Home Diagnosis and TroubleshootingGearbox and Transmission Burned Clutch Smell – How To Recognize A Burned Clutch?

Burned Clutch Smell – How To Recognize A Burned Clutch?

by Jordan Harris
Burned Clutch Smell

Do you have a manual transmission car (and you know how to drive a stick) and you started sensing that burned clutch smell? Or do you want to learn how the burned clutch smell smells like? Then you came to the right place because we are going to teach you everything you need to know when it comes to manual cars and how to sense possible problems with your transmission or clutch.

Manual transmissions in the US are pretty rare. They are often driven by car guys and people who want to feel a better connection with their car. Why I’m saying this?

Driving a manual car is special. It cannot be compared to an automatic. With a manual transmission, you have total control over your engine and you shift whenever you like. You can short shift, you can downshift, you can go up to the rev limiter. You can basically do anything.

But like with every other component in our vehicle so is the manual transmission has some problems. These problems can include a burned clutch and as well the burned clutch smell. They happen rarely. But when they do, you know that the clutch has burned off. But what you can do about it? Let’s find out.

In this article, we are going to cover everything when it comes to manual transmissions and we will learn what are they and how they work. Then we will cover the clutch and how the process of shifting works. Then we are going to cover the signs of bad clutch and then we will give a detailed guide only for you on how you can replace your clutch DIY. And lastly, we will discuss the costs of doing this work. So, without further ado let’s discuss.

What Is A Manual Transmission?

Manual transmission or better called a gearbox. It is a transmission for internal combustion vehicles. But what does the word transmission mean?

The transmission is an integral component in an internal combustion vehicle. The transmission role is to convert the rotational momentum of the crankshaft into usable power that is called torque.

The torque number basically tells you how much pulling power your vehicle has. Engines are usually rated in torque as well besides the horsepower numbers. The torque goes from the engine into the transmission and then it is properly displaced on demand to the road.

Gears are needed because if there are no gears that will properly displace this torque the engine will simply destroy itself or will destroy the drive shaft.

Manual transmissions were the first types of transmissions that were invented for the purpose of tackling this problem of torque displacement. And even today, 100 years after, they are still widely used in cars. What makes the manual so special? The manual is very special because it connects you with the road and you are in charge of the shifting process. You decide when to shift and not the car. That is something we want in a car.

In the US, unfortunately, they are not that popular and most of the vehicles here are using automatics. Automatics are far simpler to drive since you don’t have to do a lot of operations with your foot.

But we are here for the manuals and we need to learn everything about them. More specifically about the burned clutch smell. Why this smell appears? Well, we are going to cover that but first, we need to learn what is the clutch.

What Is A Clutch? – Burned Clutch Smell

The clutch is a disc plate that has the role of engaging and disengaging the engine and the manual transmission. So, how this works? It’s pretty simple to explain.

When you press the clutch with your foot, the clutch basically disengages the transmission from the engine. There is separation and they are not connected anymore. And as soon you put the car into gear and you release the clutch, they reconnect and the vehicle starts moving.

The press on the clutch pedal is basically the waiting time you have until you change the gear and soon after you release the clutch, the engine is going a gear above or gear down.

But where does the clutch go into all this? The clutch has a friction material that grips. When the clutch pedal is disengaged the clutch grips to the flywheel and rotates together with the flywheel. But as you press the clutch pedal the clutch releases the flywheel and you are able to shift a gear. Here is a video animation of this process for you to have a better picture of what is really going on. The clutch is inside of the red housing.

There is another aspect when it comes to pressing the clutch. That is the throwout bearing or release bearing as it is known. This bearing has the role of pressing the diaphragm when you apply the clutch pedal and this bearing helps engaging and disengaging the clutch.

This bearing is changed as well when the clutch job is done along with the flywheel and the clutch plate. Yes, but what is the burned clutch smell? That smell unfortunately is one of the signs of a burned clutch that we are going to cover in the next chapter.

Signs Of A Bad Clutch – Burned Clutch Smell

When the clutch goes bad, there are numerous signs that you will notice on your car. Some of them are pretty secretive. While some of them are pretty obvious and they are a dead giveaway that the clutch is bad. But which are they? Is it the burned clutch smell? Let’s find out that and more.

Transmission Does Not Engage, It Slips All The Time

One of the first signs that you will notice is that the transmission clutch doesn’t want to engage the flywheel. Although there is pressure from the throwout bearing and the diaphragm, the clutch simply rubs against the flywheel and doesn’t want to grip.

This is caused by the lack of material on the clutch plate and is the clear symptom of a worn-out clutch. The clutch basically doesn’t want to work properly anymore.

If there is still a little material left on the clutch it might grip and the vehicle will go into gear and will move forward. But as the clutch material gets thinner and thinner. The danger that you are going to be left stranded becomes bigger and bigger.

That’s why when you notice how the clutch doesn’t want to grip as it used to it means that you need to open your wallet. Then start looking for a place that can make this clutch job happen quickly and effectively. Leaving stranded in the middle of nowhere with a burned clutch smell is something that nobody wants. That’s why it is better to be safe than sorry.

