How do I know if my clutch is going?

The clutch is a sophisticated piece of mechanics found on every manual vehicle that’s charged with transferring rotational power from the engine to the wheels. It works by connecting rotating shafts from the engine to turn the wheels, and works hard to ensure control even when engine parts are continuously spinning and the wheels of your vehicle are not. Pretty amazing, considering that we use it without much thought every time we step into our vehicles!

Using just three main parts – the clutch plate, pressure plate and flywheel – the clutch ensures your vehicle can operate as it should do, allowing you to change gears easily whilst guaranteeing driver and passenger safety with every journey. The vital roles fulfilled by the clutch mean that when your vehicle suffers clutch problems they can be costly. But like most of the components that make up your vehicle, the clutch is subject to wear and tear.

Understanding and being able to pinpoint the tell-tale signs of clutch wear before a failure occurs and you’re left stranded is therefore important. Here our vehicle repair and clutch replacement specialists reveal how you can tell when your clutch is going and what exactly you should do about it.

My clutch is slipping

When it comes to clutch issues, self-diagnosis is essential. A lot of clutch problems after all affect driver experience, which means you’re in the best possible position to pinpoint the beginnings of clutch failure. A slipping sensation is commonly reported by drivers of vehicles with clutch problems. This slipping means that the clutch is not fully engaging or disengaging, and becomes more apparent when a vehicle is carrying or pulling a heavy load, accelerating to overtake, or driving uphill. 

As the clutch uses friction to join the plate and the flywheel, slipping indicates that this material has been worn smooth. This means the plate will now move at a different speed to the flywheel, and may not transmit full engine power through the gearbox and then to the wheels.

A slipping clutch should be remedied right away. Without professional replacement, a slipping clutch can cause overheating and encourage further wear, which means clutch failure is more likely to happen sooner rather than later. The slipping sensation can also compromise the safety of the overall driving experience, with momentary loss of acceleration particularly common.

I can smell burning

It is important to use all your senses when diagnosing clutch problems. If you become aware of a burning smell or foul odour when the clutch is in use, your vehicle may need professional attention. This burning smell is primarily caused by an increase in clutch temperature, which can be triggered by clutch wear but is also the result of aggressive driving or regular ‘riding of the clutch’. 

If you’ve altered your driving style, or the burning smell is accompanied by a slipping sensation or even visible smoke, your clutch may be about to fail.

It feels like my clutch is sticking

A clutch that sticks is an indication that there’s too much friction between the plate and the flywheel. Whilst this has the opposite effect when compared to a slipping clutch, it should still be a cause for concern. The added friction will prevent the clutch plate releasing from the flywheel, and will often be accompanied by a grinding noise or vibration. With a healthy working clutch, gear changes should be smooth and seamless. Your car may be more difficult to get into gear or feel loose when pressed as a result of a sticky clutch however. 

In older systems, a sticky clutch is the result of a stretched cable that connects the clutch mechanism with the clutch pedal. In newer systems that use the more modern hydraulic mechanism, sticky clutches have been linked to leaks and fluid pressure problems.

Unlike a slippy clutch, which happens gradually due to wear and tear, a sticky clutch is more likely to occur more suddenly and with very little warning at all. 

My vehicle makes jerking motions

If your vehicle regularly makes jerking motions accompanied by noise from the clutch, your clutch mechanism may be in the early stages of failure. This is likely to be the result of oil contamination, with worn or faulty seals and shafts enabling oil to leak onto the clutch facings preventing the friction that is integral to successful engagement and disengagement. 

I struggle to select and change gear

If it’s a struggle to get your vehicle into gear when driving or you can’t change gear at all, your clutch or gearbox may be to blame. There’s a very simple way to determine whether it’s your clutch or gearbox that’s the problem however, and better yet, this can be performed at home. 

All you have to do is turn off the engine and select a gear. If you can select a gear, it’s more likely that you have a clutch problem. If the opposite is true, then your gearbox may be the issue. 

Need to remedy your clutch problems?

If your vehicle is suffering from any of the tell-tale signs detailed above, seeking advice and help from a professional like us should be your next step. 

As we mentioned clutches wear out over time, with the average clutch needing to be replaced every 60,000 to 80,000 miles. Clutch condition can degrade more quickly if there’s a leak or other internal defect, or your driving style isn’t very ‘clutch friendly’! 

Whatever your clutch concerns however, be sure to contact our team for advice and support. As specialists in clutch replacement, we can assist you, with years of experience and expert training in all vehicle makes and models.