How to Tell If Your Clutch Is Going Bad

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A clutch is responsible for maintaining a mechanical connection between the engine and manual transmission. When you release the clutch pedal, a pressure plate squeezes the clutch plate between itself and the engine’s flywheel. The friction material bonded to both sides of the clutch grips onto the flywheel and the pressure plate, providing a 100-percent efficient transfer of power and torque. When the friction material wears thin and loses its ability to grip both surfaces, efficiency drops and slippage occurs -- reducing the amount of power being fed into the transmission.

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Slippage in a Nutshell

When the clutch slips, you see the same primary symptom that an automatic transmission does when it slips. Your car’s engine speed will increase as you try to accelerate, but because the clutch is slipping; your rate of acceleration will be poor. This can happen during acceleration from a stop, or if you attempt to accelerate from a cruising speed. You’ll also experience a burnt smell if the clutch slips too much or constantly, as slippage generates heat.

Other Common Symptom of Clutch Problems

Have you felt your car shudder as you released the clutch pedal? When the clutch begins to wear out, it may only slip a little bit, or only under heavy load. When the clutch slips just a little bit as you release the clutch, it creates a shudder or a light jerking. A chirping or tapping noise that goes away when you press the clutch means that you have a bad clutch-release bearing.

Tip

    • If your car is equipped with a clutch cable, an adjustment to that cable may remedy grinding while shifting or minor slippage when you accelerate. 
    • A leaking clutch slave cylinder, clutch master cylinder or hydraulic clutch line will also create symptoms similar to a worn clutch or damage within the clutch system. 

Further Thinking

Anytime the clutch starts slipping, it is time to replace it. If you are experiencing other symptoms related to the clutch-release bearing or clutch fork, replace the clutch and pressure plate too unless you have recently replaced them. To repair any part of the clutch system, you have to separate the engine and transmission, which requires a hefty amount of labor. Clutches are normally replaced as a kit that includes a new release bearing, pressure plate and clutch disc. Some models also require replacement of the clutch fork. Aftermarket, OEM quality kits tend to cost between $400 and $600, at the time of publication, for most cars. If you own a luxury, exotic or specialty vehicle, expect the price to be significantly higher. Labor hours required to replace a clutch kit varies by make and model, but you can safely assume you’ll pony up for anywhere between eight and 12 hours of labor time. Expect to pay for either a new flywheel or for resurfacing of your current flywheel. Replacing the clutch sooner will lessen your likelihood of needing to replace the flywheel. Check out a general diagram from Samarins.com of a basic clutch system.

Warning

    • If you continue to drive your vehicle with the clutch slipping or other symptoms described here, it can damage the flywheel -- the geared plate that bolts to your engine's crankshaft and provides the means for power transfer from the engine to the transmission.
    • Continuing to drive your vehicle with a slipping clutch may generate enough heat to damage your engine's front main bearing and may lead to transmission damage. 

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