Warning Signs That Your Clutch Needs Attention


The clutch in a manual transmission vehicle is one of the most essential components of such a vehicle. It is what engages and disengages the motive force produced by the engine from the transmission, drive train, and finally the wheels. Therefore if you see any signs that you clutch may be wearing out you should get it checked out immediately. Not only can clutch related breakdowns be time consuming and costly, they can be dangerous as well. Let’s take a look at a few warning signs that your clutch may not be functioning up to par.

Clutch Slippage

The classic and most common clutch problem warning slide is a clutch that slips. What this means is that when you accelerate, you will feel that the extra gas is not making the vehicle go any faster. At slower speeds that engine motion is being transferred to the wheels via the clutch and transmission, so you feel the acceleration. But when the engine spins faster, the clutch disk simply slips on the flywheel and none of the motion gets transferred. That is why you feel no extra acceleration. It will seem as though the car suddenly goes out of gear and then comes back in. In fact that is not the case – the gears are still engaged but the engine motion is not creating a corresponding motion in the transmission and drive train (input shaft, transmission, driveshaft, wheels, etc.) because it is slipping.
This slipping itself is usually caused by simple wear. The clutch disk is basically a friction plate – it is coated with a frictive material similar to that which is on disc brake pads. This material when brought into contact with the flywheel cause the clutch disk to link with the flywheel’s motion and transfer it to the input shaft and transmission. Just as brakes begin to slip when their friction material is gradually worn away, clutch disks wear down and cease to bind to the flywheel. Any such worn out clutch disk can be replaced in a simple repair procedure.

Burning Clutch Smell and Smoke

Again similar to brakes and rotors, clutches can suffer from being in incomplete contact with the flywheel too much. This can either happen because a driver is “riding the clutch” – driving along with their foot partially on the clutch a lot of the time. It can also simply happen because the pressure plate is maladjusted or damaged and pushes the clutch disk into partial contact with the flywheel inadvertently.
Riding the clutch disengages the clutch disk from the flywheel slightly, making the latter spin against the former for brief moments. This slowly grinds down the clutch disk causing premature wear. It is important that drivers resist the temptation to ride the clutch. It is simply a habit, and one that can easily be broken by paying a little attention to it. A pressure plate malfunction is not the driver’s fault however and should simply be checked out soon by a mechanic.
In both these cases, a driver will smell “burning clutch” and may see a little bit of smoke coming out from underneath the vehicle. Unless this stops completely when you stop riding the clutch, it signifies a pressure plate/clutch disk problem. Again, in such a case, get it checked out by a professional.

Clutch Has Problems Disengaging

Another problem that can occur is that the hydraulic action that disengages the clutch disk from the flywheel can have issues. This will create a situation in which it is either difficult or impossible to disengage the clutch. This often signifies a leak in the clutch fluid lines or in older model vehicles some problem with the mechanical action that engages and disengages the clutch disk.
Warning signs of this scenario will be any slight difficulty disengaging the clutch. If the clutch action feels strange, sluggish, or overly difficult, the time to get it checked out is sooner rather than later. A clutch that suddenly fails and cannot be disengaged can be a dangerous situation – you will suddenly find yourself in a vehicle that cannot be taken out of gear except by yanking force. You can still put on the brakes (unless they have failed too, in which case you’re really out of luck) but they will be fighting the motion of the engine. As you can imagine, this type of occurrence is one that you are better off avoiding.

Make sure the clutch on your manual transmission vehicle stays in good condition by paying attention to any warning signs and observing good routine clutch maintenance habits.

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