Best of Deals Car Reviews Repair Shops Cars A-Z Radio Show

Clutch burned out

My girlfriend has a 2001 Toyota Solara. I’ve been driving it, infrequently, for about 3 years, and while it’s an older car, I never had any problems engaging the clutch. My girlfriend also did not have any issues with the car. I don’t have a lot of experience with manual transmissions, so I was hoping someone could answer a few questions.

Recently, we let our friend use it for the day. I dropped the car off at his place and did not notice anything wrong with it. The next day, I got a call from my friend who said that the car was emitting a weird smell and that he was having a hard time engaging the clutch. By the end of the day, he could no longer engage the clutch and had to leave it on the side of the road.

We got it towed to a garage, and when they looked at it, they said the clutch was totally burned out. My friend insists that he has plenty of experience driving with a manual transmission and that there must have been a problem with the clutch before we gave him the car. Is this possible? It seems unlikely to me, as neither my girlfriend nor I had any problems with the car. It’s not like we were struggling to engage the clutch- it was fine when I dropped it off, and then the next day it’s totally burned out.

That does seem somewhat unusually fast. Usually when the first signs of clutch slippage happen you have a couple of days to get it into a shop before it goes entirely.

Some people just don’t know what they’re doing with a manual. Those people are getting more and more common as automatics and DCTs become even more popular. It’s entirely possible your friend doesn’t know what he’s doing and was revving to 5,000 before slowly letting out on the clutch to get started.

That said, the car is 16 years old and that’s a long time for a clutch to last. It was probably getting close to being ready to die anyway and if anything, your friend just delivered the final death blow.

An incompetent driver can burn out a clutch pretty fast. Holding the car steady on an incline while riding the clutch spells a pretty rapid end. Your “friend” appears to be covering his buns.

I should have included in the original post that the clutch had been previously replaced in 2009.

That’s still a 7 year old clutch. My clutches usually last longer than that, but I also rarely use them outside of getting started in first gear, and when I do, I rev-match so there’s not much slipping going on.

We don’t know how proficient you are with minimizing wear on a clutch, so it’s still possible it was getting ready to die.

That said, I also agree with @Docnick – I’ve actually seen one example where an idiot with a Corvette decided to do a burnout on sticky tires on dry pavement on a hot day. The tires gripped hard enough that when he popped the clutch, it was the clutch that spun, not the tires. He didn’t realize all the smoke was from the clutch until far too late.

So, it’s possible to kill a clutch in less than 5 minutes if you’re a particularly talented idiot.

Do you have any previous observations of your friend driving a stick? Does he suck at it?

Hum, new clutch in 2009. How many miles were on the car at that time? How many are on it now, 7 years later? 1st clutch went 8 years. It seems a second clutch job at 7 years is not out of line with reality. I think your clutch was on the way out and your friend finished off the job.

I don’t let others use my cars, and your story is the reason why. They always break when a driver who doesn’t own or care about the car is using it. Get a new clutch, and then don’t loan it out to anyone.

I’ve got an '03 Civic on the OEM clutch at 170K miles. I know it isn’t going to last forever. For some reason the clutch replacement jobs frequently don’t last as long as the original clutch. A gouged flywheel, or lesser quality parts compared to OEM might account for it. Some shops will true up the flywheel (similar to smoothing out a disk brake rotor) and other shops might skip that process to save some $$$. 7 years out of replaced clutch is not too bad IMO.

This next job don’t skimp if you plan to keep the car. Replace or smooth out the flywheel, get all new parts, and drive on for many more years. Solara’s are good cars and kind of rare with a manual transmission. It sounds like a keeper to me.

My 20+ year old Corolla w/200K miles still has the original clutch. I expect it will need replacement at some point, but when, who knows? How long they last depends on the vehicle, terrain, and driving style. I expect your friend’s driving style did contribute to the failed clutch, but there’s no way to know for sure. Suggest for the sake of the friendship to just replace the clutch and be done w/it. They’re designed to be easily replaced, and you’ll have no problems securing the replacement parts you’ll need. If you want to avoid this aggravation in the future, don’t lend out your car.

Edit: I’m reminded of the story Tom and Ray tell about lending out one of their cars which has just the day before had a clutch installed. The borrower returned the car the next day with a completely burned out clutch.

I just celebrated 51 years of driving. About 70% or more of vehicles owned have been M/T. I have replaced 3 clutch discs, pressure plates, and release bearings that were not worn out only because the engine and transmission were removed from the vehicle. So why not? Why have I not worn out a clutch? I know how to operate one.

Your friend probably burned out your clutch but it is impossible to prove. I would not lend a manual transmission car to anyone.
The second clutch only lasted a year less than the first one, Chalk it up and move on.

I always thought that one of the biggest advantages to owning a manual trans car is having the perfect excuse to not let anyone borrow it . . . of course most folks won’t ask in the first place once they know its manual. . . :wink:

Agreed with the above, it’s a combination. The clutch was already on it’s way out and your friend didn’t know what he was doing, or at least not as much as he let on. If it was a Pontiac Wave I would have said it was the car because the car is crap and you have to replace the gear box every two years. The clutch not as often, but my parents had one and only kept it for 5 years because it was junk. In that five years they replaced the gear box twice and clutch once I think. Or they didn’t replace the clutch but got rid of it before they had to. I don’t quite remember. I just remember it was a terrible car. Sorry, that’s a bit off topic.

Your friend said he had lots of experience driving a clutch?
Was that 1,000 hours of experience or 1 hour of experience 1,000 times?
Perhaps your friend has been using the same bad technique for his entire manual transmission career.

Or perhaps the clutch was on the verge of giving up anyway and your friend just happened to borrow it then.

Or both.

In any event, if you want to stay friends you’ll simply get the clutch changed at your own expense and not loan your vehicles out anymore. Lots of friendships suffer from loaned vehicles.

+1 to @“the same mountainbike” ; I never like to lend my vehicles or borrow others cars.

There are just too many people out there that think they know how to drive anything, but in all reality they are the worse drivers.

I have a fellow, that when I do work on his cars and I later test drive them…he always says “Drive it like you stole it”. I never do. If I just did a brake job on his car, I’ll test the brakes. but I’m not going to do burn outs and maybe ruin a tranny or throw a rod. Then it will be “why did you pound my car into the ground”.


Agreed with mountainbike. If the clutch was fine when the car was handed over to them and the clutch went bad quickly enough to cause stranding of the car then the Vegas odds are that the person who borrowed the car is not as proficient with a manual as claimed or shifting gears manually caused that “gear banging monster” to rear its head.

Those who have been around on this forum for a while may remember the VW New Beetle clutch incident that was posted here many years ago.
This lady had purchased a brand new VW New Beetle and right off the bat decided to teach her daughter how to drive a manual transmission.

Two days on a brand new car and the clutch was wiped.

I seem to recall that one.
The clutch on my '89 Toyota pickup worked great for over 275,000 miles until my daughter started driving it. It pooped out at 295,000 miles. Would it be fair for me to say my daughter killed it? At 295,000 miles, I’d feel guilty even suggesting it. Everything wears out eventually.