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What does it mean when a clutch burns out?

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Updated 10 Oct 2019

Jason Unrau

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Sometimes, car talk sounds like a different language.

Take for example a burnt-out clutch.

Your car’s transmission or clutch wasn’t actually on fire or burning, was it?

There is a problem with your car, and it doesn’t shift properly anymore.

From the advice you’ve received and the research you’ve done, it sounds like your clutch has burnt out.

What does it mean? There wasn’t a blazing inferno in your transmission.

What’s happened is that your clutch material has worn off the clutch disc.

It’s unable to grip against the flywheel and your clutch is slipping.

Think of the friction material on your clutch disc like you would think of brake pads.

Their purpose is to create friction against a solid metal disc.

For brake pads, it’s to slow your car down.

For the clutch, the friction between the clutch disc and flywheel creates a solid connection between the engine and the transmission to gain or maintain momentum.

How Does It Happen?

Perhaps the reason it’s said that a clutch is “burning out” is because of excessive heat generated from a slipping clutch, or the putrid smell of a slipping clutch disc against the flywheel.

The materials that comprise a clutch disc are, shall we say, fragrant when they heat up.

It includes fibreglass strands, phenolic resin, Kevlar, metallic powder, and even rubber compounds.

Like brake pads, this friction material is designed to slowly wear down through normal use.

Usually, a burnt-out clutch refers to one that’s gone from good to toast in a short time. It can be due to:

  • Sustained aggressive driving style
  • ‘Riding’ the clutch
  • Oil-contaminated clutch disc
  • A warped flywheel

Whether it’s been through normal use or unusual abuse, a burnt-out clutch needs to be repaired right away.

How A Burnt-Out Clutch Is Fixed

When a clutch burns out, it absolutely requires a clutch disc replacement.

The clutch disc may not be the only component required to repair the concern, though.

A technician needs to remove the manual transmission to inspect the clutch components.

The pressure plate is checked to ensure it’s not damaged, and the flywheel is inspected for hot spots and warpage.

Most clutch repairs use a complete kit that includes a replacement clutch disc, a new pressure plate, pilot bearing, and a thrust bearing.

It’s important to replace all the affected parts.

Otherwise, you could be facing another clutch repair in the not-so-distant future.

What Does It Cost To Repair A Burnt-Out Clutch?

Clutch replacement costs vary significantly depending on the make and model as well as the components required.

If just the clutch disc is changed, the average cost is between $450 and $700 for parts and labour.

For a complete clutch kit plus a flywheel, the cost can range from $750 to $2,000.

Luckily, if you drive your car responsibly, you shouldn’t need to replace your clutch often.

Most clutches can last 80,000 to 100,000km – some drivers can even get more than 150,000km!

Are you having clutch issues but not sure what’s going on?

Book in for in inspection with a local, high-quality mechanic on AutoGuru!

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Written By

Jason Unrau

Jason is a Canadian automotive content writer with a background in the auto service industry, but he’s been hooked on cars and mechanics since childhood.

One of his first cars was an ’80 Mazda RX-7 that’s sorely missed to this day. A ’68 Ford Torino GT, a ’66 Ford Country Squire Woodie station wagon, and a ’96 Suzuki GSX-R 750 have spent time in his fleet of cars, bikes, and trucks over the past two decades.

Jason’s pride and joy is under construction – a turbocharged ’88 Mazda RX-7 convertible. Also on his resume is CASCAR official certification.