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'81 Rabbit: Goes into 1st gear but doesn't engage - Other gears work

2248 Views 3 Replies 4 Participants Last post by  James Seahill
Hi all,

I have an '81 diesel rabbit, older 1.5L Diesel engine with a newer 5 speed manual tranny.
Several months ago I was doing about 70 on the freeway in 5th gear, tried to downshift to 3rd and accidentally got 1st instead. (It was a long road trip, I was tired...) It ground pretty badly, but didn't go into gear.

Since then, it feels like I can put it into first, but nothing happens (no noise, no movement, no clutch resistance; it's like it's in neutral) when I let out the clutch.
I cannot put it into gear without depressing the clutch and being at a almost complete stop. It was like this before.
All other gears shift and work as expected (though some gears do have other issues: 2nd is hard to shift into at times (resists being shifted into) and sometimes grinds when I shift down into it, and 3rd gear will sometimes grind when shifting down).

My two prime suspects (based on forum browsing) are:
A. The synchro gear on 1st (Seems more likely, but also more expensive/more work)
B. The shift linkage (This is indicated by the other gears being sometimes hard to shift + general old age, but seems like it would still be possible to engage with some finagling?)

I have not drained the oil in the tranny to look for metal pieces.
I have tried to stick the tranny in 1st by manually moving the linkage around, but no luck. However, I'm not certain I knew what I was doing.

Does anyone know what may be wrong, or has anyone had this or a similar problem before?

(Sorry if this question has been posted before. I'm a forum noob, and though I did try to look beforehand, I didn't find anything.)
1 - 4 of 4 Posts
Well If I read this you have issues getting it into 1st unless you are at a full stop.
That is almost normal. The syncros are probably shot on the first gear, but there was always issues on my ride when I tried to
Down shift to 1st when rolling, and I usually had to go to second then down to first after a stop.

Second I would drain all the gear lube out of the tranny and re-fill with fresh, then drive for a bit and drain and refill it again.
I would also change the linkages, and possibly the mounts as if they are broken or trashed, then that can cause issues as well.

Then if it doesn't improve, I would start looking for a new one. has some good how do I do that as he is the expert on Dub tranny's.
I would agree with all said prior. I generally have to shift into second then first as I stop at a light or sign. I would suggest the linkage adjustment. It is not that hard just do it a bit at a time as it seems finicky.

I don't have the cover over the shift lever coming down from the cab so it is easy to see it centered or the needed offset in third. Do you have a Bentley manual? The procedure is described fairly well in that book. You may need to pull the main shaft of the shift linkage up a bit so that it is reaching further than it is now.

How good are the little lever arms and those nylon caps that go over the balls? Clean and lube them it makes a huge difference.
Rebuild kits are not that expensive and really reduce the frustration during driving. Highly recommended.
you mentioned a 5-speed--if you replaced a 4-speed with a 5 speed the adjustment under the shift lever and all linkage would be different. I would check the clearance under the shift lever with the car jacked up first--other wise, it's probably a syncro, but maybe the shift lever ball/components themselves I almost forgot to mention, their is an adjustment of the shift lever plate as well, done from the inside with the shift lever boot removed---if you're lucky worn parts or clearances out of adjustment could be all that's causing problems
1 - 4 of 4 Posts
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