmission engages rather abruptly into gear. This only happens when the car is cold, and only the first time it is shifted.

There is confusion among the VW dealers and the VW mechanics I’ve called about this. Most don’t know if this is a problem or not; one mechanic suggested that this is a normal condition in the 04 Jetta. I found through another discussion group a term called “cold neutral control,” which described the problem I’m experiencing perfectly and characterized it as a peculiar but normal condition of the Jetta and Golf models between 2002 and 2005. Apparently the hesitation in gear engagement on cold starts is a design feature intended to responds to emission concerns.

I would appreciate any insight into this that will help me decide if this is a problem or not. Thank you.

“one mechanic suggested that this is a normal condition in the 04 Jetta” Ask him to show you another 04 that does it. Even if it were “normal” it would not be right. Sorry I don’t know the answer other than to start by checking the fluid.

If Transman stops by and offers advice, it will be right.

There are several things which would cause a delay to engage when cold. One thing is called “converter drainback” this is where the ATF inside the converter slowly drains back into the transmission pan. Some drainback is normal, excessive drainback needs to be looked at by a transmission shop. If it is indeed drainback causing the delay, the 2 seconds it is taking for your trans to engage is not bad at all and I wouldnt recommend doing anything about it but letting it idle for about 30 seconds or so before shifting out of park. Another thing which could be happening which is also fairly normal is with the rubber clutch piston seals. When cold, these rubber piston seals harden, when hard, they tend to leak. When clutch piston seals leak they cause the clutch itself to be slow in applying. This condition worsens as the transmission gets older and gets up there in mileage. Heres what I want you to do, Next cold morning when you start your vehicle, let it sit and idle for 30 -45 seconds then shift into reverse or drive and see if this helps your problem. If it does, then you know converter drainback is your issue. If the problem remains, then I would be blaming leaky piston seals. Either way, I dont see your issue as a real problem right now. Let us know how it works out…


Thanks Transman! I’ll do what you suggest and report back as soon as possible.

Following your guidance and instructions, the problem appears to be “converter drainback” as you described. The delay in transmission engagement was reduced (less than 2 seconds) but still evident after a 45-second idle period before shifting from park into reverse, and the abrupt jerk action felt when the transmission engaged into reverse experienced after previous cold starts was also less noticeable. The delay was hardly noticeable at all and what I would consider to be normal (similar to what I experience on my other cars) on subsequent restarts after the car had been driven and was completely warm.

One follow-on question if I may Transman: if the 2-second delay that I’m experiencing is not bad and no corrective action is recommended, what kind of delay would be considered bad and a trigger for repair? Thank you for response and excellent advice.

I want to thank both respondents for their prompt and excellent advice. The condition I’m experiencing with the delay in transmission engagement is a normal condition for the car. The dealer I took it to yesterday ran various tests, performed diagnostics (found no faults), checked the transmission fluid (full and clean), and tested my car’s shifting response with two other same-year Jettas with similar mileage (responded with the same transmission engagement delay when cold). VW declared my car’s transmission “operating within spec.”

I have 2004 Jetta it does not goes in reverse when it’s cold. Otherwise it’s runs okay. It’s normal with all Jetta.

Thanks , you revived a 10 year old thread and posted nonsense .