Useful tips on clutch maintenance

Some clutch problems can be cured by adjustment, some can be lived with for years, but some leave you no other option than a full overhaul. On certain vehicles, a clutch overhaul can be done at home by the average owner, but there are two provisos:

l Unless you are very experienced, you should arm yourself with a workshop manual specific to your vehicle. Study it carefully and religiously, follow its prescriptions regarding tightening, torque settings, etc.

l DIY clutch overhaul is generally not advised for front-wheel drive vehicles. There are exceptions, but usually it involves much more work to get to the clutch on a FWD car, in fact sometimes the engine has to come out for that. The procedure outlined below applies only to front-engined, rear-wheel drive cars and bakkies.

Start by disconnecting the battery earth cable, draining the gearbox oil, then getting the vehicle up on axle stands, preferably four stands, one each under both front and rear jacking points. Remove or disconnect all items that prevent the gearbox and clutch bellhousing from being removed - things like the driveshaft; the hydraulic slave cylinder or clutch cable; the release fork; the wires going to the reverse light switch on the gearbox; the front section of the exhaust pipe; the starter motor; the speedometer cable; the gear lever, from inside the car. It is often best to remove the bellhousing and gearbox as one unit. In this case, the next step is to support the engine by means of a jack with an ample rubber pad placed under the sump, and to put a separate jack under the gearbox-cum-bellhousing, more or less at its centre of gravity. Now the substantial bolts attaching the bellhousing to the engine can be removed, followed by the cross member carrying the gearbox mounting.

The gearbox and bellhousing should now separate from the engine block, if jiggled and pulled rearward. If it doesn't, you have overlooked an attachment bolt. Support it on the jack while pulling it backward until the gearbox input shaft has cleared the pressure plate. A wheeled jack should ideally be used under the gearbox. Only then can you lower the lump of metal and wrestle it out from under the car. Never let the gearbox hang by the input shaft alone, neither during removal nor during re-installation.

The clutch will now be looking at you from where it sits, bolted to the flywheel. Loosen its bolts a little at a time in a criss-cross pattern, then remove it. While you are at it, also remove the flywheel - careful, it's heavy - by unscrewing the bolts attaching it to the crankshaft. Take the flywheel to an engineering shop to have its face cleaned up. It is false economy not to do this. Inspect the ring gear on the flywheel and replace if worn. Take the clutch unit to a trusted spares shop, and buy the best matched kit that you can afford.