Poor First Gear Selection – Manual Gearbox Problem W639 Vito – Cure

Having read all the horror stories regarding Mercedes Vito gearbox problems I was intent of getting to the bottom of this problem as all I had read on the internet about ‘suggestion A’ and ‘suggestion B’ etc. all seemed contradictory and to be honest there was little to substantiate any of the writing.

So here we go….

Mercedes Vito 111, W639 2008 Model, 6 speed gearbox, 90k miles.

The problem I had, as do many it seems – is that from a standing start, engine running, first gear is hard to select, and on some occasions requires some extreme force to shift the lever into position 1. The get-a-round was to lift the clutch in neutral and re-depress to try and align the box somehow to allow this selection but this only sometimes worked. To be honest it makes driving in town a real chore. Add to that a poor second gear selection, almost like a worn synchro issues from my old banger days – I was beginning to worry!

‘Check the gear selector cable adjustments’ seems everyone’s first comment, (Gear Selector cable adjustment details here) however my view was that if you could easily select all gears when stationary with the engine off this is not a plausible reason for the issue. Secondly it is often reported on the internet that ‘ Vito gearboxes suffer from synchro wear on second and third gear. I found this, although possible hard to swallow as the same manual gearbox is used in similar guises in other MB makes that do not report a problem – how could this be? Maybe Mercedes vans are abused by their drivers who always crash change through the box for the speediest getaway. One owner driver / vans with dealer history show the same problems on the forums so an appallingly weak gearbox? I don’t think so…

The gear selector arm that is mounted to the gearbox does wear on high mile/use vehicles, but the resultant is second gear and reverse cannot be selected – even when the engine is off!  If you wish to check this fault out – look for play in the pivot bushing as indicated on the photo below and rectify this first.

Mercedes Gearbox Wear Point W639

So what is it….?  What causes this problem? ‘The clutch dragging’ is a popular comment, ‘gearbox input splines sticking on the friction plate’ – again discounted by me as the clutch functions fine with no drag, judder or other malaise people seem too quick to associate to problems with the dual-mass flywheel set up.

Concluding that a small cross section of people have had isolated problems of differing types and reported them via forums etc, everyone reads into them as being the definitive cure and then becomes somewhat of a ‘shade tree’ expert to coin an Americanism – Re-reporting exactly what they have read and not really understanding the true nature of the OP’s problem from all perspectives.

I focussed on the oil in the transmission as my saviour and as it turns out – it was a great call! Selecting the alternative gearbox oil has totally eradicated the issues mentioned at the beginning of this post and the van has been transformed into a vehicle that is a pleasure to drive once more. This may not work for you depending on the exact nature of your gearbox issue, but if you are living with the same set of problems I had then its well worth the small investment before following other pathways (all of which are mostly inordinately expensive!).

Mercedes Benz specifies a very expensive synthetic single grade manual gearbox oil of SAE 75w. It took my main dealer a few tries to even establish this fact so it’s not common knowledge. It is supplied as MB part number 0019892603/11 or you can get a single grade 75w Synthetic alternative from Titan as Titan Sintofluid. (For information purposes it may be useful to know the Vito differential hypoid oil is a SAE 75w-85w synthetic – Alternate supply for this would be Titan Sintopoid.)

What I wanted was to use a slightly thinner performance oil, one that would allow more adequate slowing of the gear train on an up-shift, allowing the synchros to do their job with more ease. Thicker oil would tend to drag the gears round and make the synchros work harder to mesh a faster spinning gear set. When you are choosing a weight of oil it is interesting to know that gear oils have a different ‘W’ rating from those used in engine only applications. For example a gear oil of 75w -90 is almost the same viscosity as a 10w-40 engine oil ! Armed with this information I began my research…

I required a performance synthetic gear oil of less than 75w – ATF was the way forward. Synthetic ATF has a w rating around the w50 / w60 mark on the gearbox scale so fitted the requirement perfectly. The only downside (if there is one!) is that its grade performance peeled off ever so slightly lower in sustained operating temperatures than a fully fledged hypoid synthetic oil. Due to the fact this is not a racing car, its operating in the UK where average ambient rarely squeaks above 10 degrees C and the Vito is rarely fully loaded pulling a max weight trailer at 80 mph down an Autobahn! I choose to ignore this paper spec detail. Just as I chose to accept that the vehicle was now out of warranty and that from a MB dealer warranty point of view it didn’t really matter anymore – apart from the important fact it was time the driving experience was improved and that I technically understood what I needed to regarding the protection offered by the oil I was about to use vs. my driving style and vehicle use.

On this footing I proceeded to choose my oil. It was to be a Synthetic ATF sold by GSF Car parts. They sell it as ATF-U.  You will need the best part of  two x 1L bottles.

Carlube ATF-U Synthetic Gearbox Oil

Installation was straight forward taking no longer than half an hour to complete the process.

Mercedes Vito Manual Gearbox Level and Drain Plug

Jack up the Vito on the front driver side jacking point enough to crawl underneath easily. Remove both the fill and drain plugs using the correct Hex tools (GSF or any good motor factor / tool shop sell these cheaply in a set similar to this – before you buy make sure it contains the required 17mm tool as some kits do not) Note the drain plug is a larger hex tool than the fill plug and a pair of the correct tools will be needed. Remove the fill plug completely, then place a bucket beneath the drain and remove that plug. Let the oil drain for a few minutes to empty the contents as best you can. While draining take the opportunity to clean the magnetic drain plug of metallic bits, it will have a quantity of iron filings on it – don’t worry they all look like this and that’s what it is designed to do !

Mercedes Vito Magnetic Gearbox Drain Plug

Once cleaned refit – don’t over tighten either plugs as they are a tapered thread and overzealous tightening could crack the gear casing. Fill with the chosen oil until it dribbles from the fill plug. At this point the level  is correct and refit the fill plug. Clean up any mess and lower the vehicle and road test. I had a look at the deposits in the old gear oil at the bottom of the bucket and found there was only the slightest traces of brass/bronze flecks, a very good sign – as past experience tells that if it looks like a ‘gold panners bowl’ there’s trouble ahead !. Heavy deposits of bronze particles is a good indication you most probably have some heavy synchro wear and maybe an oil swap will not cure your problem.

