How to tell if a Clutch is Bad

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If you prefer to drive a car with manual transmission, then you will of course be most aware that your vehicle simply cannot function without a suitable clutch, so it is important to know how to tell if your clutch is bad

Even the slightest of problems or issues related to your clutch and its systems can negatively impact your driving experience vastly, lead to much more serious and costly issues down the road if ignored for too long and even put your life at risk, so it is advisable to keep an eye out for any problems. Sometimes though, the symptoms may be so subtle that you don’t notice them right away and by the time you start to feel this issue, it might already manifest itself in more obvious ways. 

This article will help you identify the signs of trouble before the clutch goes out completely. You may notice some of these symptoms before others, so be sure to look through them all before you come to a conclusion that your car needs a replacement part.

Also read: How To Tell if Clutch Master Cylinder Is Bad

8 Signs How to Tell If a Clutch Is Bad

The following are signs that you may have a problem with your clutch.

1. Weak Acceleration

When the clutch is defective the car will have trouble accelerating. This may be due to debris in the system clogging up pistons, or it could simply be because there’s not enough fluid pressure to do what needs to be done.

2. Grinding Gear

If you notice your car making a sort of grinding noise every time you shift gears, then there’s a good chance that something might be wrong with the clutch. This could indicate that the surface of your flywheel is warped and not providing as much pressure as it should when engaged, or it could simply mean that there is debris in fluid that is causing the issue.

3. Loose Clutch Pedal

If you notice that your clutch pedal feels loose and moves around more than usual, then this could well be a symptom of something wrong with the rubber bushings in the master cylinder which provides resistance to the pedal.

4. Sticky Clutch Pedal 

A sticky clutch pedal is often indicative of a build-up of debris in the system, which can affect fluid pressure and hence performance. The issue could also be caused by heat from too many hours spent idling with the clutch engaged. This problem gets worse over time and might need to be addressed sooner rather than later.

5. Other Noises

If you notice any other strange noises emanating from the transmission area, then it could mean that something is wrong with the clutch. If the freehub assembly begins to fail, for example, then you may hear a clicking or whirring sound when accelerating or braking that becomes louder over time. If your vehicle also vibrates more than usual when running, then this could also be a warning sign.

Also Read: Why Does My Car Make Noise When Turning

6. Won’t Shift into Gear    

This is one of the more obvious signs that something might be wrong with your car’s clutch, but it can also be incredibly dangerous if ignored. If you notice that your car gears grind and you have to force them into place, or that it simply won’t engage at all no matter what you do.

7. Won’t Stay in Gear

If you notice that it jumps out of gear at random, or that there’s a malfunction once in a while when shifting gears, then you could have an issue with the clutch. This could be due to wear and tear, dryness or heat. It could also indicate that there’s something wrong with the release bearing.

8. Burning Smell 

When the clutch is faulty it causes excess heat which can be detected through a burning smell. The hotter the clutch gets, the more likely it will release all of its pressure, so if you notice this issue getting worse over time you might want to do something about it before the problem becomes more severe.

Approximately how long must the clutch last?

Source: Haynes Manuals

This question has a lot of variables involved, as different vehicles and driving habits will destroy clutches at totally different rates. A rule of thumb is that if you don’t drive around too much or too little, the clutch should last somewhere between 40,000 and 100,000 miles before needing to be changed.

Heat is also a major factor, especially in areas with intense heat and humidity which affect the materials used in the manufacturing process. This is because many components begin to break down at high temperatures, causing them to become brittle and fail faster than they would otherwise.

Things You Can Do to Extend Clutch Life

The following are some simple guidelines to follow which can help you extend the life of your clutch.

Don’t Ride the Clutch

What this means is that you should always try to use the clutch as little as possible, and only when absolutely necessary such as during stop-start traffic or while going down steep hills. If you have your foot halfway down on the pedal while driving, you are putting unnecessary strain on the system and accelerating its demise. Even the slightest pressure on the pedal means that the clutch is engaging, and it can cause overheating if engaged for too long. You should only be using the clutch when shifting gears, and when absolutely necessary.

Change Gears Quickly and Decisively

If you don’t engage or disengage the clutch properly, then you will be wearing it out faster. This is why it’s a good idea to change gears as quickly and decisively with your foot pressed down fully and until the gear has been completely shifted. Of course, this isn’t always easy to do, so it’s a good idea to force yourself to practice. This will become a conditioned reflex after a while and you will naturally start shifting gears more quickly

Use The Two Other Pedals

Remember that the brakes and throttle are the other two pedals on your car, so be sure to use them instead of the clutch whenever possible. Attempting to use the clutch as the primary method of slowing down or stopping will shorten its lifespan significantly.

Park Correctly

If you are worried about the clutch wearing out, then you should be extra careful when parking your car. Take it easy with the pedal and make sure that you engage the handbrake instead of leaving it in gear. When you do this, it puts unnecessary pressure on the entire transmission system and is likely to cause faster wear.

Upgrade Everything When Upgrading

If you are looking to replace your old, worn-out clutch with a new one, then it is always best to do this in conjunction with other major upgrades. For example, you could choose to upgrade your gearbox at the same time, or perhaps the rear differential and vice versa which will more likely be the case. This will ensure that all of the components are compatible and well matched to each other, so it’s less likely that you will run into any problems along the way.

Also Read: How To Tell if Brake Drums are Bad

Frequently Asked Questions:

Can you test a clutch?

The answer is yes and relatively simple by doing a simple drive test. You can start by noticing how much the clutch is slipping, if the pedal is hard to push down, it may indicate a bad disk. If you do manage to push it down but it doesn’t seem like the vehicle is engaging until halfway through the pedal travel, this could be an indication of hydraulics fluid leak. Some other common symptoms are kangarooing, dragging brakes, sluggish acceleration and low fluid level.

What happens if you keep driving with a bad clutch?

The results of this can be quite catastrophic depending on what is going wrong with your clutch, but the fact that it will continue to wear out faster and fail prematurely which may lead to extremely costly repairs with your transmission system. This can be especially damaging if it fails completely while you are travelling at high speeds, as the results could be fatal.

Can a clutch fail suddenly?

Yes, this is quite possible and is often the case with older vehicles which could indicate a problem with the hydraulics. You should also be aware that if you push your car and neglect basic repairs, this may also lead to sudden failure of the components and irreversible damage which will cost significantly more to replace.

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While a clutch is a durable part of the drivetrain, it does have a limited lifespan and should be replaced after approximately 100,000 miles. If you are having problems with your vehicle’s gearbox or transmission system, then there may be other components to blame as well. In any case, you should always consult a professional mechanic to diagnose any problems before attempting to do repairs on your own as you could end up making the situation even worse if you don’t know what you’re doing.

After all of this information has been presented, I hope that I’ve given my readers a little bit more insight into how they can keep their car in good condition and prolong its life expectancy.

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