How does a person wear a clutch out?

This has never happened to me personally…I was taught how to drive a manual the right way. Push down clutch, shift gears, release…I never rode the clutch like I’ve seen some people do and never grinded the gears, pretty much did everything right, never once had to change a clutch in any vehichle I’ve owned that was manual. You couldn’t even tell I was shifting gears. But my mother on the other hand, well she owned two vehicles that were manual and the clutch went bad on both. The clutch went out on her 1988 Pontiac Lemans (she bought it brand-new) and then when she gave my dad her 1992 plymouth laser, Dad had to get the clutch replaced on that as well…When Dad took it to the mechanic, the mechanic said the previous owner of that car wore the clutch plate down. After Dad got the clutch replaced on the Plymouth, he sold it to me and said he was going to teach me to drive a manual the right way so I wouldn’t have to shell out a few hundred bucks to replace the clutch or a couple of thousand bucks to replace the transmission or transaxle. The plymouth had about 74k miles on it when I acquired it and I traded that car in 6 years later and it had about 190k miles on it and I never had problems with the tranny or the clutch. So how does one wear a clutch out on a car?

The most common reason clutches are damaged by someone who knows how to drive a manual transmission is because of the clutch hydraulic system. You can have a clutch master cylinder leak internally and this is like someone riding the clutch.


Some people leave their foot on the clutch pedal while going through the gears and swear they are not actually pressing on it but they are. Some people wait at a light on a hill by slipping the clutch rather than stepping on the brake. The 1941 Studebaker I learned to drive on had a hill holder that wouldn’t let the car roll backward on a hill. It was a wonderful car ant the hill holder was a great device.

With minimal clutch slipping including gentle starts in first gear, 200,000 miles on a clutch is not at all unusual now. I have one car with over 250k miles on the clutch. A greater percentage of highway miles helps to extend clutch life. Not driving while young helps a lot to extend clutch life.

Some people will rev the engine too high and slip the clutch too much when starting out. That is what my mom used to do. When pulling into a break in the traffic, she’d rev it to around 3500 RPM and slip the clutch for about 8 seconds while the car gained speed. Her clutch was shot by around 20,000 miles.

When the clutch petal is all the way out and your foot is on the floor - virtually no clutch wear. When you foot is fully depressing the clutch petal - ditto, little to no wear. It is when the clutch is between fully out or fully in that slipping occurs and that is when the clutch gets wear.

Using the clutch petal as a foot rest is a very bad habit. It reduces pressure between the clutch plate, disk, and flywheel. That allows slipping and wears the clutch plate. Lots of slipping on start up can increase wear. Slipping in between gears is when the driver doesn’t use the gas petal to minimize out of synch shifts, where there is a jerk or big change in motor speed.

I worked around a shop mowing the grass and cleaning up for an old mechanic. This fellow had great stories. He told about one elderly man who came into the shop with the clutch almost gone in his 1946 Buick Roadmaster. My mechanic friend replaced the clutch which was a more difficult job on the Buicks of those days since it had an enclosed driveshaft and the rear axle had to be dropped. Well, after replacing the clutch and checking out everything, the elderly man was back a couple of months later with the clutch almost gone in the Buick. Again, the clutch was replaced. Two months later, the customer was back with the clutch almost shot. My mechanic friend replaced the clutch and then decided to go for a ride with the elderly man driving. The old geezer only let the clutch out to the friction point and drove slipping the clutch. When the mechanic suggested he might let the clutch all the way out and save him replacing clutches, the customer replied, “This is the only way I know how to drive a car. Your job is to put in clutches and my job is to pay for them”.

People forget one of THE MOST seen methods of “clutch failure” is being in gear at a stop all day long…with your foot on the clutch and on the floor… This will not wear the friction material at all…but it WILL damage the pressure plate spring fingers…and show me the mechanic that will not say…“You need a new clutch” after that happens…The friction material is fine, its the rest that is damaged.

Then you can go the other way with riding the clutch, smokin the friction material…double clutch downshifting etc…people invent all sorts of ways to TORTURE a machine…learn the machine first and you will know the right way to handle it

I have taught sooo many people to drive with a few well placed words and a simple picture…ONce people KNOW what it is they are operating…it will explain itself…NO ONE goes thru the trouble to TEACH PEOPLE THE MACHINE…It aint Hocus Pocus people


IMHO the overwhelming majoroty of premature clutch wear is caused by the following poor habits.

