The Anatomy of Healthy Cars: A Service and Repair Blog

6 Signs Your Car Needs a New Clutch

by Brittany Marshall

There is no clear rule that defines when you should replace your clutch. Unlike tires or oil, it is difficult to put a mileage limit on the lifespan of a clutch. Therefore, it is important to know how to spot the signs of a clutch that is starting to fail. Look out for these symptoms of a failing clutch as you drive.

1. Slipping Clutch

When you attempt to accelerate on a steep hill, you might notice a worn out clutch starting to slip. This means that even though the engine revs as you press down on the throttle, the car does not speed up. Clutch slipping occurs when the clutch pedal is fully out, with your foot not touching it at all. Watch out for this symptom when driving on hills or accelerating from a standing start.

2. Juddering Clutch

When you set off from a standstill, you might notice the car vibrating as you release the clutch. This juddering sometimes occurs because oil or hydraulic fluid on the surface of the clutch is causing it not to engage properly.

Some possible causes of clutch judder are a slight misalignment of the clutch or a warped flywheel. A mechanic might be able to change the alignment to solve the problem. However, in other cases, the cause of the juddering is a worn out clutch that needs replacing.

Clutch judder can be quite dangerous if you drive in busy areas, as it makes it difficult to control the car when starting and stopping in traffic. Don't ignore this symptom; take the car to a mechanic to get the clutch checked.

3. Spongy Clutch

Sometimes, the first sign of your car's clutch wearing out will be the clutch feeling spongy when you change gear. If you have to let the clutch most of the way out before the gear catches, that is a sign that the clutch is wearing out and will soon need to be replaced.

4. Burning Smell

Clutch slipping can sometimes result in a burning smell. This is due to excessively high levels of friction around the worn clutch. Burning smells can also signal serious problems with your engine, so it's important to never ignore this sign.

5. Shifting, Difficult Gears

All drivers miss gear changes occasionally, but if you notice yourself frequently struggling to change gear, the cause could be a worn out or damaged clutch. Ideally, the clutch should smoothly engage the new gear, but when it is worn out you might notice the car shaking or find it difficult to push the gear stick into the new position. Gear shifting problems are usually most obvious when moving between first gear and reverse.

6. Visible Damage Around the Clutch

If you know your way around your car, you can check your clutch yourself for visible signs of damage. Remove the inspection cover from the bottom of the bell housing. Look for warping and damage to the clutch. Note that some fine black dust around the clutch is normal.