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I have a 2010 manual Civic. Very infrequently, I cannot move the shifter all the way to the left (the first time this occurred, I thought I was in first when I had really shifted into third). The car still shifts smoothly into third, fourth, fifth, and reverse when this occurs.
The issue starts after I have been driving for a while and resolves itself after a few minutes. It has only happened twice in the past five months. I had a shop check the transmission fluid level a few months ago and they said it was fine. If it was a mechanical issue with the fork or syncros, wouldn't if happen more frequently?

  • Do you remember anything about the weather on the days shifting into first or second was hard? – Zaid Oct 24 '17 at 18:40
  • There wasn't anything special about those days. No rain or high humidity. About 80 degrees. – saltface Oct 24 '17 at 18:42
  • First and second are the gears that see the most usage and subsequently most wear and tear. In my experience, worn synchros are sensitive to transmission fluid temperature (especially when cold). The intermittency of the problem is probably down to how much slack the synchros are expected to take up during the gearshift. – Zaid Oct 24 '17 at 18:49
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    Check your shift linkage bushings for wear. – CharlieRB Oct 24 '17 at 19:34
  • No trouble there. See my answer below. – saltface Mar 27 '18 at 17:33
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I have a 2003 Toyota Yaris and this does the pretty much the same thing. Very hard getting it into 1st and 2nd (pretty much won't go in at all when cold). I have to try it a couple of times sometimes when cold. These cars have worn down syncros (mine has 79k, clutch replaced at 74k) and that's some of the reason why this happens (there could be other reasons, I'm just not sure, I just live with it - probably not the best idea).

Pretty much all non-new cars (I've never owned a new car so maybe they do, I'm not sure) will have stiff gear changes from cold, and improve after a few minutes as you mention in your question. I know changing the gearbox oil does rectify this. I'm not sure if you've had yours replaced or not? Could be worth thinking about dependent on mileage of your Civic - this won't fix the problem that you're having in 1st and 2nd, but it should help all gears and might help 1st and 2nd a little.

Now a lot of Japanese cars won't go into 1st at all unless the car is almost stationary (not sure why this is, it definitely happens to me, Regular Car Reviews referenced it in one of his videos too) so this could play a factor (I'm not sure at what wheel speed you're trying to engage first at).

It certainly seems strange that your problem doesn't arise more frequently, I guess there could be factors why this occurs (how long you usually let the car warm up etc). My advice to you (and what I do in my Yaris) is treat 1st and 2nd very gently, especially from cold. I give those two gears all the time in the world to engage, I'll release the clutch and try again so I don't have to force it in. One thing I've just thought of while writing this, try and engage all gears once or twice before you start the engine and see if that helps with gear selection - I've heard it helps, but I've never tried myself.

  • Great answer. +1. I should add that cheap cars have probably more marginal synchros than expensive cars. My father's VW Passat (quite expensive) with manual gearbox didn't develop any synchronizer problem while my Toyota Yaris (very cheap) did, although the VW Passat in the end had more kilometers on it. – juhist Oct 26 '17 at 12:58
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After checking everything from the shift knob to the end of the linkage, we determined the issue must be internal to the transmission. I didn't have the wherewithal to crack it open myself so it went into the shop. They didn't do as much forensics as I would have liked, but after they rebuilt it the issue went away.

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