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Burnt Clutch Smell: What You Need to Know

Burnt Clutch Smell

If you’ve been driving for so long, you probably have encountered a number of problems with your vehicle. The symptoms or signs of a car problem varies, depending on what part of the car needs attention. Symptoms can be a loud noise, banging, squealing, rattling, or hissing and sometimes, symptoms could be a burnt smell. There are different types of burning smell from your car, there’s a smell like burnt plastic, there’s an oil burning smell, then there’s a smell like burning rubber which could be a sign of a clutch problem. Burnt clutch smell usually smells like a burning rubber or sometimes like a burning newspaper. 

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What is a clutch?

A clutch is an essential part of a car’s working machineries. It is the one that connects and disconnects two or more rotating shafts. It controls the connection between the shaft from the engine and the shaft that turns the wheels in a manual transmission car. When the driver presses down the clutch pedal, it disconnects then selects a gear with the stick shift and engages again when the pedal is released. Since the clutch disk holds out against immense initial friction when it contacts the engine’s spinning flywheel as it remains stationary when the transmission is put into first gear or reverse, it is only normal for a clutch to wear down and be replaced at least once, depending on the driver’s driving habits. 


Burnt clutch smell, what does it mean?

If you notice a very obvious burning smell coming from your clutch, you probably have burnt it. There are many possible reasons why you end up with a burning clutch plate. 


One is clutch slipping. When a clutch plate is slipping more than it should, it creates a burnt smell. Slippage happens when the clutch is worn and this can cause loss of vehicle power and other transmission problems. With the worn down friction material, the clutch disk will have less surface to grip onto the flywheel and pressure plate. This makes it hard for the engine to transfer spinning power to the transmission. That is why when the clutch disk is worn out, slipping is bound to take place. Clutch slipping can be detected when the burnt smell is evident even in normal driving. Clutch disk wear and tear normally happens over the years. It is important to replace a slipping clutch immediately. 


Overheating of the clutch lining friction material can also cause a burned clutch smell. The friction between the clutch linings, the clutch pressure plate, and the flywheel can cause it. The friction can cause the temperature of the plates to go up causing it to burn, especially if the clutch has been put under a lot of strain, like when climbing, starting and stopping uphill. It could also happen when you are constantly using your clutch every few meters as you go up or even when you are stuck in heavy and slow-moving traffic. 


Why and how does this happen? Well, when you depress the clutch pedal, it will lift, separating the spinning clutch disk and the flywheel. Then you proceed to shift gears prior to releasing the clutch to re-engage the drivetrain. The spinning clutch disk makes contact with the flywheel’s pressure plate as you release the clutch pedal which in turn, causes a serious amount of heat and friction. That is why when you repeatedly press down the pedal and keep on disengaging and re-engaging the drivetrain frequently, the friction produces enough heat to burn the clutch facings. Burning does not mean that you will see a fire, a burned clutch smell will suffice.


 If you notice that the same problem occurs a couple of times, it is better to replace the clutch plate with its lining of friction material. 


Bad driving habits can also cause burning clutch smells. It is probably the vehicle telling you that you are not driving really well. Revving up high when starting from a stopped position is a bad habit that can eventually wear out your clutch. Some drivers also tend to leave their foot on the clutch pedal that prevents it from fully engaging. It is better to learn or start doing proper driving techniques to get rid of the burned clutch smell. 


How to Check the Clutch Problems Yourself?

Causes of the clutch problems may vary but you can mostly check and diagnose them yourself if you have the time and the patience. But of course, this can only be applicable if the damage is not that critical, if it is, better leave the repairing to the hands of the professionals. 


For the clutch slippage problem, you can try to check it yourself by following these easy steps:

  • Engage your car’s emergency brake and start your engine.
  • Put the transmission in a high gear and rev up the engine to about 2500 rpm.
  • Release the clutch pad slowly and try to drive the car with a very slow speed in the forward direction. Make sure to maintain the slow speed.
  • As you release the clutch pedal, observe if the engine is still running slowly. Pay extra attention to the engine if it turns off immediately or if it is still running for a very short time before the clutch makes it stall. If the engine runs briefly before it turns off, it means that the slipping problem is not that serious and it can easily be fixed. If the engine is still slowly running, then it’s a sure sign that there is indeed a slipping problem with your clutch.  


Can I Drive With a Burnt Clutch?

