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2001 SL only goes in 1st and 2nd gear

sdsunsdsun Posts: 13
I couldn't find any other threads that addressed my problem, so here goes:

I was on my way to the store earlier today. Started the car, put in reverse, backed out, no problem---just like anyother day. Put in first gear then started rolling. As I neared the RPM to shift to second, the gearbox was wobbly (which was strange), put it into second, then I had to downshift. It felt wierd. I pulled over. Car only goes into 1st and 2nd gear, I have no neutral and can't get into the other gears.

Some nice guy came up to me to see what the problem was. He told me it might be my clutch cable. He was nice enough to stop traffic for me so I could flip a u-turn in 1st gear to head back home.

So I'm home now, clutch can go into 1st or 2nd. Clutch feels normal, gearbox (where shifter is) is loose. Can anyone one please shed some light on my problem? I have a 2001 Saturn SL, I just hit 200,000 miles. I love this car. Runs great until today, just cant get into other gears or reverse. :(

Any and all help is greatly appreciated.


  • saturntech9saturntech9 Posts: 152
    Sounds like the shift cable end broke at the base of the shifter the inside cable end really common on that car.First go under the hood where the shift cables hook make sure the retaining clip is holding the cables in place on the transmission.Then make sure the clips are holding the cable ends on the shift arms on the transmission.If all is good then pull the center console out and see if the cable end broke at the base of the shifter it wil be easy to see if it did.If it did they sell a cable end repair kit on ebay just type in the search box saturn cable end.Do not by the doorman repair kit its a piece of junk and will short come loose again.I have tried that one get the one piece one that just snaps in place of the old cable end retainer.
  • What is the part number or where can I get retaining clip that holds shift cable to the transmission??? Have a 1998 saturn and it's missing and I can not find one....
  • I got mine on ebay here is the link to the one i got and it worked great. id=27706011690
    Let me know how it works out for you.
  • I have a 2001 SL and the car has 198,000 miles on it it takes up a bit of oil but i see NO LEaks any where do I crack it up to the engine has so many miles or what should i look for? I have not driven it until the oil light comes on so no problems drives like a champ, starts of kinda slow on hills though?
  • How much oil does it use in 3,000 miles?
  • 1 quarte but i see NO signs of leaks!
  • 1Qt in 3,000 miles of oil burning thru the engine is good.Saturn specs allows 1qt in 2,000 miles burning so 1qt in 3,000 miles is good.
  • great just wondering is all i thought it was unusual
  • Its normal for that car.
  • shopdog97shopdog97 Posts: 160
    Need your help, people. My '96 SL-1 shifted great for the 6 years I've had it. Bought it with 88K on it and now it's a little over 129K. I've been experiencing difficulty getting back into 1st gear after I come to a stop. It SHIFTS OK from 1st to 2nd, a little rough into 3rd, fine into 4th and 5th and no issue with reverse! I thought it may be the shift cables, but they seem to be fine. I checked everything I know to check and took it to my local mechanic down the street. He does things for me when I can't. He drove it and pronounced the clutch fine, but told me that he feels the syncronizer(s)may be the issue and suggested another transmission! Just got laid off last week, so that ain't gonna happen. I called a local salvage yard specializing in Saturns, and he tells me that HE believes it's the slave cylinder, not the trans. He tells me to pump the clutch the next time I'm at a stop and see if it goes into 1st easier. Now I haven't done this yet, but I will tomorrow. He said these manual transmissions are very good and he suspects the slave. According to my repair manual, this is a sealed unit that comes with a new master cylinder, hose and the slave to replace as one unit. If this is truly what's wrong with my car, it sure would be a hell of a lot cheaper than a used tranny and the labor to install it! Does anyone out there have any info/suggestions? Thank you!!
  • saturntech9saturntech9 Posts: 152
    Is the clutch pedal hard all the way down or does it drop some then get hard?
  • shopdog97shopdog97 Posts: 160
    The pedal SEEMS fine to me, saturntech9. It doesn't feel like a spongy brake pedal does when there's a problem. I checked the clutch master cylinder reservoir and it's full to where it should be. When the guy at the salvage yard suggested it was a slave cylinder issue and not the tranny, my thinking was how can the slave be bad if I'm not losing any brake fluid? I see repacement slave/master cylinder kits out there and come filled and ready to install for about $90( has several listings) I'l go out in a little while and re-evaluate it and let you know what I find. Thanks for responding.
  • shopdog97shopdog97 Posts: 160
    I went out this morning in my Saturn and had NO issues shifting until the last mile or two of my trip which was a total of about 8 miles altogether. So this is just happening when the car is fully warmed up? Makes no sense to me at all. I DID pump the clutch like the guy at the salvage yard said to do and I thought it went into 1st gear a little better. I double-clutched at times and had no issue going from 2nd to 3rd like I did yesterday. So other than having a problem getting back into 1st, all else seems to be OK. The clutch pedal felt like it was a little spongy(very little), perhaps I just didn't notice it earlier. I took a closer look at these components, the master cylinder, hoses and the slave that bolts onto the trans and although it looks like it's more than one piece, it is in fact a sealed system that must be replaced as a unit. Looks like the biggest issue might be getting the master cylinder out from the firewall, past the brake booster AND whether there's enough room to clear the ABS unit. My service manual says that on 98 and later models, the ABS might have to be moved out of the way. I don't want to move anything that might get me in further trouble. I just wish I could really be 100% sure that the hydraulic unit(s) is the issue before I spend $100 bucks that I really don't have right now, but I don't believe the problem will go away on its own either. Any help anyone may have, please advise and thanks very much.
  • saturntech9saturntech9 Posts: 152
    Sounds like hydraulic issue or bad pressure plate were the fingers are worn uneven.without driving it feeling the pedal for myself hard to say which it is.If only one gear ihas a problem then your looking at a bad synchro.the clutch master save assembly is easy to change don't ever remember having to untold the master to change it.
  • shopdog97shopdog97 Posts: 160
    Thanks again for responding, Saturntech9. At this moment, I'm debating what to do but I'm leaning to changing all the hydraulics. As you know, they come as a complete kit with the master cylinder, slave, and hoses all pre-filled and ready to install. It doesn't seem like an overly hard job. My rather depleted finances all but force me to try and take the cheapest way out. I will NOT be replacing the trans or the clutch components for sure. In order to change the trans, the engine has to come out and I'm not equipped to do that. I'd have to rent an engine hoist and since I'd be working outside with no cover it isn't really feasible. The cheapest hydraulic kit I've found is from at about $80 shipped directly to me. Autozone is just about $100. I'd rather do new parts for this instead of taking a chance with salvage yard parts. My only concern is that if this doesn't solve the problem, I"m out that $$$ for nothing. I thought about pumping out the master cylinder reservoir and refilling it with fresh brake fluid, driving for a while, pump more out and fill it again to see what fresh fluid would do(if anything) but I really don't think it will help. The guy at Autozone said that the slave or other component could be contaminated and not maintaining proper pressure. I said yesterday that the clutch pedal DID feel a little spongy.

