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post #1 of 17 (permalink) Old 05-03-2019, 08:53 PM Thread Starter
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Manual transmission won't shift intermittently

Hi all! I have a 1997 Rav4 2wd with manual trans. Last week I got a battery light, tested the system. It was only putting out 10.1 volts, so I replaced the alternator. System returned to 13.1ish volts and everything seemed to be fine and dandy.

Less than a week later, I make a pit stop for something, jump back in the car and upon starting it find that I can't shift it into gear at all. I haven't had any slipping or grinding from the transmission. I assumed either clutch fork or cable broke. Clutch pedal still has normal resistance though.

About an hour later, I get in and give it another try and presto, it shifts perfectly fine.

Yesterday I drove it twice without issue. So I assumed that the weird issue was resolved.

Today I get in, turn the car on, and again it won't shift into gear. I turn the car off and back on, and still won't shift. I turn it off and on again, and now it shifts perfectly fine!

It seems to be a coin flip when I start the car whether the transmission wants to work or not. It shifts easily when the car is off.

I'm baffled.

Anyone have any ideas? Do you think this is related to my work on the alternator?
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post #2 of 17 (permalink) Old 05-04-2019, 12:11 AM
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My guess is that the clutch is not disengaging properly. How many miles on clutch?
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post #3 of 17 (permalink) Old 05-04-2019, 12:39 AM Thread Starter
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My guess is that the clutch is not disengaging properly. How many miles on clutch?
Thanks for the reply.

45k on the clutch. 255k on the car. It definitely seems like a problem with the clutch. But it seems strange to me that it would engage/disengage fine for a 20 minute drive, then turn the car off and back on, and suddenly it doesn't work at all.

I guess what I'm getting at is, is it possible that turning the car off and on again would cause the clutch to start or stop engaging? Is there some kind of initialization that happens when the car is started?
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post #4 of 17 (permalink) Old 05-04-2019, 12:17 PM
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You indicate shifting is possible at all times with the engine off, but shifting is intermittent when the engine is on. This suggests to me the problem lies with the clutch hydraulic system. I would start by checking the level in the clutch hydraulic fluid reservoir. Is it low? Then check the master and slave cylinders (google for checks you can do). Any signs of external leaking on either the master or slave cylinder? An internal leak in either is also going to cause problems. The slave cylinder seems to be the more likely cylinder to go bad, but if it is bad, replace both cylinders. Here's an intro to checking the master and slave cylinders:




1998 Rav4, Manual Transmission, 2WD, JDM engine with 85k miles in early 2019
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post #5 of 17 (permalink) Old 05-04-2019, 12:48 PM Thread Starter
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Thanks, yeah I was just talking to a mechanic friend and he suggested the same thing. Will check the cylinder fluid and take it from there.
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post #6 of 17 (permalink) Old 05-04-2019, 05:24 PM
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When it won't shift, have you checked all 6 gears?

There are times when mine is sitting stopped, that it does not want to shift into first gear. No clicking or grinding, it acts like first and second are blocked off.
When this happens if I go to third gear and then to first, it will slide right in. I don't have to pump the clutch or anything else, but when I slide into third I feel a slight bump like something is being moved just a little.

After a few years, the 3rd to 1st move seems normal to me.

99 Rav4 in Quicksilver
AWD & LSD with Moon Roof. Power Everything, except the manual Leather Seats and Transmission.
Selectable DRL, Inactive ABS, In-dash CB with Wilson roof-mount antenna, Clearance 10'8".
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86 Ford Truck
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post #7 of 17 (permalink) Old 05-06-2019, 02:18 PM Thread Starter
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Thanks again for the replies everyone. Here's the update:

After an embarrassingly long time figuring out that the master brake cylinder and clutch SHARE a reservoir, I was able to find the slave cylinder and bleed it. I didn't really see much in terms of bubbles. Just a few tiny ones.

The shifting issue has deteriorated to the point now that I can't drive the car.

I've looked around both the master and slave cylinder and both appear dry, no leaks. Is it possible for one or both of them to fail without leaking? Is my next step to bite the bullet and replace both?
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post #8 of 17 (permalink) Old 05-06-2019, 02:53 PM
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Both the master cylinder and slave cylinder have internal seals that can fail due to age and crud in old fluid. When the internal seals fail, the system will not be able to build up pressure to cause the lever on the clutch to operate. Also because they are internal seals, leakage outside the cylinders will not occur. It's just leakage getting past the pistons in the cylinders that is occurring.

Does the fluid in the reservoir look dirty and old?

You might try bleeding again. If you have never done this, it might be time to take it to a shop and let them try, followed by replacement of both cylinders as needed.

1998 Rav4, Manual Transmission, 2WD, JDM engine with 85k miles in early 2019
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post #9 of 17 (permalink) Old 05-06-2019, 03:04 PM Thread Starter
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Thanks, Elle. The fluid in the reservoir is pretty clean. I did the brakes last year and bled the lines, so it's relatively clean fluid in there.

The fluid that came out of the slave was very dirty. The car has 255k miles and is still on the original master/slave cylinders, so it wouldn't surprise me if the internal seals have finally given way.

I'm pretty sure I can handle replacing them. With the mileage and age of the car, it's at the point that its survival depends on my hands. I've learned how to fix so many things because of this car (for better and worse haha).

Slave is very easy to access. Master looks like you have to remove the cruise control to get to it? If anyone can confirm that would be great. I haven't found a video or tutorial for this specific vehicle. If anyone has a link to one that would be great. Probably going to take a couple days to get the parts and I'll attempt it later this week.
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post #10 of 17 (permalink) Old 05-06-2019, 04:09 PM
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I wish there were more checks you could do to confirm the problem is the master or slave cylinder. I understand the clutch fork cannot be moved by hand or even a big pry bar.

I agree at this age, the master and slave cylinders may be failing. I also agree removal of the cruise control actuator (just fwd of the firewall on the Rav's left side) may be essential. The cruise control actuator is not difficult to remove. Recently I was checking for some throttle problems and had the cruise control actuator in and out several times. Just a unplug; remove half dozen or so bolts/screws; disconnect the two throttle cables; unfasten a bracket; and maneuver out without too much difficulty, if memory serves. The Scotty Kilmer video above has some general clues on replacing the master cylinder that may be helpful.

I think you may be stuck with doing a full brake bleed, too, since the clutch hydraulic system and brake hydraulic system share piping.

Let me know if you want a step-by-step for the cruise control actuator. Sounds like you are plenty handy so you will figure it out.

1998 Rav4, Manual Transmission, 2WD, JDM engine with 85k miles in early 2019
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