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Since I've bought my 2004 Impreza Outback Sport, I've had a problem with shifting into 1st gear.

  • First gear is generally difficult to engage while moving.
  • You can just force it, but it's really quite hard.
  • If I'm stopped, or going really really slow, there's no shifting resistance at all.
  • No other gears have this problem.
  • The problem is not 100% consistent -- I'd say it happens 80%-90% of the time.
  • Anecdotally, it seems to be less of a problem after I've been on the road a little while.

Based on this post, the problem might be about a gear synchronizer.

My questions are:

  1. What might be wrong here?
  2. How can I further test what is the problem?
  3. Can I fix or replace this part myself? How much harder will it be than what I've done before? (See my experience below)
  4. Is it worth fixing the specific broken/worn part, or should I replace an entire assembly of some kind? (e.g., clutch)
  5. Can you point me towards informational resources that could help me to fix this DIY?

My experience and tools: I have successfully replaced a rear strut assembly and two front axles without too much trouble. I have a floor jack and 2 stands at my disposal, plus a full ratchet set and torque wrench (20 to 150 ft/lbs).

  • 2
    Every manual transmission vehicle I've driven seems to have this effect - it is hard to shift into first when moving faster. (I haven't driven any Subarus, though.) Does it seem abnormal compared to your experience, or based on some other factor? – Nate Eldredge Feb 18 '15 at 7:20
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I'm assuming no one here answering has driven a Subaru manual transmission before or long enough. I'm fairly certain there is nothing wrong with your synchros or transmission. Subaru's are generally very hard to shift into first while in motion. I daily-drive a 2011 WRX and and the first gear has always been like that, even when it was brand new. I have driven various manual Impreza's over the years and they are all like that. This is just another Subaru quirk. If you need to downshift into first for some reason, heel toeing wouldn't really help either since you can't even move the shifter into first gear. You should instead try double clutching to downshift. This usually always does the trick. Changing out your manual transmission fluid also helps a bit too. If I recall correctly, Subaru recommends changing it every 30,000 miles. There really isn't any reason to downshift into first gear unless you have to climb a really steep hill and second gear isn't cutting it. Usually when I'm crawling really slowly in second I can shift into first gear without a problem. It's only at speed where it becomes difficult to downshift into first and honestly I don't think I have ever needed to do this.

  • My Forester XT is exactly the same. – Captain Kenpachi Feb 18 '15 at 7:16
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    As is my WRX. If I don't match the revs nearly exactly, the shifter won't move into gear (which I'm okay with given the leverage that the wheels have on the transmission in first!) – Bob Cross Feb 18 '15 at 15:10
  • Subaru's are just require more precision to shift smoothly than other cars. After driving my WRX for 6 years, driving any other manual transmission car feels really really easy. – esx0001 Feb 19 '15 at 3:03
  • Thanks a lot everybody. I'm very pleased to hear I don't have to try my hand at replacing a transmission. I'm not good at it yet, but rev matching has worked. Can somebody explain the relationship between rev matching, double-clutching, and heel-toeing? Seems like the latter two are both methods of rev-matching? Why is double-clutching necessary? Why can't I just use the clutch to take the car out of high gear, rev the engine, then shift to lower gear? – tim.farkas Feb 19 '15 at 14:16
  • @tim.farkas ... please ask that in a separate question ... I can get that one right :D – Pᴀᴜʟsᴛᴇʀ2 Feb 19 '15 at 15:23
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This possibly isn't worth fixing - I certainly wouldn't fix it.

In general you shouldn't use 1st gear except for starting off from stationary. The synchro for 1st gear is different to the others for this very reason. What you probably have done is worn the synchroniser out through not matching revs accurately. If you absolutely must change into 1st while moving, then match revs (by heel-and-toeing) for example.

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