    I'll have to make a decision soon on what to do. But I do thank you for your suggestions. Have a Blessed day.
  • saturntech9saturntech9 Posts: 152
    You have a blessed day as well I have a 5 percent discount code for rock auto if you want it?I order parts from them all the time.
  • shopdog97shopdog97 Posts: 160
    Hey Saturntech9,

    I am going to order that slave/master cylinder assembly from RockAuto. I was going to get it from Autozone as they have one in stock at their Allentown, Pa. store which is about 20 miles from me. But the price with tax will be about $102, and my Mrs. tells me we have to be careful what we spend. I'm thinking about ordering the first one that comes up on the Rockauto page, can't remember the brand name now, but even with shipping the price is slightly over $80, although I'll probably have to wait a week for it. I'd sure be pleased to take advantage of your 5% discount code as ANY help would be greatly appreciated. I'm going on the site now, but I'll wait for your response before I actually order it. I can supply you with my e-mail addy if that's better for you. Thanks so much!
  • shopdog97shopdog97 Posts: 160

    I went onto and the brand name of the part I need is Rhinopac/World Auto. Hope this is a good brand, guess I'll see. I wait for your discount info before I order. Will I have to register with Rockauto to take advantage of the discount? I hope to have the part sometime next week, I think they're out of the midwest somewhere. Anyway, thanks again and have a wonderful weekend.
  • saturntech9saturntech9 Posts: 152
    here is the discount code you type it in the how did you hear about us box when placing the order then hit refresh to apply the code the number is 149366383242193
  • shopdog97shopdog97 Posts: 160
    Thanks for the code number, any thing will help me at this time. Drove my Saturn yesterday morning to church and had virtually no trouble for the 8 mile RT. When I did have a problem getting it back into 1st at a light I just pumped the clutch several times and it went right in. Never experienced anything like this with any manual vehicle I ever had in the past. I had a clutch master cylinder go bad on an old Datsun(now you know how OLD I am, LOL) years ago and back then for 5 bucks I got a rebuild kit and that took care of that. Well I'm gonna go with the replacement kit for this car and pray for the best. Thanks again and God Bless!! (My name is Mike)
  • saturntech9saturntech9 Posts: 152
    I hope it works out my name is louie.
  • shopdog97shopdog97 Posts: 160
    Hi Louie,

    I got the clutch master/slave cylinder kit from Rockauto last Friday and installed it yesterday(Sunday) It SEEMED like it shifted better at first, but I think I have other issues going on here. Not quite sure what at the moment, but I'm just gonna drive the car and whatever happens, happens. No more $$$ to put into car right now. Got an issue with one of the motor/tranny mounts too, it's either the one down by the crank or the one directly above that attaches to the motor, I can move it with a pry bar. That hydraulic unit change went pretty smoothly, but I did have to loosen the nuts on the brake master cylinder that has the ABS unit on it. Didn't take it all the way out of course, but it helped give me a little more room to get the clutch m/c out.

