Car will easily shift into gear without using the clutch?



My brother brought me his car last night and asked me to fix it (I should have just been born male). He said that he was at a stop light, had the car in first gear, and when he went to accelerate he lost power and smelt burning rubber. All other gears were fine, and first gear worked fine after this, but the burning smell continues as long as he is driving. I ran a full diagnostic system check (just to cover all bases) and everything cleared fine. Then I noticed that I could manually shift his car through gears under the hood. I wasn’t able to find where the smell was coming from exactly, but I know if was SOMEWHERE in the area of the gear box. Then I found out that he can shift to all gears but first without using the clutch. Any ideas? Car is shifting just fine, and drives fine. Transmission seems good…but this is weird, and the burning rubber smell is still present. I am stumpted!


Not that it’s important in the least; but, is this a manual shift transmission or an automatic? A little clue as to the make, model, year wouldn’t hurt either.

I am assuming it is a manual shift.  With a little skill and care you can usually shift all gears except first and reverse without using the clutch while moving.  However it is generally not a good idea and when you miss, and everyone will, it causes damage.  Clutches are cheaper than transmissions.

I suspect there is no connections with the shifting and the odor.  

The odor could have been something that was spilled or almost anything.  It might have even been something that was driven through and splashed onto the car.


It is on a 99 Ford Contour. It is a manual transmission. He was able to shift it from 1st to 2nd around 3000 rpms. He did this several time, and I can assure you that he does not shift at ideal timing, so the chance of him catching it when those gears are lined up is slim to none. He said there was no difference in how it shifted while driving it between using the clutch and not using the clutch. I guess it would be hard for me to beleive that he can even do this without some kind of grinding of the gears. I have little experience with Fords though…maybe they know something my foreign car makers dont? hahaha…

Thanks, Melissa


Sounds like a worn out clutch to me. In a day or two this car will stop moving altogether.


So if you can still drive a car without the clutch then why will the car quit moving all together after a few days? Any idea what the burning rubber smell could be coming from?


The clutch is slipping. Some torque is still passing through to the transmission but a lot of power is being lost heating up the clutch disc, pressure plate, and flywheel – the burning clutch disc material is what you smell. One test of a clutch is to block the front wheels; make sure that the car will not cause any damage if it moves forward; apply the emergency and service brake; rev the engine with you right toe; and release the clutch pedal with the transmission in the highest gear. If the engine continues to run you have a slipping clutch. You can continue to drive but reliability is very questionable. While you continue to drive you are doing damage to the pressure plate and flywheel – the clutch disc will already need to be replaced. It’s time to do a clutch job.


Something within the clutch/throwout bearing and transmission is amiss.

Under normal (when the clutch is working and adjusted correctly) conditions the gears will not shift without grinding when not engaging/disengaging the clutch.

The clutch must be engaged to use the trans.(certain exceptions apply)

How is he stopping the vehicle if not disengaging the clutch/trans?

I drove big rigs for a long time and there were times I shifted from gear to gear without use of the clutch, BUT this can only be done successfully providing the engine RPMs and the trans is turning at the SAME speed.

To answer those with raised eyebrows, NO, I wasn’t always successful either.

You have to REALLY know your vehicle to shift without a clutch. Trucks, anyway.
Cars have synchronized shifting which makes driving a standard easy.

The rubber smell? Like was mentioned, it could be almost anything, but I will suggest you or he do a very close inspection of the entire length of the exhaust for any fallen down covers, etc.
You sure don’t want a fire to start.

Scorched clutches have a burnt smell alright but I wouldn’t say like rubber.


Hi Melissa. This has happened to me on more than one car over the years. (I always drive manual transmission.) In simplest term, the clutch has worn out. It needs to be replaced. Take care of this ASAP, the situation will only get worse.


I gave Researcher the stars because I believe he answered your question effectively. (Unlike my answer)


Exactly what researcher said. I suspect the clutch is slipping, but not quite bad enough yet to keep the car from moving, but that will not last long.