Clutch Catastrophe

Please excuse my long-winded question. This is complex, and I am not very mechanical. In April, the clutch on my Mazda5 went. You could smell the burning odor, and the car was losing its zip.
I brought it to my regular mechanic, who has always been fair. The clutch was replaced, and not for cheap.
This week, I noticed the car was stalling as I put it into first gear. And, I could smell the dreaded odor of burning clutch.
I called my mechanic and told him the problem and that I was coming in. The car moved fine in 2nd, 3rd and fourth, but first gear was a disaster, and the smell was immense.
The verdict, as he explained it to me was that the clutch cable had malfunctioned and was not allowing the shifter to to work properly.
He apologized and made the repairs at no charge. Here is the rub: The clutch clearly took a beating on the way down to the garage.
The mechanic said he thinks the clutch is fine, but said he would extend the warranty another 3 months from the day the car was ready.
It seemed fair at the time. The car worked fine on the way home but the smell was in the air when I got home.
Ok, here is the question: Does the smell mean the clutch is definitely cooked? Could the smell be an after effect from when I brought it in? Does anyone have an advice? Thank you for reading this.

Year and mileage of your car?

If you car had a hydraulic clutch, I’d have guessed something wrong with the hydraulics. Since your car apparently has a cable operated clutch (somewhat surprising if it is of recent vintage) then yes, your mechanic is probably right, the cable was the culprit. In all likelihood he is the one who didn’t set the cable up correctly when he did the clutch install. But that is water under the bridge. I think the problem is probably solved now. My advice is to just drive as normal, and note anything unusual and ask your mechanic about it.

One other bit of advice. If you find yourself in the future driving to a shop and the clutch is not working for some reason and just driving it to the shop is taking a toll on the clutch, it is probably better $$-wise to pull over and have the car towed the remaining distance.

This is a bit suspect but I would want to know the year model of the car. I thought most later model Mazdas used hydraulic clutch actuators and no cable at all is used.

There are several points to bring up but i would want to make sure we’re on the same page about the car itself.

I smoked a clutch a few times towing a boat out of a bad launch, toyota and ford, both over 100k and no clutch needed. Shirley the life is shortened, but probably minimally.

If the clutch is indeed operated by a cable, the last step in replacing the clutch is to adjust the clutch cable.


Maybe you should stick with automatics…

Thank you all, or should I say, most of you, for the helpful responses. It is a 2009 Mazda5. Again, I am concerned that the presence of the smell on the way home from the garage means the clutch is definitely spent. I guess I will find out soon enough.
I am sorry to say this, and it is probably an indication of my stress over this, but if anyone else wants to post something ‘cute’ about sticking to automatics please dont.

I’ve burned a few clutches in my day. If minute pieces of the first clutch lining sprayed out when the clutch died…you may have the smell for a few days. If the clutch is operating correctly…just run the vehicle through an automated car wash that has an undercarriage spray. That should take care of most of the smell.

All the pieces of this tale don’t quite add up for me. But, at this point the issue is the smell. The smell won’t go away immediately, but it should not persist for days and weeks either. After 50 to 100 miles of driving after the latest repair; if there is still any clutch smell, there is still a problem.

This forum can be informative and enlightening and annoying and often amusing, @Clutch Crazed. I have read and re-read your posts and my impression is that your mastery of driving manual transmissions is somewhat akin to a dance choreography and as long as everything works as designed all is well. In my attempt to read between the lines “losing its zip” and “burning odor” would indicate that originally the clutch was slipping and likely worn out. Then, with a new clutch “stalling in first” and the “burning odor” would seem to indicate that the clutch is dragging while you are stopped, holding the clutch pedal down with the transmission in gear.