Mercedes Vito Gearbox Drain Plug Clean

On the road test I noticed immediately the poor selection to first issue had completely gone and the first to second up-shift was near perfect. What a difference this has made in continued driving and in my opinion is a very worthwhile result considering the research I had put in. Perhaps I now changed the oil as part of my service regime instead of the almost ‘leave-in for life’ recommendation for the standard lubricant. I hope this modification helps you out as much as it helped me.  Whats to lose?  It may even work for you…


236 thoughts on “Poor First Gear Selection – Manual Gearbox Problem W639 Vito – Cure

  1. Hi Steve i have a 2005 109cdi i have the same problem a tough 1st and reverse,It as 145.000k been super maintained has last owner was a company.It has always been stiff in first and reverse but as of late got a little harder to select gears and did not change wether cold or hot but can select all gears no problem when not running , came across this thread and changed the oil as suggested,it did make a small difference so went back to the garage had all the fluids done to see if that made a difference, Didn’t do anything.I have noticed lately though i am getting a bit of clutch drag and also sometimes if i select 1st,1st then i get a little movement forward the clutch is not slipping its like its not quite going far enough to engage the gear when peddle is pressed?could this be the problem of the pressure plate and might need clutch replacing?.

    1. Hi PJ,
      May be worth back bleeding the clutch with a pressure bleeder from the slave cylinder underneath into the master cylinder (shared with the brake) to see if there is any improvement. As the slave cylinder compensates for wear of the plate assembly, it could be that it is extended to its furthest extent and still not applying enough travel to clear the friction lining fully from the pressure plate, possibly signifying a clutch that is almost end of life. If you pull the rubber plug on the gearbox bell housing and look inside with a torch, you may get an idea of what is going on inside, often the fingers on the pressure plate show some wear, also taking up some linear travel. From your peek inside, although you cannot see the lining thickness directly, you will get an idea of how much friction material is ‘floating’ about inside the bell housing, if it has begun to break-up the friction material will look like grey/silver chicken feathers!

      All the best

      1. Hi Steve sorry for the late reply,thanks for the info that’s exactly what we did changed the fluids with a pressure bleeder,changed the oil too to that you suggested it did make selecting first a little easier.I think the pressure plate may of come to it’s end of life thus not giving the full travel so i will put a new clutch in and see how it goes from there..


  2. Hi.
    The Q & A session on the Mercedes Vito gear selection issues is very interesting.
    I run a 2006 Merc Vito W639 Traveliner.
    Bought it new so only me behind the wheel.
    After 18 months I noticed the same irritating gear selection re 1st into 2nd, when I got it into 1st!, & 3rd down to 2nd & it’s just got worse & worse. Mercedes just greased up the mechanism which of course didn’t help.
    Also have been marooned several times in some services when reverse was nigh on impossible to select…10 mins one day!
    So it looks, to me, like the action of trying to select reverse or 1st or second is the gear lever been asked to go all the way over to the left of its travel ie towards the passenger side. 1st gear not being quite as bad to select as reverse or second. Sometimes I have to shift from 1st to third as second just doesn’t want to know & trying to reverse can be a hope & pray situation, really that bad sometimes. All other gear selections are fine & ok.
    Have got an ‘as new’ gear-lever assy inc attached cables to put on as have been told that the plastic knuckle joints under the gear level wear.
    The thinner oil in the gearbox sounds interesting. Might try that as well.
    I appreciate there can be a lot of wear on the gear selector mechanism on top of the gearbox but at around £560 + fitting for a new one I think I’ll try other remedies first.
    Before I go I need to say I’m on the original engine, original clutch, original turbo etc & she runs like a sewing machine having four engine oil changes a year & regular servicing.
    Just approaching 700,000 miles, mainly motorway miles, so can’t complain!
    Still looks great inside & out, just the bleeding gears!
    Any more comments re gear selection issues would be very welcome as I’m at my wits end with continually getting embarrasingly stuck in the middle of the road shouting at the gearbox
    Many thanks,

    1. Hi Tony,
      A quick read of the symptoms would indicate maybe adjustment is needed in the two bowden cables to give the correct throw to the selector mechanism. It may be that there is wear in the horseshoe arrangement that straddles the gearbox, this is not uncommon with high milage boxes. This part comes as a complete assembly sadly as you point out, is quite expensive. However if you can determine that is is definitely worn it could save you the pain of a gearbox swap only to find the fault still exists!

      The acid test really is if the box allows selection when the engine is off ! If all is well, alignment/cable adjustment should be OK – I would then begin to suspect the clutch itself. It may be self adjusting, but when the end of life approaches there is not enough travel in the slave cylinder to apply the correct clearance to the spinning friction plate causing some drag and a definite inability to select gears from stationary. Often if you start the van in first gear with the clutch depressed and the handbrake off, it would want to drive the vehicle forward to some degree as it starts to a running condition – this would confirm that all is not as it should be in the clutch department. You could try a back bleed (slave to master cylinder) to clear any air, but I think if you have a clutch drag condition as outlined above with those miles, then I think this is maybe a futile excersise.

      I hope that helps a little in pin-pointing your issue – Yes the shifter ball & socket does give issues but often its more due to actual breakage of the bottom cup section than overall wear. They just get sloppy sticks as they age!- same with sprinters.

      I do have a couple of used serviceable selector mechanisms put by (External Horseshoe part) should you require at any point.

      All the best

    2. My problem was exactly the same as your vito mine is on 146.000 and runs like a dream kept the services regular also keeping an eye on the injectors incase they start to leak and cause the black death problem,my vito was on the same clutch from new i did a back track from the last owner this was never done first second and reverse was a nightmare ,I did the box oil change made no difference once it was warm,when cold it was a little better,in the end i had a complete clutch done it goes into gear great now no more struggling at the lights to find first gear all gears are like silky smooth thank goodness for that….

