A failing car clutch can be stressful and difficult to fix. However, with the right help, it can be done. That said, few people know what signs indicate a failing clutch or telltale signs of another issue leading to clutch failure. Usually, drivers may notice a change in their car’s performance and the clutch may feel different. Read on to find out more about clutch failure and what you can do about it.


1. Grinding/Squealing Sounds When Shifting Gears

If your car is making any grinding or squealing sounds when you shift gears, then you may be experiencing clutch failure. The only way to fix this is by either getting rid of the old clutch and replacing it with a new one or simply replacing the worn-out parts inside. Either way, this can be a costly endeavour. If you’re lucky, you might get away with replacing only a few worn-out parts without having to replace the entire clutch.


2. Spongy Clutch Pedal

If the clutch pedal is noticeably spongy, it’s an indication that something isn’t right within the clutch. You may need to check the retaining bolts and worn items, but generally, it’s easy to do and fix. A manual transmission car may not require clutch replacement. However, an automatic transmission car will most likely require the clutch assembly and flywheel to be replaced.


3. Slipping Clutch

If your clutch is slipping when you shift gears, it could be an indication of clutch failure. The clutch is the mechanism used to transfer power from the engine to the transmission and in this case, it is slipping which means that it is not transferring power properly. Your only option here is to replace the clutch entirely or at least get rid of the part that’s worn out.


4. No Pressure

If you’re not feeling any pressure on the clutch pedal, then you could have a broken clutch. This is common in manual transmission cars, but it can also happen in automatic cars depending on how much wear and tear has occurred over time. This can be costly and difficult to repair unless you know what to look for and how to fix it.


5. Vibration/Shaking When Shifting Gears

If your car is shaking or vibrating when you shift gears, it’s a sign that the clutch pads have worn out. You can either replace the clutch assembly which will often be covered by your warranty, or you can simply replace the worn-out parts inside. In most cases, this can be fixed by replacing only the worn-out parts, and often requires little to no additional work.

One of the most common symptoms of clutch trouble is slipping gears.


6. Difficulty Turning On the Car When It’s Cold

If you are having problems turning the car on when it’s cold, then this could be an indication that a clutch failure is occurring. Sometimes, it may just be the cold that’s causing the clutch not to engage. When it’s cold, there is more resistance which makes the clutch work harder and eventually wears out. If you’ve already changed the clutch, but are still experiencing this issue, likely, the pressure plate isn’t properly installed.


7. Burning Smell from Clutch

If you notice a burning smell from the clutch, then you need to replace it as soon as possible. Burning smells from the clutch are signs of clutch failure. Procedures for repair vary slightly depending on the type of transmission involved, but generally, it’s not recommended to attempt any repairs. Be sure to consult with an experienced mechanic and have it fixed.


8. Clutch Pedal is Hard to Engage

Clutch pedals become hard to engage when they are worn out. They become harder to engage as more deposits of rust and grime accumulate. If you’re experiencing this problem, you need to either replace the unit entirely or get rid of all deposits causing the problem. The only way to do so is through a professional mechanic.


9. Your Car Won’t Stay in Gear

This is probably the most common issue with 4×4 clutches, especially in cars with manual transmissions. The clutch will not stay engaged no matter what you do, causing your car to suddenly lose power. This can also be caused by an accident or damage to the transmission. You can have this fixed but it can get expensive in the long run considering you’ll need to replace the clutch completely.


10. Fast Pedal Travel

Your clutch pedal needs to travel a certain distance to engage. If it travels too fast, then it won’t engage the clutch or anything attached to the transmission. This puts additional stress on your transmission, which may cause other parts like the steering or suspension system to fail. Most car manuals include information about how fast your clutch pedal should travel so you can easily determine if there is an issue.


11. Sticking in Neutral

If your car starts to lose power when you stop, then this could indicate a problem with the clutch. This can happen when the pressure plate wears out. The pressure plate will not be able to release the clutch, so it won’t be able to engage or disengage gears. Fortunately, these components can often be replaced or repaired without having to replace the whole clutch assembly.

Symptoms of a bad clutch can come from any of your senses and range from subtle to obvious.


Common Questions

Here are some common questions about clutches.


  • How do I know if my clutch is going out?

Clutches wear out over time. There are some indicators you can look out for to know the condition of your clutch. The most obvious sign is a clutch pedal that feels spongy or difficult to engage. The more signs you spot, the worse off your clutch is and the higher the probability of failure. There are tools to check the pressure inside the clutch, to help better diagnose it. If you do not have access to these tools or don’t know how to use them, you should consult a mechanic before attempting any repairs.

  • How many years does a clutch last?

This is difficult to determine because it varies depending on the car, driving conditions, and other factors related to vehicle maintenance. You may get years and even decades out of your clutch, but that all depends on how much you drive and how well you take care of your car.

  • Can you drive if your clutch goes?

Yes, you can drive with a faulty clutch. However, the more you drive the more it gets damaged. Doing this can also cause damage to other parts such as the starter, gearbox or shifter. It is therefore recommended to have it fixed as soon as you notice that it’s damaged.

  • How can I make my clutch last?

The only way to make your clutch last is by taking care of it. This means changing the clutch fluid every once in a while and minding your driving habits. Driving habits can affect the life of your clutch and so can the environment where you live. Keeping your car clean and properly maintained will help prolong its life. If you need help making repairs or have a failing clutch, then contact a professional mechanic as soon as possible to have your car clutch problem resolved.

  • How often do you need a new clutch?

You should replace your clutch every 100,000 miles or depend on how much you drive. The more you drive, the faster it will wear out. If you drive less than 10,000 miles a year, then you may get away with replacing it after 200,000 miles. Either way, you will eventually need to replace your clutch and it is better to do so before it fails.



Clutches play an important role in a car’s performance. No one wants to be stuck on the side of the road due to a damaged transmission. If you drive an older car, you need to be especially careful because they are more likely to break down. You don’t want to be driving and end up with a failed clutch. You need to learn about clutches and how long they last to be prepared for this possibility.

Alex Coughlan

Owner and Founder of Elite Tune
Alex Coughlan is a seasoned professional and veteran off-road, camping, and adventure enthusiast with a passion for automotive performance. With a career spanning over 2 decades, he has made a significant impact on the 4WD modification and servicing industry, particularly since the inception of Elite Tune.