Automatic transmissions are vastly more common than stick shifts in the US, but that's because most drivers just don't know what they're missing. Few driving activities are as satisfying as a perfectly executed shift, but a worn-out clutch can quickly sap away all of that joy. Sadly, all clutches burn out sooner or later, and even perfect drivers will eventually need to replace theirs.
If you haven't driven on a failing clutch before, then the experience can be disheartening. It can also sometimes be hard to pin down the problem since a variety of other transmission issues may behave similarly. These three steps will help to guide you through diagnosing and ultimately fixing your car's clutch.
1. Confirm the Problem
Most people first notice a worn clutch when their car begins to slip while in gear. In some cases, you may even find the shift lever popping out of gear and back into neutral. The smell of a burning clutch during normal driving is another telltale indicator. If you experience these symptoms, then it's time to perform some simple diagnostic tests.
In general, you can expect your clutch to slip more under load. Try shifting into a higher gear as you accelerate up a steep hill. Under normal circumstances, your engine should lug a bit (don't do this regularly). If your engine RPMs instead skyrocket without any corresponding acceleration, then your clutch is probably preparing to give out.
2. Check for Related Transmission Issues
If your clutch doesn't seem to be slipping, then the friction surface likely still has some life left in it. Unfortunately, this doesn't mean that a replacement isn't in your near future. If you notice a squealing or rattling noise when releasing the pedal, then you may have a worn throwout bearing. Because of the labor overlap, it's usually worthwhile to do a full clutch replacement when replacing this bearing.
Stuttering or jerking while attempting to get your car moving can also indicate a problem with the flywheel surface. "Hot spots" on the flywheel cause the clutch to engage inconsistently, resulting in this fairly unpleasant symptom. Although you can ignore this problem, it will not go away until you replace or resurface your flywheel.
3. Decide on a Course of Action
Finally, it's time to decide what to do. Most clutch kits include everything you need to refresh your transmission, including a new throwout bearing. If the package does not include a flywheel, then you may need to decide whether to replace or resurface your existing flywheel. If your car uses a dual-mass flywheel, then replacement is usually the only option.
While clutch replacements can be expensive, driving on a worn clutch is no fun. Even worse, a failing clutch will eventually prevent you from starting your vehicle at all. Quickly dealing with the problem is the best way to bring back all the joy that comes with driving a manual transmission vehicle.
To learn more, contact a clutch repair shop.