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How to Swap your auto trans out for a 5 speed manual

About This How-to
Author: the_wagon
Added: 08.03.05
Updated: 08.03.05
Discuss (49)

This is a more accurate and detailed how-to than the original 5 speed swap instructions. Slight variations will apply between model years, so use this as a guide only. Have fun :)


    • Required
      • Manual Transmission (Getrag or NVG 5 speed)
      • Manual Shifter Assembly
      • Shift Cables
      • Manual Transmission Vehicle Speed Sensor (VSS)
      • Neutral Safety Switch (NSS)
      • Half Shafts
      • Intermediate Shaft and Mount
      • Transmission Mounts for your Manual Transmission
      • Clutch Pedal
      • Clutch Linkage Specific to your Transmission
      • Flywheel and Mounting Hardware
      • Clutch Pressure Plate, Friction Disk and Thrust Bearing
      • Two 4" long Bolts With the Same Thread as the Trans Mount Bolts (M12 for mine)
      • Dry Molly Lubricant
    • Optional
      • Manual Computer (more of an option if the trans is the same year as your car, less if not)
        • Special Note on Computer:
          When trying to use a 91 electronic VSS you must have a ECM from the same year and engine. Otherwise the speedo WILL NOT WORK.
      • Manual Wiring Harness ----- (I explain how and where to splice and dice)
      • Manual Radiator ----------- (you can plug the trans coolant lines on the auto one)
      • Manual Center Console ----- (I'm fibre-glassing the auto one to perfection)
      • Manual Instrument Cluster - (many RS's came with a tachometer or get an aftermarket one)


  • 30mm socket for hub bolts (Impact wrench recommended, otherwise breaker bar)
  • Standard set of wrenches & sockets

How To Do It

Step 1

Here is my version of the 5-Speed conversion. I took a lot of pictures to hopefully assist visualisation of the project. Before Starting make sure that you have a full socket set, all the parts necessary, a flat covered place to perform the swap and a few grease monkey friends. It is preferable to have a donor vehicle or at least get all the parts off of the same vehicle because many of the parts are specific to the transmission. When you have a few people working on one project and all doing different things it is very important to have all nuts and bolts bagged and labelled so they will be relocated correctly if someone doesn't make it the second or third day. Finally check all torque specs.

I was converting a 93 Cav. Wagon RS from a 3-Speed Auto to a 5-Speed Manual. My donor trans. was a Getrag/Muncie out of a 90 Cav. RS. This caused one big problem with the speedo...

Step 2

The trans. Speedo was cable driven and my 93 Wagon had an analog dash/speedo.

To solve the problem I had to find the vehicle speed sensor (VSS) out of a 91 Cav. with a 3.1 and a Getrag/Muncie. This is very important because the newer NVG T550 uses a reluctor style VSS and the Muncie uses a gear driven VSS. Why the VSS is not interchangeable:

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Step 3

A reluctor Wheel uses magnetic force to sense the speed at which something is turning. The square toothed gear sends on/off signals to the ECM and the frequency is then changed into a speed.

The two possible Muncie VSS's, Mechanical VSS on the left and the Electronic on the right. The Mechanical spins a cable that connects right to the back of the dashboard behind the speedo needle), and spins the speedo. The Electronic VSS is gear-driven just as the Mechanical but it has a reluctor style mechanism inside that sends the same on/off signals as the VSS from the newer transmission. Both of these VSS's have a helical gear with 29 teeth. To finalise the conversion I have swapped my 93 ECM for a 91 ECM because the two VSS's send a different amount of pulses per minute. The only system adversely effected by this will be the possible loss of ABS. Since the ABS has it's own control module it is possible that it will still work.

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Step 4

After you know you have all of the components necessary it's time to take stuff apart. I didn't have a good place to do mine right away but wanted to start it and still have a drivable car. So I cut the necessary holes in the firewall for the clutch linkage. If you dismantle the underside of your dash you will see that there are knock-out looking holes where the clutch pedal should mount. These are where the holes should be so you can use them as a guide. The easiest approach is to drill out one or two of the lowest ones and then move to the engine bay side. Using the drilled hole to locate one of the following templates.

