If you’re anything like me, you prefer driving a manual transmission. Sure, automatics are easier, especially when you’re trying to toss snacks into the backseat to keep the munchkins happy. But if you’re hitting the open road in a performance machine, chances are you’re going to want a more engaging experience. It’s much easier to control each aspect of your car’s performance when the power is in your hands.
Besides, the market today is dominated by automatic transmissions, and very few people know how to drive anything else, which sets you apart. Who wouldn’t want to be different?
Unfortunately, one of the most common problems with a manual transmission is with the clutch. They go out more frequently than a lot of other parts, simply because they’re used so much. If you’re going to get a manual transmission, you need to know what to expect if the clutch goes bad.
A lot of things have clutches. In fact, your automatic transmission car has a clutch, too, as does a cordless drill and a chainsaw. Clutches are useful for items that have two rotating shafts. They serve as a link between the two rotating shafts.
Your car is driven with an engine, and the drive shaft rotates your tires. The two must be linked in order for you to drive. In a manual transmission car, that link is the clutch. The two items can be linked together and spin in together, or they can be decoupled to spin at different speeds.
Your engine is constantly spinning, but your wheels aren’t. When you stop at a stop sign, you have to decouple your engine from the wheels, so the wheels stop spinning without shutting off the car. When you engage the clutch, it allows your engine to keep spinning while your transmission slows, controlling the slippage.
The same goes for switching gears. Engaging the clutch decouples the engine from the transmission so you can change gears. Once the clutch is disengaged, the power from the engine can once again be transferred to the wheels through the transmission, and the proper gear transfers this power more effectively based on speed and plenty of other factors.
Symptoms of a Faulty Clutch
When your clutch starts going bad, you may notice some of these symptoms, letting you know it’s about time for a replacement. Pay attention to these things and make sure you get it replaced before the clutch completely fails, or you may have even more problems.
Slippage can happen when there’s too much wear on your friction linings, overheating of the clutch, mechanical damage to the pressure plate, adjusting the clutch in a way that reduces the clamping force of the pressure plate, or oil contamination on the driven plate.
You may start to notice your engine RPMs rising as you try to accelerate, but your vehicle won’t accelerate as you expect. It happens a lot if you accelerate hard in high gears.
You’ll notice severe shuddering or jerking when you engage the clutch. It can happen when the springs in the driven plate’s hub are damaged or broken. You may also notice it if the springs in the dual-mass flywheel are damaged or broken, or the friction linings in the driven plate are damaged.
Just be sure you have your car checked when this vibration starts happening, because broken engine mounts and transmission mounts will cause similar vibrations, and replacing the clutch won’t fix the problem.
The pedal is hard to depress
If there are broken components in the pressure plate, it can prevent free and easy movement, making your clutch pedal hard to depress. If you find that there’s more resistance in the pedal than there used to be, you may have a problem.
When your clutch starts to wear out, it becomes more difficult to shift. This can happen if there’s damage to the pressure plate or poor adjustment in the clutch release mechanism. When this happens, the clutch can no longer provide an effective link between the engine and the transmission.
When you engage the clutch, it doesn’t fully decouple these two rotating parts, making it really hard or impossible to change gears. You may also hear a lot of grinding in your gears, even though your clutch is fully depressed.
Grinding or whining noises
When you engage the clutch, you may hear a grinding or a whining noise. This is caused by wear or damage to the release bearing. You may notice it more when your vehicle is stopped. It may not be loud enough to hear when the vehicle is in motion.
Replacing the Clutch
Replacing a clutch is long, complicated, and involved, so it’s best that you know what you’re doing or enlist the help of someone who does. You’ll need the proper tools and the right safety equipment.
Because you’ll have access to the inner workings of the clutch while you’re replacing it, you may want to invest in replacing some of the cheaper components while you’re in there. It could save a lot of time and energy later because the entire mechanism will work better with a brand new clutch slave cylinder and a release bearing.
