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Your Kids Will Never Know the Burnt Clutch Smell

If you’re a driver of a certain age, the smell of a burnt clutch is an unpleasant familiar scent. Those early memories of learning to drive your parent’s stick shift car left a lasting imprint. 

Although most vehicles now have automatic transmissions, driving stick isn’t going anywhere soon. For RVers, a manual transmission truck might be just the thing for towing your heavy rig. 

A burnt clutch reduces the life of your transmission and sends a clear signal that you’re not an elite driver. But a few tips and a little knowledge can help you become better at shifting gears.

Let’s check it out! 

What is a Clutch?

Whether you drive a manual or not, you’re probably familiar with that third pedal. Manual transmissions rely on the clutch to engage and disengage a flywheel. Basically, it transfers power from the engine to the wheels. Without it, the engine would have to stop completely when the car comes to a stop. 

When used properly, the clutch allows a seamless transition from different gears within the engine. Consequently, a driver may increase the engine’s efficiency through good technique. By the same token, a bad driver can ruin the system in a vehicle and make the whole experience a nightmare. 

Learning to drive stick used to be a right of passage. Those first clunky starts when the engine dies were part of growing up. But now, drivers don’t have the skills with automatic transmissions replacing the older mechanisms. Accordingly, it’s easier than ever to experience clutch burn. 

Old car clutch
Your car clutch can burn out from a variety of driving related mistakes.

What Causes a Clutch to Burn Out?

Unsurprisingly in a complex system, burning out your clutch is relatively easy if you don’t use it correctly. There are several ways to damage this essential part of your vehicle. You’ve probably heard these terms before but don’t know what they mean. Whether you drive a four-speed or not, this information is vital. 

Riding the Clutch

Normally, engaging the clutch is a simple maneuver. Pushing down on the pedal disengages the plate for gear changes and stopping. After that, releasing the pedal re-engages the plate and flywheel. Generally, it’s an easy movement done in a few seconds. 

Riding the clutch means you’ve kept some pressure on the pedal while driving. Hence, the mechanism is still working, putting undue wear and tear on your car. Putting your foot on the pedal during regular driving increases the likelihood that you’re riding the clutch. It’s best to remove your foot after changing gears. 

Improper Shifting

Generally, the gears in your manual car need to shift when increasing or decreasing speed. You get that lovely grinding sound if you don’t engage the system correctly when shifting. Do it often enough, and you’ll experience the smell of a burnt clutch. 

When pressing the pedal, make sure to go all the way to the floor. Otherwise, you’ll end up shortening the life of your car. If you do it enough, the clutch plate loses its ability to connect properly. Eventually, you’ll have to replace the whole assembly!

Towing Heavy Loads

RVers frequently tow heavy loads behind their vehicles. If you’re driving a standard car or truck, you could damage your transmission if trying to pull too much weight. You may have purchased your vehicle for one purpose: towing your rig. However, if you didn’t figure out the maximum amount your car or truck can pull, a burnt clutch might be in your future. 

Occasionally, towing at capacity won’t cause significant issues. But if you make it a habit, you’ll end up stuck on the side of the road. In either case, heavy loads put an unusually high burden on your flywheel. Rather than deal with that problem, stay within your towing capacity. 

Pro Tip: RIP! We took a closer look to uncover Have Muscle Cars Officially Died in 2023?

Close up of car clutch
If you start to smell something burnt, it may be a sign you need to replace your clutch.

Symptoms of a Burnt Clutch

Until you’ve burnt out a clutch, it’s hard to tell what symptoms to look for. We’ve compiled some of the usual suspects here for you to self-diagnose your vehicle. 

Burnt Smell

Some folks make a sport of popping the clutch, revving the engine, and engaging and releasing the pedal at high RPMs. Burnt rubber isn’t the only result of unquestionably juvenile behavior. The transmission’s components are made of fiberglass, rubber, and metal. At high temperatures, they melt or burn. 

A spinning flywheel and clutch plate rub together to create the nasty odor you get. If you’re dealing with this smell, a slipping gear is likely in your future. 

Difficulty Changing Gears

Another sure sign that your clutch is burning out is having to mash your shifter to change gears. Ideally, changing gears is a seamless and easy process. Unless you’ve ruled out clutch burn, difficulty shifting is a serious symptom. 

Several parts are involved in this process and may break down. The pressure plate, diaphragm spring, or fork are all susceptible to damage. 

Clutch Pedal Feels Different

Unlike automatic transmission vehicles, drivers in standard transmission vehicles know their pedals. It’s a feeling. Whenever the feel changes, it’s likely a problem with the transmission. You may experience shaking, harder or softer gear changes, and even catastrophic failure. Using good driving habits keeps a burnt clutch at bay. 

Close up of burnt car clutch
The burnt clutch smell can often bring back a sense of nostalgia for drivers.

How Much Will it Cost to Replace a Burnt Clutch?

While a burnt clutch can ruin your day, it doesn’t necessarily mean the end of your hot rod. Undeniably, the inconvenience is a significant factor. But with car prices rising, keeping your vehicle on the road matters.

Luckily, replacing a clutch won’t break the bank. Especially when you look at the price of a new rig, the $1,300 to $1,500 cost is negligible. And, if you’re a DIY type and can do the work yourself, almost half the cost is labor. Of course, not destroying your vehicle with lousy driving is cheaper. 

How Long Does a Clutch Last?

Like tires and brakes, a clutch won’t last forever. On average, it needs replacing at 60,000 miles. If you’re hard on your vehicle, 30,000 miles might be your number. However, if most of your driving consists of highway miles, you could get 100,000 miles. 

Beyond bad driving habits, a couple of factors can affect the lifespan of your manual transmission. City driving in hot temperatures reduces the longevity of your vehicle. Alternatively, highway miles in cooler temps will get you significantly further down the road. 

Pro Tip: Protect your car by discovering Should You Ever Tow with a Car?

Avoid a Burnt Clutch With Proper Driving

In spite of the fact that only 2.4% of cars on the road are capable of a burnt clutch, the smell brings back memories for many people. Expert drivers love the flexibility and freedom to drive how they choose. For the rest of us, knowing how to keep the odor of burning rubber away keeps the manual transmission alive. 

Grandad would be proud.

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