What are the differences between a mechanical clutch and a hydraulic clutch?

  • Applications
  • Performance/driving
  • Reliability
  • Maintenance/Repair
  • 1
    I'm assuming that you mean mechanical and hydraulic clutch actuation. If you mean "wet versus dry" clutches, or a torque converter (as used in automatic transmissions) and a "dry" disc clutch (as used on manual transmissions), please update your question. Aug 30, 2011 at 21:34
  • +1 I'm quite interested in the answer; can't figure out what's supposed to be better about hydraulics here. I have one of the first Civic models where they switched to hydraulic clutch and I've mildly considered putting in a plain old cable if/when the hydraulics go bad... Aug 30, 2011 at 23:40
  • 1
    The nice thing about hydraulics is that they automatically adjust, rather than a cable which you have to adjust as the clutch wears. Sep 4, 2011 at 8:45
  • Hydrualic clutch system is better , can be self repaired and more softer than cable clutch. I have both cars one fitted with cable n othef with hydr. I go with hydrual.
    – user7512
    Nov 14, 2014 at 20:10
  • I prefer the direct feel of mechanical clutch linkage to hydraulics , hydraulic clutches seem to me to be sluggish , my 1980 trans am has old school mechanical clutch linkage , the engine is a bored and stroker 455 h.o. with a 4 speed , I like being able to feel the clutch engagement point through my foot , hydraulics i've driven seem to be soft , guess i'm old school.
    – user9449
    Feb 15, 2015 at 15:42

7 Answers 7


Mechanical clutches have a cable for actuation, and typically need adjusting throughout the life of the clutch. Hydraulically actuated clutches tend to be self-adjusting, as long as there is enough fluid in the reservoir. However, this does mean that hydraulic clutches can be susceptible to air bubbles in the lines, and water in the system which can lead to premature rusting. Consider silicone fluids for clutch applications to reduce water problems.

  • Can you elaborate on perfromance? Does a cable driven clutch engage/disengage any faster than a hydraulic clutch? Are there issues with hydraulic being sluggish or having delays in disengaging? Aug 30, 2011 at 21:58
  • I can't speak with authority on the performance, but in my experience the performance in terms of delays is similar to a cabled clutch. It uses the same technology as your brakes, so any lags would be similar to what you see when you apply your brakes. I'd guess that if there were any lags, it might be caused by air in the lines, which shouldn't normally be a problem. Sep 4, 2011 at 8:42
  • I was thinking the same thing (about the brakes). Sep 5, 2011 at 5:45
  • 1
    @DustinDavis, from the physics standpoint, the liquid, for the purposes of this application, is considered as “incompressible”. Therefore, as soon as the pressure applied on one end of the pipe, liquid instantaneously transfers that force over to another end. It is like pushing a stick, except that stick is wet, and can follow elaborate route.
    – theUg
    Mar 6, 2013 at 19:12

Having owned cars with both, I can't say I've noticed any significant performance difference between the two. I can't see any reason why a hydraulic one would be slower or more sluggish than a cable one - bear in mind they both work on the same principle, just that a hydraulic system pushes an incompressible inner medium (the fluid) through a flexible outer pipe, wheras a bowden cable typically pulls a non-stretchable steel cable through a similar flexible pipe.

I have found hydraulically operated clutches to be more reliable in the shorter term (i.e. they don't need to be constantly adjusted), but more expensive to fix when they do eventually go wrong (Typically the seals on one or other of the cylinders perishing after a decade or so) - but then it is typically easier to get at the cylinders than it is to get at the cable runs on some cars I've dealt with. I have found that cables tend to sieze or break through rust at similar intervals.

Hydraulics are better for cars where the clutch and pedal are far apart, such as rear engined cars, as a long cable would otherwise be needed. They can also go round much tighter corners than a bowden cable. A cable however is much cheaper to make in the first place, and requires less space as it doesn't need cylinders and reservoirs.


Any lag when the foot is lifted is likely to cause wear on the facings. It is possible that with a cable that doesn't slide easily in the outer, this would happen. With a hydraulic system that has not been maintained ie old fluid with water in it & worn cups or rusty worn cylinder bores lag could also happen. Subaru first series 1600 had a cable & 2 litre hydraulic. I'm thinking the 2 litre clutch is likely to be heavier & a hydraulic system would be easier to engineer than altering the pedal leverage. I had a car with a hydraulic system that had no maintenance & the clutch facings were worn out at a fairly low mileage.


I know this is an old post but as it comes up on search engines I would like to add... It seems as though clutches last longer with mechanical linkage . Additionally, when replacing clutches on hydraulic systems- if you have the flywheel turned(resurfaced) then you need a spacer, whereas with the old mechanical linkage it would simply require adjusting prior to the first drive after reassembly of the clutch setup.


I would also like to mention z bar linked clutches, my old old trucks from the 70's did not use a cable it was a mechanical bar from the clutch pedal to a bracket that went back to the clutch fork on the old 4 speed. That is now 43 years old and has not been replaced. I like the feel of the direct mechanical clutch best. I do not like cables, or hydraulics.


A cable clutch is pulled in and out by a cable from the pedal to the lever which operates it. A hydraulic clutch has a cylinder at the pedal like the brakes and feeds fluid to another cylinder which pushed the lever to move the clutch in and out.

  • I don think this adds anything to discussion. It repeats same things that had been said in other answers or comments.
    – theUg
    Mar 6, 2013 at 19:14

To answer each area:

Applications - On anything that uses a clutch actuator.

Performance/driving - Lighter than cable-operated actuator.

Reliability - Should be more reliable than cable.

Maintenance/Repair - Regular fluid top up.

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