The clutch is the lifeblood of your car. Without it, the engine has no way at all to distribute its power to the wheels, and without power going to the wheels, you’re just going to be stood there making a lot of noise. Like a mechanical town crier or something.
You can get similar momentum-lacking results when your clutch wears out. And when it does, you may be wondering why the garage has given you an eye-watering quote. Much like when we talked about head gasket failure, the reason is simple: changing your clutch is a big job.
Before we get to that though, let’s look at what the clutch does and where it does it from.
Your clutch, as we said earlier, takes power from the engine and then delivers it to your gearbox, which in turn delivers it to your wheels. It’s a very stressful job, especially when you consider that even at idle, your engine and consequently the flywheel – the bit the clutch grabs on to – is spinning at 1,000rpm.
Yet even so, you lift your foot off the clutch pedal and as you do, the clutch plate will roll up its sleeves and grab the spinning flywheel. And it will do it at all speeds, as you merrily drive along.
The clutch is subject to a lot of wear and tear, and that can be exacerbated by your driving style. When your foot is off the clutch pedal, or when your foot is pressing it all the way down, that’s when the clutch is at its happiest. It’s either clamped between engine and gearbox or spinning freely respectively.
Hold the pedal half way though, and you’re effectively grinding it away. That’s what people mean when they say you’re riding the clutch. The same thing can happen when you operate the clutch too slowly.
We’re sure you don’t do that though. Instead, you’re more likely to suffer from general failure, which given that the clutch is a wear and tear part, is unavoidable. But what are the signs that your clutch is going?
If you drive an older car one of the biggest signs a clutch needs replacing is the smell. Clutches have a horrid, burning, earthy odour that could make a skunk blush. If there is even a little bit of slip going on, you’ll smell it.
New clutches don’t tend to do it though, so instead you skip the smell warning and head straight to the slip. This is when the clutch plate is so worn that it simply can’t grab the flywheel anymore, so it just slips and fruitlessly tries to put power to the gearbox.
You’ll know if your clutch is slipping because it simply won’t drive, or it will, but very slowly and at about 5,000rpm.
So what about the repair? Why does it cost so much? Well, the clutch lives in the bellhousing, which is the space between your engine and gearbox. So to change the clutch, you have to separate the two, but as you know, there’s a lot of car around both of them.
As such, it may mean the engine has to be lifted, or dropped lower depending on the car, to make enough space to crack the gearbox and engine apart. This means lots of time.
If you drive a rear-wheel drive car you’ll be pleased to hear that your mechanic has the easy clutch. It still takes a lot of time, but because the engine and gearbox run longitudinally, it’s just a case of jacking the car up, removing the propshaft, unbolting the gearbox, yank out the old clutch, chuck in a new one and then screw it all back together. Simple. Still a good day’s labour, but simple.
If your car is front-wheel drive, the chances are (unless you drive an old Audi A4) the engine is transverse, meaning it runs the across the car rather than along it.
That means everything is crammed into a much smaller space, so it’s a lot harder to work on. It could be double the time of a clutch change in a rear-wheel drive car.
So, if your clutch does go, don’t get annoyed thinking the garage is trying to pull the wool over your eyes. It’s a big, labour-intensive job.
Just be glad the garage will do it for you, and if you need convincing, just have a look under your bonnet and ponder on how you’d get at the clutch yourself!