Clutch Pedal Is Soft

Another symptom is the softness of the clutch pedal. The clutch pedal shouldn’t be hard but it should not as well be extremely soft.

The more pressure from your foot is needed to engage the clutch, the less life the clutch plate has in it. The soft spot is usually an inch or two when you press the clutch to engage. But if you press all the way and when you release your foot the clutch doesn’t want to engage, it means that there is something wrong with it.

It’s either the throwout bearing or the clutch. But in most cases, the clutch is the real problem when you have this sign of a soft clutch pedal.

When you experience this symptom the best thing to do is to plan your clutch job in advance. If you don’t want to be left stranded with a burned clutch smell.

Car Doesn’t Accelerate

Another symptom of a bad or worn-out clutch is that the car will not want to accelerate. This can be frustrating, especially if you want to be on time for a meeting or to do something else that is important to you.

The worn clutch will constantly slip and will not want to grip with the flywheel. As we said sometimes it will grip but even if it grips at some points when you accelerate hard it will start to slip again.

And you will notice how your RPM will go up but the car will stay at 20 mph or less. With a bad clutch, you can be lucky that it will want to go grip at some point and be able to limp out at 10 to 20 mph in second gear until you reach the workshop.

Unfortunately, sometimes it will not want to go and your only option will be to call roadside assistance to help you out with your car.

Car Doesn’t Want To Go Uphill

This sign is one of the early signs that you get when your clutch starts to give up on you. If you drive uphill, you can easily notice how the clutch struggles, and the car doesn’t like to move up.

Shifting gears uphill also requires some level of skill. That’s why you have to perfect it if you don’t want to burn the clutch. That’s why many beginner drivers are doing these rookie mistakes and burn their clutches.

Burned Clutch Smell

It happened to me once when I was releasing my handbrake while I was learning to drive a manual. There were clouds of smoke around me inside of the car and also the disgusting burned clutch smell. The sad news was that the clutch was done and I had to replace it with a new one.

But if you are an experienced driver and you try to move from a standstill on a steep uphill and the car just doesn’t want to move. Then you know that you have a clutch problem. The clutch may work on even surfaces where there is no load. But if the car is on an uphill, you will struggle to move from a standstill.

When The Car Is Loaded It Doesn’t Like To Move

Another symptom similar to driving uphill is the car doesn’t like to move when it is loaded. For example, the car was designed to take a load of 1000 pounds.

You load the car with 500 pounds and the car is struggling to move, then you know that something is wrong. Vehicles are usually designed to move that specific amount of load from the factory. So, if the clutch started slipping and it doesn’t want to move it means that there is a problem.

You may not notice this if you load your car only with lightweight cargo. But if you load it with some heavy cargo it’s going to be more and more noticeable. The only solution, in this case, is to replace the clutch with a new one and not wait to experience the burned clutch smell that we are going to cover next.

Burned Clutch Smell

And we come to the main part and that is the burned clutch smell. The burned clutch smell appears on a few occasions. Most notable is when the clutch is released abruptly. When you release the clutch all of a sudden there is an immense grip that happens and basically wears off the material.

Another example is when you don’t release the clutch when it is required but you release it too late and your gas input is not sufficient. Every clutch has a grip point that you will feel when you disengage the clutch pedal. And it’s up to you to make the perfect timing when to release the clutch. That’s why manuals are tricky at the start.

When these situations happen, you are starting to smell something. That is the burned clutch smell. This is a clear sign that you need to adjust your driving and learn when to do the shift properly. If you continue driving like this the clutch will likely prematurely wear off and you will pay expensive repairs to get it fixed.

Also, the clutch is starting to smell when there is little meat left. It struggles to get a grip and this results in this bad smell (to learn more, check out our guide on how to get weed smell out of car and how to get the weed smell out of your car). If your car doesn’t like to move forward and you feel that burned clutch smell, then you know that it is time to replace the clutch.

High Miles On The Same Clutch

Another problem with clutches is their age. They are designed to have a life expectancy. This life expectancy is around 60,000 miles. After this mileage, you will start to feel some signs that we have mentioned earlier like the burned clutch smell and the lack of ability of the vehicle to move uphill or while carrying a load.

But it is worth noting that some clutches don’t even last 30,000 miles. Why is it so? This is the case because these cars are owned that people who don’t shift properly. They shift too abruptly and the car wears the clutch too quickly. This is most notable in junior drivers that are still learning. But over time you learn how everything works and everything is much easier for you as a driver and for the car as well.

That’s why the more time you spend driving in traffic, the quicker you learn to shift properly and not wear your clutch down too quickly. That’s how you will enjoy your driving more and also save some money on a new clutch.

How To Replace A Bad Clutch DIY?

Now we come to the interesting part and that is how to replace a clutch DIY. Is it difficult as it seems or is it a breeze? Let me tell you that it is not easy at all. But we’re still going to learn all the steps that you need to follow if you want to replace the clutch.

