Transmission Shifting Hard From 1st To 2nd: Causes & Fixes

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transmission shifting hard

If you’ve noticed that your vehicle is having a hard time shifting gears it’s likely an issue with your transmission. Transmission system issues should be taken seriously, including when you’re experiencing your transmission shifting hard from 1st to 2nd. These types of issues can be attributed to many reasons that need to be given immediate attention, and if left ignored, could lead to dangerous and expensive side effects.

In this article, we will explore the common reasons why your transmission shifts hard from 1st to 2nd.

What causes your transmission shifting hard from 1st to 2nd?

A transmission can’t shift from first to second gear unless it’s moving fast enough for the engine’s RPM to exceed the torque converter’s stall speed. If you’re driving in and your automatic transmission won’t shift into second, here are some possible causes:

Automatic transmissions

automatic transmission

Transmission fluid problems

When your car has low transmission fluid levels, your gears and clutches will grind when they are moving, as there is not enough lubrication to properly move the parts smoothly. Failure to change or check transmission fluid for an extended period poses serious risks. Constant low-level transmission fluid definitely denotes a leakage, and should be addressed before it becomes too damaging.

Problem with the transmission vacuum modulator

The transmission vacuum modulator valve measures how much load the engine has in order to enable proper shifting for the transmission. Your transmission vacuum modulator can cause hard shifts when it is either malfunctioning or not functioning at all. When your car vacuum line is clotted, disconnected, or twisted; this could cause extra pressure to vehicle transmission which makes the gear hard to shift. If the problem was detected early, you’ll need a rebuild kit and replacement gasket(s). Otherwise, you will need to replace the entire vacuum modulator.

Wrong or contaminated fluid

Transmission shifting hard problems can occur due to impurities in the transmission fluid. If the color or consistency of the fluid changes, you need to replace it to make sure that there aren’t any contaminants.

Damaged sensors

Transmission sensors register when the transmission is shifting, as well as while it is in neutral. Your engine control module (ECM) monitors the sensors and sends signals for transmission. If you notice that your ECM isn’t able to detect your transmission’s speed or position, then there could be problems your sensors.

A big signal from the VSS sensor is sent to your ECM when you’re in 1st gear. If there’s no such signal, then your transmission won’t shift gear. The sensor can get damaged due to a defect, excessive heat, or getting shorted by foreign materials. It’s also possible that the mounting bracket could have loosened up.

If you don’t hear the transmission clicking while shifting, this usually means that there’s something wrong with the solenoid. The solenoid is responsible for applying pressure to your gears through hydraulic valves and clutches. It’s also possible that it could be the neutral safety switch that isn’t functioning properly.

Damaged shifter cable

In most automatic vehicles, manufacturers connect the shifter to the transmission by way of a cable. The cable has been designed in such a way that it should have the needle reading correct for whichever gear is desired. If your transmission cable is either faulty or damaged, then you are going to experience issues when switching gears.

If your transmission shifting hard from 1st to 2nd could be attributed to a problem with the shifter cable, then it either needs adjustment or replacement. You can adjust the cable by loosening its mounting nut and turning the adjuster barrel clockwise in order to apply more pressure on the solenoid.

Adaptive transmission

An interesting issue occurs when your car is accompanied by adaptive transmission. These units are smart and adjust the gear shifts according to your driving habits and fluid conditions. This type of transmission has a computer that regulates the engine’s RPM speed to make sure that it doesn’t exceed the transmission’s stall speed. If your adaptive transmission is installed incorrectly, the computer could cause you to experience hard shifts when changing gears.

Cold weather

Transmission shifting hard when there is cold weather is very common for people living in wintery climates. This happens because oil and transmission fluid become thick in colder weather, which makes the gears grind against each other. This can be solved with a high quality synthetic fluid.

Manual transmission car

Faulty gears

Transmission shifting hard could be caused by damaged or worn out gears. Tranmission gears typically last around 6 years, so if you have an older vehicle it’s a good idea to get them inspected.

Transmission slipping

A slip in your manual transmission will cause your vehicle to lose power and the RPM’s will raise while slowing down.

This occurs when the driver shifts into a gear that is too low for the amount of resistance it faces. The clutch in your vehicle takes on most of this resistance from slipping gears, if your transmission slips significantly it means your clutch should be replaced.

Worn-out clutch

A worn clutch can cause your transmission to slip and will keep you from accelerating. If you feel this problem, it’s a good idea to check the condition of your clutch.

If the surface of your clutch is uneven or the disc diameter is too small, then the pressure plate won’t be able to hold on as well. This causes gears to slip and you won’t be able to accelerate as well.