Now, according to parts replacement catalogs your car has an hydraulic clutch not a mechanical cable operated clutch. If that is the case there is a great deal of uncertainty regarding what went wrong with the new clutch and what corrected the problem. After getting the new clutch were you aware that the resistance in the clutch pedal was creeping lower in the arc of the pedal’s travel? Were you aware that shifting while stopped with the engine running required significantly more effort and resulted in grinding when shifting to reverse and a whining noise shifting to first when the new clutch began to develop the burned odor. I can consider the possible and probable causes for your problems with the new clutch and give a somewhat informed opinion that either the clutch master cylinder or slave cylinder was failing soon after the clutch replacement and the shop replaced the failing part to protect their reputation despite their having no culpability in the failure. And as for the degree of wear and damage the new clutch received while it was smelling burned, that cannot be determined without inspecting the clutch which requires removing it.

Just remember, when dancing occasionally some toes get stepped on. That was even true for Fred and Ginger.

Some possibilities as to what could have gone wrong.
The flywheel could have been burnt from the prior clutch problem and this was not resolved when the clutch was replaced.
The new clutch did not the proper amount of free play in the pedal and this should be verified and adjusted as needed when the new clutch was installed.

What really stinks about this is blaming the failure on a part that does not exist. Is you wanted to take him at his word on the cable scenario that means:
The cable was replaced so where is the old one? Show you in any listing where a cable is to be had.
The cable free play was not adjusted after the new clutch so whose fault would that be?

I think your new clutch is on borrowed time.

To the experts here: Is it possible by “clutch cable” the mechanic is referring to some part different than what “clutch cable” usually means – a sheathed cable running from the clutch pedal to the clutch release arm? Maybe there is some other post-hydraulics cable in the clutch linkage for that particular car.

In any event, to the OP, I think you would be best served as long as the car is shifting ok and not making weird noises just just ask your mechanic to double check/adjust as required the clutch free-play, then just drive the car as normal. You can also ask the mechanic about any remaining odor. If a clutch problem remains, you will find out shortly. But I expect the clutch is now in good working order and will last for many thousands of miles. Best of luck.

A clutch is either cable/linkage operated or hydraulically operated.


My take on it…Anytime the clutch is burning, the life is shortened, to what extent its hard to tell. I would drive it and not worry so long as its not chattering and everything is working well. I would chalk it up as a lesson learned, the mechanic probably isn’t going to be persuaded easily to replace the clutch.

I had an 80’s fox mustang at one time, not a day went by that I didn’t abuse the car at every opportunity. I got as little as 6k miles on a clutch and as many as 20k on a clutch, This was due to downright abuse. I would guesstimate that maybe at the most your episode maybe took 5-10% of the life of the clutch. This is a total guess and the only way to tell for sure would be to examine the clutch disc.

A guy I know had a 2005 Toyota matrix xrs, it was easy to burn the clutch on it when on a steep hill. He got 50k miles out of the clutch but those cars were known to have weak factory clutches.

It’s possible the burning clutch smell is still lingering in the car. Get rid of that completely before moving on - 24 hours outside with the windows open and verify the smell is gone. THEN see if there is a smell when driving the car. If so, return to the shop. If not, problem has been solved.

I bought my 2006 Matrix (base, not XRS) one year old with 8K miles.
In retrospect I think the original owner never got the hang of manual shifting because the clutch started slipping at 33K miles.
The clutch disk was not worn down, but it was charred and the flywheel and pressure plate had “bluing” from overheating.
The clutch replacement cost $750, but I saved $4000 over the cost of a brand new car, so I think I’m still ahead.

Many years ago when I was teaching my son to drive a manual he smoked the clutch on my pickup. Stunk up a storm. But it worked fine until I changed it years later at 295,000 miles. And yes, the smell went away after a while.

I’ve no doubt that your clutches life expectancy has been shortened. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to kow if the bad clutch actuation system (whether cable or hydraulic) was the cause of the first plate’s failure, an error in the clutch replacement caused the second plate to fry, or the failure to the actuation system was a coincidence. It sounds to me like the shop is trying to be fair.