WHAT THE HECK IS A…Clutch?

To know what the heck a clutch IS, we must first explore what the heck a clutch IS NOT. A clutch (as it pertains to vehicles) is not: 

  1. The thing that cats do when they start to fall off something
  2. A tiny, strapless purse
  3. The new word all the cool teen girls are saying
  4. A tabloid magazine

10 points if you get the reference.

10 points if you get the reference.

So…what the heck is it then? 

A clutch is the component in manual transmission vehicles that disconnects the engine from the wheels, which allows the shifting of gears. (in a gameshow host voice) Show me…CLUTCH!

Check it out!

Check it out!

How Does It Work?

Here’s the same photo as above, but with labels:

Labels, labels, labels, I made you with my phone…

Labels, labels, labels, I made you with my phone…

  • The flywheel is connected to the crankshaft, and both are driven by the engine.
  • When the clutch is disengaged (when your foot is off the clutch pedal), the pressure plate presses the clutch disc against the flywheel. The clutch disc has friction material on it, and the friction created against the flywheel causes it to rotate with the flywheel (and crankshaft). As that is happening, the wheels are rotating with them.
  • When the clutch is engaged (when your foot is pressing in the clutch pedal), the pressure plate is released from the clutch disc, thus releasing it from the flywheel. As that is happening, the wheels are no longer being driven by the engine/crankshaft/flywheel, and you can shift gears and/or use the brakes to come to a complete halt.

Now, here’s the same photo as above, but with *ladles:

*Ladles are not to scale, nor do they have anything to do with clutches

*Ladles are not to scale, nor do they have anything to do with clutches

Common Problems with Clutches

The most common problem with clutches is worn clutch disc friction material. That happens a lot faster when the driver rests his or her foot on the clutch, which partially engages it. Remember, the clutch disc is spinning at a different speed as the flywheel, so if it is only partially engaged, the disc will grind against the flywheel, and wear it down.

Another common problem with clutches is not releasing properly. That could be due to the clutch cable needing adjustment or replacement, oil contamination, or a warped flywheel or clutch disc, among other issues.

What Are Gears?

Gears transmit power from one part of a machine to another. In a manual transmission vehicle, they transmit power from the engine to the wheels.

  • The low gears (first and second) are used to give the wheels more power at lower speeds.
  • The high gears (third, fourth, and higher) are used to give the wheels more speed with less power.

It might help to think of pushing a large boulder along a flat path. It takes a lot more force to get the boulder started rolling, and once it is in motion, it takes less force to make it roll faster. Then the boulder starts rolling towards Indiana Jones, and he has to run from it or he will be smooshed. You almost smooshed Indiana Jones, you monster!

Run, Indy!

Run, Indy!

So, there you have it. Now you know what the heck a clutch is NOT, what it IS, learned a little bit about gears, and attempted to murder Indiana Jones with a boulder. I hope they have WiFi in prison, so you can keep reading this blog!

Tell me what other automotive parts baffle you. I’ll tell you what the heck they are!

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Written by Ben Scharff

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