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I recently purchased a 1994 Toyota Pickup 2x4 that otherwise runs great, but has a strange transmission issue.

If I hold the clutch down for too long, it's impossible to shift into gear. Either there will be resistance from the shifter making it difficult to shift into first / reverse, or if I am able to shift without resistance (most of the time), I can't actually engage and drive the car without immediately stalling.

This problem goes away if I simply let off the clutch then press it back in and promptly shift and engage as normal.

This is a pretty tolerable problem, mostly just annoying when I'm trying to parallel park or a similar maneuver. But I'd like to know if my clutch is starting to fail.

  • Could only be in the clutch hydraulics, clutch proper, or throwout bearing. The latter is the reason not to ride the clutch; it's not designed for extended use. Can't be the transmission. – Harper - Reinstate Monica Feb 6 at 1:04
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    You can check if it is a leak around one of the cylinders master or slave, by pumping it right before you push it into gear. If it slips easily into gear after immediately pumping it, it is most likely fluid leaking past a piston while you have had the clutch pedal pushed in. – RomaH Feb 6 at 1:19
  • @Harper-ReinstateMonica Do you mean fully disengaging the clutch (coasting) for extended periods is bad for the throwout bearing? Or are you talking about slipping the clutch? I guess my confusion is that my principle reason for not riding the clutch is clutch wear. – erickson Feb 6 at 21:06
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    @erickson If your foot is touching the clutch pedal, that makes the throwout bearing spin because it's touching the flywheel. That, you shouldn't do for more than a few seconds. Did someone teach you to hold the clutch down while coasting or sitting at a light? Shift it into neutral instead, then get off the clutch. That will save the throwout bearing, which will save the clutch pressure assembly. – Harper - Reinstate Monica Feb 6 at 21:21
  • @Harper-ReinstateMonica No, I was taught to shift to neutral at a stop, but could never get a straight answer about why, and in turn, taught my daughter to do this without giving her a reason. This makes a lot of sense, thanks! – erickson Feb 6 at 21:45
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If its a hydraulic clutch, it may be bleeding off, either a leak or a bypassing clutch master cylinder.

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  • It is hydraulic. I haven't noticed any visible leaks and also had a full service and inspection done at a shop, including transmission flush, where I assume they didn't notice anything either. Does that suggest it's a bypassing clutch master cylinder? – Emma Strubell Feb 5 at 17:58
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    Yes but be sure there are no leaks or low fluid or its a waste of time and money. – Moab Feb 5 at 18:01
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    It's probably an internal leak, e.g. between a space where clutch fluid belongs, and another space where clutch fluid belongs. As such, you have no puddles, but do have reduced functionality. – Harper - Reinstate Monica Feb 6 at 1:03
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    An easy test here would be to hold the clutch in, shift, and then keep holding the clutch in. See if the vehicle eventually starts to move/revs drop – Brydon Gibson Feb 7 at 14:33
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Sounds to me like a worn synchro in the gear box, so the thing will only engage on the worn gear when the wheels match the position of the gear to be engaged. When you quickly depress the clutch, things are still moving so it will engage. This may be annoying, but it's not going to cause the transmission to fail. More annoying is trouble downshifting when moving at speed. Check the clutch as per the other answers. if not that, I'd leave it.

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    This is likely the correct answer. I would not expect the clutch to be slowly releasing itself via fluid leaking in the hydraulic system, a way to test of course would be get it into gear and hold the clutch in for a while. Most likely, this is the input-side of the gearbox is slowing down to a complete halt when the clutch is in, and the worn synchros in the gearbox are preventing it from easily sliding into gear. I have experienced this problem on a few old cars (1998 Mitsubishi Lancer, 1988 Honda City) – H. Daun Feb 6 at 19:22
  • A less obvious answer I would not have thought of, but after reading it I think it may be more likely. I'm guessing a 94 probably has enough miles on it for wear and tear on the transmission to be a factor. – Christopher Hunter Feb 6 at 21:56
  • I haven't had any trouble downshifting. @H.Daun unfortunately I don't think I have the skills to do that test :) – Emma Strubell Feb 6 at 22:52
  • @ChristopherHunter surprisingly the truck only has about 100k miles on it, the downside being that it was left for long periods without being driven. – Emma Strubell Feb 6 at 22:52
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    Whoops forgot to actual details the test. If you hold the clutch in for say 30 seconds while in gear at as top, without the brakes pressed. If it starts to creep after a while that would indicate the clutch itself is slowly released due to perhaps a leaking seal inside the master cylinder or etc. If it does not creep I would expect worn synchros. 100k miles is definitely enough to have worn synchros depending on how carefully the car has been shifted (especially into first etc). – H. Daun Feb 6 at 23:54
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What @Moab says sounds likely.
I would start by checking the clutch fluid. If it's too low, there could be air entering the system. If the level is good, the master cylinder could be failing. I guess the fluid could be severely contaminated too, so if it's black you could try changing the fluid.

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Certainly not your transmission; possibly your clutch or assembly.

Regardless, you should not be holding the clutch down for "too long". If you find yourself holding it while coasting down or sitting at a light, what you should do instead is shift into neutral, then take your foot off the clutch altogether. Then re-clutch and select a gear when you are ready to go. The reason is, this will wear out a bearing called the throwout bearing, which is made for momentary contact only. It connects the stationery part of the clutch actuator to the operating levers on the actual clutch, which is spinning after all. No need to memorize it; you'll never hear the word again if you use the clutch correctly.

Obviously, correct clutch use will only mask the core problem.

If the clutch hydraulics are not losing fluid at the dipstick, then the leak is internal (between a place clutch fluid belongs, and another place clutch fluid belongs. Leaky piston seal, that kind of thing). Changing your clutching will make this problem irrelevant for a good while (think: a year), but it should be on your deferred maintenance list to fix at some point.

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  • thanks, I don't usually ride the clutch, I've only noticed it when going between reverse and first a lot, i.e. when doing a bad job parallel parking :) I guess I have the clutch down while stationary and turning the wheel (yes I know also not good for tires, or my arms since it's manual steering), a habit I'm now working on breaking out of necessity. – Emma Strubell Feb 6 at 22:29

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