unable to engage 5th gear 1985 saab 900 - horse
1985 saab 900 2l - Will not go into 5th, even with the engine off.

Forgive my non-technical description, I know I'm paraphrasing when describing things which have their own proper names.....

Trusted independant has had a look at it today, if the bolt on the rod that comes through to the box (i.e. the bolt that holds the inner rod and outer rod together) is loosened, then it will go into 5th.... but when its tightened in this position it won't go into 1st or reverse. Thinking trial and error would succeed in the end, kept trying, with the rods in different positions, couldnt get 5th and 1st/rev to work at the same time.....

So basically I'm taking it back again tomorrow, to have a look at and under the 'globe' that is under the lever itself, take that off and see if theres anything amiss there. I've been told that it will only go back in one way, so no great danger of messing it up completely, but was getting too close to the end of the day for him to dismantle it then.

Does anyone have any ideas about what to look for or has anyone come accross a similar fault.... Incidentally reverse has always been ok, there is a bit of looseness when its in 1st, but no clunking or grinding at all in any of the working gears.

unable to engage 5th gear 1985 saab 900 - chairmanmatt
Where are you based? Could try D&J in Leith if your in Scotland - (Saab specialist).
unable to engage 5th gear 1985 saab 900 - horse
As it happens, I have had a chat to him on the phone - he's the one who assured me and the garage owner that the globe etc. under the lever will only go back in one way - so not to worry about messing it up completely... Unfortunately as he is ~130 miles away, he can't have a look at it himself. Agree about his knowledge, he is a walking saab encylopedia -- but surely the back room has some equally impressive expertise..?
unable to engage 5th gear 1985 saab 900 - 659FBE
I used to own a simillar SAAB and have had minor run-ins with the gear linkage. The first thing to check is that the biasing spring which returns the lever to the 3 - 4 plane has not broken; failure of this spring is common. It's inside the car about 4" ahead of the gearlever. Assuming that the spring is OK, remove the centre console cover and check that the reverse gear locking tongue actuated by the ignition lock swings clear when the ignition is on (ie not locked).

If all this is OK, set the linkage by engaging reverse on the gearbox and slacken the clamp at the rubber "uj" near the gearbox, allowing the lever to flop freely. Now engage reverse at the lever and remove the key. Allowing for a little free movement in the lever (ie not hard against the lock tongue), tighten the clamp. This should set the linkage correctly, if everything else is OK.

You won't see much if you take the lever out, but greasing the ball joints at the bottom of the lever improves the gearchange.

Best of luck - it's well engineered, so should be fixable. I wish I still had my SAAB - the GM offerings with "SAAB" on the boot lid don't come anywhere near.

unable to engage 5th gear 1985 saab 900 - horse
Yes exactly - every one I've encountered who has owned a pre-GM 900 has said the same about wishing they'd hung onto it.... I'm definitely hanging on to mine as long as possible - there are little headaches like this but most of the car is still functioning as it did when it was driven out of the factory, and of course its just as lovely to drive.

"biasing spring which returns the lever to the 3 - 4 plane has not broken; failure of this spring is common."

This could be something -- There has been a different feel to it since (what I as a clueless non mechanic am calling) the 'fifth problem' started on saturday, and now you mention it, the different feel could just be that it ddoesnt spring back anymore..... I have a feeling that this could be just what it is, I'm thinking aloud now but might that also explain why no matter what position we tightened the linkage in it wouldnt go into 5th....? What do you think....

The locking mechanism for reverse has not been working for ages -- you can push it back out of reverse (though I still can't get out of the habit of always leaving it in reverse -- something which has caused a problem before in a cavalier - amazingly the reversing light stayed lit on one of these even after you'd taken the key out!! Ridiculous.) Anyway what you've said about lining it up in reverse still holds true.... No? (Can hold the lever in the position you describe whilst tightening)

Definitely think looking at where this spring should be is the next step for tomorrow morning -- Do you remember if you could take off that middle bit with the ashtray etc. without taking off the top bit where the radio is? (I'm assuming the spring should be under the carpet under this middle 'thing') -- or does the whole top thing have to come off to free it?

unable to engage 5th gear 1985 saab 900 - horse

And when I say "wouldn't go into 5th......." I mean of course "wouldn't go into 5th and also go into 1st at the same linkage position" -- i.e. needs this spring to reach the extremes of the travel......?
unable to engage 5th gear 1985 saab 900 - 659FBE
The bias spring acts on the gearchange rod about 4" ahead of the lever base. You will have to remove some trim to get at it - I seem to remember removing part of the centre console. There is also a "tin" lid over the spring assembly to prevent loose items fouling the linkage.

The spring squeezes together two nylon rollers which act on a square cam which is clamped to the gearchange rod. In the 3 -4 plane, the rollers sit on opposite faces of the square but in either of the other two planes, the square turns with the rod and the rollers ride up the faces, giving a bias effect. It's dead simple when you look at it.

I should have said in the previous post that the square has to be positioned on the rod to give no twisting torque when the gearbox is in 3 or 4. It's all adjustable and benefits from copious greasing afterwards. The spring is a bit of a cock-up; its too short and is overstressed when the car is left in reverse - that's why they break.

unable to engage 5th gear 1985 saab 900 - horse
Really appreciate your help 659, although I still can't use fifth -- I've enjoyed the demystification thats come along with getting my head round all this.

Right -- Today, took out the centre console and carpet etc., and took off the lid to get a good look. The spring is in place, and the nylon cam doesn't look in too bad shape -- its just as you describe, but (un)fortunately this means its not the spring thats the problem. We took out the lever and ball joint, but couldnt see what the prob was there.......

However!! When at tthe garage we had a look on saabcentral.com forums -- and although we didnt see anything that directly helped there and then - we called it a day and I resolved to continue digging..... And came accross this just now:


So if we'd found that today I might have been driving back with 5th -- I'm just going to hope that this is what's causing the trouble. (fingers crossed)

unable to engage 5th gear 1985 saab 900 - 659FBE
Thanks for the link - the interlock pin for reverse in certainly a possibility although I never had a problem with this. It's worth checking that the pin lifts properly when the collar under the gear lever knob is raised to access reverse.

I hope you get it all sorted with these various inputs. Grease all sliding parts while you're in there, it improves the gearchange quite a bit, and SAAB used grease which, by now, will have gone hard.

unable to engage 5th gear 1985 saab 900 - horse

too busy yesterday to have another go, but tried adjusting the stud today. Initially it was 24mm with the extra lip underneat, 22 without -- so potentially within spec.... Then tried shortening it to 22 with 20 w/o -- didn't work.

Then dismantled the whole thing and reattached the reverse pin and stud, still the same (greased it all :) ). Really stuck now. Got a price list of parts from north city saab, chigwell -- a new stick, pin + brushings is about 50 odd which is obv worth it if its definitely going to work, but no guarantee it will (so prob worth ringing around to see if any scrappies have got a 900).... Time for a drink

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