      1. Hi Pj & Steve.

        Many thanks for your quick & very helpful replies, much appreciated.

        I’m going to have the ‘as new’ gear lever & cable assy fitted, might as well as its there to be fitted, & see how we go with that.
        There’s no clutch creep at all & pedal feels as good as the day I picked it up but…..with a clutch that’s done nearly 700,000 miles it’s maybe time for a fresh one! Can you tell I’m from Yorkshire 🙂 How much!!!!!
        The gear lever feels real sloppy & it feels like something is ‘blocking me’ when I go for 1st into 2nd & reverse, feels like a brick wall! Maybe the mechanism & ball joints sat astride the gearbox are badly worn as suggested.
        I will definitely come back to you both with either good or bad news & the route taken to achieve a result.
        Thanks again.
        Fingers crossed.

    1. Hi Stuart,
      Yes it is – but it also falls a little lower in viscosity than the MB recommended synthetic gear oil, this affords slightly less drag and the action of the oil not ‘driving’ the syncro hubs to the same effect as the heavier weight oil. Most of the reasoning behind the original choice of oil is outlined in the posting. I am still running on it, and many others have used it with good results. Just for information: ATF was the Ford factory recommended oil for use in the older conventional 5 speed manual transmissions throughout most of their model range through the 80s and 90s.
      All the best

  3. Hi Steve

    I have vito van 111cdi 2008 with approx 250 000 miles. I have few issues with gear box but the worst is that I can not put it in the 5th &6th gear. Can not get it in at all either driving or not moving. It is costly to replace all gear box , any advise will be greatly appreciated

    Many thanks

    1. Hi Ber,
      I would check out the selector mechanism for breakage in the plastic ball under the gear lever gaiter. It may also require adjustment of the selector cables. Before going for the gearbox swap get under the vehicle and have an assistant try to select the 5/6 gears, try and assist the mechanism by hand, if it selects look to see why. Maybe even unhook the ball and sockets from the selector cable on the side of the gearbox and manipulate the mechanism by hand and see if you can find all forward gears and reverse. This could be simple gear cable adjustment or replacement or even a damaged / worn selector mechanism on the outside of the gearbox. Be absolutely sure that the fault does actually lie inside the gearbox before deciding to replace the gearbox – only then begin to spend money!

      Adjustment of cables W639 Vito Manual trans

      All the best

    1. Hi there,

      Sounds like you are not getting enough release clearance when you press the clutch pedal down between the cover plate/friction material/flywheel, causing dragging of the gearbox and making it difficult to obtain lower gears.

      There is a chance that air has got trapped in the slave cylinder inside the gearbox when you took the hydraulic connection apart. Trapped air bubbles in the clutch hydraulic system can only be successfully bled by ‘back-bleeding’ the clutch system under pressure (Using Gunson’s Ez-Bleed) from the nipple on the slave cylinder back into the master cylinder (Shared with brake system) Normal ‘pumping the pedal’ type bleeding will not usually be enough to clear the system of any air.

      If once air has been removed from the clutch system and you are sure the master/slave cylinders are working correctly then there is the possibility that the clutch may have been fitted without the self adjusting retainer springs loaded in the correct position. This provides the the correct setting of the release plate on first application of the clutch. It adjusts automatically to a position then is self adjusting through out the life of the clutch. Although most replacement clutch plates and cover assemblies come pre-loaded in a ready-to-fit condition the three tension springs may have been in the wrong position (released) if the cover plate had perhaps been dropped in transit. It is always wise to check this before fitting or correct adjustment of the clutch mechanism will be impossible. LuK describe this better than I – see here.

      I hope this helps.
      All the best

  4. Hi Steve, I have a 2006 109 When selecting reverse it crunches and does not engage unless I release clutch half way and hold in hard, then it will engage with a thud and stay in reverse.
    Shifter has been changed Although cables have not.
    What do you think?

    1. Hi there Medow,
      You could be right, there is a possibility just the cables needs adjustment, though if you can find the gear easily without with the engine off, it is could be a dragging clutch. Is there any issue with 1st? Usually there is a combined problem with first and reverse due to wear on the horse shoe casting that makes up part of the selector mechanism externally to the gearbox. It may be that it is worn or seized at the vertical double hinge points. its worth getting underneath and having a look at what is going on.

      Other things to consider are: Air in the clutch hydraulics (this will need to be back bled from the slave cylinder nipple to the reserve, this is shared with the brake fluid reserve.) Or worn clutch assembly not allowing correct separation and full clearance on pressing the clutch.

      Hope this helps,
      All the best

  5. If anyone is interested, I just bought 2x1litre of atf-u in b and q Bristol and they were £4 each. Happy days. Simon

  6. Hi Steve

    I need some advise and help. I have a 2008 115 vito with 106 000km on the clock. I have some gearbox problems. I have winning noise from the gearbox. Gear selection is easy and sure that’s not the problem
    The noise is in 1 , 2, 3, 4 ,6 gear. Not in 5. It is only winning when power is applied to the gearbox. When the car is in gear and not gassed its quite. Can this be the bearings inside the gearbox ? I will check the center propshaft bearings this weekend. Gonna put the vito on tramps and remove the wheels and try so hear where its coming from. I am not sure whether the type of oil will make a difference as the noise is from first gear .

    Really hope you can help me

    1. Hi Janneman,
      It seems your problem could be with the bearings on the Layshaft within the gearbox, this secondary shaft is loaded in every gear but 5th, where the power is transmitted straight through the main shaft. See picture below of 5th gear selection.
      Mercedes 6 speed manual gearbox (5th gear)
      As the layshaft (lower shaft in the picture) should have always had a good oil supply, it is not usual to see wear in this part of the gearbox. It may be that the forces on the gearbox mainshaft (the top one in the picture) delivered when in powered mesh with the layshaft, is accentuating noise present in the main shaft bearings, as it ‘pushes’ the races out of a free running central position . In your case it is most definitely connected to issues within the gearbox and it is safe to say it is highly probable bearing wear as described above.
      I would be tempted to double check the gearbox oil level before condemning the gearbox, but hearing your description I would pretty much say that there is bearing wear inside the gear box – just as you suspected.
      All the best

      1. Hi Steve, any chance you could send me any manuals or drawings you have of this gearbox please including part numbers.

