May 29

What Goes Wrong With Clutches

Auto Repair, Car Maintenance, Mechanic


“Are you sure that the clutch in my problem? Last time I had one wear out there was an awful smell in my car.” These comments, from the owner of a 1997 VW GTI with a broken clutch, got me thinking about what goes wrong with clutches and how they can fail in many different ways.

Your clutch is the connection between your engine and your manual transmission. Main components of your clutch are the clutch disc, pressure plate and flywheel with the disc sandwiched between the pressure plate and flywheel.

The most common wear out component of the clutch is the clutch disc which is primarily composed of a friction material similar to your brake pads. Over time the material wears down, the clutch slips and this is often accompanied by a horrible smell in your car. Also, when you rev up the engine, put the transmission into gear and let out the clutch, your car may barely move, if at all.

What Goes Wrong With Clutches
The clutch disc (left) and pressure plate (right)

Clutches can have other problems: pressure plates crack and clutch discs break apart, jamming the clutch. These concerns often happen suddenly resulting in the clutch not releasing the engine from the transmission.

Other areas of concern are oil leaks onto the clutch disc which can cause slippage, and a broken clutch cable or hydraulic cylinder leak. Broken cables are usually the least expensive clutch repair as all parts are located externally, however only a few cars use cables. Hydraulic cylinders likewise are also external in most cases and are frequently less expensive than a clutch job (…but not always).

As for clutch maintenance and care, it mostly boils down to this: good driving habits which lead to long clutch life.

1. When you are not shifting gears, keep your foot off the clutch pedal.
2. Do not hold your vehicle on a hill with the clutch,
3. Make all gearshifts and clutch engagements quickly and smoothly.

The only maintenance service your clutch requires is to flush the clutch fluid every two to three years (if your vehicle is so equipped).

About the author 

Bernie Pawlik

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