What's up with my sister's car?

My sister’s car, a Fiat Punto with a manual gearbox, has been having some gear change problems.

Basically, 1st and 2nd are very hard to engage, reverse goes in with a crunch. Now, when the clutch pedal is depressed, there’s a tinkling sound (actually sounds like a tiny train running over tracks) from under the bonnet. Gears 3rd through to 5th engage ok, but I’ve also noticed that if you switch off the engine, 1st and 2nd can be engaged, turn on the engine and away you go.

Does this sound fatal? Or something that might be too expensive to repair on a £1300 car?

The clutch is not fully disengaging. The fact that you can shift into 1st and (I assume) reverse with the engine off suggests that there is not a problem with the gearbox itself relative to those gears. Usually there is not a problem getting into 2nd - that could be a matter of driving style, or an indication that the 2nd gear synchro (balking) rings are worn.

The problem could be in the clutch operating system (hydraulic cylinders or cable) or the clutch mechanism itself. The noise you mention suggests the latter.

Sounds like a throw-out bearing to me. Also known as clutch-release bearing.

Thanks all. The car had a slightly stiff feel to the gear changes when we bought it (luckily from a big garage, they may bow to Dad’s demands for repairs) but they said it was repaired for my sister picking it up. It might be useful to know if they’re really going to do a proper repair or not.