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Am I responsible for bad clutch?

I’ve been driving manual transmission vehicles - from my '72 Pinto to big trucks - for 40 years. This happened recently in a VW Golf I had rented: While driving down a mountain in a tunnel in Norway, with the clutch depressed, there was a loud POP noise.
The clutch became engaged, and the clutch pedal did nothing. I’ll spare you the details of the harrowing aftermath, the language barrier issues in the sticks of Norway and such. In the end, the rental company is charging us a couple thousand bucks for breaking their car. I maintain it was not Driver Error. My local VM service manager indicated that the Slave Cylinder on the Golf has been a problem for years, and is probably what went bad, but - as a rep of VW - is not willing (allowed) to put that in writing. The garage that fixed the Golf indicated it was Driver Error. I’m guessing everything tranny-wise got beat up when the Slave gave out, making it look like I’m a bonafide Clutch Masher. Advice?

You are not going to destroy a clutch by holding the pedal in one time. That clutch was ready to fail before you ever got into the car, and the rental company probably knows it but figures they can stick you with the bill.

The transmission probably wouldn’t have been beat up if the slave cylinder failed, unless you were doing something like bombing down the hill at 80mph with the clutch in and the shift lever in first (and if you were doing that, please disregard my first paragraph and pay up :wink: ).

It could be that the throwout bearing failed - those can chew up transmissions when they die, and the technique you were using will prematurely wear that bearing out – but not fast enough to make it fail after one or even one hundred drives.

shadowfax: Excellent lesson in rev limiters. A young work associate was “testing” maximum zero to who knows what in his fairly new M/T Honda Civic. He of course was barely shy of the ELECTRONIC rev limiter. He was such a “hotshot” driver he managed to execute a successful 2-1 shift as opposed to the intended 2-3. You know the result was not pretty. He was not worried about the engine, clutch, and transaxle damage. A buddy that knows about such things told him it would be warranty repairs due to a failed rev limiter. I had to break the bad news that an electronic limiter (which I understand normally cuts fuel delivery) has never or ever will be invented that can overcome mechanical engine over-speed. I have met several M/T drivers (some not all that young) who are unaware of this amazing phenomenon. Electronic technology is advancing at light speed but I’m afraid human knowledge is suffering. As for OP coasting downhill with clutch disengaged I’m sure some “genus” told them it was a good way save fuel. In my state it is a good way to receive a moving violation and Norway is known for some of the strictest traffic laws and heftiest fines in the world.

A young me was bombing down the interstate at around 5 over the legal speed when a guy towing a boat cut me off. I had to slam on the brakes to avoid hitting him, and I wasn’t yet proficient with stickshifts, so I just jammed the brake pedal and never touched the clutch.

The wheels locked (that car came out long before the days of ABS), and then unlocked as I stopped braking because the guy swerved back over. So the clutch instantly got a 60-0-50-or-so mph jolt and promptly shattered. I was lucky - if the clutch had been a little stronger I might have damaged something more expensive.

You’re right that OP’s driving technique leaves something to be desired (although while it is a moving violation in some areas, it’s almost never enforced because cops do not yet have x-ray vision to see what your feet are doing as you drive :wink: ).

However, I contend that OP’s driving technique was not responsible for the damage that resulted and therefore OP should not be responsible for paying for failed parts.

Coasting down hill in gear (apparently) while holding clutch pedal down makes me think the OP is not as good with manual transmissions as they think.

Knowing nothing about the tort laws in Norway, and not knowing anything about any transactions that might have ensued, all I can suggest is to get representation in Norway… or pay the tab and go on with life. Sometimes stuff just happens.

the same mountainbike: I have not visited Norway but have served with them and had conversations. I remember reading some time ago about US rental companies using or planning to use devices tracking and recording location, speed, etc… Norway has a substantial tech industry so I wonder if the rental company has information the OP is unaware of?

It sounds like the OP was coasting downhill with the clutch petal pushed down. I learned that this isn’t a good technique on a motorcycle with a wet clutch. Such a clutch does not completely disengage and moving parts are spinning at different speeds resulting in overheating the clutch.

It is possible that the clutch petal wasn’t fully depression and the clutch overheated if this was a long incline?

Sarge, you made a good point. Cars today have capabilities unheard of just a decade ago, including the ability to monitor countless functions that define the driver’s technique and activities. There were successful lawsuits here in the U.S. in both NY and CA that caused laws to be passed restricting what rental car companies can legally charge renters for. Some business renters got hit with tens of thousands of dollars in hidden fees based on “fine print” in the rental contracts and sued. It’s entirely possible that the rental company has data on destructive driver technique not disclosed in this thread.

While driving down a mountain in a tunnel in Norway, with the clutch depressed, there was a loud POP noise.

Please explain a little more. A driver normally wouldn’t hold down the clutch pedal while going downhill. There’s no reason to do that. If you want to coast, that’s why there’s a neutral provided on the gear shift lever. Unless you mean OP that you were holding down the clutch pedal in preparation for shifting, just for a couple of seconds in order to execute the shift, and at that point you heard the sound. If that’s the case, what gears were you shifting between? If this was just a normal shift, about the only thing I could think of that might be driver related is if you were shifting into a low gear at a high vehicle speed, like shifting into 2nd while traveling at 70 mph, if you let out the clutch quickly, that might shock the clutch enough to damage it.

