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Suzuki Sidekick 1993 2WD JS 4 DR--clutch /Transmission problem!

Help! No other ride to work, so this is urgent. …I’ve owned it since it was new, it has 5ok miles, all scheduled maintenance done. New clutch 8 years ago, flywheel re-machined instead of replaced, after the car froze at a stoplight. (I was told later I may have needed only a new cable.) … Now, 75k later, it has gradually gotten harder and harder over a few months to shift from neutral into first, then later into first, then 2nd and now even reverse.

Out on the highway, no problem at all with higher gears. (I am good, though, at shifting exactly by RPMs/sound, so that helps?) The gears feel really stiff, almost DRY and it takes several forceful tries from neutral to first or neutral to 2nd/reverse. This is a NIGHTMARE at stoplights!

…I was told I might need a new cable. One was put in by a friendly-seeming Mom-n-Pop shop. The clutch was immediately very hard to depress all the way, but I (being naive) thought maybe it was just tight from being new. It helped the gearing some (75%), but not 100% normal again.

…Worse, when the clutch is all the way down (in idle), there is a light whirring noise, It sounds like (my mental picture) a lightweight aluminum disk spinning and lightly scraping a metal surface. When I let up an inch on the clutch (still in neutral) it stops…I figured, yep, it was the clutch after all, or both, as they said it could be (worst case scenario). I took it in for a new clutch.

…The new shop said, no way the clutch should be hard at all to push in; cable’s installed wrong and it may even have damaged the release arm or not be working right with it. The Mom-n-Pop shop answered (basically) “Bullsh*t, I know what I’m doing, it’s installed right!” They’ll (not so friendly now) charge me the full fee to re-do it, because it’s been 44 days.

…Shop no. 2 now says maybe he DID know what he was doing; they don’t want to touch it since this make/model has a “really weird way the cable goes, and I can’t see the old one to go by that for reinstalling it.” The shop owner declined to work on it, saying all his transmission-expert buddy shops didn’t want to foll with it either, so just go to the dealership.

Shop 2 had previously estimated a whole new clutch (labor incl.) at around 700.00, but now they say they don’t know if it’s the cable alone, and don’t want to work on it anymore!

Well, the dealership wants 3 hours ($100 per hr) to just inspect/diagnose the cable issue, and 1300.00 for a new clutch. Well, we know they almost always find something else–2 or 3 hundred dollar’s worth.

…I can’t afford to buy a late-model used car, and at least I know this car’s history. If I bought one of those buy-here, pay-here clunkers, I’d be in worse shape, (mostly lemons, I’ve heard) so junking the car, as shop 2 said I should vs a “whole new clutch/rebuilt transmission”, seems stupid. It runs great otherwise, has new tires, alternator, recent battery, etc…looks great too.

My questions: I’ve heard it could just be the “release bearing” or “release arm”, and that an incorrectly installed cable can cause or worsen it. Comments?

What do you think it could be?

If I try to find something other than the dealership, and drive it a week til then, do I risk ruining something more, or having a disaster on the highway?

Does it take THAT long to check out a clutch/transmission, should the “look-see” and/or clutch estimates be that high? Does it sound like a transmission problem to you?

What does it say about Shop 2 that they’d wash their hands of me rather than learn how the cable should go, when I have the complete repair manual?

I found a 132.oo wholesale “clutch kit” very complete and highly rated (1 of 2 avail brands; the other is much less complete). It has a fine warranty, is 100% new. The flywheel is 82.00. How much mark-up should a shop earn, and can I use self-purchased parts?

Thanks!! Any help at all greatly appreciated.

Correction–it has 150k miles, as I’m sure you’ve guessed. The first clutch replacement was at 80k miles, approximately.

If you have the repair manual you should be able to determine whether on not the clutch cable is routed correctly. What does the manual say?

The clutch should not have been hard to press just because a new cable was installed. It sounds like the clutch is not releasing all the way when you step on the pedal. How does it shift when the engine is not running? If it shifts normally with the engine off and it’s hard to shift with the engine running the clutch is dragging (not releasing fully) and that’s why it’s hard to get in gear when your sitting at a light.

If this is the case the cable may need adjusting, or maybe it’s not installed correctly. I can’t see the manual from here. Is the cable installed correctly or not?

How many mechanics do you have? It seems like you go somewhere new every time you need something. Find a good independent mechanic (not a chain shop) and stick with him or her.

I’m not a mechanic, and so would not know what I was seeing if I saw the cable. I have the book for the benefit of mechanics who don’t.

It is still out of reach at the shop, so I can’t go check for sure, but if I remeber it is not hard to shift with the engine off.

No, I do not jump from shop-to-shop. You are leaping to rather derogatory conclusions—is this a touchy area for you, as it is with most mechanics? I am shop-loyal. I had the cable done by a shop I could walk to and from on my day off…no other way to get to a shop. A shop is sometimes also the one that is open when I am off work, and repairs are usually sudden in an old care, for me. I know not to drive when there’s a mysterious noise.

I’d MUCH rather have one shop I trust. I let Shop 1 (cable installer) know I’d go back to “Shop 2” because I’d said I would if/when the time came for the whole clutch. And you see what “shop 2” finally did–sending me to the dealership.

You get that a lot when you have a tiresome, badly-designed and somewhat elderly car…where is the loyalty to me when the going gets a little rough? Why didn’t shop 2 use the manual he swore he had but wouldn’t help at all? What good is an incomplete manual? So, he dumped me because it wasn’t worth the headache, is my guess…no loyalty to me. You’d have to ask him.

But see my post about finding an honest shop. If I have mechanic issues, they don’t arise out of unrealistic expectations. So back up a little, won’t you? Meantime, thank you for the insight to my problem.

Since you will ask, the “whirring noise” started about 10 days ago, and I have had no choice but to drive it until yesterday. I stayed out on the highway as much as I could, and I never get mad when I do something like that for any reason and it results in a larger repair.

When the noise started I knew something was wrong after all, but had to wait. I did not blame the cable guy because I figured a new cable working with an worn clutch might stress it and make it finally poop out. I’m not the quick-to-blame type.

In fact, I have thought of letting the cable guy have another (paid) chance, have him check out the whole thing, because although he should know a clutch shouldn’t be tight, and he doesn’t warrant his parts AT ALL, and he isn’t going to compromise on the 44 day (vs 30-day warranty for repair), it is JUST possible that he might have fixed it right away if I’d known the clutch tightness was wrong. But then I think about him not giving it a quick test run after the installation and think…???