Indications that the clutch might be failing include the clutch causing a burning smell, the clutch feeling soft, problems shifting and visible damage to the clutch. It's a good idea to drive the vehicle out on the highway, rev up the engine while it's in first gear, and shift it directly into fifth gear. The clutch is most likely starting to go out if the engine continues to rev.
The best way to see if the clutch is spongy or soft is to drive around and pay close attention to how far the clutch has to be let out before the gear catches. If the clutch has to be let out most of the way, then the clutch is most likely starting to fail. A burning smell is usually caused by the friction created from a slipping clutch.
A vehicle that shudders and doesn't engage smoothly whenever the gears are shifted is another sign of a clutch that's starting to fail. These issues most often show up when shifting into reverse and first gear. Individuals who know their way around automobiles can take off the inspection cover at the bottom of the bell housing to see if the clutch is going out.
Cartoq.com also lists shuddering, chirping or grinding noises and rough shifting as warning signs of a bad clutch. Shuddering is when the driver feels excessive shaking or vibration upon releasing the clutch pedal, particularly at low speeds. Shuddering is frequently caused by contamination of the clutch disk by substances like grease, oil or even water.
Chirping or grinding noises that come and go as the driver presses in and releases the clutch pedal are indicative of a worn clutch release bearing. Cartoq.com warns that ignoring such sounds may lead to permanent damage to other clutch components.
When a driver experiences difficulty shifting gears, even when the clutch pedal is fully depressed, it can point to clutch problems. Rough shifting usually does mean the clutch disk itself is worn, but rather another clutch assembly component, such as the clutch fork or slave cylinder, is poorly adjusted or in disrepair.