It’s usually quite a shock when the clutch slips for the first time, you’ve got the gas pedal pressed, the revs are rising, the car hardly accelerates any quicker, and the stench of burning smell follows. Now the problem is whether you can drive and how long you will get before the car fails. Well, there is no exact time frame as it depends on the clutch condition, driving style and the type of driving. But if you are careful, it is extremely rare to hear that you couldn’t get at least another 50 miles.
What does it mean when the clutch is slipping?
The clutch connects or disconnects the engine’s power to the transmission allowing you to change gears by pressing against the flywheel while the engine is still running. When the clutch is slipping, it means that the clutch disc is not fully engaged onto the flywheel and pressure plate; it is essentially spinning without being attached and slips until it suddenly engages.
When the clutch slips, most commonly, you will notice the engine RPM increase rapidly after changing gear without the car moving forward any quicker. You may also experience difficulty changing gears, hear unusual noises, and smell the clutch plate burning.
What causes the clutch to slip
When the clutch slips, the clutch needs replacing 90% of the time, but occasionally you can get other easier fix causes. Regardless of the cause, the clutch is slipping because the friction surface is not engaging, gripping the flywheel. This can be caused by several factors, including:
- Worn clutch plate – With just normal wear and tear, the friction surface on the clutch plate wears down, reducing its ability to engage the flywheel. Bad driving habits, such as riding the clutch pedal when accelerating and being too aggressive when changing gears, can cause the clutch to wear quicker.
- Weak pressure plate – The pressure plate applies pressure to the clutch disc, allowing it to engage with the flywheel. Pressure plates are another item that suffers from age and bad driving-related wear.
- Clutch cable/linkage or hydraulic issues – Issues with the clutch linkage and cable or hydraulic clutch fluid system can prevent the clutch from fully disengaging or engaging. This can be the clutch cable needing adjustment to stop the clutch from slipping.
- Oil contamination – If oil from the engine or transmission fluid leaks onto the clutch, it can stop the friction surface on the clutch from engaging the flywheel.
Is it ok to drive with a slipping clutch?
While it’s not recommended to continuously drive a car with a slipping clutch, in some cases it may be possible to do some driving. But if you choose to drive the car you should be aware of the following:
- Safety – A slipping clutch can affect your ability to accelerate and control the vehicle, especially when trying to overtake, climb steep hills or perform hill starts. I don’t need to tell you it could be a safety hazard for you and other road users.
- Further damage – A slipping clutch often indicates a failing clutch. Continuing to drive with a slipping clutch can cause additional damage to the flywheel and other transmission components.
- Reduced performance – When the clutch slips, the engine RPMs aren’t transmitted to the transmission to drive the wheels. This can cause an excessive heat build-up, which can cause the clutch to fail quicker.
- Difficulty changing gears – Without engine power disconnected from the transmission properly because the clutch is slipping, changing gears without crunching the gears into place can be challenging. After changing gear and accelerating, if the clutch is slipping, it can also cause the car to pop out of gear.
How long can you drive with a slipping clutch?
First, driving with a slipping clutch is not recommended, and you do so at your own risk! However, in some cases, if the clutch has just started to fail (still in ok condition) and you are extremely careful with the clutch pedal, it may be possible to carry on driving for even as much as 100+ miles. It’s not always possible to be careful changing gears, i.e., in high-performance sports cars with a lot of power, towing heavy loads, or lots of stop-and-start driving, so you may only get 50 miles or less before the clutch completely fails.
Every vehicle and driver is different, so there isn’t an exact mileage or time frame. But know this the clutch will always fail at the worst possible moment!
On a brighter note, it’s not uncommon to hear that someone had got a thousand miles and another month out of a slipping clutch before it ultimately failed. That’s if you believe them. But that is the other problem; you can never know precisely how long you will get until the clutch no longer operates. So driving is a risk, but you can usually at least limp the car home with a slipping clutch.
Do not take the risk if the clutch makes the car undrivable for you! Pull over safely and have the vehicle recovered.
How to drive with a slipping clutch
Firstly, before you read any further, you should not bother trying to drive a car with a slipping clutch on busy roads in a town where you will need to do a lot of stop-and-start driving. However, if you have to drive with the clutch slipping, the trick is avoiding stopping the car or pressing the clutch.
The clutch will slip at its worst when pulling away in first gear. So as soon as the car is moving and the clutch has stopped slipping, try to get the car straight into 2nd or 3rd gear, where you need to drive slowly, keeping it in gear. There is no need to change gears again. When coming to a point where you need to slow down, if you can help not to have to press the clutch to stop the engine from stalling, you should still be able to keep the car going just with 2nd or 3rd gear alone. I shouldn’t need to tell you this but do not compromise your or other road users’ safety. So if you come to a junction or stop sign, a slipping clutch is not an excuse to ignore the road rules.
What happens when the clutch completely fails
When a clutch completely fails, it will be impossible to change gears, especially with the engine running. Thus making it impossible to start a car in neutral or in first gear with the clutch pressed and then using it to pull away.
If the clutch fails while driving and you try to change gears, you will hear a grinding noise and will not be able to select another gear. Without being able to disconnect the engine’s power (the clutch’s job), when choosing a gear, you will cause a lot of damage to the teeth on each gears cog inside the transmission. The car will be impossible to drive, and you shouldn’t consider driving it.
By the end of this article, you should now understand how long you can drive a car with a slipping clutch, which is not very long! It’s a risky choice to take and the clutch could completely fail at any moment, potentially putting you and other road users in danger. However, if you must drive a car with a failing clutch, be very careful and avoid going through all of the gears, keep in a low gear, and stay moving at a very slow speed. Just be mindful that the more you drive, the more chance you have of causing more damage to other expensive to repair parts of the car!