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Car Clutch: What is It and How Does It Work?

  • Author :
  • TATA AIG Team
  • Published on :
  • 24/11/2023

When you start learning to drive, the instructor introduces you to various parts of the vehicle that you need to engage. The basic parts that every car driver needs to know are ABCG - accelerator, brake, clutch and gear.

With cars becoming an integral part of our lives, whether you are driving or travelling via a cab, understanding how a four-wheeler works can be helpful at any time. Today, we will talk about the clutch in a car and discuss its components and how it works.

Before we delve into the details of the clutch used in cars, let’s understand the concept of transmission.

What is Transmission in a Car

A car moves when power is transferred from the engine to the wheels. This gives the car speed and direction. This transmission mechanism includes gears and parts that control the revolutions per minute of the vehicle. Power can be transmitted manually or automatically.

The clutch plays a crucial role in the transmission of power from the engine

Understanding a Car Clutch

When power is transmitted from the engine to the wheels, the car clutch plays an important role and acts as the intermediary mechanical device between them.

There are two or more rotating shafts in a car. In manual transmission, the clutch connects to the shaft coming from the engine and the shafts that turn the wheels.

In a car, the motor spins continuously. But you want the wheels to spin when you desire and not always. This is where the clutch steps in.

In a car, the clutch looks like a stack of metal plates. It has several parts, and its core function is disconnecting the power coming from the engine and allowing the driver to change gears smoothly. It helps you get the car moving when you start it, change gears, and accelerate and decelerate efficiently.

How to Use a Car Clutch

Here are some important things that you need to know about how to use a car clutch:

Before starting the engine, press down on the clutch pedal. This ensures that the engine is disconnected from the gears and starts smoothly.

Once the engine has started, with the clutch pressed, shift to the first gear.

Now, keep the other foot on the brake pedal and start slowly releasing the clutch pedal.

Pay attention to the car. At a point, you will feel the engine connecting with the transmission system. Your car may move a bit too.

This is when you start applying pressure on the accelerator pedal.

Remember, you need to release the clutch pedal and press the accelerator pedal simultaneously. This will help the car move ahead without stalling.

Once the car is in motion and if you want to shift to a higher gear, release the accelerator pedal and press the clutch pedal. This will temporarily disconnect the engine. Now, shift to a higher gear and smoothly release the clutch while applying pressure to the accelerator pedal.

If you want to slow down or stop while driving, then you need to apply pressure to the clutch and brake pedals at the same time. This will prevent the engine from stalling.

Lastly, once you have parked your car, make sure that it is in neutral gear. Now, press the clutch pedal and then turn the key to switch off the engine. This will prevent the car from jerking upon starting.

The Function of a Clutch in a Car

In cars with gears, the clutch plays some important functions, as described below:

Transferring Power

The main role of the clutch is engaging and disengaging the connection between the transmission and the engine.

In simpler words, it is used to separate the engine’s power from the transmission and engage it whenever needed. Pressing down the clutch pedal disengages the connection, and releasing it allows the power to flow to the transmission and the wheels.

Gear Shifting

Another important function of the clutch in cars is ensuring smooth gear shifting.

When you want to shift gears in a manual transmission car, you press down on the clutch pedal before selecting the desired gear. The clutch temporarily disconnects the transmission from the engine. This ensures that the gear shifting does not damage the transmission.

Neutral Position

The clutch is responsible for allowing you to keep the car running without moving.

When you put the car in the neutral gear, the clutch keeps the engine and transmission disconnected. Hence, the engine continues to run without sending power to the wheels.

Starting and Stopping

When you start a car with a manual transmission, you press down the clutch pedal, engage the gear, and then release the clutch while you accelerate slowly. The clutch plays an essential role in transmitting power from the engine to the wheels.

Also, when you want to stop the car, you press down on the clutch and brake pedals together while shifting the gear if needed. The clutch allows you to stop the car without stalling the engine.

Protecting the Engine

The clutch also performs an important role of acting as a barrier between the transmission and the engine.

When the vehicle is in motion, the clutch ensures that any vibrations or shocks do not damage the engine.

Types of Clutches

There are different types of clutches used in cars. Here is a quick look at some of the common ones:

Type of Clutch Description
Friction Clutch This is the most common clutch used in manual transmission cars. It uses friction between the pressure plate and the clutch disc to engage/disengage power transmission.
Single Plate Clutch This is a simple but efficient clutch used in many cars. It has a single friction disc that is controlled by a pressure plate.
Multi-Plate Clutch A Multi Plate Clutch offers better handling of torque and is usually used in high-performance four-wheelers
Hydraulic Clutch These clutches are common in modern cars. They use hydraulic pressure to engage and disengage the transmission mechanism. These clutches are smoother than friction clutches.

There have been many developments in clutch technology in modern cars. You can opt for a Dual Clutch Car that combines the control of manual transmission with the convenience of an automatic gearbox.

However, if you opt for an automatic car, then the automatic car clutch engages and disengages the clutch without the need for any manual control.

Interestingly, many automakers are working on creating a Without Clutch Car by replacing the traditional clutch with intelligent technological systems.

Components of a Car Clutch

Without getting too technical, let’s look under the hood of a car clutch. There are many parts of a clutch that can vary based on the type of clutch. Here are some main components:

Clutch Disc

This is the big, round plate in the clutch with friction materials on both sides. It connects the engine’s flywheel to the transmission system of the vehicle.

When you press down on the clutch pedal or release it, the disk will stick or separate from the engine. This allows it to control the flow of engine power.

