How long could one drive around with a failing clutch?

My own recent problem plus the post FoDaddy made in the “My First Car” thread got me to wondering. How long could someone drive around with a failing / slipping clutch? Does the clutch start slipping long before the average driver notices it? I know about the “put the car against a large tree / wall, put the car in gear and let the clutch out slowly test” If the car stalls, the clutch is good, if it runs for more than a second or two, the clutch is slipping. But like, if you were 400 miles from home and noticed the clutch was slipping, could you jump onto the interstate and make it home? If the clutch is slipping, is there anything you can do to squeeze a little more time out of it? How much warning do you have before you end up stranded? I suppose this varies depending on the make / model of car and the driving style of the driver. For an attentive driver who pays attention to the vehicle, what are the very first signs that the clutch is slipping ('cause you’re obviously not going to do the ‘tree test’ every week).

To get it home, you could baby it, stay away from high torque loadings (meaning less throttle in a lower gear) and plan route to avoid hills and/or stopping. The best “normal operations” test I know is full throttle in top gear while climbing a hill at highway speeds.

There is no set number of miles, or amount of time. But you can bet, it will completely fail at the worst possible time and in the worst possible place, guaranteed.

This is why you don’t test it by butting against a large tree and let the clutch out to see if it stalls. If it does, then you would know the car can putt around in a parking lot. But you won’t know the clutch is near the end until you are stuck on a hill with no power to the wheels and no room to hang a u turn

I agree with meanjoe to some extent. You need to drive it at full throttle with the clutch pedal out, at the engine’s peak torque rpm. But doing this in top gear anywhere can get you arrested in some cars. I would go to an empty parking lot, drive in first gear at the engine’s peak torque rpm, then floor the throttle and brake. If both the brake and clutch are good, the engine should slow down with the car

“There is no set number of miles, or amount of time. But you can bet, it will completely fail at the worst possible time and in the worst possible place, guaranteed.”

I agree. That’s certainly been my experience with vehicles.

You will most often notice the slipping climbing a steep grade in the highest gear. You can likely get home or to a shop by using lower gears on hills and using downhill momentum and letting your speed drop as you reach the crest of a hill.

Sometimes the slipping can be due to overheating the clutch. Meaning the clutch will return to normal once it cools off.

If the slipping continues and the clutch isn’t overheated you will experience more slipping, more often, and in less stressful conditions; then it is time to replace the clutch.

I drove around for a week after my clutch cable BROKE. Had no clutch what-so-ever. Didn’t drive it much.

You can learn to shift without a clutch…that’s not a problem. The biggest problem is stopping. Had to turn the vehicle off…put it in 1st…and when the light turns green…turn the key and the car moved as it started. Had to really avoid any hills though.

A bad clutch - the biggest problem is starting…especially on hills. Once it gets to the point of slipping so much you can’t move easily…you really need to get it fixed. But the more it slips the faster it’s going to wear out. Classic exponential curve.

Your slipping clutch will continue to wear into the flywheel and pressure plate causing more damage and resulting in a more expensive repair. Get it fixed now.

A broken clutch cable is not quite so bad as the clutch is fully engaged. A buddy and I drove from MA to FL during our winter break at MIT. His MGB’s clutch cable broke somewhere in NC. We timed our shift changes without using the clutch peddle and made it all the way to FL. The only hard part was starting it in first gear.

I bought a station wagon in the early 60s at a very good price, with a clutch that was slipping slightly that I figured I would have to replace. When I junked it 3 years later, I still had not replaced the clutch.

Good answers, I learn a lot here from all of you who are more knowledgeable than I. Although my primary vehicles have always been manual, I have apparently never experienced a slipping clutch. And I KNOW I shouldn’t say that publicly because I’ll probably jinx myself, Murphy’s Law being what it is. " But you can bet, it will completely fail at the worst possible time and in the worst possible place, guaranteed." Yup, that’s Murphy’s Law.

I think I first heard about the “tree test” from Tom & Ray, actually. I never did it 'cause I figured if its not broke don’t try to analyze it. Sometimes when you start poking something is when it starts giving you problems,

Regarding a slipping clutch wearing into the flywheel and pressure plate, aren’t you supposed to replace all that stuff with the clutch anyway, or do I have the terminology wrong again? Seems to me the big expense would be the labor charge of tearing it all down, might as well replace it all while you’re in there. Obviously if you do it yourself it wouldn’t be the expense but rather the time and aggravation factor.

"But the more it slips the faster it’s going to wear out. Classic exponential curve. " Sounds right, like a sinking ship, the lower it settles in the water, the faster it sinks.

