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Is my clutch dying?

I drive a '96 Subaru Legacy Outback with about 143,500 miles on it. 5-speed manual transmission, I’m happy to say. I bought it used from a family friend in May 2009, at 123,000 miles or so, so my personal experience with the car is limited to the 20,000 miles since then.

Recently, I took my car in for an oil change (at a national chain, I am ashamed to say), and the tech who drove it into the bay had trouble - the bay was on a slight hill, and the car rolled backwards on him a few times before he figured out where the clutch engaged and managed to get it into the bay.

After the oil change, when he returned my keys, he said that he was worried that I would soon need a new clutch. To him, the clutch felt really “high” - meaning that the pedal had to be released pretty far before it engaged.

Personally, I haven’t noticed any change since I bought the car, and it’s been fine for those 20,000 miles, but maybe it’s been gradually creeping up and I haven’t noticed because it’s been a slow change. Is he giving me bad information? Is a “high” clutch a warning sign? Has my clutch been on the verge of death since I bought the car? The car drives like a dream, everything feels good to me, and no one had said anything before this guy, but I figure mechanics (even at chains) may know more than I do, so it has me worried. Thoughts?

" . . . but I figure mechanics (even at chains) may know more than I do . . ."

Maybe you should rethink that.

The “technicians” at oil change places are often barely qualified as mechanics, if they’re qualified at all. All they know how to do is change oil, and they often mess that up, especially on Subarus.

My guess is the tech had trouble with your car because he rarely drives a vehicle with a manual transmission. Maybe he doesn’t really know how.

Different vehicles have different clutch engagement points. If the clutch is not slipping, and you didn’t say it was, you have nothing to worry about. Check the clutch fluid level, just to be on the safe side.

Then check the oil. You’d be surprised how many times chain shops drain the oil and forget to refill it.

Now find an independent mechanic, preferably one with Subaru experience, and stay away from chain shops. Your car will thank you.

Your clutch might be fine, it just has a release point higher than this “driver” expected. A tech at an oil change place is about as knowledgeable as a car wash attendant or a guy who does valet parking. He may not even be very experienced driving a car with a clutch.

So, you can test your clutch yourself. Put the car in 4th or 5th gear, put about 1,500 rpm on the tach and release the clutch. If the motor stalls, the clutch is fine. If the motor keeps going and does not stall, your clutch is slipping and you should have a mechanic check it out.

I took my 95 Ranger to a jiffy lube, for a $26 special. For that, I will go, and I really don’t care if the truck falls in the hole, it’s just waiting to die. They had only 2 of the 5 guys that could drive it, and the second one (pulling it out) tried with the parking brake on. I’ve done it myself, but I notice as soon as I try to move, he managed to drive 1/2 out before he saw the BRAKE light on my dash. A dead clutch will start slipping - wait for that.

He probably drives enough cars and I would take his observation, not necessarily his conclusion into consideration. It may be you need a clutch adjustment. Get a free check, if it is that close it may lead to a slipping problem and cause premature failure. It also may be time for a new clutch.

Often if a clutch is pretty well worn, but not yet slipping, it will have a “grabby” quality. When it starts to engage it will not have enough friction to move the car, then as you continue to lift your left foot, it will grab kind of suddenly. It makes it very difficult to start smoothly, especially on a hill.