    Thanks again for the tech help and just pray that the car doesn't give me any more headaches for the time being.
  • saturntech9saturntech9 Posts: 152
    Your welcome Anytime
  • shopdog97shopdog97 Posts: 160
    Hi, Louie,

    Well, I tried to solve this problem as cheaply as I could, but I think it just may be the synchronizer in the tranny now. It's doing the same thing it did before I changed the slave, but only after the trans warms up for whatever reason. The car is fine till it comes up to temp then I have trouble getting it back into 1st. Another curious thing is that when I start the car(after it warms up, though) it feels like something's grabbing or holding inside the motor(or tranny)Not sure how to explain it better and it doesn't do it all the time. I know I have a bad motor or possibly the lower trans mount because you can not only feel the engine shake when it starts like that but you can see it too. Funny thing is when I put my pry bar on these mounts I suspect are bad they don't move too much. The one on top of the motor, passenger side that has 3 nuts or studs on top does move back and forth. I'm thinking it's that one and the one on the bottom pass side right in front of the crank pulley or so. But the real issue is the shifting problem that's not going away soon. Since I'm out of work right now, my choices are rather limited, so should it get steadily worse, I'm just gonna have to park it. The car is 16 years old and ran very well until this started happening. You have to pull the motor and trans out together the way I see it, and I'm not really set up to do that, and it would still cost $$$. Just gonna pray for a Blessing to get around this.

    OK, you take care and have a Blessed day!
  • saturntech9saturntech9 Posts: 152
    If it's only first you're having the problem with then its in the transmission. As far as it grabbing the engine when its warm with the clutch pushed in that sounds like a bad pressure plate. Also the most common Mount to fail is the upper one with the three studs.Have replaced more of those then any other mount.I would get the mount that is the narrower one of the two different styles they sell.
  • shopdog97shopdog97 Posts: 160
    Thanks for the heads up on that upper mount, Louie. You certainly have a lot of Saturn knowledge. Drove the car yesterday and I didn't have much trouble at all, once or twice it was hard to get back into 1st. What I do now when I'm coasting to a stop is get it back into 1st before coming to a complete stop, or I find myself having to shift into reverse, then back into 1st. Anyway, no $$$ for ANY kind of repairs now as I've been laid off for 3 weeks. Do you know what is under the cover on TOP of the transmission, it has 4 bolts and the speed sensor and vent hose is on it, and the shift linkage is attached to it at the other end? I saw it when I was changing the slave/master cyl hydraulics and wondered what was under there. But I feel you're right when you say there is pressure plate and/or internal tranny issues like the syncronizer(s) I'm just praying for a miracle for it to keep running. Thanks again, Friend, and have a wonderful day.
  • saturntech9saturntech9 Posts: 152
    That's the shift tower also that's the back up switch on it not the speed sensor. If that comes off there are plates etc the arms on the underside.The bottom of the tower has linkage that goes into those plates on the transmission to shifts thru gear.
  • shopdog97shopdog97 Posts: 160
    Thanks for that info, Louie. I have another Saturn related question about my friend's '94 SL1 that I worked on several weeks ago. He had an overheating issue back then and I offered to take a look at it. The car was running very hot and I told him he'd better let me look at it before the head gasket or something equally bad happens. His temp gauge wasn't working and that was because someone else told him that's why the car was getting hot. Wrong advice, of course, but that guy changed the sending unit anyway and the gauge STILL didn't work and the car STILL ran hot.

    I told him that if the water pump was OK, then the problem was most likely a stuck thermostat. He said he got one when he got that sending unit(that he didn't need)so when I got the car I drained the coolant, replaced the thermostat AND put back his original sending unit(he still had the old one in the trunk, good thing too!) I came to find out that the guy who put the new sending unit bent the 2 prongs when he plugged it back in and that's why the gauge didn't work. But the key reason the car got hot was the cooling fan's relay in that box under the hood was bad and wasn't kicking in the fan when the gauge got a little more than half way up! I ended up swapping the A/C relay(same thing)and the fan started working and all was well as far as the overheating issue was concerned.

