If you don’t know the importance of your clutch, you could be delaying a clutch replacement that’s vitally important!
Now, without trying to alarm you, if your clutch is worn or ageing, you can lose control of your car very quickly. That’s not an exaggeration and it’s not something we ever want you to experience either.
That’s why we always recommend booking a professional clutch replacement as soon as problems start developing. It might sound like a lot of hassle but improving your safety is always the most important thing.
We’re going to run you through exactly what a mechanic does when they change your clutch, as well as giving you the rundown on what your clutch is and why it’s so important to keep it in top condition.
What is the clutch?
Four components make up the clutch: the pressure plate, driven plate, cover plate and release bearing. These all work together to transfer power from your engine to the wheels. Every car has a clutch of some form – in manual cars, it’s a pedal; in an automatic, its usually electronic.
This clutch plate, as the collective are known, is bolted to something called the flywheel. This connects to the engine shaft and the shaft which turns the wheels in turn. This configuration helps drive the car forwards. For the purposes of this article, we’ll be discussing clutch operation in a manual car and the function of the clutch pedal in particular.
When the pedal is not pressed to the floor (normal driving, in between gear changes), the pressure plate keeps the clutch plate firmly pressed against the flywheel to allow power from the engine to flow freely and keep the wheels moving. When you press the pedal to the floor, it cuts that power supply. This limits the connection and keeps the wheels moving purely through their own momentum while you change gear. This is because the plates get pulled apart and create a gap that the energy cannot cross. This is useful when coming to a stop or accelerating or decelerating through the gears.
Clearly, the clutch is a far more complicated beast than we describe, but this description serves for the purpose of this article. Even still, it shows its importance. Just think about what would happen if your clutch slipped: you’d either have no power or no way of stopping the car. That’s why you need to recognise the warning signs of imminent failure and book a clutch replacement immediately.
Symptoms of clutch wear, tear and failure
Your clutch will suffer natural wear and tear. As with most things, it has a finite lifespan and will break one day. There’s no way around that.
However, riding the clutch will increase its chances of slipping. Sometimes, this is unavoidable, such as in heavy traffic, but you should avoid it as much as possible.
If you treat it right, your clutch should last around 60,000 miles however, this is just an estimate. There’s no exact science and your driving style and road conditions, amongst other factors, affect the lifespan. Therefore, it’s important to pay attention to your manufacturer’s recommendations. They’ll estimate how long your particular clutch should last for, which then gives some indication of when you need to book a clutch replacement.
Even still, you might need an appointment earlier than prescribed. If you ever suspect that your clutch is slipping, book with a professional mechanic as soon as possible. Even if it turns out the clutch isn’t to blame, they might find the actual culprit.
Symptoms of a slipping or failing clutch include:
Your gearbox doesn’t engage certain gears properly
Are you struggling to get your car into gear? Is there one problematic gear in particular or are they all equally as difficult? Do you find that you sometimes have to bring the clutch back up and then down to engage a certain gear? If the answer to any of those questions is yes, a clutch replacement could be on the cards.
Your car won’t move
If you switch the engine on and engage gear but your car won’t go anywhere, there’s clearly a problem with the clutch. It’s likely stuck with the plates pulled apart so the power can’t reach the wheels. And, quite obviously, you can’t get it to the garage yourself, so you’ll need to contact your recovery provider.
You hear an unusual noise when engaging or disengaging the clutch
Can you hear grinding, squealing, shrieking or any other form of horrible noise that sounds like bad news? Well, the worst news is that it is bad news. Your clutch might have slipped which causes the plates to rub together, causing that awful racket whenever you change gear.
A complete clutch replacement process
Sometimes, ‘make do and mend’ works well. When it comes to a clutch replacement, it always pays to let the professionals do the job for you.
The first stage of a clutch replacement is the same as any other repair. The mechanic will thoroughly investigate the clutch to make sure they’re looking at the guilty party. However, it’s always possible that your car’s symptoms are because something else has failed instead.
Unhook the battery
Next up, the mechanic disconnects your positive battery cable (so there’s no risk of electrocution) and then disconnects the cable that’s either connected to your clutch or your hydraulic slave cylinder. The configuration depends on your vehicle. Most cars use a friction clutch driven by fluid or a cable but, with a few other options available as well, you need to know what to look out for in order to change yours correctly. Unless you know what you’re looking at, don’t go anywhere near your cables.
Stabilise the engine
The next challenge is to get to the clutch itself. It lives between the engine and the gearbox, deep in the bowels of the car – so it takes a while to reach!
Your mechanic raises the front end of your car off the ground and stabilises the engine so it doesn’t fall out. If the engine isn’t properly secured, it could be dislodged when they remove the engine mounts to get access to the clutch assembly. Once there, your mechanic removes the flywheel’s bolts so they can differentiate between the engine and the transaxle. The latter is where the clutch sits because it performs the role of a transmission unit as well as an axle to helps the process of changing gear.
Unbolt the pressure plate
Once found, the mechanic removes the clutch itself. They remove the bolts around the pressure plate, then take that and the clutch disc out of the engine bay. They then check the suspension bushings which isolate vibration, provide cushioning and reduce friction between the metal parts on your vehicle. If these have deteriorated, they may recommend replacing them as well as your clutch. As worn bushings affect the quality of your steering, it’s worth taking them up on the offer. You might notice a drop in your ride comfort otherwise – and you don’t want to feel every single pothole and speed bump you drive over!
Check for any leaks or extra damage
Leaks shouldn’t happen at any time. If there is one, your mechanic now finds the culprit and advises on any necessary repairs.
The worst part is that leaks are likely to push the cost of your repairs through the roof.
It also can’t be ignored either so, even if the repair is expensive, it’s worth doing because crucial parts of your car could be in trouble. Just as a guide, you might need a new input shaft or transaxle as well as a top up of whatever fluid has leaked.
Clean and replace everything
This is where you say goodbye to your old clutch (or as much of it as is broken or unsalvageable) and say hello to brand-new or OE (original equipment) quality parts which your mechanic introduces to their new home. They also clean up your crankshaft, spruce up and reinsert your flywheel and then bolt everything back into place. This process is a complete reverse of the disassembly to help limit the number of mistakes.
Test the clutch
With everything back in its proper place, the mechanic tests your car to make sure their clutch replacement has solved your problem. If not, they let you know and then go back to the drawing board to try again!
How much does clutch replacement cost?
Now, this whole process isn’t cheap. Unfortunately, the average cost of a clutch replacement is around £450! It’s eye-watering, but sometimes unavoidable. And that’s without including the price of any other repairs…
How long does clutch replacement take?
Naturally, a process this complex will take a while to complete. Your clutch replacement can take anywhere from 4 – 10 hours, depending on the severity of your problem and the availability of your mechanic. Again, other complications can escalate the time frame – so expect to cope without your car for a day or so.
If we haven’t answered one of your questions, drop us a comment and we’ll do our best to help! And, as always, stay safe on the roads and use BookMyGarage to find the perfect garage for your clutch replacement.
Mandy is an ex-mechanic, with 22 years’ experience in the motor industry. As an in-house motoring expert, Mandy is the go-to woman for any relevant questions that our customers have; both garages and drivers. From specific problems with your car to general maintenance, Mandy is a reliable source of information and advice. Her passion for motoring is a huge factor to her success and the huge wealth of knowledge that she has. She now uses her remarkable grasp of the industry to write regular content for our readers to help drivers understand their car better, avoid being ripped off by garages and save money on their motoring requirements.