Clutch maintenance and repair can go hand in hand with transmission maintenance and repair, but it would be unfair to suggest that one demands the other. As much as a vehicle’s clutch works so closely with the larger transmission, it is its own entity with its own maintenance requirements. Without your clutch functioning optimally, your vehicle will not be able to change gears properly and may potentially not even be able to drive at all.

How a Clutch Works on a Manual Transmission Vehicle

A clutch is only a component on vehicles with a manual transmission. Vehicles with an automatic transmission have a torque converter that automatically does the work of a clutch using sensors that detect the speed of the vehicle. The clutch on a vehicle with a manual transmission operates in the same way a multi-geared pedal bike works when trying to change gears. On a pedal bike, the chain is temporarily removed from one gear and moves to another on the cassette.

On a vehicle with a manual transmission, the clutch pedal is pushed in to temporarily disconnect the engine from the wheels. The gear shifter is then used to change to a new appropriate gear. The clutch is then released in order for the engine and wheels to sync up again.

The clutch is made up of several of its own components that vary slightly depending on the make and model of the vehicle. The components of the clutch include the following.

  • Release mechanism
  • Clutch disc
  • Cable
  • Pressure plate
  • Linkage
  • Flywheel
  • Release bearing
  • Pilot bearing
  • Clutch fork

A clutch can last anywhere from 80,000 to 160,000 kilometers depending on how it is used. Clutches can wear out sooner if a driver “rides the clutch” which means holding the pedal down for an extended period while attempting to change gears or while slowing down.

Signs of a Damaged Clutch

Here are some common signs that your clutch may be needing some service or repair.

  • squeaking or unusual rumbling noise when pressure is applied to the clutch
  • difficulty changing from one gear to another
  • the clutch pedal sticks or vibrates
  • the clutch pedal feels spongy or loose
  • momentary loss of acceleration due to a sense of the clutch “slipping”

The lifespan of a clutch can be maximized by avoiding harsh starts from a standstill. Age of a vehicle and how often you maintain your vehicle are additional factors.

Clutch Repair

Clutch repair is not a small job and it’s best left to professional certified mechanics. Clutch repairs often involve removing and replacing the three primary components within a clutch system: the clutch plate, the pressure plate and the flywheel.

JW Auto Centers have licensed mechanics available to help you diagnose and repair any issue you might have with your clutch. Anytime you detect something that doesn’t seem normal, don’t hesitate to give us a call so we can help you out.

Symptoms of a failing clutch

  • Hard to select gears
  • Engine RPM increasing with no increase in vehicle speed
  • Unable to depress clutch pedal
  • Burning smell from vehicle
  • Shudder when changing gears
  • Clutch pedal not returning

Common clutch issues

1. Clutch master cylinder/slave cylinder failure

The clutch master cylinder and slave cylinder are the components that transfer the movement of the clutch pedal down to the gearbox and the clutch itself. As the clutch pedal is depressed, the clutch fluid moves from the master cylinder down to the slave cylinder, which operates the clutch. If either of these components start to leak, the clutch pedal may seem spongy, stay on the floor, not being able to shift gears correctly or clutch fluid leaking under the vehicle or into the cabin.

2. Clutch fluid leak

Clutch fluid is the same as brake fluid, and some vehicles actually share the brake and clutch fluid in the same system. A leak in this system will cause issues with changing gears and the clutch pedal may feel spongy or stay on the floor after being depressed.

3. Slipping clutch

Clutches are designed to slip a little when changing gears or taking off. When engaging the clutch, a little slip allows for smoother shifting and easier takeoffs, but should not slip at all when the vehicle is in gear.

You may first notice the clutch slipping when the vehicle is under load, such as going up hills, or accelerating to merge onto a highway. A slipping clutch will overheat, which can cause damage to the flywheel and the pressure plate. Clutch slippage is the first symptom of a worn clutch plate and should be inspected as soon as possible, to eliminate further damage.

4. Clutch shudder or vibration

This can be caused by oil leaking onto the clutch disc surface or a warped clutch disc or flywheel. The vehicle may still be drivable, but it is advised that as soon as you start to notice the shudder or vibrations, to take it to a mechanic for inspection.

Clutch inspection

Our mechanics will test the operation on the clutch, inspect all fluid lines, master and slave cylinder and test drive the vehicle to identify any issues with the clutch system. A quote will be provided for any repairs, if required.

Clutch replacement

Our mechanics will remove the transmission of the vehicle, replace the clutch and pressure plate, the flywheel and slave cylinder (If required). The clutch fluid will be changed, a bedding in procedure will be carried out, and a test drive completed to ensure correct operation of the system.

Why it's important to have you clutch inspected or replaced

Having your clutch system inspected and repaired is vitally important for the safety of you, your family and other motorists around you. Ignoring the warning signs can also lead to expensive repair bills, as further damage may be caused by continuing to operate your vehicle with an issue.