    This car has nearly 180K on it and seems to run fine. But a few days after I did what I did, he complained that it was shutting down from time to time. He or his girlfriend would be stopped at a light and the car would shut off. It would start up right away usually, but just yesterday he called me and told me that now it didn't want to restart. Before I got the car to work on, he told me about an incident where the car shut down and wouldn't start and somebody pulled the oil dipstick and there was no oil on the stick. There is a low oil pressure switch on these cars and it is designed to do exactly do that; shut down before the engine seizes for lack of oil. His girl put of all things straight 30 weight in it(someone told her it would be OK) but she proceeded to overfill the crankcase to the point that the car was smoking badly because of too much oil. The first thing the day I had it here was to drain the oil and fill it with the proper weight and amount. I use the same oil drain pan I've had for over 30 years and there was so much oil in that crankcase that it nearly came overtop my drain pan!

    What could be causing the car to shut down on them? Could the low pressure oil switch be faulty? I asked him this yesterday, are you low on oil? He said yes, so I told him to put in the PROPER oil and not to OVERFILL it. If the car is that low on oil now, then the car's either burning it or leaking it somewhere. My '96 uses about a half to three quarters of a quart in between changes. Another one his friends, supposedly a mechanic, keeps telling his girlfriend(I think they are related) that the water pump is bad. I checked that when I had the car, no leaks, no movement at the pulley and of course the coolant was being circulated just fine. If I suspected the pump, I would have changed it for him. I did mine last fall and the pump was only $32 bucks. Then this guy tells him it's the crankshaft position sensor shutting the car down. If this were true, wouldn't a check engine code be set? This car had 5 codes stored in it when I checked it before I did my work on it and the only one that mattered was the code 15, the coolant temp sensor. The rest of them were due to that being out of whack. When I was done with what I did, there were NO CODES, all was cleared.

    I know, Lou, another long winded note. But I guess he needs this car, so if you can give me a heads-up on why this shuts down like this I'd be happy. Funny thing is a day or two after he picked up the car from me, he asked me at work to ride with him and I'd see how it shut down when coming to a stop. But the car ran great during that 4 or 5 mile trip! I'm not sure what is more strange sometimes, cars or people!! LOL

    Thanks again for your knowledge and have a great day!
  • saturntech9saturntech9 Posts: 152
    First of all there is no low oil shut down switches on any of the Saturn S model Saturn's.The switch will just turn the oil pressure light on when the pressure is low on that yeaar.You can run it out of oil and never see that light come on.Second did you only replace the top coolant temp sensor for the gauge?The bottom one on that car is for the engine which controls the fan fuel amount of the engine depending on the engine temp.If bad can cause stalling no starts surging die and not restart for a while.Also the fan s supoosed to come on at
    3/4 or a little past depending on how good the temp gauge and temp coolant gauge is.You said the fan comes on just after half on the gauge.Also the crank sensor can cause those symptoms be bad and never set a code.When it dies and not start see if you have spark?
  • shopdog97shopdog97 Posts: 160
    Thanks again for that info on my friend's 94 SL1. You must realize that a LOT of the information I get from him is sometimes second or third hand because I think friends and family members on his girlfriend's side are throwing their 2 cents in. Now to answer your questions. My goal the day I had his car here(5 or 6 weeks ago now) was to see why he was overheating, and of course correct the greatly overfilled crankcase he had by at LEAST 2 quarts. The temp gauge didn't work for the reasons I stated above and when I put the old one back in it was fine. On his car there are 2 sensors, one for the gauge(single wire) and one about 2 inches away(2 wire connector). The 2 wire one is for the computer. I know this because I had an issue on my 96 that caused the cooling fan to start the moment I fired up the engine, and the temp gauge went to half way instantly. My problem was I had a bad connector, not the sending unit but I changed it anyway and had to go to a junkyard for a new 2 wire connector and my problem was solved. Now I'm wondering if this might be my friend's issue too because like I said earlier, when that car left my posession, it was running well, not stalling, and I solved the cooling fan problem by swapping the relay under the hood. But a few days later, he's telling me that the car shuts down(not all the time) and now the cooling fan is coming on as soon as the key is turned to the on position and I KNOW that is not right.

    He was supposed to call me yesterday(Sunday)and we were gonna get together and see if we can get this resolved but I haven't heard from him. If I do I'll suggest changing that other temp sensor and see what that does. It's not expensive, about $12. Then we could go from there. Thanks for the heads up on the crank sensor too. I'll also tell him that there is no low oil pressure shut down switch. He was saying on Saturday that the oil level was low, didn't know where it was going. I didn't see any leaks when I had it, but I do know Saturns do use oil, mine does. Remember his car has nearly 180K on it, but when I had it here, a friend of mine stopped by and we took compression readings from each cylinder and all were really good, 170PSI or above while cranking for 5 or 6 seconds. I'll give him a call and see what he wants to do. Thanks again, Pal!
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