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How to improve the lifespan of your clutch and save money

How to improve the lifespan of your clutch and save money

25 April 2023 Concept Car

We expect our cars to last a long time. So it can be extremely disappointing if your clutch stops working properly and has to be replaced. Especially if you’ve acquired your car on the second hand market a broken clutch can seem as though you’ve bought a lemon.

As most experts will tell you, this is certainly not always the case. The clutch is one of the parts of a car whose lifespan depends heaviest on your driving behaviour. But by taking a few smart decisions, you can decidedly make your clutch last longer.

In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know about getting the most out of your clutch – and how to spot potential issues as soon as they arise.

What, fundamentally, causes a clutch to wear out?

The answer is simple, straight-forward and hardly comes as a surprise: Wear and tear.

If you’re using a manual transmission, then you’re making use of your clutch several times every time you’re hitting the road. Even if you’re using it correctly, you’re creating friction between the main components of the clutch. Friction causes abrasion and, thus, over time, the elements won’t fit as tightly as they used to.

There are four main types of car clutches, each with their own unique features and advantages. Let’s take a look at them in turn.

Clutch #1: The friction clutch

The friction clutch is the most common type of clutch found in automobiles.

It consists of a friction plate that connects the engine to the transmission. When you apply pressure to the clutch pedal, the friction plate disengages from the flywheel, allowing the engine to rotate independently of the transmission.

This type of clutch is rather easy to maintain and repair, and is suitable for most everyday driving situations.

Clutch #2: The hydraulic clutch

The hydraulic clutch is similar to the friction clutch in that it uses a friction plate to connect the engine to the transmission.

However, there is an important distinction: it uses hydraulic pressure rather than a mechanical linkage to engage and disengage the clutch. This makes for a smoother and more efficient transition between gears, and reduces driver fatigue on long journeys.

The hydraulic clutch is also less prone to wear and tear than the friction clutch, making it a popular choice for high-performance vehicles.

Clutch #3: The electromagnetic clutch

The electromagnetic clutch is less commonly used in passenger vehicles, but is commonly found in heavy-duty trucks and industrial machinery.

This type of clutch uses an electromagnetic field to engage and disengage the clutch. It is highly reliable and requires very little maintenance, making it ideal for use in heavy-duty applications.

As mentioned, this is not something you’re likely to encounter when driving your car.

Clutch #4: Centrifugal clutch

The centrifugal clutch is primarily used in small engine applications, such as lawn mowers and go-karts.

It uses centrifugal force to engage and disengage the clutch, and is designed to automatically engage at a certain RPM. This makes it an ideal choice for small engines that need to start and stop quickly, without the need for a clutch pedal or other manual controls.

What is the difference between a spring clutch and a diaphragm clutch?

A diaphragm clutch makes use of a diaphragm spring to engage and disengage the clutch. When the clutch pedal is depressed, the diaphragm spring is compressed, which disengages the clutch and allows the driver to shift gears. When the pedal is released, the spring expands and engages the clutch, providing power to the wheels.

This latter aspect – the expanding – is what makes this clutch a significant improvement over spring clutches.

A spring clutch is far simpler. It conversely uses a set of coiled springs to engage and disengage the clutch. When the clutch pedal is pressed, the springs are compressed, which disengages the clutch. When the pedal is released, the springs expand and engage the clutch, providing power to the wheels.

Spring clutches are not as reliable as diaphragm clutches which are also easier to operate and require minimal maintenance. This is why it very likely that whatever car you buy will have a diaphragm clutch.

What do I need to remember when it comes to clutches?

Here’s a simple summary: The type of clutch used in a car depends on the specific application and driving conditions. Which means that each type of clutch has its own unique features and advantages, making it important to choose the right clutch for their specific needs.

By understanding the different types of clutches available, you can make informed decisions about their vehicle’s performance and efficiency.

What are the main parts of a clutch?

We’ve just outlined the different types of clutches that exist. Differences between these can be considerable.

Ultimately, however, the basic idea of a clutch is always the same. A manual clutch essentially works exactly like a hydraulic one. Merely, the engagement process works a bit differently.

Most vehicles, in their most basic concept, work with a clutch made up of a clutch plate, pressure plate and a flywheel. Regardless of the type of clutch built into your car, all of these are subject to wear and tear.

If you drive your car long enough, eventually they will all have to be replaced.

How long can a clutch realistically last?

Opinions on the lifespan of a clutch vary considerably.

As howstuffworks points out, its life expectancy lies somewhere between 30,000 and 100,000 miles. Which is a staggering difference. However, we do believe that you can make slightly more precise estimates than that. Certainly, 30,000 miles seems very low when it comes to the lifespan of a modern clutch.

Obviously, how long your clutch lasts also depends on the kind of car and the exact model you’re driving. According to AAMCO, in the Nissan Sentra, an average car without particularly strong reliability, the clutch can need to be replaced as early as after 20,000 miles. Other, more expensive vehicles may perform better in this regard.

That said, not everyone agrees with the estimation. Jeff Confer, admittedly a Nissan dealer, claims that even numbers like 125,000-175,000 miles are no rare feat.

Again, it seems hard to agree on anything when it comes to the life expectancy of a clutch.