One thing worth noting is the location of the clutch. In front-wheel-drive cars, the clutch is located on the right side of the engine. While or a rear-wheel-drive car, the clutch is located somewhere where the firewall is starting. That is the place where the transmission and the engine kiss.

Burned Clutch Smell

This job also requires the removal of the transmission and you are going to need a proper lift if you have a rear-wheel-drive car. It can be done with jack stands as well, but it is not that easy. But how to get rid of the burned clutch smell and replace the clutch? Let’s discuss.

Step 1

The first thing you will need to do is to jack up the car in the air. This is a guide for rear-wheel-drive cars since most of the vehicles in the US are RWD. For this purpose, you will need a two-post or four-post lift. If you don’t have a lift lying around, jack stands will also do the trick. But you will need to secure your car really well and make sure that it is stable in the air.

Step 2

The next thing you need is to remove the driveshaft. The driveshaft is that long tube that is mounted in the middle and is connecting your transmission to the differential. Once you unbolted the U-joint bolts you can remove the driveshaft in one piece.

Step 3

This step involves two persons and a jack that moves up and down. This jack is needed in order to support the transmission while you untighten the bolts that are holding it. After you unbolt all of the bolts, slowly start to lower the transmission until you bring it down.

Step 4

During this step, you need to unbolt all of the bolts that are holding the clutch assembly and also remove the flywheel. All these parts will have to go and be replaced. You will need a new clutch, pressure plate, throwout bearing, and a new flywheel.

Step 5

The last step involves installing all these parts that we mentioned in the previous step. These were the flywheel, clutch disc, pressure plate, and throwout bearing, and tighten them up. Then you can reassemble the transmission and torque it up to spec as well as the driveshaft. Then you are completely done for the day and you can enjoy your new clutch. But, be aware not to burn it too quickly.

Cost To Replace A Clutch? – Burned Clutch Smell

We discussed all the signs of a bad clutch including the burned clutch smell. But what about the cost of a new clutch? How much does a new clutch cost to replace? This is a good question. We are going to elaborate on it in depth.

On average, the cost for the parts is somewhere between $300 to $500. This might seem expensive to you and it isn’t considering that you replace the clutch every 60,000 miles or so. That’s why it’s worth it.

But when you add up the price for the labor the price bumps up significantly. A regular clutch job is going to cost you somewhere between $500 to $900.

Front-wheel drive cars are cheaper to handle since there is less labor involved and the car doesn’t have to be jacked in the air and all that jazz. But how you can avoid that burned clutch smell? Let’s find out.

How To Avoid Damaging The Clutch? – Burned Clutch Smell

The biggest tip that you can get is not to release the clutch too quickly. Every time you release the clutch too quickly it takes out from the life of the clutch. The more times you do it, the more miles you shave from the clutch.

So, instead of 60,000 miles, the clutch is going to last half from that or even less. That’s why make sure that you learn to get the right timing when to release the clutch. Practice makes everything perfect.

Facts about a Burnt Clutch and its Symptoms:

  1. A burnt clutch is often caused by not fully engaging and disengaging the clutch when changing gears, and is one of the main reasons why a clutch fails.
  2. Symptoms of a burnt clutch include a foul, burning smell, faster engine speed, unusual noises or vibrations, difficulty selecting gear, strange noises when changing gear, and a clutch pedal that feels harder or softer than usual.
  3. Regularly burning the clutch will cause excessive clutch plate wear and may also cause damage to the pressure plate and flywheel.
  4. A burnt clutch smell is pungent and sulphur-like, and if experienced regularly after changing gears, the clutch is likely burning and nearly worn out.
  5. The symptoms of a burnt clutch are also the symptoms of a worn, slipping clutch, and a clutch disc that is not fully engaged by the pressure plate causes it to burn.
  6. Erratic engine jerking is another common symptom of a burnt clutch, and it feels like the engine is trying to accelerate more than it should.
  7. A burnt clutch can also cause the engine to surge or increase in revs when under an extra load, such as driving up a steep hill or when pulling a heavy load.
  8. A burnt clutch can make it difficult to select a gear, and a worn clutch plate does not disengage fully from the flywheel when the clutch pedal is pressed.
  9. A burnt clutch is caused by excessive slippage of the clutch plate when the engine is running, and improper use of the clutch, such as not fully engaging and disengaging it, is the most common reason for a burnt clutch.
  10. The only way to fix a burnt clutch is to replace it, and if the clutch plate has been allowed to burn and slip for a while, there may be damage to the flywheel and other clutch parts.

Conclusion – Burned Clutch Smell

In this article, we have covered a lot when it comes to the burned clutch smell and overall, everything when it comes to manual transmission and clutches. We learned how the manual transmission and the clutch communicate between them and how the process of shifting is done.

Then we have covered all the signs of a bad clutch. Remember that when the clutch is bad it will have that burned clutch smell, it will not pull even though the RPMs are high and you will not be able to haul stuff around. Eventually, the clutch will completely fail.

We also learned the process of replacing the clutch. This is a difficult DIY job. But if you have a friend, you can do it. Lastly, we covered the cost to replace the clutch and also what to do in order to prevent the clutch from wearing too quickly.

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