Manual transmissions offer many benefits over automatic transmissions for drivers who want a more hands-on driving experience, and they also tend to be robust and reliable. Just because these transmissions can often outlast their automatic counterparts doesn't mean that they don't occasionally develop issues, however. Luckily, many issues that develop with manual transmissions are also less costly to repair. Recognizing the signs of a problem with your car's transmission can help you to get repairs done before the issue leaves you stranded.
Be Aware of Noises While Shifting
Manual transmissions are not always entirely silent. You may hear a slight click from outside the car when engaging a gear at low speeds, for example, but in general, there should not be any unusual noises that are audible from inside or while driving. Pay special attention to sounds that you hear as you shift up or down into a gear. If you hear or feel a grinding while selecting a gear and you are sure that the clutch pedal is fully depressed, then your transmission may have one or more issues.
If your transmission has a lot of miles on it, this may indicate a problem with some of the linkage equipment which allows the shifter to actually select a gear. This may be a likely culprit if you notice that your gear selector has an unusual amount of play. Grinding may even be caused by worn bushings or mounts that are allowing the transmission to misalign with the rest of the drivetrain. This is as strong possibility if you notice the grinding only when turning.
Pay Attention to Clutch Noises Too
While the most disconcerting noises will often come when changing gears, it is important to pay attention to the sounds your car makes as you depress the clutch pedal as well. In general, clutch engagement should be smooth with no loud or obvious sounds. If you hear a rattling noise or a squeal, it is possible that your throw-out bearing (sometimes called a release bearing) is beginning to fail. Unfortunately, while this part is very cheap, it is generally replaced along with the clutch, and the labor can be costly.
If you notice the noise only when the clutch pedal is released (i.e. the clutch is fully engaged), then an input shaft-bearing problem is more likely. Luckily, this problem will not usually require a full replacement, and both the part and labor costs are not likely to be excessive.
Don't Ignore Problems Getting Into Gear
Finally, it is important to pay attention to any changes in the amount of effort required to actually move the shift lever into gear. While every car has a different shifter feel, changes in effort or feel can indicate a brewing problem. If it feels as though you cannot always move the lever into the proper gear, it may indicate a mount problem that is causing the transmission to become misaligned. A rough or grinding sensation may indicate synchronizer problems as well.
Of course, it is also possible that your manual transmission fluid is simply in need of a change. While "liquid fixes" rarely work for major problems, a fluid change can be a good first place to start. You may find that fresh fluid will minimize or eliminate your problem.
As with any part of your car, the key to maintaining your manual transmission is simply being aware of changes in its behavior and repairing small problems before they become large ones. Do this, and your transmission will likely last the life of the vehicle.
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