Remove the upper strut tower brace and put the mounting nuts back on the bolts. Locate the template using the one or two holes you drilled out from the inside, center punch the holes still required and drill.

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Step 5

Now, the Neutral Safety Switch (NSS). This switch only allows someone to start your car when the clutch pedal is pressed (so it isn't in gear). There is a similar switch in the auto called a Park/Neutral Safety Switch (same idea; car only starts in park or neutral not drive). The studs that the NSS mount to on the firewall should already be there, you might have to peel back or cut out some carpet. To locate the wiring off of the auto wiring harness see the pictures below.

Run the purple wire through a hole (you might have to drill) in the firewall and to the purple wire on the NSS. You can run the yellow wire with it and attach to the NSS but the yellow wire starts at the ignition and can be located inside a wire loom right above where the NSS mounts. This wire is the only yellow wire of a similar gauge but can be hard to find. Second gen pictured below.

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Step 6

The next pedal issue is that the auto brake pedal is to fricken long. You can get a brake pedal set up out of a manual car or you can do what I did. I used an angled cut-off tool to "adjust the tolerance" on the auto brake pedal. This isn't that big of a deal cause you know you're going to get a sweet chrome pedal set anyway.

Now with the NSS mounted and the brake pedal adjusted put your clutch pedal in. Just be prepared to cut a bunch of carpet, insulation and so on to make it fit. So now you have a 3 pedaled Automatic that needs the pho-clutch pedal to be pushed to start it. People that aren't hardcore would say "this is cool!!" and stop here. But not you.

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Step 7

Next you can dismantle the center console. Even though your interior will look like a parts car it's still drivable (I did it for two days). Take off the plastic border around the radio and heater controls, and pop out the center vent. There are 13 small screws involved so keep them in a labelled bag. First you must remove the shift knob via the retaining clip in the front. Just pull it out with needle nose pliers. Then consult the pics for screw locations.

The secret screw is behind the front of the glove box. You can take out the glove box or you can undo the first three screws and bend it over carefully to get at the secret screw. After doing this you can really tell which screw is not getting put back in. That concludes the stuff you can do and still have the car be drivable so find yourself a garage, preferably with radiant floor heating, and get the car jacked up, hopefully high enough to slide a transmission in and out from under it. You can use four jack stands but I only used two. If you use two, make sure that your parking brake is on and working.

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Step 8

Your car is jacked up so now you have to remove the hood. Some may not but I would. A neat technique that I thought of is to spray paint a small section of the hood mounts a different colour as the hood before hand. This way when you go to realign your hood you will know where is was in the first place. Later I found out that the hood is painted with the latches on so there are already marks there. Remove the front bumper and the grill.

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Step 9

Remove the battery, air-cleaner assembly and the starter. Mark the wires for ease of assembly. Pay special attention to the ground wires on the starter. Tape them together. Now you will be able to see your flywheel and part of the torque converter. Remove the bolts holding the torque converter to the flywheel.

Some people might drain the fluid out of the transmission now. To do that you must loosen all of the bolts holding the pan on, drop the pan and let her drip. There are advantages and disadvantages to this step. Advantages: 1. the transmission is lighter 2. there won't be as big of a mess when you drop the transmission. Disadvantages: 1. You must put the pan back on so that there is a surface to put the jack on later 2. It is time consuming and messy. Weigh your pros. and cons. I chose to leave the fluid in because there will be a mess when you drop the transmission anyway so why not have just one.

Get the front wheels off as well as the callipers. You may have to crack the bleeder in order to push the pads apart to get the calliper off. Brake job anyone?? Clean off the threads on the halfshaft retaining bolt with WD-40 and a wire brush. Stick an old screw driver into the rotor vent and remove the retaining nut. Now you can remove the rotor. In order to remove the half shafts you must either pop the ball joints out or since both of mine have been replaced all we had to do is remove the three retaining bolts. Since the second gen. cars are getting old now it might be a good idea to replace the ball joints anyway. It is quite a bit of labour but it'll be worth it. To get the old ball joints off you will have to either drill or grind the rivets out. Put a jack under the end of the control arm so that when you go to pound the rivets through the arm won't bounce around.