      2. Hi Graeme,
        I have never found the holy grail of parts list for the gearbox, I have used this and a good parts supplier to identify the parts required. I realise that its probably no help but Richard at Pantri Trading http://www.pantritrading.com/mercedes-benz.html has always helped me out with parts by sending over clippings from the relevant manuals prior to ordering so we identify the correct physical parts – there are never any OEM part numbers.
        Hope that helps

  7. Thanks for the heads up, Steve.

    This is the exact problem I am having with a Merc C200 Kompressor. She’s only done 39900 miles and changing the gears can be a swine, though perfectly ok when the engine is off. Once it’s found first gear (after some effort) all the rest are ok.

    One thing that could be happening is that when serviced, certain garages may be using a cheaper oil than recommended which over time causes this.

    I have read (elsewhere) that quite a few people are recommending the Mobile1 0W/40 Full Synthetic but what you suggest seems worth a go.

    Sorry, I know it’s not a van but it seems the same issue across the board with their gearboxes.

    1. Hi Gio,
      Good information, though I think the use of oil circa 0-40 w on an engine oil SAE scale, (that is very thin when cold) long term, is probably going to detrimental to the gearbox, I would not like to drop below SAE of the ATF, as at least it is designed for gear-train usage.
      A common work round for gear/sychro drag on the C200 series is to have the upper level of oil about one inch below the filler. If you google this you can assure yourself that it does have an effect that will help your situation, should you choose to run with this.
      I have also known road flint pieces flick up onto the gear selector mechanism (on SLK 6 Speed) and actually partially jam the mechanism affecting only first and reverse selection, may be worth a look on top of the box with a mirror!

      All the best

      1. Thanks for that Steve, I will get the car gear mechanism checked out because 1,2 and reverse (all gears on the left) do stick 6 out of 10 times of using them.

        Strangely when the engine isn’t running they all slot in fine but once running it can sometimes give me hassle. Could be a red herring but it leads me to think that it could almost be clutch plate related as the only difference between on and off is the moving parts (clutch plate etc)

        I’ll update and let you know what it is (if they can find the fault) as as getting it checked out.

    2. Hallo Gio

      I have a similar merc 200 kompressor and having the same as u! Did your problem with the gear box go away after filling up tje transmission oil?

  8. Hi Steve,I have a 2005 Vito with 6 speed manual,problem going from 1st to 2nd only sometimes,but cannot go back from 3rd to 2nd anytime.A gearbox place drove it and said 2nd gear synchro,he changed it and when i picked up Van last Saturday,still the same issue,no crunching,just doesnt want to shift.However I can drive normally ie 1st to 2nd and 3rd down to second only if I lift gearshift a little as i change gear.what do you think?.
    PS.When taking surrounding panelling off to get to gearshift,a broken black rubber O ring (15mm diameter approx.),fell from right side of gear shift mechanism,not sure if this is significent.

    1. Hi John,
      Sounds like either a worn saddle arrangement on the selector mechanism on the box or just poor cable adjustment. Often the ball wears/cracks on the shifter you can only really see this with the cables off and the part out of the dash. The O ring doesn’t sound detrimental, possibly off one the cable outer clamp/ends that terminate into the shifter moulding (secures with clips)
      Can you select this gear OK when engine off? If not definitely an alignment/cable length issue or a worn part on the selector mechanism external to the gearbox. This saddle is very expensive and you may wish to source a used one from a gearbox remanufacturers if found to be worn. I do have one in the workshop in the rainy-day box if you have no luck.
      Instructions for cable adjustment here.
      Hope this helps

      1. Hi John,
        If you are certain it is that part at fault, the used one I have is £50 but I am sure due to weight shipping from the UK would be prohibitive, anyway let me know how you go on.

  9. Thanks Steve,the mechanic disassembled gearshift,to find the white plastic skeletal (so to speak) type part that hugs gearstick ball missing part of it skeleton near where 2nd gear would be selected,also found the gear to have up and down play within that plastic box type thing ie you have the ball wrapped in white plastic skeleton which then fits in grey plastic enclosure,so for temporary fix he took up the slack by putting rubber bush in that enclosure to take the play.Now is working Ok,only thing is a click effect sometimes (you feel it in your gear changing hand),when changing from 1st to 2nd.What do you think?

    1. Hi John,
      I think you should get a new shifter mechanism and adjust the cables to the correct length as per the MB paperwork and you will most likely be good to go. Glad it is something obvious!
      All the best

      1. Gooday Steve,it ended up being a broken piece of plastic at the bottom of the shifter ball socket,where 1st and 2nd gear is selected..It was only a small piece missing,and considering that the shifter looked fine apart from that.I decided to glue it with q bond(a adhesive used by mechanics),changes gear Ok now ,only need to shift slowly between 1st and 2nd for the a smooth change.What do you think?.Also that recess in the shaft toward the end of the metal gearstick(after the ball),that looks like it holds a black rubber ring,is that significent for something,as i found mine broken off?

      2. Hi John,

        Good news. I think that is probably the cause of the issue, I do wonder how good the repair is though as the movement/play only has to be slight to reflect in the gear selector cables and you will still have trouble. I suspect that part is quite a price from MB for the complete assembly, what I would do is look to try and source a used spare from Oz somewhere – obviously you are now in a running situation which is always good, but perhaps this will buy you some time to get a replacement part sourced. Its hard to say if that ring is critical, if its like a rubber O ring, it either applies a little pressure to the ball or makes a crud seal to prevent dust and other grime finding its way into the ball and socket arrangement. I have had a quick look and I don’t think the shifter assembly is available in anything other than a complete unit.

