The clutch is one of the most important parts in a manual transmission car as it connects the engine with the gearbox, and is what provides motive force for the car. It is also one of the parts of the car that sees high wear and tear depending on a person’s driving style and the environment it is driven in.
Cars that primarily drive in bumper-to-bumper city traffic are likely to see more clutch wear than those that are driven on the highway or in moderate traffic conditions. Similarly, cars driven in hilly areas are likely to see more clutches wear than cars driven in the plains.
But how do you know when your clutch is about to pack up? There are a usually a list of warning signs that emerge, giving you adequate time to get it to the workshop.
Also read: How to drive in slow-moving traffic
Clutch wear symptoms
One of the primary signs of a worn out clutch plate is when there is clutch slippage. You will begin to notice reduced pick up in the vehicle and the engine rpm will tend to rise further than necessary for a given speed before the vehicle matches up. This kind of slippage occurs when all the friction material on the clutch plates have worn out and it’s time to replace the clutch friction plate. A fallout of this kind of slippage problem is that the vehicle’s fuel economy will drop drastically.
How to check for slippage? Park the vehicle, switch off the engine and engage the handbrake tightly. Then start the vehicle, press the clutch, shift into third gear and gently begin to release the clutch without accelerating. If the clutch plates are intact the vehicle will try to move as the clutch engages and then stall. But if it does not stall even when the clutch pedal has been almost fully released, then there’s a problem with the clutch plate.
Also read: What to do if gears are hard to shift
Another sign that there is a problem with your clutch is when there is excessive shuddering when you release the clutch pedal, especially at low speeds. This could be because of some contamination as well on the surface of the clutch plate like oil or grease (which shouldn’t normally happen), or even water and sludge if you have driven through water-logged roads. If the shuddering goes away after running for a while it’s not a serious issue, but if the shudder remains then it could mean that the clutch pressure plate is worn and not pushing the clutch friction plate against the engine flywheel properly. Sometimes a misaligned engine and gearbox due to a bad engine mount or gearbox mount also has a similar symptom.
Chirping or grinding noise
Sometimes when you press the clutch pedal and then release it you will hear a chirping noise coming from the engine/gearbox area. This sounds like anklets being jingled very faintly. When you press down the clutch pedal this sound usually goes away, but reappears as soon as you release the clutch. Sometimes you will get a deeper grinding or humming noise. This is a symptom indicative of a worn clutch release bearing. While just the clutch release bearing (CRB) can be replaced, if not checked in time this can lead to a bent clutch fork (the mechanism that pushes or releases the clutch inside the clutch housing), which can then lead to pressure plate problems (bent fingers on the plate) and ultimately a change of the entire clutch assembly.
Trouble with shifting gears
Another problem indicative of a clutch failure is when you have trouble shifting gears even after pressing the clutch. The gear will either refuse to move out of a given gear into neutral or refuse to move from neutral to another gear easily. Even if it does move, it will be accompanied by a gnashing or grating noise. This is because the clutch is not releasing fully even though you have pressed down on the pedal. This kind of problem is usually not related to the clutch plate failing, but instead it points to a bent clutch fork, leaking slave cylinder (in case of a hydraulic clutch system) or a badly adjusted clutch cable linkage in mechanical clutches. It can be sorted out by a simple adjustment in mechanical linkages or by checking and replacing the slave cylinder and clutch fluid in hydraulic clutch systems.
Also see: 10 weekly checks for your car
What to replace if you have a problem?
Now that you know the symptoms of impending clutch problems, here’s what you need to know about what needs to be replaced. A car which is driven properly and in normal traffic conditions will usually not need any attention to the clutch for at least 100,000 Km. But a car driven by a driver who normally “rides the clutch”, which means driving with a foot on the clutch most times and using “half clutch” to crawl in city traffic, will see clutch replacements more frequently.
If you have clutch slippage occurring you will need to replace the entire clutch plate assembly. This usually costs Rs. 6000 for a small car like the Wagon-R that has a direct linkage clutch system or Rs. 12,000 for a larger vehicle with a hydraulic clutch system like the Mahindra Scorpio. These costs can go up to Rs. 30,000 for some European cars with imported components. Of course, a lot of this cost also goes toward labor charges at the workshop as clutch replacement is “major repair” and incurs high labour cost.
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If you have shuddering too you may need to replace the clutch friction plate assembly and pressure plate. You will incur similar charges as to a full clutch assembly replacement (which includes clutch bearing, fork, release spring, cable and fluid if applicable).
If you hear a chirping sound, then it could only be the clutch release bearing that needs changing. In such a situation, labor charges will be high as the whole gearbox needs to be separated from the engine to access the clutch assembly, but the part itself is not that expensive in most cars.
Trouble with shifting gears is usually minor repair. If it’s a cable operated clutch mechanism, just adjusting the linkage could sort out this problem. If it’s a hydraulic mechanism, check the clutch fluid level and replace fluid if needed. If there’s a leak near the slave cylinder, you may need to replace the slave cylinder – not a very expensive part, but labor charges again could be high depending on the car. In some cars the slave cylinder is outside the clutch housing and easy to access, but in some it’s inside the clutch housing, which will attract high labor charges.
Share any other symptoms and experience with clutch repair that you have had with the CarToq community. How often have you had to replace your car’s clutch plates?