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Step 10

So now lightly tap the end of the shaft through the hub with a hammer and maybe a block of wood to protect the shaft. Use a pry-bar to pop the inner ends of the shafts out of the trans-axel. There are retaining rings in there and if you try to just pull them out, first of all you won't be able too and second you might destroy something. It isn't a bad idea to take the halfshafts you plan to use and take them apart, clean components and pack them with new grease.

Step 11

Now might be a good time to get some wiring straight. There is a connector near the right-side end of the transmission. This is for the VSS mark it and remove it. There is another plug on the left-side of the transmission in the front. This is the TCC hook-up. You need none of these anymore and can just unplug them and forget about them. The last plug is where you took the NSS wires off. There are four more wires there. The green and blue are for your reverse lights. Cut them and mark them for later. The other two are black and orange. These make the doors lock when you put the car in drive or reverse. I never liked that feature so I just left them alone. Please do not tie them together because you won't be able to unlock your doors. The last wiring issue are all the grounds on the transmission. Pay special attention to where they are attached and when you remove them tape all the wires together to insure none get lost in the shuffle.

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Step 12

Remove the lower strut brace. Reinsert the bolts from the right-side; you will notice that they also hold an engine mount in alignment. For ease of the transmission removal one might consider unbolting the K-Frame on the driver's side. When I said "consider" earlier I meant do it because it will make your life easy. Also disconnect the U-Bolt connecting the stabilizer bar to the K-Frame. This will allow you to spin the frame out of the way.

Disconnect the fill spout, detent cable and the shift cable. So now the only thing holding the transmission to your car is the mounts and the bellhousing bolts. Now would be a good time to support the engine via stands from underneath or a chainfall from above. I went with the underneath approach. Notice that I used a 6x6 and a jack stand. This lessens the load on the oil pan. You don't want to dent your oil pan because how will the windage tray and crank scrapers fit in later?

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Step 13

When you take the K-Frame off you will have to remove the first transmission mount.

Next remove the bolt that goes into the transmission from the block-side. It is the bolt that grounds were attached right where the Reverse light and NSS wires were found. It's a shitty place for a bolt and you'll probably need a deep 18mm and an extension. Then loosen but do not remove all the other bellhousing to block bolts. There is a bracket above where the VSS wires were, remove it.

Time to put a jack under the trasmission.

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Step 14

Make sure that everything is relatively secure and then disassemble the main left-side transmission/engine mount. The one right where the battery was. Then again make sure that the engine isn't moving. The only things holding the engine in the car are now the mounts on the right-side and the support device you have implicated. So if something gives your engine will fall out the bottom of the bay and destroy too many things.

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Step 15

Since the transmission mounting bolts have been loosened gently pry the transmission from the engine. Make sure that the torque converter has come off the flywheel. Remove all the Mounting bolts paying attention to the location of the studded bolts. These are where your ground wires are connected.

Lower the transmission slowly maybe having someone guiding it from the top and even from under the car on the right-side. When she hits the ground have yourself and age appropriate beverage. (ie. pop or beer) Rest assured that getting the manual in is easier than getting the auto out.

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Step 16

There are other things you could do at this point but you want to see results right about now. Remove the auto flywheel (aka automatic flexplate). Make Check to see if your main crank seal is leaking. Now would be an extremely convenient time to replace it. Mine was fine, so I move on. Assuming the flywheel has been used, getting it machined isn't completely necessary but you have it off so why not? Mount your new manual flywheel using the manual mounting bolts. From what I understand the flexplate mounting bolts are an unsafe alternative. If you have the capacity to check the flywheel for run out and shim as necessary. If not just turn the engine over by using a socket on the crank pulley and make sure it doesn’t look too out of wack. Using a centering tool mount your friction disk and new pressure plate. Up to this point it took my two buddies and I four hours. End of day 1.

