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Clutch shudders sometimes when cold

I have a 1996 VW Passat TDI which has a 5 speed stick (they all did). Yes, it’s really old but it runs great and gets 45 mpg. However, the model is probably not relevant to this problem. My question has to do with clutch performance. When the car is cold (and it’s cold outside), the car sometimes shudders starting out in first gear for a couple minutes. I have tried to be extra careful letting out the clutch in these circumstances. Sometimes that helps, but it doesn’t eliminate the problem. After about 5 minutes or so the clutch starts working well as it usually does. Does anyone know about this problem?

How old is the clutch? I assume it’s hydraulic. Has the fluid been changed out? Ever? When?

How old are the engine / transmission mounts?

Are you sure it’s the clutch and not the engine sputtering a bit when put under load while cold?

I think this shuddering is a sign your clutch is wearing out. I put up with mine doing that for a while, and I had my clutch replaced before it gave out completely. However, when it was replaced, they didn’t do a very good job, and the new clutch shuddered even worse until I went back and made them replace the clutch again.

Do yourself a favor and make sure the person who replaces your clutch knows what he is doing. It might be worth it to go to a dealership for this job.

Clutch shudder is often caused by poor surfaces on the pressure plate and flywheel.
This can come from long use (and the clutch is almost worn out anyway) or overheating from slippage or poor technique.

@whitey, was the flywheel resurfaced on your clutch job?

It may be an engine problem appearing to be a clutch problem. A good mechanic will tell you if you leave it overnight at the shop.

My guess this is a clutch problem. But it might not be wearing out, but as mentioned above the surfaces have developed some glazing, or maybe some lubricant has got on them somehow, like if the rear main seal has developed a small oil leak. I think a gear oil leak from the transmission side is also possible if there is a seal failure there too. I guess if this were my car I’d just continue to drive it and be careful — as the OP says is current practice – when the engine is cold. The only alternative — besides verifying the clutch hydraulic fluid and linkages are ok – would be to remove the transmission for a look-see. But if you did that, with a 1996, you might as well replace the clutch. Probably the best bet for now it just to nurse it along.

@circuitsmith, the clutch job was supposed to come with a new flywheel.

Ahhhh…another thread started and abandoned. Perhaps people have trouble finding their way back?

@Whitey, why would a clutch job come with a new flywheel?

…because the kit comes with it, at least according to what I was told. The car had gone about 246,000 on the original clutch (and the original flywheel), so I told them I didn’t want them to skimp on any parts to save money, and that I expect the replacement clutch to last as long as the original.

I would test the clutch while warm ( place in higher gear with parking brake on and see if it slips or stalls) and if it turns out to be fine, I would suspect the linkage under cold weather conditions and the clutch is not fully engaging. If it works well when warm, I would guess it’s not a problem with rough surfaces. It works fine otherwise. Does it have an adjustment ? My money is on the linkage or a weak spring or if hydraulic at the slave or master cylinder or the fluid could be contaminated with water. I would definitely replace the fluid first before doing any clutch job and have the system checked for leaks. Maybe an internal leak by the plungers with that sticking in cold weather.

Clutch shutter can also be caused by a bad motor mount, causing the engine to twist some.