Pressure Plate

This is also a circular disc that has springs around its edges. It pushes against the clutch disc, and the springs allow it to hold it tightly against the disc.

It is like a hand squeezing the clutch disc. When engaged, it holds the disc tightly, and when disengaged, it releases the disc.

Flywheel

This is a large wheel that is connected to the engine of the car.

It serves two purposes – providing the surface area for the clutch disc to grip and helping the engine run smoothly. When the clutch is engaged, the clutch disc connects to this wheel.

Release Bearing

Also known as Throwout Bearing, this is a small, round bearing. It moves along the transmission shaft. Its primary role is to help separate the clutch disc from the pressure plate when needed.

When you press down on the clutch pedal, the Release Bearing is engaged and disconnects the pressure plate from the disc.

Clutch Fork

This is a kind of lever connected to the Release Bearing. The Clutch Fork is a long, thin metal piece moving back and forth.

When you press down on the clutch pedal, the fork moves and helps the release bearing do its job.

Bellhousing

This is the outer cover of the clutch system. It protects the parts from dust and dirt while securing the parts in their place.

Clutch Pedal and Connections

Lastly, you have the clutch pedal that you use to engage or disengage the clutch system.

This pedal connects with the clutch system through a series of connections and bars. The linkage system tells the clutch parts what to do.

Lifespan of a Clutch

Since the clutch has many moving parts, it can go through wear and tear. The overall lifespan of a clutch can vary based on factors like your driving habits, road conditions, type of car, and the frequency of maintenance. If maintained well, you can expect a car clutch to have a lifespan of up to 1.6-lakh kilometres or longer.

Here are some factors that can impact the lifespan of a clutch:

Driving habits: As you can see, the clutch system has intricate parts that work in sync to engage/disengage the engine. Hence, using it smoothly can ensure a longer-lasting clutch.

However, many drivers tend to have aggressive habits like frequent abrupt acceleration or harsh braking that can significantly increase wear and tear and reduce the lifespan of the clutch.

Traffic Conditions: Usually, clutches experience more wear and tear in high-traffic conditions.

If you are regularly driving in stop-and-go traffic, then the clutch engagement increases. This can cause wear and tear over time and reduce its lifespan.

Riding the Clutch: Many drivers, consciously or subconsciously, don’t release the clutch plate completely after shifting gears.

They use it to control speed as an alternative to brakes, especially in high-traffic conditions or at red lights. This can cause the clutch to wear out faster.

Clutch Material: Since the clutch has moving parts and components that use friction to work, the quality of friction materials used has a direct impact on its lifespan.

Driving Experience: People who are new to driving manual transmission cars tend to use the clutch far more than required.

This can impact its lifespan by causing more wear and tear.

Maintenance Practises: Any mechanical part lasts longer if maintained regularly. The same is true for the clutch system.

Make sure to get it checked at regular intervals to keep it running efficiently and for a longer time.

A Guide for Clutch Care

Here are some handy tips to care for your clutch and increase its lifespan:

Be gentle on the clutch pedal. Remember, pressing down too hard or abruptly can damage its parts.

Many people have a habit of driving with one foot constantly on the clutch pedal. Avoid this as it can cause unnecessary wear and tear.

Make sure that the clutch pedal is fully depressed before shifting gears.

When driving on a slope, avoid riding the clutch to control the car. Use the handbrake for optimum control.

When you start the car, don’t go too hard on the accelerator. Start smoothly and prevent jerking.

If you are stuck in traffic, then try to use the neutral gear as opposed to keeping the clutch engaged for a long time.

The car manufacturer would have given a maintenance schedule. Ensure that you get your clutch maintained regularly.

Avoid overloading the car. Keep the permitted load levels in mind as heavy loads can damage the clutch.

Stay aware of your car. If you notice any unusual noise or find it difficult to shift gears or experience clutch slippage, then get a professional inspection done immediately.

If you are new to manual transmission cars, then ensure that you spend enough time learning clutch usage techniques.

Summing Up

The clutch is an important component of a car, especially in cars with manual transmission. Hence, if you are driving a four-wheeler, then it is important to understand its significance and how you can ensure that it is used efficiently. This can increase the longevity of the clutch and keep the car’s mechanism running smoothly.

Further, make sure that you buy a comprehensive car insurance policy to get financial protection from damages due to an accident or mishap involving your car.

While third-party four wheeler insurance is mandatory in India, it only covers damages to a third party. However, comprehensive car insurance includes third-party liabilities and damages to your car due to a range of reasons.

If you own a car, make sure that you use it carefully, ensure timely maintenance, and buy car insurance to get financial protection from damages.

FAQS

Q1. What is the main purpose of a clutch in a car?

A car clutch is primarily responsible for connecting or disconnecting the engine from the transmission system. This allows for smooth gear changes and helps you start and stop the car without stalling the engine.

Q2. How does a clutch work in simple terms?

In a car, the clutch is like a switch that connects and disconnects the engine from the wheels. So, if the car is in motion and you want to change gears, you press down on the clutch pedal to disconnect the engine and shift gears with ease. It makes it easy to start and stop the car without stalling the engine.

Q3. Can a car run without a clutch?

While a car can run without the conventional clutch, it needs some mechanism to connect and disconnect the engine from the wheels.

Q4. How can I tell if my car’s clutch is wearing out?

If you experience slipping gears or a clutch engaging higher on the pedal than usual, then these might be signs of the clutch wearing out. Any difficulty in shifting gears can also indicate a worn-out clutch. If you are facing any of these problems, then you might want to get the car checked by a professional.

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