Clutch slippage: why it happens and how to fix it

Have you ever been driving and noticed that even when you put the pedal to the metal, the tachometer kicks in and the power revs towards the red line, but your car doesn’t get that surge of power you were hoping for? If you’ve experienced this, what you’ve just witnessed is the clutch slipping.

In today’s blog, we’re exploring why your clutch slips and what you can do when it happens. First of all, let’s clear up what your car’s clutch actually does.

What does a clutch do?

Simply put, the clutch is the component that allows rotational power from the engine to be transferred to a vehicle’s wheel. It is a connecting part between several rotary axes. When engaging the clutch, the connection between the wheel and the engine must be temporarily severed to allow the car to stop without the need to shut off the engine and to allow for smooth, proper gear changes.

The clutch is made up of three main components, the clutch plate, pressure plate and flywheel. Depressing the clutch pedal releases the springs that normally hold the pressure plate against the clutch plate and the clutch plate against the flywheel. Separation of the clutch plate and flywheel is essential when shifting gears or stopping.

What does clutch slip mean?

Clutch slippage is a problem where the clutch engages and disengages without power being delivered to the car’s wheels as it should. That rotational power transfer we mentioned above isn’t taking place. If you drive a vehicle with a manual transmission, this is something that could easily happen to you sooner or later.

A good mechanic should be able to spot clutch problems when inspecting the clutch. A clutch needs a thorough and proper inspection every 60,000 to 100,000 miles, but at least a cursory inspection is also likely at your annual service. There are several known causes of clutch slippage, which we’ll explore below.

why does a clutch slip

What causes a clutch to slip?

Like most of the components in your car, the main reason behind the problem is wear and tear. If you have a manual car and you drive a lot, the clutch suffers a lot from wear, as do the tires and brakes. Wear and tear can manifest as a slipping clutch in 4 main circumstances:

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  • Warping on the steering wheel
  • Worn pressure plate
  • leaking cylinder
  • Clutch plate faults
  • worn bearing

Warping on the steering wheel

The clutch flywheel provides mass, inertia, and rotation that help keep the engine running. It balances the crankshaft and is the key component in ensuring a smooth transfer of power from the engine to the transmission. It is a constantly moving component and therefore also experiences a lot of friction. The heat from this friction can cause the steering wheel to warp.

worn pressure plate

Screwed to the flywheel is the all-important pressure plate. The same heat that deforms the flywheel also affects the pressure plate, reducing its ability to apply the pressure necessary for power to flow between the engine and transmission.

leaking cylinder

If you are driving a newer vehicle, it will have a hydraulic clutch with slave and master cylinders. The seals on these cylinders are exposed to large changes in pressure and temperature, causing leaks and cracks.

Clutch plate faults

The clutch plate is coated on both sides with a material similar to that found in a brake pad. This helps the coupling between it and the steering wheel to be smoother. These surfaces can wear and deform, which can cause the clutch to slip.

how to test a slipping clutch

Symptoms of a slipping clutch

If you are not a mechanic, you may be concerned about whether the clutch is actually slipping or not. Fortunately, there are several symptoms that you can look out for and get an idea of ​​whether there really is a problem or not.

First, listen for unusual noises when pressing the clutch. As you probably know, groaning, squeaking, squeaking and similar noises are never a good sign for your car. If you hear them when you’re depressing the clutch, consider having them checked.

Next, are you having trouble shifting gears? The clutch should facilitate gear changes; So if you are having trouble successfully upshifting or downshifting, the cause is most likely a slipping, faulty clutch.

Third, you are accelerating but not accelerating. As we mentioned in the blog introduction, a common sign of clutch slippage is when you see the tachometer revs skyrocket, but the car doesn’t move forward on acceleration.

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Finally, do you feel that the clutch feels spongy or that it is sticking? Clutch pedal action should be smooth and easy. If the pedal feels “off” for some reason, you’ll likely spot it because it’s a pedal you use all the time. You may also feel a vibration when you engage the clutch.

How to Test a Clutch for Slippage

The best way to test if the clutch is slipping is to try the hard throttle technique we mentioned above. Shift your car into a slightly lower gear; third gear works fine. Once you’re safely in third, put your foot on the gas and give it a real boost.

If you see the tachometer go off, but the car barely accelerates, this is the most “classic” sign of a slipping clutch. It’s a simple test you can take almost anytime on the road. Just be careful not to exceed local speed limits while testing.

How to diagnose a slipping clutch in your car: 5 steps

How long can I drive with a slipping clutch?

If you’ve just noticed that your clutch has started to slip, there’s no need to panic. This is not one of those breakdowns that should make you urgently run to your local mechanic. Technically, you could drive for hours, days, or even weeks with the clutch slipping, but the problem is, you definitely shouldn’t.

When minor breakdowns start in any part of your car, you should deal with them as soon as possible, even those that don’t seem urgent. Any small mechanical problem in a car starts like this and would be easy and cheap to fix, but sooner or later turns into a much more complex and expensive problem unless you take care of it.

What should I do if my clutch is slipping?

If your clutch is slipping, you should first take extra care while driving. Reduce the overall speed a bit and drive carefully until a mechanic takes a look at the clutch and fixes it. What you absolutely must not do is procrastinate about the problem, for the reasons just outlined in the section above.

How to fix a slipping clutch

Hopefully the damage isn’t such that you need a brand new clutch, but it’s a likely outcome. If it is one of the components that is behind the problem, they can be repaired or replaced individually. Here are all the possible methods that can be used to repair a slipping clutch and prevent it from happening:

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  1. clutch replacement🇧🇷 The complexity of the clutch replacement job will depend on whether your car is an FWD or RWD drivetrain. On an FWD it is a much more difficult job because it requires the engine to be removed and lifted and the gearbox lowered. This is more equipment and labor, which will increase the cost.

The following steps are part of replacing the clutch. If the problem is with just one of these components, they can be run individually:

  1. Revitalization or replacement of the steering wheel. The flywheel can be repaired if necessary, but if there is oil contamination, warping grooves, or heat discoloration, it will need to be replaced.
  2. Replacing the discard bearing. This step will likely be necessary with any level of clutch repair because any new components brought into the clutch will need a new bearing.
  3. Check the pilot bushing. This bushing is located near the crankshaft and if your slipper clutch vehicle is also a high mileage one, bushing replacement may be a necessary step as part of clutch fixing.

clutch slipping

Cost of repairing a slipping clutch

The hard news is that repairing a clutch can cost from $500 to $2500🇧🇷 If you need a brand new clutch on an FWD vehicle, you’re looking at the higher end of that spectrum. If it’s minor damage on a RWD vehicle, expect it to be a little closer to the bottom end. Fixing or replacing individual components will keep the price lower, but there’s a good chance circumstances will warrant a complete replacement.

The best way to avoid that sudden huge bill is to keep your clutch well maintained and in good repair. Small repair and maintenance costs in the short term will always be cheaper in the long run than facing a complete and premature clutch replacement.

How long do the claws last?

When properly maintained, a clutch should last up to 80,000 miles or more.🇧🇷 There is nothing you can do to prevent clutch wear. It’s an inevitable part of your role. That said, you can minimize damage by driving sensibly, avoiding bad habits like riding the clutch and generally not putting too much pressure on the clutch. Also, and as we mentioned above, you must keep your clutch well maintained and maintained.

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