CarTalk.com Blogs Car Info Our Show Deals Mechanics Files Vehicle Donation

Won't go into gear, then will

My manual transmission 1995 Jeep Cherokee today refused to go into any gear after I had stopped for a light. After pushing it to the side of the road I was about to call AAA when it went into gear and worked perfectly thereafter. This happened once before about a month ago. What could be the problem and how likely am I to get stuck for good?

Hmm, what happened when you tried to go into gear? Was the shifter tight and not moving, grinding noises, and any other details you might have? You might check for a bad engine mount. Not totally dead but moving enough to cause a misalignment of the shift connecting rods.

The clutch disc is coming apart and dragging, making it impossible to put the transmission in gear or the shift mechanism is jamming, making it impossible to move the shift lever. Some transmissions use direct rail shifting which is enclosed inside the top of the transmission and some use a side mounted shifting mechanism composed of rods and levers mounted externally…

If it will change gears with the engine turned off, it’s the clutch dragging. If it makes no difference whether the engine is running or not, the linkage is at fault…

Caddyman is getting to the same point I will be making. The causes of this can be MANY…however in your case since it is working fine and then not every now and again…this is the BEST scenario…and leads me to believe that either your clutch slave is getting tired or needs to be bled…or the clutch master…same thing… A replacement of either the slave or master may fix you right up in a Jiffy…and since I havent really found a way to figure out which is the culprit…I usually start with replacement of the clutch slave cylinder…which are cheap and ez to do (MOST TIMES this is EZ…NOT on my Explorer…hopefully you have an EXTERNAL SLAVE if not…its as complex as a full clutch swap). Then move up to the master…then the clutch itself…but take it in baby steps… Sometimes…a simple flush of the fluid in the master/slave saves the day.

What Caddyman is getting at…AND WHAT HAPPENED TO MY EXPLORER…is this… You push the clutch pedal to the floor…and try to shift… But what happens sometimes is either…the clutch spring fingers (pressure plate) get over worked and tired…and do not completely let the clutch disc separate from the flywheel…so it acts as though you have the clutch slightly “off the floor” when in reality your foot is on the floor with the clutch pedal.

Same thing can happen with an improper bleed on the master/slave…or a tired or malfunctioning master/slave cyl.

Point is…when you put the clutch to the floor it needs to FULLY separate the clutch disc from the flywheel and pressure plate assy AND THUS…stop the clutch (and trans input shaft) from spinning…and the Clutch pressure plate/spring steel fingers…the slave cylinder…and clutch master are the guys that get this done for you…any malfunction in one of these components…and you will see this issue. Because the input shaft of the tranny will be spinning…making it hard or impossible to get into a gear from neutral…it acts like the clutch is not fully pushed to the floor…which in essence…it isnt…but you cant see all that…

If it were me? I would…FIRST…Flush the clutch master cyl with fresh fluid…and bleed the system…see what you get…

Second if no improvement…replace the slave cylinder…and bleed… see what you get…

Still no good? Then do the Clutch master cyl…and bleed…see what you get.

IF AFTER ALL THIS WAS DONE and you still have the issue? Its the spring fingers on the clutch pressure plate getting fatigued…time for a new clutch at that point. I DID NOT mention your trans SYNCHROS YET…Because you arent at that point in my opinion…the symptoms would be different

IN your case, I bet that before you hit step 3 you will cure your issue… SO ITS… FLUSH and BLEED…check…then slave replacement…check…then master replacement…check…THEN and ONLY THEN…its the clutch (pressure plate most likely)

You may not get past step one actually… Just my 2 cents… spend them wisely…your solution lies in this post…

BLACKBIRD…

P.S As far as likely to get stuck? Not likely if you know how to get around this… if you cant get into gear from neutral while the engine is running…then… shut it off…put trans in 2nd gear…push clutch to floor and start the engine…then release clutch and motor on… once you are MOVING…this issue will not be as pronounced because the driveshaft is turning allowing you to get into gears… the HARDEST shifting into gear from neutral scenario your trans faces is when the engine is running and you are at a stop…if you have a failing clutch component…it will show its failure MOST at this time…running engine and at a stop… THIS IS YOUR EMERGENCY LIMP HOME PROCEDURE…if you have to already use this procedure…it will only get worse …and is meant to get you home…so you can start repairing the failed component. Well this is about as CONCISE as I could have gotten for you… Like I said…the solution to your issue lies in this post

In response to eurydale1, when it wont go into gear there is no grinding. It just feels like you have not pushed the clutch in. The clutch pedal feels normal by the way, it just has no effect. The shifter moves along the neutral axis but won’t go up or down into any gear. When I drove it after it started working again I was careful to get it into first before stopping at a light and there was no problem but the problem was sporadic anyway.

Caddyman and Blackbird have this covered. I agree that, because it doesn’t happen every time, it’s probably a clutch release mechanism issue, almost guaranteed to be hydraulic. But surprises happen. Wouldn’t hurt to check the fluid level in the transmission, and if you are bleeding or replacing the slave cylinder you should look over the shift mechanism for failing parts.