Changing Gears: Getting the Most Out of Your Clutch
It is quite common for a clutch system to last more than 80,000 miles. It all depends on the driver, the usage of the vehicle and the maintenance of the system.
The most-common clutch-system complaints include hard shifting, the clutch not releasing, slipping, chattering or shuddering, noise, or the vehicle will not move at all. Slippage can be caused by two things: worn facings or loss of spring tension in the pressure plate. Unless the clutch really has been abused or has a lot of miles on it, it's unlikely the pressure plate is weak. Normal wear reduces the thickness of the facings on the clutch disc, which in turn reduces the clamping force the pressure plate can apply to squeeze the disk against the flywheel. Replacing the clutch disc should cure the problem.
Most shops would also recommend resurfacing the flywheel at this time also. Chattering and jerking can be caused by oil contaminated clutch linings, or by damage to the clutch itself. If you've got an oil leak, don't replace the clutch until you've fixed the leak. Once the clutch linings have been contaminated by oil, there's no way to clean them. Replacing the clutch disk is the only way to restore proper clutch operation.
Most of these common clutch-system failures can be attributed to normal system wear or failure, driver or system abuse, installation failures, lack of maintenance, manufacturing defects. If your clutch has low miles on it (40,000 or less), chances are the slippage is due to one of two things: oil contamination or a misadjusted clutch linkage. If your clutch has a lot of miles on it (60,000 or more), chances are it's worn out and you need to replace it. In some cases, fixing the problem means changing your driving habits. In others, it might mean that you should buy a larger truck to tow that fifth-wheel trailer.
Edmunds.com recommends these tips to prevent the premature demise of the clutch system:
Avoid "riding the clutch" – Whenever the clutch pedal isn't all the way up or all the way down, you're putting wear on your clutch.
Do not use the clutch to hold your car in place on hills. Use your brakes and E-brake if necessary to help with hill starts.
Do not use your clutch to" save your brakes" when slowing down. It is much cheaper to replace brake pads than a clutch.
Aim to engage the clutch as smoothly as possible every time. This will come from knowing where the clutch pedal is when the clutch starts to engage on your particular vehicle.
When you do downshift (without coming to a complete stop) it's important to "rev-match." This means raising the engine's rpm as you release the clutch to more closely match your vehicle's engine speed to the rear-wheel speed. By giving the engine just a bit of throttle when you down-shift you can make the clutch engagement smoother, which reduces clutch wear and head bobbing on downshifts.
Your clutch is a complex and integral part of your drivetrain. With proper care it will serve you well.