        Hope this helps,
        All the best

  10. I have a 2003 W203 C240 with the 6 peed manual that is very hard to get into 1st and 2nd. I have found that if I pump the clutch a couple of times and then try 1st it will engage alot easier. Also, if I “double clutch” 1st to 2nd it makes that shift easier. All the other gears are fine, including reverse. Do these symptoms lead to a specific problem?

    1. Hi Brian,
      It may be that the clutch slave cylinder has somehow taken on a little air. I am guessing that reverse is a little ‘crunchy’ to select as well. It is worth bleeding the clutch system out using an EZbleed made by Gunsons. Pressure bleeding and even in some cases reverse bleeding is the only way to shift accumulated air. This may cure your problem but it sounds as if the the clutch could be nearing end of life. As the self adjusting clutch plate reaches its maximum adjustment there is barely enough clearance of the driven plate from the flywheel and cover assembly. You may want to read about the clutch here, its the same type.
      I would do the cheap thing first and bleed the hydraulics and see how you get on, it may be that is all that is needed.
      Hope that helps,
      All the best

  11. Hi Steve,

    thanks for the info. I’ve looked to see if someone on here’s asked this already to save bothering you, but can’t see it. Here goes:
    Just bought a 2005 Vito Traveliner 109CDi with 200K miles on the clock.
    2nd is difficult to select, but the main problem is 1st gear. From start, it will select quite easily, but kicks out of gear all by itself with a bang after a few meters. Have tried various techniques to keep it in gear, like using less revs, really gentle with clutch, keeping gear lever pushed into 1st position, but none seem to work. If I keep the pressure on the gear lever pushed into the 1st gear slot and start off, then it still kicks out, and sounds like I’m forcing it in without using the clutch. Any ideas?
    Kind regards,

    1. Hi David,
      That problem is usually due to a common fault in the gearbox, this popping or in many cases a loud bang with associated grinding of gears that are just catching is quite alarming. It can be fixed by a competent transmission rebuilder, here is a short YouTube video. This shows more of what is inside than how he actually carries out the task but is good info anyway. You can check for correct gear cable adjustment and damage to the ball and socket on the cab shifter/gear lever but I think that probably you will end up having to tackle the gearbox itself.
      Hope that helps.
      All the best

      1. thanks…that’s what I feared. Will have a look at gear cables/ball and socket first.
        Any ideas on the best way to source a reliable, affordable replacement gearbox in the UK? My friend is a great mechanic, but not experienced with Vitos, and does most of his work from the back of his van. Any idea on the work involved if I’m kind enough to give him the job? 🙂 Don’t want to give him more than he can handle
        Kind regards,

      2. Hi David,
        I have ventured inside one of these boxes myself to repair a broken selector mechanism. I would not be too sure exactly what I would be looking for with regard to the cause of a first gear pop-out. It could be bearing wear or more likely a selector/syncro/detent issue. Parts are expensive for these gearboxes. You can get most gears, bearings and hubs from Richard at Pantri Trading http://www.pantritrading.com but things like the selector mechanism is one expensive part – it has plastic parts YES PLASTIC that break and wear, these are not replaceable on their own so get a price for the complete selector mechanism from MB before you start to see where you land in comparison to a service exchange box. My own thought is to replace the gearbox with either a low mile used box or go for the service exchange option with a warranty if you have the extra cash. Expect £300-£350 for a good service exchange and £80-£175 for a used example. You will want to inspect the clutch and dual mass flywheel while you are in there too – see here. If shopping for a used gearbox do be aware that there are two lengths, basically a longer box and shorter one depending what build you have. Best to measure your own or get a dealer to cross reference the VIN of the vehicle it was removed from to ensure its the correct version.
        Hope that has given you a few pointers, try Dronsfields for a used replacement gearbox or give eBay a look over – bargains to be had!
        All the best

  12. Hi
    I have a 2007 311 sprinter with hard to select 1st and 2nd gears first thing in the morning and they are really hard to select to the point I have to select 3rd or 4th first or even put it in gear before starting the engine when the temp is below 0, would you reccomend using the ATF oil for this even though its a manual?
    many thanks for any help you maybe able to provide

    1. Hi Stuart,

      Indeed the oil is ok for manual gearboxes its just a slightly lighter oil of a more or less fixed W rating. Many have used it to good effect. It does sound as though the cables may need adjustment to the selector mechanism underneath. There is a chance the ball has broken up/worn in the shifter mechanism under the gaiter, this causes the lever to sink and create slack in the cable meaning that the selector on the gearbox never makes its true position. Pull upward on the lever and see if it makes any difference when selecting 1/2 if so there is a chance it could be this. I have the information available for the older Sprinter here and the adjustment procedure is very similar. Look for mechanical issues first. It may be your clutch is getting towards end of life and the friction plates are not clearing enough to allow the selection at rest (drag). Simply see if the gear slots in perfectly when the engine is not running – if it does then its a possibility its related to clutch drag or synchro problems internal to the box.

      Hope that helps.

      All the best

  13. Hi my 180 e class 1999 .the gear box has jamed in reverse and a road side inspection conclude that the selection mechanism may have calappest have you any thoughts or suggestion s

    1. Hi Tom,
      That mechanism is moved by rods in a frame between the gear lever and gearbox. What is possible, just as you suggest, is that the external gear selection mechanism has collapsed. I have known large pieces of road flint pick up in the mechanism on other models and prevent first and reverse selection, so it may be equally possible that a similar situation could have jammed the mechanism that lies on the top of the gearbox. Hopefully only your selector mechanism will be the source of the problem (and not the gearbox itself) which can be rectified at reasonable cost.
      All the best

  14. HI!

    I have a problem with my Mercedes Vito 109 cdi 2005 w639.
    It keeps slipping into neutral both from 1 gear and 5 gear when I release the clutch.
    First gear pops out violent and the 5th makes a scratchin noice when I drive, almost like when you tryi to shift without even using the clutch. Noice dissapears when I press down the clutch briefley and then up again.
    Been trying to adjust the wires but without any luck , perhaps because I dont really know what gear that should be used when adjusting.