  1. “Riding the clutch”
  2. using the clutch to hold the vehicle at a stop light on an incline
  3. hot-rodding; revving the motor and slipping the clutch to burn rubber
  4. shifting without making any attempt (without understanding the need) to attempt to rev-match, especially downshifting
  5. just plain using the clutch to compensate for differences in the speed of the motor and the drivetrain; "slipping the clutch while shifting

@Triedaq; I’ll bet that customer was the first one on the mechanic’s Xmas card list! :wink:

Bottom line on a clutch is you want your foot on the pedal as little as humanly possible, this includes shifting stopping starting etc. Also down shifting to slow down is a bad idea… Brakes are cheap, clutch not so much. Lastly you dont actually have to use every gear all the time, its ok to skip a gear if conditions allow, this saves alot of usless shifting over the life of the car.

I’ll add one more problem that causes premature clutch wear: Shifting too early. I’ve known a couple of people who shifted to second gear as soon as the vehicle moved. In the higher gears the engine was revving and the vehicle was bucking like a bronco.

Whenever my mom shifted gears I felt like I was getting whiplash!

HB, how does double clutching cause premature clutch failure? I understand that it is using the friction material to spin up or down the gears and it reduces the life cycles of the master and slave cylinders. But gears are much lighter than the car itself. How does changing gear speed cause more than negligible wear? Perhaps a better way to shift would be floating the shifter to neutral without clutch, using advance throttle technique, then clutch in to shift to the next gear when the rev is right. Better yet, we should all do clutchless shifting like truckers.

And I don’t know about early shifting hurting the clutch either, unless as mountain bike said, the engine is revved way up and the clutch is used to take the car up to speed. That would be similar to starting from a stop after every shift.

Speaking of starting from a stop, I always see people rev up their engine then using the clutch to bring it back down. That place an unnecessary speed difference through clutch. When done right, most cars should be able to get rolling with the engine just a touch above idle, except for the steepest hill climb.

I once owned a 1948 Dodge with “Fluid Drive”. The “Fluid Drive” was a fluid coupling between the clutch and transmission. It wasn’t a torque converter as it did not multiply the torque, but just transmitted the power. This arrangement did improve clutch life at the expense of slightly reduced gasoline mileage. The transmission in these Dodges was a normal three speed column shift.

All clutches will eventually wear out from normal wear, but knowing how to drive a straight shift correctly decreases wear. The last clutch I had in my '88 Escort lasted about 260K miles and the current clutch has about 210K miles on it and is still working as it should. Several years ago I was having some transmission work done on a Mazda pickup and told my friend that was doing the work to go ahead and put a new clutch in while he was in there which he did, but when I picked up the truck he said he was very impressed with the condition of the clutch that had 80K miles on it, he told me the clutch that he replaced still looked like new.

I’m a little confused on why double-clutch downshifting is a bad idea too. It’s the second best way to downshift because you not only almost eliminate clutch slip between gears, but double clutching drastically reduces synchro wear as well. (The best way is to clutchless shift, but only if you’re very good at it and never miss. Better to put a little wear on the clutch than a lot of wear on the gears).

I double clutch at times and see no issues. However if the driver doesn’t use the extra time a double clutch allows to match engine and wheel speeds; then you could be engaging the clutch with a mismatch of engine speed. If the double clutch is smooth (no herky jerky feel on engagement) it should not be hard on the clutch at all, In fact, a properly done double clutch is easy on the clutch and the transmission.

Here is the problem I am having. We have a 2017 VW Golf, 2.0 TSI with a 5 speed manual shift and barely 12,000 km. My wife drives it and she has also been driving a stick for well over 20 years and we have never had any vehicle which required any type of clutch replacement. She was getting a “Burning rubber / oil” smell in the cabin and I took the car into the dealership from which it was purchased. They determined that the clutch was “Burnt up” and proceeded to contact the Warrantee department. They came back and said the cause was Driver error and / or excessive wear and tear and therefore they were not going to replace it. They did however offer to pay a portion of the repair cost. The Service Manager and Mechanic both disagree and I have been around cars for about 40 years and I have never seen a clutch burn out that fast even with the driver being “New and stupid and stunting”. Does anyone have any advice? I did see it myself and do have photos and there was a lot of carbon on the flywheel but I also know how my wife drives so I have no answer to how this could have happened. Please Help.

Are you kidding, a new driver can destroy a clutch in a very short time.