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It has become very difficult to shift into 1st gear on my 1995 VW Golf. Pushing the shifter fully left and then forward now puts the transmission into 3rd.

How can I fix this?

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I had the same problem in my '86 Jetta. The problem was a missing/broken bushing, which required dropping the tailpipe to fix. I instead solved the problem with some tin snips and a tin can, by creating my own "bushing" under the shifter boot. I don't know how similar the 95 Golf is to the 86 Jetta shifter, though, but it sounds like the same fundamental problem. – Flimzy Oct 19 '11 at 19:28
I would post pictures if I could, but that car is 1500 miles from me at the moment. – Flimzy Oct 19 '11 at 19:29
(If someone can confirm that these two cars have similar shifter designs, I could have my brother photograph my Jetta, and form an actual answer here from my ghetto DIY fix) – Flimzy Oct 19 '11 at 19:30

As Flimzy's comment suggests, many transverse-engined FWD cars, including Volkswagens, use a series of ball-joints with plastic bushes in their gear linkages, and these can fail over time.

I expect you will find two sets of linkages - one for the side-to-side movement of the gearstick, and one for the fore-and-aft. I suspect it will be the former that has failed - do you get fifth when you try to engage third and fourth instead of second?

This is a common failnig on Peugeots from the late 80s and early 90s, we used to fix it by looping zip-ties around each bar of the linkage just before the ball-joint to tie them together and stop the ball-joints popping apart.

Another, less likely, possibility is a failed gearbox mount. This would cause the gearbox to drop slightly and thus throw the linkages out of alignment. I suspect you'd see other symptoms if that was the case however!

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