Why is it so hard to estimate the life expectancy of a clutch?

As we pointed out, a clutch wears out because of the friction subjected to its parts. So clearly, there is a material aspect involved: The higher the quality of the materials, and the smarter the construction of the clutch, the longer it will last.

That said, this hardly explains the huge differences observed in the same model with different dealerships and drivers.

Think about it: if friction caused by using the clutch causes it to wear out, then, by the same token, the more often you use it, the sooner it will give out on you. And the more sparingly you use it, the better.

If you rack up 100,000 miles on the highway with very little shifting of gears, your clutch may be in mint condition. Vice versa, if your way to work involves driving an hour through dense city traffic, then even 30,000 miles can be demanding on it – simply, because you’re using it constantly.

Which means that the main determinant of your clutch’s life expectancy is the kind of routes you’re driving.

How to notice that your clutch isn’t working properly

You don’t have to be a mechanic to detect a malfunctioning clutch. Already at the early stages of its downturn, there are usually clear signs.

Make sure to pay a close eye on these to avoid the clutch suddenly breaking you entirely.

  • The clutch will become less smooth to operate. This can manifest itself either in the typical soft or spongy clutch pedal, a less engaging response when shifting gears or a clutch pedal that almost feels like it’s stuck.
  • Noises can be indicative of loose parts or a too strong or weak contact between the clutch and the transmission. There may be a weird squeaking sound when you push down the pedal.
  • There may even be a burning smell.
  • Acceleration performance may be diminished.
  • In the final stages, the disc may actually slip, and lose proper contact with the engine. If this happens, you may no longer be able to shift gears at all.

If you spot any of the abovementioned symptoms, visit your local mechanic as soon as possible. The earlier you take care of your clutch, the better your chances of merely having to repair rather than to replace it.

How to improve your clutch’s lifespan

There are things you can’t change. If your particular car doesn’t have the best clutch on the market, that’s not on you. If the previous owner has been less than kind to it, that, too, is beyond your power. And if your typical drive involves a lot of gear shifts, then that’s just the way it is.

This doesn’t mean that there is nothing you can do to significantly improve the lifespan of your clutch.

Here are some of the most important recommendations:

Avoid “riding the clutch”

If you’re driving, the clutch should either be fully engaged (as when you’re shifting gears) or it should not be engaged at all.

“Riding the clutch” is a term used to describe a bad driving habit where you keep their foot on the clutch pedal, partially engaging the clutch while driving, instead of fully disengaging it. This puts unnecessary strain on the clutch components and can cause premature wear and tear.

When the clutch is partially engaged, it causes the clutch disc to slip against the flywheel, creating heat and friction that can damage the clutch components. Over time, this can lead to clutch slippage, reduced power transfer, and eventually complete clutch failure.

Riding the clutch can also lead to poor fuel efficiency, as it causes the engine to work harder than necessary. It can also cause the vehicle to stall or jerk when shifting gears, making for a less smooth driving experience.

Put simply, your foot should not be on the clutch pedal – something referred to as “riding the clutch”. Instead, place it at the side, so you can engage it when you need to without doing so unintentionally (which can happen quite quickly if you’re riding the clutch).

Don’t use the clutch to replace the break.

When you’re standing in city traffic, simply disengage it and make use of the breaks instead – or even the handbrake. For longer stops, put the car into neutral. Keeping the clutch engaged for longer periods of time is not what it was built for and will definitely reduce its lifespan.

So-called “engine breaking” is another bad habit we advise against. It involves downshifting and using engine compression to slow down the vehicle instead of using the brake pedal. While it may seem like a good idea to save brake pads and increase fuel efficiency, it is actually harmful to the vehicle in several ways.

Firstly, engine braking puts unnecessary strain on the clutch components, particularly the clutch disc and pressure plate. This can cause premature wear and tear and result in costly repairs or clutch replacement.

Secondly, engine braking can cause the vehicle to lose traction.

Particularly in slippery or wet conditions. This can result in reduced control and increased risk of accidents.
Thirdly, engine braking is not as effective as using the brakes, particularly at higher speeds. It can take longer to slow down the vehicle, and the brakes may still be needed to bring the vehicle to a complete stop.

When changing gear, keep the clutch engaged only for as long as you absolutely have to. Push the pedal quickly and then let it go gradually until you reach the point where it bites.

Avoid abrupt shifts

Shifting gears too quickly or forcefully is quite clearly unpleasant. It certainly won’t win you the appreciation of your co-driver. But abrupt gear shifts are not just a sign of bad style. They’re actually damaging to your clutch.

This is because they can cause unnecessary strain on the clutch and gearbox. For this reason alone, it is important to shift gears smoothly and at the appropriate time.

As an additional bonus, your passengers will thank you.

Do not overload the vehicle

This may not be instantly and intuitively apparent. But wear and tear of the clutch does depend on how heavy your car is at any given moment.

Overloading the vehicle can cause excessive strain on the clutch, particularly when starting or accelerating. So, it is essential to avoid overloading the vehicle.

Importantly, ask your mechanic to check on your clutch regularly. Even if the clutch cables don’t work properly, this can overly wear down the plate and cause it to work suboptimally.

25 April 2023 Concept Car