Cary's Garage: Smart Car Struggles

Cary Hubbard
by Cary Hubbard

Hey Cary,

I have a 2009 Smart car that seems to be having some issues and I was wondering if you might have some advice on what I should do. I went to drive it recently and the transmission seems to not shift or do anything at all. I put it in drive and the engine just revs, if I restart it a couple of times sometimes it will go into gear and move. What should I do?

Thanks, Phil.

Hey Phil,

This is a frustrating issue with that car. I’m not sure if you know but the transmission on that car is actually a 5-speed manual transmission with a conventional single clutch but it works entirely off of the computer. I would guess your problem is the clutch actuator motor. I would assume that you also have a check engine light that has come on with this issue. If you can scan it, that would be the best way to pinpoint the problem, as I’d guess it is the clutch position sensor. That sensor is built into the actuator itself and it pushes on the clutch release fork. If it can not tell where it is, it won’t do anything at all. This is kind of a normal issue that happens over time with miles and just general wear. The clutch actuator motor is bolted onto the transmission under the car and is very easy to get at, unfortunately, the part is a little bit pricey, but I would not skip out and buy the cheap ones as I’ve heard they just don’t last.

If you feel like doing the job yourself, there are a couple of tech guides out there that explain the process. Technically, you are supposed to hook the car up to a computer and recalibrate the actuator. The couple that I have done so far haven’t really needed this. I found that by replacing the actuator and getting it set just right it will re-index itself. I haven’t had any issues.

The unfortunate thing with Smart cars is there is no longer a dedicated dealer network since Smart pulled out of the market in 2019. Mercedes dealers are the ones that took over and some of them won’t touch Smarts. Finding a good independent shop that will work on it would be best. All in all, I would point to that part as the culprit as it is pretty common, but without plugging it in and scanning it’s hard to be 100 percent sure.

Best of luck, they are great little cars and I sure love mine.

Please send any questions to Thanks!

[Image: Daimler/Smart]

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Cary Hubbard
Cary Hubbard

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3 of 21 comments
  • Smarty Driver Smarty Driver on Feb 25, 2023

    Check your Operator's Manual pg.134, on the right side of the page.

    We had the same issue a few weeks ago, while my wife was running around town. We followed the instructions in the manual and now the Smart shifts smoother than it ever.

    • ToolGuy ToolGuy on Feb 25, 2023

      @Smarty Driver, Thank you for the excellent post. Is this what you mean? (page 87 in the online 2009 owner's manual; the display message is shown on pg. 153).

      "Teaching-in the transmission system: X Stop the vehicle in a safe location. X Move the gear selector lever to park position P. X Turn off the engine. X Wait at least 30 seconds before restarting. X Press the brake pedal. X Restart the engine Three bars instead of P appear in the multifunction display. X Wait at least 30 seconds. The transmission is taught in. When teaching-in was successful: P appears in the multifunction display again and normal transmission operating is restored. X Continue to drive."

      @Phil, I highly recommend reading through the entire "Transmission" section of the owner's manual before performing the teach-in procedure. To give the computer every possible chance (if it doesn't work the first time), I would check the battery voltage (at the cables not the posts) and charge the battery if appropriate (if you can find it lol -- I'm kidding -- page 186). ToolGuy also notes that the transmission in this vehicle gets its own 40-amp fuse (pg. 197), which is interesting. If the teach-in doesn't take, I would think you are back to Cary's solution. Are you getting a code stored?

      @Everyone, I know nothing about any of this, because my cars are Dumb.

  • Smarty Driver Smarty Driver on Feb 25, 2023

    Yes, teaching-in resolved our problem. We followed the steps, even though we didn't have any indications on the dash we heard the actuator making noise. After it finished we took it for a drive and the transmission was going into gear and shifting smoother.

    I suggested reading the manual because it seems like a joke if someone is explaining how to perform the process of teaching-in.

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