These steps will give you a general idea of the work involved in replacing a clutch. Every clutch is different, so this won’t necessarily apply to yours. You need to make sure you know your vehicle’s specific repair procedure and understand the risks.
Your manufacturer’s service manual or a third party repair manual may be a good investment if you plan to do it yourself, which isn’t recommended if you don’t know what you’re doing.
Lift the vehicle
Use a floor jack to lift your vehicle off the ground. Place jack stands under the specified lifting points in the owner’s manual to prop the vehicle up safely. You’ll have to spend a lot of time under the vehicle for this job, so you need to make sure you’re safe and comfortable. It can also be messy, so cover the driveway or the garage floor before you get started.
Remove the driveshafts
On rear-wheel-drive vehicles, you need to remove the driveshaft and drain the transmission oil. On front-wheel drive vehicles, you’ll also have to remove some of your suspension components in addition to the driveshaft.
It’s best to drain the transmission oil before removing the driveshaft to avoid making a bigger mess than necessary.
Support the engine and transmission
If you have a rear-wheel drive vehicle, you need to support the engine and the transmission so you can remove the transmission cross member. Because the torque specification on this component is high, you’ll need a breaker bar. The penetrant may also be helpful in loosening the bolts.
Remove the electrical connectors on the transmission. This may require removing some of the exhaust systems to get the access you need to remove the transmission. If the spacing is tight, use a set of ratcheting wrenches.
Remove all of the bolts that hold the engine and the transmission together. When the transmission is free, you can move it out of the way with a transmission jack. For front-wheel drive vehicles, the process is similar, but you may have to remove the engine assembly, too. This requires an engine hoist, which is something a mechanic may have to do for you.
Remove the clutch
Once you have separated the engine and the transmission, you can remove the clutch from the flywheel. If there are signs of discoloration, cracking, or scoring on the surface, You’ll need to replace the flywheel, too.
Don’t ever fit a new clutch in a damaged flywheel. The damaged flywheel could cause the new clutch to fail too quickly, or it might not work at all.
You’ll need a clutch alignment tool to make sure the driven plate is centered on the flywheel. If it’s not, you could damage the plate’s hub during assembly. Install the new release bearing to the transmission, retaining all clips and locating them correctly to prevent damage to the pressure plate and the bearing.
Now you’re ready to reassemble your vehicle in the opposite order of removal. Make sure your fasteners are torqued to their specified values with a torque wrench. If they’re not tightened correctly, they could fail during vehicle operation.
Make sure you refill your transmission oil and test the clutch.
Best Clutch Brands
If you think you may have a problem with your clutch and are considering a replacement, these brands are some of the best.
When you’re looking for a replacement clutch, one of the most comforting things to know about the product you’re buying is that the manufacturer knows what they’re doing. Luk holds a lot of patents on its products, which shows that they’re dedicated to research, furthering the industry, and keeping up to date on the best way to build these parts.
They currently supply aftermarket clutches to GM, Toyota, Ford, and Chrysler. These are high-quality clutches that you can feel confident about.
If you have a performance vehicle, this may be the best brand for you because they focus more on high performance and competition products. Each clutch is individually balanced and tested before it ships.
They have high-quality standards and dedicate a lot of time to making sure their product is the best it can be. They also offer a one-year warranty, so if you run into any trouble, you can get a replacement part.
Sachs is one of the most durable and long-lasting products you can buy. They also make suspension components like shocks and struts. They’re widely used and therefore widely available.
If you choose to replace your clutch with a Sacks product, you won’t be disappointed, and it won’t be hard to find, either.
Exedy’s strength is manufacturing aftermarket products as close to the original specifications. If you’re looking for a replacement, but don’t want to go through your manufacturer to get it, you can get a nearly identical one from Exedy. They dominate the Japanese market but are also available worldwide.
Valeo uses a proprietary technology called self-adjusting technology. SAT helps reduce wear and tear on your clutch by compensation for other surfaces that may be worn. That means your clutch will last longer, even if there’s damage to the pressure plate.