    Kind regards, Christian Ranta

    1. Hi Christian,
      The popping of gear is a known fault with the 6 speed gearbox and will need internal repair to rectify. It may be better to try and obtain a used replacement gearbox as a rebuild or parts are very costly. Be sure to get the correct gearbox and be aware there are to lengths of gearbox, make sure you get one exactly for your van. Before you condemn the gearbox completely have a look at the horse-shoe mechanism that forms part of the gearbox mounted mechanism, make sure this is not badly worn or broken (sloppy and worn hinges) You can further find the instructions for setting the gear cables correctly here.
      Hope this helps,

  15. My Mercedes Vito has a squeaking noise when changing down gear to slow down, it sounds like it is coming from the gear box , could it be the gear prop? It doesn’t squeak when out of gear.

    1. Hi Sean,
      Sounds like it could be a noisy clutch release bearing, though I would have thought you would have heard it when stationary and depressing the clutch, perhaps its effected by engine load loading in your case. If it is this and the noise is slight it could be just dry, there is no way to lubricate this so its indicating perhaps that the release bearing is nearing end of life (though some go on for years like this) It may be that if the squeak is accompanied with a slight rattle that the dual mass flywheel or clutch pressure plate has started to weaken or break up, you would need to remove the gearbox and cover plate to fully investigate this.
      Hope that helps
      All the best

  16. Hi Steve,
    My friend has just bought a Vito 5 speed 200K miles. She’s having difficulty engaging reverse due to lack of strength, however it is quite difficult to pull it down to reverse. All the other gears seem okay. With the engine off, you needs to sometimes disengage the clutch to get it to finally click in to gear. I had thought about extending the gear lever, but can’t get the knob off!. There seems to be a lot of talk about worn linkages, but difficult to see where there is wear. What bits are usually replaced?
    Thanks for any possible feedback.

    1. Hi Steve,

      Usually what happens is that either the selector cable stretches slightly or the horseshoe shift assembly that straddles the gearbox wears. Usually 1st and reverse are affected. As long as the gear does not ‘pop’ out it could be a simple adjustment is required at the gear lever end. You can find details here.
      Get someone to watch the selector mechanism as you select the difficult gear and determine if it is worn or sloppy. Though you cannot buy individual parts on there own, the mechanism is plentiful on scrap yard gearboxes from that model, you may want to try gearbox rebuilders who will probably have a selection of serviceable selector parts to hand.
      Its worth trying these two things before condemning the gearbox.

      Hope that helps,
      All the best

      1. Hi Steve,

        My fried took her van to a local Mercedes agent who are more used to dealing with cars, rather than vans. She said…
        the mechanic fiddled with the cable until I could get all gears. But its still very difficult for me. He quoted £500 to replace cables and plastic thing inside gear shift, but couldn’t guarantee it would fix it, thinks its me. I’ve just emailed Mercedes for advice.

        Comparing my Sprinter to her Vito, my reverse gear is a lot easier to access than hers. She had the previous owner back to look at it (she’s only had it a week or so) and he’s replaced the oil in the gearbox (no idea what sort). As this Vito is a rear wheel drive, I’m assuming the gear lever and cables are the same as on my Sprinter, so wondering whether to swap them over to see if there is an improvement or the same, thus giving an indication where to investigate next. Or would I be stirring up issues on my own vehicle (currently has about 33K miles, so very little use)?



      2. Hi Steve
        If they mentioned a ‘plastic thing’ inside the shift, this is probably the plastic ball and socket that the gear stick pivots in, they wear, crack and break up – making the whole gear selection process awful, if they have found this to be broken, then there is a very good chance if it is replaced with the new cables, things will much improved. It would be good to know what oil has been used in the gearbox as this can be critical.
        I would not start parts swapping as your adjustment may be compromised and take some realignment to get back to where it was, apart from that they are a different animal sprinter/vito. If that ball and socket (you could ask them) is what they found broken or worn, then things will never work properly as the cable length is not ‘controlled’ as it is allowed to move up and down in the selector assembly.
        Hope this helps
        All the best

  17. Hello all
    I hate doing this and popping in to ask a question …..but i have no idea what the problem is and how much it may cost

    so i thought i would ask you guys for help on it

    A little while ago my Vito cdi 115- 2005 would not start … so i had to get it towed back home …about 5km
    we used a tow bar and i had it in neutral.

    about 5 days later i tried to start it and all was well with starting …however i noticed the clutch pedal was half way down to floor ….i did not press it to get there …..i tried to engage the gears but could not get any gear to engage …..i pumped the peddle about 8 times and found i could get into the gears and that the pedal remained on top

    heres the other part …when i put it in reverse it made a humming noise ….as i pulled backwards …i drove it a couple of hundred meters and through 1st ..2nd and 3rd it gave the same humming noise …not grinding but a deep hum

    can anyone help me on this


    1. Hi Andrew,
      If the humming noise you hear is during the gear change it could possibly be an issue with the clutch release bearing on the nose of the slave cylinder inside the gearbox bell housing. I would be tempted to get the hydraulic system correctly bled before going any further. Often you have to back-bleed the system from the slave to master cylinder as air pockets are often difficult to shift even with a pressure bleeder used in the normal fashion.

      If the noise is there all the time, forward or back, then it may be an issue with either the clutch, cover plate or worse still the dual mass flywheel but this would normally clatter and not hum.

      Hope this helps.
      All the best

      1. thanks Steve for advice.

        i pump the clutch pedal and only then will it engage ……if i hold the clutch down and put into gear its fine … its the moment i try move that the humming ..or wherring type noise happens ……..when in gear …and as i release the clutch ..

        it happened so suddenly one day it was fine and the next day it wasnt …with no diving in between

      2. Hi Andrew,
        Definitely get the clutch hydraulics bled as it appears there is air in the system (pumping the pedal to make it work) and see what happens after that.
        Its a mystery as to what the noise actually is at this point and how it just magically appeared!
        All the best

  18. Hi Steve ,

    Last thing …..it may sound like a silly question to those in the know …but how exactly do i bleed the clutch,
    I have looked online but have not found a specific way for the vito cdi 2005 model.

    are their any pointers you can help me with this

    Thanks again for your feedback


    1. Andrew,
      If you don’t have already, get a Gunsons EZee Bleed kit, this connects to a tyre air valve and charges the hydraulic system at a low pressure (Tyre is better with a low sub 30 psi pressure) with a reserve of hydraulic fluid. As you screw this onto the cap of the brake/clutch reserve it adds new fluid as the old is consumed so allows you to do the operation single handed. Once you have fitted the Ezee Bleed get underneath and identify the bleed nipple on the gearbox behind a square rubber bung on the bell housing. Allow fluid to pass until no air bubbles are seen then lock off the nipple and test. Some more info from others here. On rare occasion it may be necessary to reverse bleed the system, from nipple to reserve, but you would have to adapt the Ezee Bleed kit slightly for that to allow a push on connection to force fluid back through the system into the reservoir.
      All the best

  19. Hello im trying to do the same as you but I cant find a w50 rated ATF and it doesnt say on the bottle.Im worried about using oil that might be too thin

  20. Hi Steve …I did as you said regarding the bleeding and it is working much better now …thank you

    I have one question regarding something I saw under the engine …..I took a photo of it …any chance i could somehow get you the photo …

    Thanks again for your help


      1. Hi Steve,

        I Tried to send photos to that email address, but it gets returned undelivered


  21. Hi Steve,

    Quick last question, Should one replace the gearbox oil after any period of time …. i have the Vito on ramps and thought I may as well replace any fluids that should at any point be replaced

    In sorting out the clutch as you recommended I flushed out all the old break fluid and replaced it with new.

    I would not trade my Vito for any other vehicle ….It is the best and most reliable vehicle I have ever had



    1. Hi Andrew,
      Replacement of the oil is up to you, as long it is at the correct level. It takes around 2l to drain and change it so not expensive at all, just make sure you get the correct synthetic grade oil, unless you are going for the ATF-U option.

      1. Hi Steve,
        Thanks for all your help ….awesome site and help to guys like me who love their Mercedes’s

  22. Hi Steve …me again

    I thought I was winning however it would seem something else not right with clutch.

    I had bled it as you suggested …..now i cant get reverse or first.

    the other thing i noted is there is a distinct smell …as if the clutch is slipping

    After i bled it last time it worked fine for short period ….

    so now i am at a loss as to what to do



    1. Hi Andrew,
      Chances are there is air getting into the system through either the master cylinder (above clutch pedal) or the slave cylinder (inside gearbox) this would be doubly confirmed if a second bleeding improved things for a short while again. If you can engage first and reverse OK with a stationary engine then it is probably NOT cable or selector issues and more likely due to drag on the gearbox and the fact that it is not disconnecting drive enough to allow you to select a gear comfortably. Have a look above the clutch pedal with a torch and see if you can see any leakage indicating a faulty seal on the master cylinder. If the problem lies in the slave cylinder gearbox removal is the only way to get in there. If you are doing that job you would do the clutch and cylinder at the same time.
      Hope that helps

  23. Hi Steve, my 109 has done 30,00 mls the nylon bush seem’s quite worn but all gears apart from first are no problem, it goes into first on the move ok mostly but requires more force pushing firmly to the left when i can then feel it snick in, it is a pain, i have just started courier work & can see an earlier clutch change close…many thank’s in advance GM

    1. Hi Graham,
      It might be as simple as the cable needs correct adjustment first and reverse are the first to show engagement difficulties as they are at the far reaches of the gate. Also check the horseshoe arrangement on the gearbox, lubricate its hinges and make sure its all free and easy. Its best to check these before spending on a clutch – its worth a go at adjusting the cables.
      All the best

  24. hi Steve & thank’s, took it into the merc truck dealer [sw truck’s] barnstaple who checked & adjusted the cables but told me it was 1st gear synco that is worn but i am going to try a couple of thing’s first..cheers Graham..

    1. Hi Graham,
      Great progress, as least you know what to expect worse case, now try and see if you cam improve things a little to delay the expense a while! Have a go at the ATF-U oil change – nothing to lose really!
      All the best

  25. Hi Steve, tried the oil before the dealer without improvement, i have been offered a good box with 12 week’s cover for £300, is there a stronger box or are 109’s & 113’s the same..many thank’s Graham

  26. My C230 automatic refused to select gear and always jecking what is the solution and who can link me to a perfect and specialized Mechanic.

    1. Hi Iyida,
      The first thing you need to do is take the vehicle to a service shop or purchase a special transmission oil dipstick. Then you can accurately check the auto gearbox oil level. Low fluid can cause the symptoms you suggest but the level needs to be accurate and as Mercedes do not provide a means of measuring the oil quantity you will have to rely on someone with the special tool to do this for you – or purchase one. It could be any number of faults but this would the first one to check.
      All the best

  27. Hello Steve,
    I have a 109 CDI with a 6-speed box. Shifting isn’t much of a problem. It has about 88.000 km. Thing I don’t like is that when shifting, one can hear it on the outside, like when I drive with my windows down. Feels like people thinking I’m shifting a tractor instead of an MB Vito….!! One more thing, I had it “tickled” a year or so ago. Lower fuel consumtion, more power. But, I don’t use that power much. BTW the problem was already there before I had it tunes. Please, can you help me?
    Best regards from the Netherlands,

