how to test the integrity of a clutch

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these guides are to help inexperienced motorist or car buyers identify hidden faults and help you to make an informed decision about any prospective vehilce purchase

The Clutch and what to check for?

The clutch is a wearable item and should give many thousands of miles of trouble free service, however towards the end of its life there are some indicators to watch for when buying a car, these will help you assess the immediate state of the clutch and clutch assembly.

If any of the following symptoms are present on your inspection and test drive then you may well have to replace the clutch shortly or have further investigations that will cost you time and money.

Test drive the car, with the radio turned off, listen for the engine speed increasing but your road speed staying constant, particularily on hills, if this happens it is an indication of clutch wear or oil seal failure.

The clutch biting point should be in the top half to three quarters of the pedal travel, but not to near to the top quarter. if the clutch feels normal then it probably is but it is worth following the procedure outlined below

The clutch should disengage properly when depressed and not crunch between gears. the clutch should engage smoothly without juddering. with the car stationary depress the clutch and engage each gear individually including reverse.

With the car stationary and a clear road in front of you, engage fourth gear and try to set off without stalling the engine, if the car just stalls no matter how much power you put on then the clutch is OK do not try this more than 3 times.

If the car sets off  in fourth without slipping then the clutch is in good condition,

Make sure you ask the seller for permission to test the clutch in this way.

If the car seems to behave like an automatic or the clutch just slips then the clutch is worn and you should depress the clutch immediatly to prevent further wear or total failure. if you notice clutch slippage on your test drive point it out to the seller.

If during your test drive you feel a juddering sensation from the clutch this is usually due to oil contamination, oil can enter the bell housing from either the engine oil seal or the gearbox oil seal,

When replacing a clutch it is worth asking the garage to change these seals at the same time unless they do it as a matter of course, these seals are usually less than a tenner each and there is little or no extra labour charge for fitting them.

look underneath the car, the joint between the bell housing and engine should be dry and free of oil, oil here could mean the oil seal on the output shaft from the engine or the input coupling to the gearbox has failed, these are not expensive items but usually the clutch is contaminated and it makes sense to replace them all at the same time,

The symptoms are that the clutch slips when under load although the clutch pedal is still at normal height, typically this repair for a standard family car would break down as oil seals X 2 @ £10 = £20.00 Clutch kit £100.00 Labour 5 hours @ £25 = £125.00 so typically £245 some front wheel drive cars cost more to to than rear wheel drive, you can save the labour cost by doing it yourself but in my veiw the guarantee of a proffesional repair is well worth the labour cost.

Should I walk away if the clutch is failing.

this depends on a couple of factors

Under the law of contract which covers all ebay purchases the seller has a duty to describe fairly any item he or she sells, this is the sellers part of the contract.

IF that item is NOT suitable for the purpose it was designed for then he or she must tell you, if the seller fails to inform you of any faults that may prevent the normal use of the item then you have the right to cancel your liabilities under the contract.

Sometimes a mutually acceptable arrangement can still be reached, however the discrepancy from the description must be significant and must be brought to the attention of the seller before the deal is concluded, ie handing over the cash. once you have parted with the cash or if the description is fair and reasonable you have bought it!!!

It is worth noting that if the item does not match the description then you would also be entitled to any deposit returning.

My advice is get a price for the repair and see if a meeting of minds can be met ie the seller reducing his price a little to contribute towards the repair, a new clutch will last many thousands of miles so only expect a contribution not a full reduction.. the end decision is up to you.

If the seller has stated that the clutch may need attention or the clutch judders now and then or a similar statement then under the law of contract the seller has described it fairly so you have bought it in that condition.

If you simply change your mind and walk away you are breaking your contract with the seller and the seller is entitled to sue you to enforce the contract, he or she may also keep any deposits paid, and will more than likely report you to ebay as a non paying bidder.

See my guide about head gaskets,

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