It makes the clutch much easier to use and they typically target truck drivers who are harder on their clutches than everyday drivers.
Things to Watch For
When you are shopping for an aftermarket clutch, there are some things you need to know. There are features, materials, wear properties, temperature ranges, durability, clamping force, and a whole lot more.
Knowing what these things mean will help you make a better decision and buy the clutch that’s going to work best with your transmission.
Manufacturers group clutch performance in stages. The problem is that every manufacturer is different, so a stage one clutch made by Sachs is going to be different than a stage one clutch made by ACT. However, having a rough idea of how the stages are defined will help. Pay attention to properties and specifications, too, and it will give you a good idea of how it’s made and how it will work.
Stage one clutches are as close to the OEM clutch as you can get. They have higher clamp force and increase torque by 100 ft-lbs. They come with a friction surface made with organic compounds and a complete clutch disc.
Stage two clutches retain more power and are better for performance vehicles. Stage three clutches are designed for race cars and trucks that carry heavy loads. It’s also good for vehicles that navigate rugged terrain.
There are different clutches and different ways of assembling them. You should know how to assemble it and get one you’re familiar with or it will be hard to install. Some are easier to install than others, so the right clutch for you will be one you know and understand well.
Weight is an important consideration because any extra weight in your vehicle will impact how it performs. You want a solid clutch that offers the durability you need without adding any weight that your car isn’t designed to carry.
Just as weight is important, choosing the right size clutch means it fits in the space properly and will be easier to install. You can’t get a clutch that’s too big for the space, so pay attention to the material, the design, and the shape.
When looking at clutches, you’ll see two types. A long style clutch is featured in older cars while a diaphragm clutch is seen in newer models. The long style clutch takes more work because it has more resistance.
It doesn’t really matter which you choose, as long as it fits. You need to get the type of clutch you want or feel more comfortable with.
FAQs About Clutches
In general, your clutch should last about 60,000 miles. If you put a lot of wear and tear on it or you drive hard, it may not last that long. However, it could also last longer. It depends on a combination of a lot of different factors.
If you’ve made it to 60,000 miles on your clutch, you may want to watch out for the symptoms of a faulty clutch, because it could happen at any time.
It could, but not in the way you might think. A new clutch isn’t going to increase your engine’s performance. However, investing in a performance clutch can make shifting much smoother and easier.
With faster shifting, you can engage faster in higher gears. The amount of slack in your clutch also has a lot to do with how easy it is to engage.
It’s highly unlikely that you could wear your clutch out in one day. You would have to intentionally try to break the car for that to happen. Clutches are built for durability and longevity.
It can cost as much as $1500 to replace a clutch. The parts are typically between $700 and $800, so it all depends on if you are paying for labor or doing it yourself. There may also be more affordable labor near you, depending on where you live.
Stage 1 clutches typically have stock clutch disks. However, it may have more clamping force or hold up under more torque than a stock clutch would. It all depends on the manufacturer, the material, and how it’s made.
While it won’t happen in one day, you can burn the clutch over time. Holding the clutch in too long causes burning, so if you have a bad habit of holding the clutch in at stoplights, you will wear it out faster than if you put your car in neutral and release it.
Driving with a bad clutch should only be done as a last resort. It can cause damage to other components like the shifter, the starter motor, or the gearbox. It’s important to watch for warning signs and get the clutch replaced when it starts going bad. Don’t wait until it goes out completely.
If you’re in the market for a new clutch, evaluate what’s important to you and your car. If it’s your daily driver, consider something like a Luk, Valeo, or Sachs clutch for durability and reliability over time.
If you are driving a performance vehicle or a truck you often drive on rough terrain, consider an ACT. The Exedy is the right choice if you want something that’s produced as close to the stock clutch as possible.
No matter what you choose, you’ll be happy with any of these brands because they’re very high quality and have been trusted by automotive manufacturers for years.
Here are some great options to consider if you are an owner of: