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I have a 2000 VW Jetta TDI with a manual transmission. In the past few days, I have not been able to push the gear shifter into reverse without letting up on the clutch. I get about halfway from center to engaged and can't proceed further until I let the clutch out a bit.

What could this be a symptom of?

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3 Answers

This seems to be the clutch is going out or possibly the synchromesh is no longer working.

The clutch is unable to fully disengage the engine from the transmission to allow you to shift into reverse. If the synchromesh is no longer working fully, this would make it harder to shift in every gear but it's still possible.

You are, in essense, double-clutching to shift into reverse. (I don't know why this works, but semi trucks that do not have synchromesh have to do this to shift without grinding).

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It works because it spins the gears up for you (same job the synchros would normally do). Most cars do not have synchros on reverse, so this is a common "problem" (more of a design choice than an actual problem). –  Brian Knoblauch Feb 20 '12 at 14:25
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On some of my manuals, I've found that before shifting into reverse, putting the shifter into 5th gear helps.

I don't have a mechanical explanation for this (my thought is something to do with the synchromesh).

Try it, see if it helps at all.

On my current vehicle my process to go to reverse is:
Clutch pedal in
Go to neutral Go into 5th Go into reverse Clutch pedal out

If I skip going to 5th, I sometimes get a slight grind or get blocked.

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This may also just be a miss-adjustment of the shift linkage. The cable linkage for the shifter is adjustable and does sometimes slip or stretch. Work it into reverse, loosen the adjustable bolt on the linkage, go back into the driver's seat and pull the gear shift back a tiny bit, then re-tighten the adjustment bolt. It's much easier with two people. If it's only reverse, it's probably the side-to-side cable. Wiggle the shifter while watching the linkage (two people, remember?) and it will be obvious which one to adjust.

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