Or if you were holding the clutch pedal down for a long time, like for 10-15 minutes, that could conceivable damage the throw out bearing. But I can’t imagine anyone doing that, too much effort to do it.

Otherwise I just can’t see how just a normal shift while going downhill would damage the clutch. Unless it was already about to go bonkers anyway.

Hey All - Original Poster here. Thanks for sharing your insights and expertise. I’ll be the first to admit that just because I’ve been doing something for 40 years, doesn’t mean I’m doing everything right. That being said, it is odd to have this happen now and never before had any clutch issues in the previous 40 years.
Re questions re whether the Rental Co has sophisticated method of monitoring, the answer in this case is no. They said they are simply going on the mechanic’s report. (Mechanics did not save the parts to examine, even though we said even before the work was done that there was question of how/why this happened)
Re coasting with the clutch in, I was doing moderate engine braking to ensure not overdoing the brakes, as I’d been taught. I stand ready to be corrected if this technique is wrong (seems from other forums that there’s some debate on this).
Clutch was definitely fully engaged when I was not engine-braking (I pay attention to that).
Can you help explain if/how this technique would cause the clutch to suddenly engage?
Again, the VW Service Manager (in the US) was the one who went straight to the issue of their Slave Cylinders being an issue, and he felt this is what caused it.


Re coasting with the clutch in, I was doing moderate engine braking

This comment is a little confusing. If you are using the engine to brake the car’s speed, the clutch pedal would be all the way out, right?

The slave cylinder should be external so I’m having an impossible time seeing how they figured a failed slave cylinder caused that much damage the clutch; if any.

If they’re trying to hold your feet to the fire on this I’d want a clear technical explanation along with the damaged parts.

Is it possible the throwout bearing disentegrated? If so, that could cause total clutch failure and possibly transmission damage.

I would also say if the throwout bearing gave up while you were coasting downhill with the clutch depressed then the throwout bearing was likely failing before you even picked the car up.
There’s no difference in that than someone sitting in traffic for hours on end with pedal depressed.

There was a major problem and I think the car rental company is looking for a scapegoat to cover the bill.

OP: sorry, still doesn’t add up. perhaps the phrase “clutch in” means to you “clutch engaged” ? Usually it means the opposite. Engaged means the clutch is out or connected. In or out relates to the pedal position. In is depressed, out is released. Best to use “engaged” or disengaged" to avoid confusion.

Engine braking means the clutch is engaged.

“Clutch was definitely fully engaged when I was not engine-braking” This implies that when engine braking, the clutch was NOT fully engaged. Again, this does not seem to be what you want to say.

“While driving down a mountain in a tunnel in Norway, with the clutch depressed, there was a loud POP noise.
The clutch became engaged, and the clutch pedal did nothing.”

OK… Depressing pedal disengages clutch. Clutch engaging with pedal depressed is classic slave cylinder failure.

When you were using the clutch to do moderate engine braking, was the engine turned on?

Were you iterating from a fully depressed clutch to a partially engaged clutch as you were going downhill?

If so, was the engine running when doing this?

The shop was not required to substantiate the work they billed and the rental company is apparently more willing to throw the cost onto their customer rather than pay it, or better yet question the bill. A failed master cylinder or slave cylinder might have been the only problem but at this point who can prove anything?

Remember this was a rental car. You have to wonder how used and abused it was before you got it and this might have been just waiting to happen. I vote for the throwout bearing because of the pop and sudden failure. This isn’t to say it wasn’t a secondary failure because of a slave cylinder having it partly engaged and causing it to fail prematurely. Did you hear any screeching like a cricket near the time of failure?

As for the rental, did you use a credit card? IF so, many of these include rental car insurance but don’t know if that applies overseas or not. I would look into this and read the fine print for sure. Also, did you pay extra for any insurance that the rental company offered? Some people never opt for this while others always buy it.

Weather the OP was using the clutch to do engine braking …correctly or incorrectly…makes no difference.

The Op could have been sitting still in traffic, stopped for a train crossing, or at a long stop light when the slaver cylinder went out.

I agree with @cwatkin that the vehicle was most likely abused by prior renters of that vehicle, and I think someone mentioned that the VWs are prone to have problems with the slave cylinder.
I’d say that the slave would have went out on the OP or the next car renter.

Every time I’ve rented a car, I was offered an insurance to cover these things. It was not expensive and as in the OPs case, would have been well worth the cost.

If you paid with a credit card…I’d call the card company and contest any charges. If you paid cash, I’d ignore it unless a bunch of Norwegans showed up at the door to force feed you Lutefisk.


What a fate!!

It is said that about half the Norwegians who immigrated to America came in order to escape the hated lutefisk, and the other half came to spread the gospel of lutefisk’s wonderfulness. - Norwegian-American saying