I learned how to shift without using the clutch 2 years ago at a Festiva enthusiasts meet. I listened to a lengthy argument as to whether this was bad for the transmission or not, if you don’t do it “JUST RIGHT” you grind the gears. Decided, again, if its not broke don’t fix it. I’ve made it this far doing it the traditional way so I must be doing something right. VERY hard to get it moving from a stop without using the clutch, as I found out this week.

You can get the flywheel resurfaced for maybe $50 rather than $100 to $500 for a replacement depending on the car. Pressure plates are generally replacement items but I have had them re-built. Same for clutch plates but all that is usually replaced on a clutch job.

If you tear everything up eking the very last mile out of the clutch, you are likely only adding the expense of a flywheel to the total bill.

Does anybody actually do that tree thing? It seems like it would really stress the drive train, and I’d worry it would damage something that wasn’t damaged before. It isn’t that difficult to recognize the signs of a slipping clutch just driving around town, so why do the tree thing?

Common sense suggests a marginal clutch will first slip when the engine is making maximum torque, typically near half the redline rpm.
Using a higher gear (I’ve done it in 2nd) and climbing a hill gives more time for observation.

The Tree Test is insane I think. Needless abuse. If the car goes uphill in high gear without slippage, the clutch must be okay.

I too don’t like the tree test.
My test of preference is to simply take the vehicle on the highway, and with the tranny in its highest gear floor it. If the clutch is worn out, it’ll slip. Take a few friends with you if you’d like to add a bit of meat to the test.

Ok, so I’ve learned the “tree test” is a load of puckey, glad I never tried it. I know just the place to do the “going up a hill at full speed in high gear” test. I can scale the hill at 70+ mph if nobody is blocking me. Like, if a loaded semi forces me to slow way down, I’ve gotta downshift and by the time I get back up to speed, I’m at the top of the hill, but I think that’s more because of the 1.3L engine.

I was thinking like, hypothetically speaking, because this is not my current situation, but let’s say one had an old jalopy which already had 3 wheels in the junkyard and the 4th wheel on a banana peel, and discovered that the clutch was slipping. If the person was not yet ready to buy a new car, and had another car to drive, and did not want to spend a lot of money replacing the clutch, they could park the car on their driveway and keep it for a “spare”. Thinking well, this car could make 10 or 20 more round trips to work before it gives out, in case the other car breaks down, one would still be able to get to work. Thinking in a short term, emergency backup vehicle sort of situation.

Now that I think of it, cars don’t seem to fail spectacularly the way they used to. Seems like it used to be the car would throw a rod, or catch fire on the way to work, or break in half going over railroad tracks, and there was no question over whether the car was worth fixing or not. Nowadays its like death by a thousand cuts, one little repair after another. And you sit down and make up a spreadsheet, is this really cheaper than just buying a new or newer car, 'course then you’ve gotta get collision insurance, and then. . . . aaarrrgh!!!

The tree test is ill advised. I set the park brake, shift into 3rd gear, hold the foot brake, rev the engine, and let the clutch pedal out. If the engine dies the clutch is holding and if the engine tries to rev it’s slipping to some degree.

I also agree about a slipping clutch failing at the worst possible time or in possibly a neighborhood where you don’t even want to be stranded.

I purchased my car in May of 2012 with a slipping clutch with the understanding that the clutch needed to be replaced. May to October is too hot to work on a car outside here so I continued to drive the car until it was convenient to do the work. I couldn’t go beyond 1/4 throttle so it made going around those slow civics and corollas a challenge.

I preferred this car over my other so I drove it until December then replaced the clutch and timing belt in March of 2013. If the clutch should begin to slip you must back off or release the throttle to stop the slipping or it may be “game over”.

I don’t need a tree to test my clutch, I test it every time the traffic light changes to green.

My VW Fastback broke it’s clutch cable during a short trip right after I got married. My new wife was impressed that I could actually drive it that way and shift through the gears. It’s actually quite easy (no downshifting) and I just popped it into neutral when coming to a complete stop. I’m sure it was hard on the battery and starter when it was started to get going. I sold that POS when we finally made it back home and bought a Chevy pickup that never once gave me any trouble. I replaced that clutch cable twice in the 3 months that I owned it. I was told it was a design flaw but I can’t cite the specifics.

Ed, how long a car can keep moving forward with a slipping clutch is highly dependent upon the car and the driver. However, allow me to suggest that a car with a clutch worn out before 80,000 miles is probably being driven in a manner not the most conducive to clutch longevity and the worn out clutch probably won’t go much farther.