Easiest clutch to change?

Topic that should have a nice debatable answer.

I’m in college. Discussing secret shames, it turns out that virtually none of us in my dorm circle of friends can drive a manual transmission car. We’re talking at least 15 guys, national merit scholarship and engineering majors here. We fully understand the principle. Just none of us have ever had family with a stick or friends who would let us use a stick-shift.

We want to rectify this. The goal is to go in on a semi-decent $3-4k beater, get it to a nice big empty parking lot, and let everyone get some practice time over the summer.

Part of the reason we’ve never gotten to drive friends’ manual cars is because “you’ll burn out my clutch”. So the question, dear readers, if you agree with that, is what relatively common stick-shift car has the easiest and cheapest clutch replacement? Possibly something some relatively handy guys could do on their own a couple times.

Air cooled VW. After you’ve practiced taking the engine out a couple of times, you can probably do a clutch in an hour and a half.

If those are too old for you, a 2wd pickup would probably be the next choice. Some Japanese clutches are getting really expensive, so I’d say a Ford Ranger would be your best bet. They’re nice little trucks, too!

Or, alternatively, you could take a wild college road trip to Mexico where most of the economy rental cars are manuals.

I used to own a car that would have been perfect for you–a 1948 Dodge. This car had a fluid coupling between the engine and the clutch. I don’t think you could ruin a clutch in this car while learning to drive a shift. The car I learned to drive was a 1954 Buick with a shift. The clutch was expensive to change as the car had an enclosed driveshaft and the rear axle had to be dropped to remove the transmission. However, I didn’t damage the clutch. I think with the right instruction, you and your friends should be able to learn to drive the shift without wrecking the clutch.

For a modern vehicle,I would recommend a rear wheel drive. A compact pick-up truck would be a good bet.

I got ‘handy’ at pulling the tranny and clutch on my '65 Mustang on ramps in the driveway. You’ll want a rear wheel drive car, maybe you can find an '80s-'90s Mustang with a manual.

Let me second the suggestion for a 2WD pickup. They aren’t very desirable, so used prices are cheap (everyone wants 4WD pickups for some silly reason), and they are pretty easy to work on. Small ones with 4cyl engines, just about any make, though you might check clutch prices at online parts dealers once you have a specific make and model in mind, just to be sure it isn’t some ridiculously expensive clutch for the one you happened to find. The Ford Rangers are pretty ubiquitous.

FYI, I learned to drive a stick shift on my mother’s Mustang around 1970. I never burned out the clutch, and it still had the original clutch in it when she sold it. With that said, some people just seem to “get it” with a clutch and others really struggle to learn. So, if a bunch of different guys are going to be learning you’ll probably burn at least one clutch out.

The VW bettle probably is the easiest (the type4 engine buses were a little tough),when Nissan was Datsun one of their FWD cars was set-up for a no-tranny removal technique (never did one can’t think of model)Mid 80’s 3-series BMW’s (E-30) was very easy. One man could pick up the trans and stab it alone. When you do the 4cyl E-30 the engine hangs down in back, this causes the distributor cap to press on the firewall and the cap gets knocked sideways if you dont notice and crank the engine it breaks the cap (I guess you can tell it happened to me).

Can’t think of a car to recommend because of ease of clutch replacement but I can tell you the hardest, a mid 80’s F-250 4wd with a PTO. That PTO made the job really tough.

An old used 2WD Toyota pickup with a 4-banger. I taught two kids to drive on mine, one even smoked the clutch trying to learn (talk about stink!) and I still got 295,000 out of the original clutch.

Since the engine is longitudinally mounted with the clutch and tranny bolted on the rear of the engine and a good old-fashioned driveshaft coming out the back, a bunch of energetic engineering students can put a new clutch in easily…as long as they follow the maintenance manual. Transverse mounted FWD configurations are much harder to change, and some cars where the front chassis is assmebled as a unit and bolted up under the unibody can be even tougher.

Yup, I recoommend a good ol-fashioned 2WD, RWD 4-banger with a full frame.

You’re going about this all wrong, and you’re making it a lot more complex than it needs to be. You’re assuming the people who say “You’ll burn out my clutch” are correct. That’s nonsense.

You’re all intelligent people, right? I’m talking about you and your dorm circle. You’re in college, so I’m assuming you’re reasonably intelligent. Please tell me if I’m wrong about this.

Driving a car with a manual transmission is not rocket science. Even you and your dorm circle can do it. You just need to learn how. Learning to operate a manual clutch takes 10 minutes, max.

You don’t need to buy a car unless you PLAN to destroy the clutch.

I taught two kids to drive a manual transmission vehicles with no damage whatsoever to a clutch. They both currently own and drive manual transmission vehicles. Their choice, not mine.

That’s surely all correct, mcparadise. But the people saying that are the (few) people any of us know with a manual transmission car. Thus, none of us have gotten that ten minutes. Yet, paradoxically, almost all of us have had to sheepishly say “I don’t know how” at some point or another in our lives. Which doesn’t mean those people were willing to teach us or let them borrow their car to learn. Thus, the desire to purchase such a car, even if we reject the theory that any of us are going to burn the clutch out.

I’m pretty sure if it survives 15 of us, we can easily find dozens more people our age in the same boat after that.

65 Mustang with aluminum transmission case.

I think uhaul might still have a couple you can rent for the weekend, In fact you could probably go to a used car lot express an interest in a car that has a manual and have the dealer teach you.

Manual driving is not about what you have in your head. It takes a certain level of kinesthetic skills. Sure it takes 10 minutes to learn how to get moving; perfecting the art took me a whole year. As a mech. eng, book knowledge didn’t help me one bit. I’ve seen people with masters in mech. engineering who can’t launch a Prelude without 3k on the tach.