If your clutch pedal is stiff, this could also cause it to shift hard when it needs to shift gears. Clutches wear out over time, so if your transmission slips then the first thing you should check is the condition of your clutch.

Low level gear oil

If there is no oil or a low-level of oil due to leakages or the failure to change its levels, it will make manual transmission shifting hard from 1st gear to 2nd or 3rd gear. Low fluid can result in overheating and a deficiency in the creation of hydraulic pressure that is needed to engage gears. This is why it’s important to get regular oil changes.

Damaged synchronizer ring

The synchronizer ring maintains an even gear-shift by connecting to the hub sleeve. If there is a fault in your synchronizer ring, it will cause different speeds and lead to poor shifting.

A damaged synchronizer ring in your manual transmission will cause it to slip when you shift gears from 1st to 2nd gear. This is why you should have the condition of your synchronizer ring checked if you notice that shifting gears becomes hard every now and then.

Damaged gear hub sleeve

A gear hub links the gears, and a sleeve ensures that their teeth move uniformly. When you have an issue with your synchronization, it’s usually due to worn-out sleeves on the gears themselves.

A worn gear hub sleeve will lead to a poor shift, it may cause the gears to jam or will make your vehicle suspect during shifting.

How to fix transmission hard shifting?

The fluid in your transmission is often the cause of transmission shifting issues such as jerking when you change from first to second gear. For example, when you have a low fluid level due to leakages or untimely fluid changes.

As a vehicle owner, you may experience issues with your transmission. It is important to flush the system if fluids are contaminated or there is a wrong fluid in the system. To do this you can follow these steps:

Step 1

If you are doing car work with the engine exposed, always be sure to disconnect the negative terminal of your battery before getting started.

Step 2

Find the transmission fluid line on your vehicle and use a screwdriver of the correct size to unplug it. You can access this information in your repair manual, or if you are unfamiliar with it, you can remove one line at a time to find which is releasing fluid.

Step 3

Open the transmission port of your vehicle and place a funnel in it. The funnel will prevent waste as you pour the fluid into the system. Now we’ve gotten that settled. You can unplug your transmission line and place it into a bucket to reduce fluid flow.

Step 4

For this next step, you should have someone start your car while you fill the system up with fluid. When the engine is running, we want to let fresh fluid out of the hose as we pour in new fluid. This will flush any contaminated or wrong-fluid from your engine. After doing this for some time, you should have only clean transmission fluid in your system.


Can a bad torque converter cause hard shifting?

Yes, it can. A malfunctioning torque converter will not function efficiently and may cause hard shifting of your manual transmission when you shift gears. When the torque converter slips out of gear or delays a shift, it is often because the torque converter’s fin or bearing is damaged. This happens because the torque converter changes engine torque into hydraulic pressure that is necessary to move the transmission’s gears.

Is hard shifting bad for a transmission?

Yes, it can be. If you have noticed that your car’s transmission is hard to shift from 1st gear to 2nd or 3rd gear, then it might mean that something inside the transmission has broken or is faulty. This will make shifting hard and could cause damage to other components in your vehicle’s transmission.

Can low oil cause hard shifting?

Yes, low oil can cause your transmission shifting hard. When you notice that your stick shift is hard to shift from 1st gear to 2nd or 3rd gear, you should make sure that the levels of automatic transmission fluid (or manual if you drive stick) are sufficient. If there is a leak in the gear oil or you have not changed it for a long amount of time, then it will produce hindrance in gear transmission.

Will a transmission flush fix hard shifting?

No, a transmission flush is not the solution to your transmission shifting hard. A transmission flush can be used to clean debris from inside the transmission but it will not fix other problems such as broken gears or sealings in your gear box. Flushing your transmission system already indicates that your vehicle has started exhibiting some symptoms of a failing transmission. The first thing is to inspect your system for any faults. If you’ve been driving with a bad transmission for an extended period of time it’s likely other components of your transmission have been damaged.

How do you go from 1st to 2nd gear smoothly?

It can be frustrating trying to learn how to drive a standard transmission. It is even more frustrating early on, when you are still learning the basics of gear shifting correctly. If you are wondering how to shift from 1st to 2nd gear smoothly, follow these steps:

  • Bring the engine speed up to 3,000 – 3,500 RPM
  • Press the clutch to the floor while releasing the gas pedal, and then move the shifter into second gear

The faster you do this the smoother you’ll change gears.


If you have a problem with your transmission shifting hard from 1st to 2nd gear smoothly, do not hesitate to contact your trusted mechanic for a diagnosis. If you do not feel comfortable performing repairs on your own, then it is recommended that you seek assistance from a reputable transmission repair shop in your area. 

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