What Happens When A Clutch Goes Out?

A wearing out clutch disc in the mechanic workshop.

Many drivers are used to driving manual transmission vehicles. And to these drivers, the manual transmission provides a different thrill which the automatic transmission cannot give. At the onset of learning the manual transition, you need to learn how to balance the clutch and the gas pedal. On this ability to balance these two depends your ability to drive a manual-transmission car smoothly.

The clutch, of course, is critical to manual transmission driving. The clutch is designed to last longer yet it can also wear out after years of use. If you have not yet experienced driving a manual transmission car, you would never have a clear idea of where the clutch is. To give you a clear idea of where the clutch is, let me give you an overview of the clutch, and then, I will discuss to you the signs and symptoms of a worn-out clutch.


Signs & Symptoms When a Clutch Goes Out

The clutch is a pedal situated to the left of the brake pedal. In the old-school manual transmission, the driver needs to engage the clutch to be able to shift gears. The clutch can work well even if you have already registered up to 150,000 on your mileage. Yet, its average lifespan is somewhere between 20,000 miles to 150,000 miles. The clutch, of course, will provide you enough signs that it is on its way out. And you should be aware of these symptoms.

1) If You Are Experiencing Trouble When Shifting Gears

One of the sure signs that your clutch is about to go out is if you are experiencing difficulty in shifting gears. A new car with a manual transmission will never exhibit difficulty in shifting. Yet, if your clutch is about to go out, you will notice that it does not smoothly engage. When you are shifting to first gear or reverse, you would usually experience this problem.

2) If The Clutch Is Spongy & Soft

The primary sign that your clutch is going out is that of the spongy and soft clutch when you are pressing down the clutch. Thus, you should be wary of how your clutch feels when you are driving. If you are always driving your car, you will get a feel of how the clutch feels. Yet, if it feels spongy and soft, then it is probable that your clutch is going out.

3) You Hear Chatters When You Accelerate

This symptom entails vibrating pedal, or your car is jerking when you accelerate it. The clutch disc is usually the culprit when it loses grip intermittently on the flywheel. 

4) If the Transmission Produces Noises When in Neutral

You may notice that your vehicle makes noise when in neutral. But when you step and depress the clutch, the noise disappears! In such a case, it may be a worn-out shaft bearing.

5) When the Transmission Slips

This problem happens when the engine is under stress! The transmission may seem to slip, for no reason, out of gear. This is indicative of a failing clutch. You need to have your car’s clutch checked.

6) You Sniff a Burning Smell

Another indicator that your clutch is going out is the burning smell whenever you drive around. Your clutch may be slipping, and it creates friction. In such a case, you need to figure out the location of the problem. When you depress the clutch, for example, even if the engine is off, you would hear a noise. The noise may be originating from the release mechanism of the clutch. Of course, this mechanism can be mechanical or hydraulic, and this device requires lubrication. Yet, its lubricant may dry out, leading to the wearing down of the mechanism.

7) You Experience a Grinding Noise and Movement When You Shift Gears

Experts call this “the dragging clutch.” This occurs when the clutch disc stays stuck or engaged, leading to the continuous spinning of the transmission input shaft. When you shift gears, for example, or make a reverse move, the input shaft clashes or grind. This problem may be due to various reasons. It may be that the problem is coming from the pressure plate, release mechanism, or throw-out bearing. It may also be due to a broken or overstretched cable in a mechanical release system. In a hydraulic system, it may be originating from the clutch master cylinder in which there is low fluid.

8) The Pedal is Sticky

You will find it hard to change gear if your clutch is sticky or stuck. Moreover, this will cause a grinding sound that makes your car almost useless. In such a case, you need to have your car checked.

9) Your Clutch Pedal Creates Noise!

If your clutch pedal makes a lot of noise, then, you should have it checked. You should turn off the engine and let someone depress the clutch. Then, inspect the clutch and listen to the machine using a mechanic’s stethoscope.


Can You Drive with a Worn-out Clutch?

The main reason behind a clutch that is worn out is friction. For the clutch to work, it must be equipped with friction materials. These friction materials begin to thin after continuous usage. When these friction materials are depleted, the pressure plate can no longer perfectly grab. This leads to slipping. 

The flywheel and pressure plate are made of metal faces. Due to the diminishing friction materials, the metal faces of flywheel and pressure plate also wear out. This wearing out is not that quick as compared to the wearing out of the friction materials. 

The clutch only wears when it is being disengaged or engaged. It is during these specific moments when friction is most intense. It is during these moments likewise, when the metal faces and the pressure plate grind on each other. The friction materials then are eroded relative to the amount of slippage that happens.

The old types of clutch make use of metal cables that are connected to the clutch pedal. These cables are then utilized in disengaging the clutch. In such an old-school type of clutch, you can adjust the clutch a bit to extenuate the lifespan of the clutch. On the other hand, the hydraulic actuation of the newer varieties of cars self-adjust itself. Yet, when it malfunctions, it goes out completely. 

The clutch that is continuously experiencing slippage needs to be checked and remedied. However, if you keep on using your car while the clutch is damaged, your car may also end up with a damaged flywheel. This is because slipping creates a lot of friction and heat in the flywheel. This damages the flywheel, likewise, causing cracks on its surface. If the cracks in the flywheel’s surface are not that deep, then you can have it machined. But if the cracks are deep, then you need to replace it likewise. Moreover, you can also have the throw-out bearing checked, and if needed, replaced. You should also have the other parts checked. 


Final Words

Learning the correct way of driving your vehicle can play a critical role in extending the clutch’s lifespan. As mentioned above, the clutch may become stressed and may lose the friction materials that make it very efficient. This may lead to slippage. Some drivers tend to press on the clutch more often. They tend to keep on riding the clutch, which is bad for the clutch. You should refrain from using the clutch to manage the speed of your vehicle. 

If you are a clutch driver, you may end up damaging the clutch of your car. Hence, you should make a marginal change in your driving style to prevent premature failure of the clutch. The trick is, you should not engage the clutch when you can easily put the car in neutral until the time that you would take off.

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