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Step 17

The exciting stuff. Use some "Dry Moly Lubricant" on the release forks, the thrust bearing sliding surface and the splined shaft that goes into the pressure plate. This "Dry Lubricant" won't become gunked up with the friction disk dust. Get your transmission on a jack with a piece of wood under it or something to keep it level. Slowly guide it into place.

Keep the jack under the transmission. Remember that your engine is decently unstable and the oil pan probably can't hold much more weight. Insert two four inch or so long bolts in through the top two transmission mounting holes. The thread for mine are M12. These long bolts will allow you to slide the transmission in and out from the engine and help line everything up. Slide the transmission to the block. Line it up using the dowel pins in the block. Check it from all angles and make sure that it has gone on straight. If the transmission input shaft will not spline onto the friction disk you may have to turn the engine over as described above.

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Step 18

Thread in by hand all of the mounting bolts. Do not forget the one that goes from in the block to the transmission. Remember where the studded ones went. Once you have a few bolts tightened up replace the two guiding bolts with the correct ones. Torque them all up.

Reconnect the main engine/transmission mount. You should be able to remove all of the supports now. My transmission had a bump-stop located on the left-side of the diff. If yours has this attach it. Make sure that all the mounts are in the correct position and then torque the bolts up. Now swivel the left-side K-frame back into position, and bolt it up. You will now be able to reconnect the dog-bone mount. Put the lower strut brace back on.

Step 19

Pry back the carpet under the dash to reveal the auto shift cable going through the firewall. You may choose to cut a bit of carpet back to help the operation. Undo the two screws holding the cable seal in place. Undo the bolts holding the shifter assembly to the floor. You may have to persuade the cables from the assembly to get at all the bolts. Have someone thread the cables through from the engine side and pull the whole thing out from the inside of the car.

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Step 20

Re-seat the left side halfshaft by pushing it into the differential. Check to make sure that it won't not come out. Insert the jack shaft (or intermediate shaft) into the diff. Connect the bracket to the engine block. Insert the right side halfshaft into the jack shaft. Insert them into the spindles. Start threading the hub bolts by hand. Make sure that your ball joints are greased and while you're at it, the tie rods as well. To assist in the reinsertion of the ball joint (assuming that they have been changed) use a pry-bar to bend the A-arm downward. Push the lower end of the strut into the slot of the control arm. By putting a smaller bolt or a nailset into the middle hole you will be able to hold the assembly together to line up the holes and insert the bolts. If you are using the stock (riveted on) ball joints install them via the reversal of your chosen disassembly process.

Step 21

Put your brakes back on. Torque up the hub nut. Put the starter back on. Splice in the plugs for the reverse lights and the VSS as necessary and plug them in. Fill the trans with lubricant. You can use GM gear lube but I used Quakerstate Synthetic 5W30 motor oil. I assure you it will make a huge difference in lubrication, slippery enough and thin enough, great stuff. It also smells nice. Check for leaks.

Reinstall the air box, battery and strut brace. Throw on some old tires cause you know you will be laying down some patches soon.

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Step 22

My first spin happened without the hood, bumper or grill but you could put those back on. Now understand that most of the hydraulic clutches, if not all, on the cavaliers do not have a bleeder screw. You will need to pump the hell out of the clutch for a day or two, all along keeping an eye on the fluid level (DOT3 Brake Fluid). You should be able to use the forward gears fine but there might be some grinding when shifting into reverse. When and if there is no grinding your clutch is bled.

Six hours later We were here, that's exactly ten all together. So now it is time to lower the car, torque up the hub nuts, put the brakes, wheels and lugs back on, push it out of the garage (if reverse is grinding) and take it for a spin. Good times for all.

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Step 23

Here is another option for fixing the VSS issue. One may be interested in splitting the case of the transmission and changing a plastic gear and installing a reluctor wheel. Here is a how-to on splitting the case:

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