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Clutch life, clutch end-of-life, and clutch replacement

I drive a 2002 Saturn SL manual transmission with about 83000 miles on it and its original clutch. About half of the car’s life has been spent with a commute in moderate to heavy city traffic. I’ve not owned a car with a manual transmission before, so I’ve never had to deal with the joys of clutch replacement. I just had it in for some unrelated work recently and my mechanic said he thought the clutch was “riding a little high”, but I haven’t noticed any issues when starting from a stop, shifting, accelerating, etc. I have three questions:

* Expected lifespan for a clutch on this car in city-type driving? (I realize there’s no hard and fast answer to this, just wondering ballpark)

* What should I be looking for in terms of signals that the clutch is getting ready to go?

* When it comes time to do the deed, is there other maintenance or other repairs that make sense to do as long as the transmission is out? Master/slave cylinder?

Many thanks!

Clutch life is extremely variable, they can go well over 100k, or less than 50k, depending on design, use, and the type of driver. The main symptom that a clutch needs replacement is that it starts to slip, with the engine revving without the normal increase in road speed. As for replacing other items, the throwout bearing is a must, and the pressure plate is a possibility, depending on how it looks and how much it costs. I’ve not replaced a hydraulically-operated clutch, but I would be inclined to replace the slave cylinder, especially if it’s hard to reach. If it’s easily replaced by itself, then I would replace or rebuild it if there are any signs of leakage.

At “end of life”, the clutch will start slipping first in high gear, when you try to accelerate…You can “test” the clutch by setting the parking brake firmly and releasing the clutch in high gear as if you were starting off from a light…The engine should stall. How long it TAKES to stall will give you some idea of the clutches condition.

"I just had it in for some unrelated work recently and my mechanic said he thought the clutch was “riding a little high”,

With today’s hydraulic clutch linkage, this really does not mean very much…

I think your mechanic is suggesting that the friction zone of your clutch is starting to engage at a higher position of the clutch pedal than it should, indicating it is showing signs of wear.

I agree with Whitey. As the clutch wears, the engament point of the peddle is higher and higher, this is one gauge of a worn clutch. Most clutch kits come with a pressure plate, throwout bearing, and pilot bushing. As long as the transmission is out, might as well replace these parts too. The expense of having to replace the pressure plate after only another 25 or 30 k is more than the cost of just doing it all in one go. Other signs of a bad clutch, besides slipping (esp. on hills) is chatter, or a burning smell durring hard forward motion, such as in deep snow or mud.

Personally, I think you’ve done great miles-wise.

You can tesst it by simply getting on the road in the highest gear and flooring it. If it’s worn out, that’s the condition under which it will slip first. If it doesn’t slip, you still have life left in it.

Change the pilot bearing in the flywheel too. If your engine’s rear main bearing seal leaks, this is a good time to change it. Check the input shaft seal in the front of the transmission for leakage. If your clutch throwout bearing is internal to the transmission as it is with a VW, there will be no need to change it.

You might want to wait a while longer to replace your clutch friction disk. Mine, used in an urban area, last a minimum of 140k miles although they were not yet worn out and did not slip. If you change your disk at that mileage, you might not need to do it again for that car so it may not matter if you wait a while longer than that.

I have done clutch disk replacements at least 4 times on 4 different cars, two rear drivers and two front drivers and have never needed to replace or reface a flywheel nor have I needed to replace a pressure plate. Ask to see the old parts.

When your clutch starts to “slip” you’ll know it. You will be heading up a hill and the motor will rev up higher that normal and the car won’t accelerate. If you let off the gas the clutch will seem to be ok, until another hill.

It won’t quit on you all at once. You will have more and more slipping episodes and the hills won’t need to be as steep for the slipping to occur. Then you know it is time for a new clutch.

If your mechanic has been working on your car over the years he may notice a difference in the clutch engagement point. If he doesn’t know your car well, then your car may be higher than others but perhaps it has not changed and always been thus.

It could motor on as is for years.

Where is our friend “Elley Ellis” he had strong opinions on clutch issues.