What Causes a Clutch to Burn Out?

Eric Audras/ONOKY/Getty Images

The clutch can burn out over time in a manual transmission car if the driver makes a habit of riding the clutch, using the clutch to keep the car in one place on hills or using the clutch to slow down rather than using the brakes. It is also possible to burn out the clutch suddenly by trying to do a “burnout.”

Whenever a driver uses the clutch, the contact with the pressure plate causes a small amount of deterioration and wear. When the clutch is used properly, this is just part of the normal wear and tear that comes with driving any vehicle. When the driver presses down the clutch and does not change gears, however, the wear on the pressure plate is unnecessary and leads to the clutch burning out and needing replacement. Drivers who keep their foot on the clutch while the car is idling burn it out unnecessarily, as do those who use the clutch rather than the foot brakes or emergency brake to keep the car in one place while the car is idling on a hill.

A burnout is a maneuver in which a driver keeps his car in first gear with the emergency brake on to keep the car from moving forward while simultaneously revving the engine, and therefore the wheels, as fast as possible. When the driver releases the clutch to put the engine in gear, the car leaps forward, leaving behind a tire skid and the smell of burning rubber. If the clutch is not released perfectly during this maneuver, it can burn out immediately.