How to spot a worn clutch

The clutch is one of those parts of our car that we never remember until it starts to fail. The problem is that if we do not detect the fault in time, the invoice of the workshop increases, and it may even immobilize our car.

The spark plugs or the glow plugs, the timing belt or the clutch are some of those parts of our vehicle that we do not usually pay much attention to because they have very long maintenance intervals and, in some cases, it is not even necessary to change them in all the time we have the car. But this does not mean that they are not pieces that cannot give problems. 

In the specific case of the clutch, when this part begins to fail it is a source of different problems in our vehicle that, if perceived in advance, can help us save part of the cost of changing the entire clutch. Something that also minimizes the damage that this failure can generate to the rest of the elements present in the transmission circuit. Therefore, it is key that we know how to distinguish these symptoms. Especially since this forecast can help us not to have to look ahead of time for the best clutch for our car.

What is the clutch for

In order to know what the symptoms of a worn clutch are, it is important to start by knowing what this part is for. The clutch, in generic terms, is a moving part that is responsible for separating two moving elements, in this case, the engine crankshaft and the transmission shaft. The separation is necessary so that we can make the corresponding gear changes but also so that both elements adjust their level of rotation and reduce the suffering of the different parts during those changes, as well as the running-in in general.

Precisely because of these functions we are talking about a part that suffers considerable stress during the use of the vehicle, because it is always performing its task. Therefore, clutch failures can be easily noticed. However, this requires some touch on the foot and appreciating the different elements that can give signals that our clutch is beginning to say enough.

Symptoms of a worn clutch

Once we know what the clutch is for, it is time to take action and begin to see why a clutch can indicate problems.

The clutch slips: When the clutch is very worn, it does not have the ability to maintain the proper separation between the elements of the transmission system and begins to slip. This “slippage” is nothing more than the inability of the clutch to separate the motor shaft and the crankshaft, so that even when we have the clutch fully depressed the car continues to move. It is important to know that this effect only occurs if we have the clutch fully depressed, since if this is not the case, then it is the driver that causes the clutch to slip, by maintaining insufficient pressure on it.

The clutch smells strong: It is common that in certain circumstances we notice the particular smell of the burnt clutch inside the vehicle. It’s hard to define that smell, but let’s say it has hints of overheated metal, since that’s usually what happens. This fact can be normal, such as when we start the car after a long time stopped and the surface particles of the disk are burned or in circumstances such as strong climbs, in which the clutch suffers. The problem is that if the smell persists and is of considerable intensity, in these cases it is highly likely that the smell is a sign of a clutch that is reaching the end of its useful life.

Change in pedal feel:Another problem that gives us clues that the clutch is deteriorated is when changes in the pedal feel are perceived. In general, this touch should be firm and allow you to reach the bottom with reasonable effort. However, when the clutch is worn, it is likely that we will have to exert a greater effort to get the pedal to the bottom. The reason is simple. Wear causes the materials to be less flexible and, therefore, that you have to use more force to reach the bottom. Something similar happens in reverse. In the event that we step on the clutch pedal and it goes to the bottom directly, it is a sign of failure. However, in this case the problem may not be so much with the clutch as with the cable that operates it, or a loss in the hydraulic circuit responsible for its displacement.

How to solve the problem

In all the cases that we have discussed, including those in which the pedal gains in hardness, it is essential that the clutch system is checked by a professional, in order to verify its general condition. The good news is that, in some cases, it is possible to reduce the cost of the repair if it is only necessary to change or rectify some of the clutch elements. That is why it is so important to detect its failures in time. If we do not do so, the risk we face is that of having to change the entire system, which not only involves a higher cost, but will also cause damage to the rest of the vehicle’s elements until the moment we execute said change.

However, there is a case in which the problem has to do not so much with the clutch itself but with the rest of the circuit. We talk about the cases in which the pedal goes to the bottom. In this case, repairing the problem is usually easier, as long as the clutch is in acceptable condition. In general, these problems are usually due to lack of tension in the cable that activates the clutch or to a break in it, so that the correction of said tension solves it, at a reasonable cost. The same happens when there is a lack of liquid in the circuit, although in this case it is necessary to look for the leak and seal it before recovering the system. Still, it is still somewhat cheaper than having to change a complete clutch.


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