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Clutch Issues 101: Clutch Noise/Clatter

Clutch

Previously, we talked about clutch slippage. Another common problem with clutches is clatter and noise. This can happen when the pedal is pressed, released, or when gears engage/disengage. Clatter (sometimes called "chatter") is a skipping of gears similar to slippage, but accompanied by a loud clunking, clattering or grinding noise. Other general clutch noises we'll talk about are growls, squeals, chirping, or similar sounds often coming with vibrations but not necessarily with slippage or clatter.

Clutch Clatter / Chatter

This is a grabbing, jerking, or "gear skip" that includes clattering or chattering noises. It's most often caused by lubricant getting onto the clutch linings, such as when a newly-installed clutch has had too much grease applied or when leaks are allowing lubricating oil onto the linings. It could also be caused by or end up causing:

  • Burned/glazed linings
  • Warped or grooved flywheel
  • Worn or damaged clutch disc or input shaft splines
  • Worn pilot bearing bushing or retainer
  • Bent clutch disc
  • Loose clutch cover
  • Bent or broken drive straps
  • Missing pins on flywheel dowels

Several other things could be going on as well, such as broken drivetrain mounts. It pays to thoroughly inspect all of the components of the transmission's mounting and attachments to the engine before getting into the transmission itself.

Clutch Noise

Worn or seized bearings are the most common cause of noise coming from the clutch. Chirping, another common clutch noise, is usually vibration due to loose fittings or worn parts. If you're unsure of the cause of your clutch's noise issues, start by checking things around the clutch first:

  • Incorrect release adjustment
  • Worn driveshaft/halfshaft (esp. at connections)
  • Broken cable self-adjuster
  • Worn drivetrain mounts

Then check the clutch assembly itself:

  • Worn input shaft bearings
  • Misaligned release bearing
  • Worn or misaligned pilot bearing
  • Bad release fork (or off alignment)
  • Worn input shaft/splines
  • Clutch disc misaligned or installed backward
  • Loose flywheel bolts (often accompanied by starting problems)
  • Damaged disc splines

Check also the bushings and stop pins/damper.

How To Locate Noise

To locate the noise, more easily narrowing down the problem, have a friend operate the clutch while you are outside of the car. If possible, put it on a lift with the wheels free so you can get under and around it to better locate the noise. Put the car in neutral, start the engine, and then have your assistant press and release the clutch. Make note of the type of noise and move around the car to pinpoint where it seems to be coming from.

Several sounds, when test-driving the car, can give away the likely culprit as well. Most of these will be learned through experience, but some are relatively common.

Growling or grinding when the clutch is engaged (released) will likely be the input shaft bearing. Chirping noises that intensifies as the pedal is pressed is likely a bad pilot bearing. A similar chirping while the engine is idling and the clutch is in neutral, but that goes away when the pedal is engaged, it's a pivot ball contact going bad. Finally, a squealing sound from a pressed clutch is usually a bad pilot bearing.

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