A 2wd truck is definitely a good choice with respect to ease of clutch change. Generally, any rwd is fine. However, I would consider a Miata. The smaller engine with lower torque promotes proper clutch technique. Besides, it has a proper “oh *^#?” parking brake handle between the seats that both the trainer and trainee can grab as car is about to roll backward toward Fat Tony’s Bentley.

Maybe you’re right. Now that I think about it I know lots of adults who can’t drive a stick. I think it’s because no one taught them when they were young. I learned to drive in a manual transmission car and so did my kids. My theory is that everyone should learn to drive this way, but I’ll never be appointed King so my theory doesn’t matter.

An air cooled VW would be good as far as ease of clutch replacement, but I don’t know anyone who’d actually want to drive one. They are ancient technology, but easy to work on. I used to be able to pull the engine from my bus in about a half hour.

These days I’d have to agree on a small pickup. Or maybe an early 80’s Toyota Corolla or Celica. A vehicle with the engine in front and rear wheel drive is what you need. The Miata suggestion is also good. There are lots of cheap Miatas around, and Miata would be much more fun to drive than a pickup.

Stay away from front wheel drive vehicles if you think you’ll be replacing a clutch.

I’ve owned several manual transmission cars, '67 Mustang (V8 3spd), '71 VW Camper bus, '85 Saab (non turbo), '87 Saab (turbo), '73 VW Bus, '03 Honda Civic. All these cars were kept for many years and miles. Non ever needed a new clutch. I taught 2 kids, wife, and several neighbors how to drive a stick shift in them too. I’ve also taught several people how to drive motorcycles in a couple of cases they had no experience with a clutch in driving a car.

I feel the secret is finding a good teacher to give instruction and coaching as you learn. This will minimize the torture on the clutch. Step 1 start on level ground, put 2,000 rpm on tach, lightly allow clutch to come up off the floor with car in 1st gear, as soon as you feel the car nudge forward depress the clutch completely. Step 2, repeat step 1 several times. Step 3, allow clutch to come up off floor and when car nudges forward hold the clutch in that spot for a count of 2 and the car will pick up a little speed (say 2 to 5 mph) then depress clutch and let the car roll and use brake to stop. Step 4, repeat step 3 several times with slight increases of speed until you are going about 15 mph. Step 5, release the clutch slowly as before and when car reaches 15 mph gradually let the clutch all the way out and take your foot off the clutch completely, after a 5 count with clutch released depress clutch to the floor, let the car coast for 20 feet then apply brake to stop.

This is how you learn the “motion point” of the clutch and after getting started and stopped a few times, shifting from gear to gear is pretty easy. Then at some point you are ready to learn starting on hills, etc. It is important that you learn to drive a clutch with the help of someone who can break it down into small steps that you can accomplish little by little.

If you can pool money to buy the car, you can pool money to have a clutch replaced IF you in fact kill the clutch. I’d suggest looking for a good teacher and selecting a car that is relatively easy to drive. My Mustang was a real challenge and not the best car to teach someone. The VW’s were all very easy to teach on because they had very low first gears. You could make lots of mistakes, pop the clutch at the wrong time and still not stall the VW motor. The Saab’s and Civic are pretty easy to learn on.

Just look for a normal Civic, Corolla, VW, BMW, Saab and you’ll hve a good car to learn and practice on. I doubt you’ll kill a clutch unless it was pretty much shot to begin with. If you kill one a couple of hundred bucks to replace it is easy if the costs is shared.

Replacing clutches is full of “little things” that experienced mechanics know and novice mechanics don’t. So, if you did the clutch job yourselves, you may find a sticky clutch, a grabby clutch, a shuddering clutch, and if you got real lucky a perfectly performing clutch. Most novices have to redo the clutch a couple of times to get it right, and that’s part of the learning curve of clutch work.

Learning to drive a stick opens up the world of motorcycles, rental trucks (some big ones are still stick) and foreign travel. Many of the rental cars around the world are stick shift, they just assume everyone knows how to drive them.

Hey, take a spring break trip to Costa Rica, rent a couple of cars there and by the end of the trip you’ll all be expert stick drivers!


Motorcycle clutches, no contest, unless it’s a Beemer, Goldwing or MotoGuzzi.


Our high school drivers ed car was a '61 Ford sedan, stick shift. Hundreds of students learned to drive in this car. The clutch survived it all, including up-hill starts WITHOUT rolling backwards an inch. (You use the hand brake). With proper instruction, learning to drive a stick shift is not hard on the clutch…

Agreed, a small P/U would be a good choice, but replacing the clutch need not be part of the program…

I once owned a Datsun 210 sedan…A FWD car, it had a cleverly designed clutch that could be changed in an hour. 4-cyl Toyota P/U’s are fairly easy, except for the exhaust pipe bracket at the bellhousing…

Almost anything can move from idle with proper clutch technique. Putting extra rev on the tach is unnecessarily hard on the clutch. The one time I was tipsy and let someone drove me home, she reved it up to 2k from every launch and the clutch was glazed in 3 miles.

To add to what everyone’s said, I think what leads to new manual drivers burning clutches is when they do only receive a cursory 10-minute lesson and then are sent loose with a manual car. There are a lot of bad habits like riding the clutch that people who are basically self-taught can pick up that will over a short-ish time wear a clutch out. But 10 minutes bombing around a parking lot shouldn’t burn out a clutch, even if your whole dorm gets a turn.

Thats the Datsun I was thinking of in my post. I can’t picture how they did it.