    1. Hi William,
      The noisy rattle you get on gear change is due to the weighted external mechanism/lever that ‘throws’ the selector forks with added inertia within the gearbox. This weighted arm pivot wears on its mounting shaft and rattles about, often its not wear on the steel shaft but on the butting faces where the lever contacts. This makes play that can be taken out by adding a carefully selected washer to the shaft and replacing the spring clip. There is also a horse shoe frame that straddles the rear of the gearbox check this for wear and excess movement. Usually if this wears really bad you will have some difficulty engaging first and/or reverse. If you take a look at the gear selector mechanism external to the gearbox it is quite complex and it is easy to see why as it wears it develops ‘a bag of spanners’ noise in operation. Not detrimental just annoying.
      Hope that helps

      1. Thank you very much, Steve!
        I’ll try to check it asap and will try to folloe your instructions as much as I can.
        Will keep you informed.
        Best regards,

  28. Vito 59 plate uk.
    Does anyone know were I can purchase the gear selection pivot bush for 2nd and reverse selection as mentioned and shown on this post.
    Has I have a problem with this and can see the play.

    1. Hi Alan,
      As it is part of the gearbox mech I think its something you would be better factoring to a local machine shop for repair. I doubt the part is available.
      All the best

  29. Dear Steve

    I read your article with great intrest.
    My Vito 113 cdi 2011 (gearbox is TSG 360)(i bought him/her last summer) has the same problem as you discribed.
    When outside themperature drops below 15°C, shifting 1 and 2nd is really stiff.
    In particular 2nd.

    I asked my garage to change the oil into a thinner oil.
    They refused and warned me for potential exesive synchro wear in a short time.
    They said they dit it once for a customer with the same problem and his synchro’s died verry short after.

    So, my question for you before i perform the oil change myself.
    How many miles/km have you driven after you putted the thinner oil in your box?
    Is the box still shifting well?

    I apologize for the many spelling mistakes. I probably do not need to tell you that Englisch is not my native language.

    Looking forward to your response.

    Best regards

    1. Hi Anton,
      The truth is that the sychros were probably shot before the oil was changed on the garages van, so attributing failure to the oil change is most probably a little inaccurate. I had completed over 25k miles on the ATF and since sold the van to a courier company who have continued to add to this mileage (appx 10k so far) and all is just as it was when initially changed – I know this because I maintain their fleet.
      All the best

  30. Hi, I have a 2007 Mercedes-Benz Vito and I have a problem of gear selection and I changed the clutch two times already and I still can’t get it right

    1. Hi Dennis,
      Maybe the syncros are worn on the box and not allowing for smooth changes. I would imagine you would also have poor gear selection with a non running engine. Check and double check the gear cables and look for wear in the saddle selector mechanism that lives on the rear of the gear box, wear hear usually results in poor first and reverse gears.
      Hope that helps,

  31. hello all my vito is a 116 cdi sport i bought her at 6 months old 15000 miles and thought to myself gears are stiff 1 st and 2 nd just like clutch was not depressed far enough. so on 1 st service at northside mercedes i mentioned this problem they said they checked it and it seemed ok. i was not happy and told them will you have a good look and see if there is any fileings in gear oil on reply he siad we don’t do gear out that is on major service no 2 so all booked and paid for at special price deal it is now booked in for service no 2 on 6th jan 2017 and i will be mentioning about oil again to see what they say as a comment as mine over last 6 months is jumping whin in standing traffic stalling when trying to set of steady and i drive trucks and lots of other vehicals and i have never in 4o years worn a clutch out and my van is only just on 44000 miles now

    1. Hi John,
      The six speed box is used in various guises across a selection of MB passenger vehicles, in the C class and SLK 2001> it has been noted some improvement has been made by reducing the gear oil level/height in the gearbox by half an inch below the filler plug. This allows a little less oil ‘fling’ inside the box and introduces a slightly more draggy synchro operation, so shifting in most cases becomes easier. ( I presume static selection is perfect with engine off – this proves its not alignment of mechanism/cable maladjustment.) You could try the oil swap as you have read but would be better keeping this to yourself as MB will continue to install what is recommended no matter what you tell them and would not recommend anything outside their service paperwork!

  32. Hi Steve

    Firstly, thanks for this post, its very informative.

    I have just replaced a gearbox on my 203 (a 716.651 6 speed manual) as the old one used to pop out of first. This one is all good, apart from difficulty getting into second gear. I see the cable adjustment on WIS, but it references a special tool that you insert under the lever to pull it up, which I am unable to buy.

    Any ideas on how to adjust this cable without the tool?

    I also replaced the prop center support bearing at the same time, and now have a “wooooing” noise at approx 40mph. Its quite loud and was not there before. Coming on/off the power does not change the noise. Is my second hand gearbox faulty, or the new prop bearing? Thanks in advance.

    1. Hi Alexander,
      You could loosen the support bearing and change its position slightly and see if makes any difference to the noise. Prop bearing noise would be there all the time at a lesser or greater degree dependant on road speed, there is a chance the gearbox has a main shaft/layshaft bearing issues but check oil level is correct first. You should be able to buy the cable adjustment tool from any Mercedes Commercial Dealer just quote the tool number part code at the service desk.
      Best Steve

  33. Hi this really fits with our recent experience. We were advised to have a gearbox oil change as part of a service. Since that point first and second gear selection have been really difficult. Worse when cold funnily enough, suspected that the oil was too thick because it gets easier as it warms up.

    I will speak to them on Monday and signpost them to your logical professional, well researched post.

    Thanks very much for doing the hard yards and clearing up what was an intuitive hunch could be the cause.

    Thank you very much. Regards Rob

  34. Hi Steve
    Just wanted to let you know that You are a legend.
    Changed gearbox oil on my 2013 113cdi 6 speed Vito to atf-u. 1st to 2nd gear change is smoooooth!! And all the rest of them as well. Also had difficulty getting it in to 1st but gear knob bushing sorted that. Feels like brand new van.
    Thank you for sharing your knowledge

  35. Thank you for the great info! Have exactly the same problem all be it more going into 2nd when cold. I’ll be giving it a go!

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