One can never be prepared when your car or one of its parts suddenly breaks, It can happen whenever and wherever you are. As for your vehicle’s clutch, as sturdy as it is, there will come a point that it will wear out or some of its parts will break. When you are sure that your car’s clutch is broken, burned clutch smell and all, remember that driving it will most likely damage it further. You can try to drive it if it is the only available option. 


First thing you can do is try to start your engine. If your vehicle has a manual transmission, starting it without a clutch can be tough since it is equipped with an ignition interlock switch that stops your car from being started in gear. To do this, you need to make sure that there are no objects that are blocking your car’s way. If you are parked somewhere, you will need to push your car and position it in front of an empty path or road. You can ask for help from your friends or from the people around the area to help you push your vehicle. I’m pretty sure there are still lots of helpful people out there. If everything has been set and the “pushers” are on standby, Get inside your vehicle, position yourself on the driver’s seat, and place the transmission in neutral position. Steer as the people push your car into the road and remember not to step on your brake while they are pushing as this can injure them. 


Start your engine while the gearshift is in the first gear. Prepare yourself to drive as soon as you start it. Press the clutch pedal to the floor even if it works properly or not. If your car doesn’t have a clutch ignition interlock switch, it will easily move forward. Continue cranking the ignition until your engine starts but don’t crank it for more than five seconds at a single try as it can damage your starter or ignition. Stop cranking when the engine starts and drive slowly away. If you can’t start your engine in gear, try to start it in neutral. If it starts, shift into first gear with force. Sudden engaging of gear tends to make the engine stall, it could take several attempts to work.


Upshifting your transmission without a clutch  can be hard but not impossible. Just be patient, expect to try or do it over and over again. Some vehicles have indicators that illuminate when you need to shift to a higher gear. With this warning sign, try to speed up until you have to shift gears. Pull the shifter out of its gear while simultaneously letting off the accelerator pedal. You have to do this while the vehicle is still speeding fast, if it starts to slow down and you haven’t pulled the gear yet, speed up again and repeat the process. Once pulled, shift immediately into the next highest gear. Make sure to engage the gear as the RPM starts to go down from the higher RPM of the previous gear. Hold it against the gear position you need as the RPM decreases until the shifter slips in. Repeat the process if necessary. If you successfully slipped the shifter into the gear, press the accelerator immediately to prevent the car from slowing down or moving to a jerk. You can do the process again when you need another upshift to achieve the normal cruising speed.     


Downshift your transmission without a clutch if you need to slow down and stop. If your car is already slowing down to a stop, you can just pull the gear shift hard out of its current gear, put it in neutral, and apply brakes. If the car is slowing down but has no signs of stopping, you will have to shift to a lower gear.


Pull the gear shift out if you need to downshift your transmission. Rev the engine up and increase the RPM where you usually change to a higher gear. As you reach the perfect speed, move the shifter into the next lower gear with force while releasing the accelerator pedal simultaneously. Repeat the process right away if the first attempt is not successful. If it is, throttle the engine and continue driving. You can repeat the downshifting process until you reach the perfect speed. To stop the vehicle, pull the gear shift, leave it in neutral, apply brakes, and turn off your engine. 


Remember that driving without a clutch can only be done if it is the only available option. Make sure to have it fixed as soon as possible. Do not wait for another burned clutch smell and more serious car problems. 


Burned Clutch Smell After a New Clutch

It would be alarming if you already have your broken clutch replaced and your vehicle still has a burnt clutch smell. What could’ve caused it? 


A new clutch could give weird smells when you drive it for the first. It could be the manufacturing oils on it burning off or just the clutch disk settling to the pressure plate. An OEM clutch will likely emit a burning smell on its 3 to 400 miles. To get rid of it, all you have to do is drive, heat the clutch up and let it cool down.  You  can do this process for about five times or more. Do this without hard starting the engine. 


It is also possible that the mechanic that worked on your clutch missed some minor tightening on some of the removed parts and the smell is gear oil and not your clutch. Check if you have leaks and correct it immediately.


For a vehicle with a front-wheel drive, the driveshafts are connected to the gearbox and the shafts have to be removed to install a new clutch. These shafts have rubber cv joint boots that have grease. If these rubber boots have been damaged while installing the clutch, the grease could be thrown onto the hot exhaust or some of the engine parts. This in turn, gives off a burning smell. If this is the cause, have it fixed right away as it can cause a more serious damage. 


If everything is fine and there’s still a burned clutch smell in your car, you could be the one causing it. You might want to consider changing your driving techniques or habits. To extend the life of your clutch or any parts of your car, make sure to always do the scheduled maintenance and have it checked regularly. 


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