Generally most people don’t get involved in the mechanics of their car and that extends to understanding and spotting a problem. The general basis people work on is “if there is a funny noise or the car feels odd then take it to the garage”. This is actually a pretty good rule to drive your car by, you should never ignore anything odd going on but it is also easier than most people think to identify certain things that may give you an idea of how fast you need to act. One of these things is a worn out clutch and knowing it is on the way out can be very useful.
What Is a Clutch?
Without going into a huge amount of detail the clutch is a system made up of two spinning plates that face each other. When they come together they are able to grip each other and turn together but they are also designed to slip a little as they come together allowing the faster spinning one to bring the slower up to speed easily. By pressing down the clutch pedal the driver pulls these two plates apart, by bringing the foot back up the plates come back together. But what do these plates do? Well, one plate is attached to the engine that is always spinning while the engine is running and the other is attached to the gears and the rest of the drive train as well as the actual wheels! The idea is that to change gear you need to disconnect the gear box from the engine so you pull the engine away from it, change gear then bring the engine back in contact. The idea of slipping the clutch as you pull away in simply allowing the plates to meet gently and the slow gearbox and wheel side of the plate can slowly speed up without slowing the engine plate so much the car stalls.
High Bite Point
The symptom most people in the know will mention first is the feeling of the biting point becoming higher. Actually it is better to think of any change in your usual bite point as something worth mentioning to a garage but as a clutch wears out it will generally get higher up.
A Bad Smell
As a clutch starts to wear out it can slip even when the plates are in full contact. This slipping causes a lot of heat and the smell of a burning clutch is not one anyone will mistake. Most people will have smelt it during a particularly tricky parking situation on a hill or when they were learning to drive. It is a rubbery chemical smell and it is one that should be taken as a warning the clutch is going, but only if it happens during normal driving.
High Revs and Slow Speeds
This is not referring to the type of high the revs seen if you drive around in 1st all the time. This is about the idea of being in a high gear and a normal speed but having the revs running higher than they should be. This can be especially noticeable under acceleration. The reason this is happening is that the plates are slipping as the power goes through during normal driving. It will feel like the car will not accelerate in line with the usual sound of the engine and it certainly tells you it’s time to head to a garage.
What To do
The best thing to do if you notice any of these symptoms or others like a spongy feeling clutch pedal is to find a local garage. There is a lot of talk these days about getting ripped off at garages and getting bad service so use a garage guide with vetted and checked garages like the one the AA run called the AA Garage Guide. Alternatively you could speak to friends and neighbours to get a recommendation but be careful to make sure they have the same standards as you. What some people think is acceptable may not fit the bill for others.
Whatever you do, do not ignore these symptoms. As with all things mechanical it is best to get it fixed before it breaks rather than after because breaking down is never fun!