I have a 2000 Miata with a 5-speed manual. I park it in first gear with the handbrake on. The last few times I've started it, the gearshift has been hard to move into neutral and from there into reverse.

When I started it today the engine struggled to start, and when the gearshift finally popped free from first to neutral, it suddenly sounded normal. It seems like the clutch isn't fully disengaging despite the pedal being all the way down. The gearshift stiffness seems to clear up after a few minutes of driving.

The car had a new clutch when I bought it about 9 years ago. It gets driven for a few miles every couple of days, and I put about 1500 miles on it on average each year. Is it time for a new clutch, or is something wrong with the pedal linkage?

2 Answers 2


Check the fluid level in your clutch master cylinder. If it's very low, fill it up, then bleed the clutch hydraulics at the nipple on the slave cylinder.

If the fluid level was not low, next time you want to start the car in the morning and it's in first gear, pump the clutch rapidly 4-5 times, then take it out of first gear. If it comes out of first easily now after pumping the clutch, you may have air in the hydraulics from an old, hardened or worn seal or O-ring. Bleed your clutch at the nipple on the slave cylinder.

If that works, you found the problem. If the problem returns, be prepared to rebuild or replace either the clutch master cylinder or slave cylinder to fix the problem permanently.

  • Spot on, the master cylinder reservoir looks empty. I would need to take the wheel off to get at the slave cylinder, but I don't own jack stands and I've never bled hydraulics before. I don't suppose it's possible to "top it off" without bleeding the line? Aug 26, 2023 at 20:59
  • 1
    @NobodySpecial "do the easy things first" and topping off the fluid is standard practice. If that fixes your problem, then no more problem.
    – Criggie
    Aug 26, 2023 at 21:17
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    @NobodySpecial Criggie is right. See if full clutch action is restored by just filling the reservoir, and if it is, forget about bleeding but keep that in the back of your mind for future reference. You had air in the line that prevented full disengagement of the clutch, but if the air never got beyond the first dip and rise in the hydraulic line, it can bubble back out into the reservoir on its own, and no harm done. Bleeding a clutch is just like bleeding brakes. Plenty of instructive videos on Youtube.
    – MTA
    Aug 27, 2023 at 1:20

Probably not. Any mechanism requires that it be operated on a constant basis in order to maintain its long term operation. For example, not driving a vehicle often in a area with high humidity or substantial rainfall could damage both clutch and brake pad friction material as such material can absorb moisture. This can cause the parts to fuse together or the friction material to become brittle to the point of one minute having full braking followed by metal to metal contact. No brakes or difficulty actuating the clutch.

You mentioned the engine struggled to start. Not driving often doesn't charge the battery much or lubricate the engine affecting performance. Every weekend or so go for a small road trip. This will remedy the situation I am sure. Besides Miata are made to cruise.

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