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What went wrong in my clutch assembly!

I have a 2008 Subaru Impreza WRX 5 speed hatchback with 38,000 miles on it. I am the sole owner/driver of the car since I purchased it in 2008.

So in March 2012 while my car was just shy of it’s 36,000 mile factory warranty milestone I took it in to the dealer because there was an unusual feeling when depressing the clutch. It felt like a tightening/creaking feeling. They stated that the Throwout bearing wasn’t moving smoothly and they replaced.

Fast forward about 6 months and one cross country move from Ithaca, NY to San Luis Obispo, CA. My car is not longer under it’s factory warranty (still extended warranty 6yr/60,000) and I come out to go to work in the morning and I find:

  1. the clutch peddle depresses with a lot less than it’s normal resistance
  2. the car starts up just fine
  3. when the car is on I can not shift out of neutral into gear
  4. when the car is off I can shift into gear just fine
  5. if I start in gear I can drive around in 1st or reverse normally, but as soon as I go into neutral I’m stuck there again

I had my car towed to the local Subaru dealer and they left me a voice mail the next day saying my “clutch was completely blown” and it’ll be “$1629 out the door.” After pressing them for more info I find out they didn’t even open up my clutch assembly they were just basing this on an external inspection and based on the symptoms. They told me they though it was a bad pressure plate and that they might as well replace the clutch while they were in there.

I asked the CA service rep if he could see the notes from the work performed on my car for the throwout bearing in NY in March and he looked in his computer system and remarked that something seemed odd. Apparently the service notes remarked that they removed the transmission of the car but did not remove/disassemble the clutch assembly. The CA service rep said he didn’t see how it would be possible to remove the transmission without working on the clutch assembly.

I got my extended warranty involved and they agreed to cover the cost of the tear down work to see what was actually wrong, as some of the parts (still not sure which) in the clutch assembly are covered by the extended warranty. After no word from the dealer I called them to find out what they found. My service rep said they had ordered a new pressure plate but that they were confused because everything in the clutch assembly looked totally fine… In the end they replaced everything but the flywheel and the paperwork they gave me says “warped pressure plate.” According to my extended warranty rep my CA dealer told them it was a “power train issue” and that it is totally covered.

Now my car has a level of crisp shifting that it has never had before.

So what really went wrong?! No one has given me a straight answer and I have a few main reasons for wanting to know:

  1. Should I want to sell this car I want to know it’s history so I’m not screwing over a potential buyer
  2. If it really was the pressure plate being warped is it:
    a) possible the NY dealer screwed my clutch assembly when working on the throwout bearing
    b) possible I have a bad driving habit, in which case now that I have a brand new clutch for free and am past my warranty I would really like to address to keep my car running as long as possible.

Thoughts?

It is very likely that the failed throw out bearing damaged the pressure plate but the damage was not apparent when the transmission was pulled. Most shops insist on replacing the entire clutch assembly and resurfacing the flywheel when any component fails. Your experience reinforces that practice. If the clutch is operating smoothly and quietly it is likely as good as new. Keeping the clutch pedal depressed for extended time while idling can shorten the life of the throw out bearing, and subsequently the rest of the clutch. If you shift to neutral and release the clutch when idling your driving isn’t responsible for the damage/wear.

Since a dealer serviced this unit so recently you get the special extended warranty. If a dealer screws up the service/diagnosis and down the road you get a bill it is still covered. Thats your plus. If you want to keep the car. Normally this should be a 90k fix. It is possible but unlikely that you blew the clutch in just under 36k. This is really not at all common. Brush up on your shifting skills and you could add 120k to the new clutch no problem.

Thanks Rod Knox & euryale1. I have always shifted fully into to neutral anytime I’m at a full stop or a stop light. I try to be on the clutch minimally. I’m wondering if I’m sitting the correct distance. I am depressing the clutch smoothly and completely to the floor with each shift (not stomping it) at the current distance I’m sitting.

The clutch is a switch of a sort. You want to just move the switch smoothly and quickly. Sounds like you do it fine you just had a bad one out of the factory. It happens.

Our neigbord bought a brand new car and had clutch trouble almost right away. When the dealer took things apart, the clutch disk had been installed backwards at the factory. This happened 60 years ago and the car was a 1952 Nash Ambassador. In those days more cars came off the line with manual transmissions than automatic transmissions and the assembly line workers still managed to foul things up. My gueess is that there was a defective clutch from the very beginning with your Subaru. If it works great now, you are in luck.

I concur w/@Triedaq, the clutch ass’y was probably defective in some way or another when the engine was first assembled, but it must have been ok enough that it still worked. At first. But after 36K it failed. New cars have these kinds of problems sometimes, called “sample defects”.

It’s sort of unusual a shop would replace the throw-out bearing and not replace the whole clutch. But I guess they thought that would work.

I don’t know if the throw-out can be replaced without removing the transmission or not. But if it can, that might be why they tried that first.

Anybody know if the throwout bearing can be replaced with the engine and transmission in the car? I thought the bellhousing needed to be removed to replace the throwout bearing. Isn’t the throwout bearning part of the bellhousing ass’y?

Anyway @LazyBenInc, all the parts they replaced to make you whole – all those parts are intended to be easily replaceable – so with new parts you should good to go. I see no evidence you have bad driving habits that damaged the clutch. And your car’s clutch should be as good as brand new now, so no worries going forward I expect.

Clutches are seldom covered by ANY warranty…They are usually considered “Normal Wear Items”.
I find it surprising you could shift the car into first and reverse normally but then had problems shifting into other gears…

But since you managed to get a new clutch out of them and it shifts better than ever, drive on and be happy…

I’m not sure what the OP means by “crisper” shifting but apparently the new clutch is working OK. At stop lights when you shift into neutral, are you releasing the clutch petal? If you are resting your foot even lightly on the clutch you are still putting pressure on the throwout bearing.

Ithaca NY is very hilly and you were drivng only a few miles per year which means lots of in town driving in that hilly enviornment. This is a tough life for the clutch. I suspect the replacement of the throwout bearing was not a complete clutch job. Just replacing the bearing, and nothing else, could have contributed to the warping of the clutch plate. Hard use, and overheating the clutch plate would also warp it and Ithaca driving means starting from a dead stop on a steep hill is common.

You now have a well done clutch job and drive in a less hilly area (not San Francisco I hope) so you should get more life from this clutch without problems.

There’s not enough known to be able to determine what the original problem was, etc.
The only thing I will add is that the CA service rep is a bit offbase if I read the comment correctly.
The transmission comes out with the throwout bearing as part of the transmission. The clutch assembly stays attached to the flywheel which remains on the engine and the TO bearing is replaced separately.

It is at least possible that during the reinstallation of the transmission that someone could have stabbed the transmission back in a bit too agrressively and the nose of the transmission mainshaft could have possibly warped one or more fingers on the pressure plate. Eventually this would show up as a clutch problem with a likely symptom of a much weaker feel.
Once apart a visual inspection should be able to determine if that’s the case or not.
Hope that helps in some way.

On a final note, at least you got a new clutch. In many cases, and especially with extended warranties, a clutch is considered a wear item and not warrantable unless it fails due to some catastrophic failure such as a broken pressure plate, fractured disc lining, etc.