Recently on a ramp in a parking structure I messed up when trying to accelerate again from a standstill by not letting the clutch out far enough and bringing the engine to way too high rpms (may have been around 4k). Afterwards a burning-kind of smell lingered for a minute or so, which I presume came from the clutch which got hotter than it should normally be.

Now, how harmful was this to the clutch? It happened once and I didn't notice any difference in behaviour afterwards. The smell also vanished and didn't persist.

  • 1
    The smaller the car is the easier it is for the clutch.Clutches dont scale well.
    – Autistic
    Commented Apr 5, 2016 at 11:21
  • A clutch generally has a wear-lifetime just like brake pads. It's possible that you will never need to replace your clutch if you drive carefully enough but if you're wondering why it smells then just think of it as being comparable to braking really hard; if you get out of your car and sniff your brakes then you will notice a smell as well.
    – MonkeyZeus
    Commented Apr 5, 2016 at 19:32

3 Answers 3


If it was just once, I wouldn't be overly worried... particularly as you say the car is driving fine.

You took a bit of life off your clutch, and I'd keep an eye out for issues in the coming weeks or months with the clutch just to be on the safe side.

  • Agreed, especially considering the smell dissipated quickly. A couple years ago I had the girlfriend drive us home after I had ahem a few beers at a friends house. She had trouble getting out of their steep driveway, and it took a day or two for the smell to finally go away. Commented Apr 5, 2016 at 17:04
  • swarm also mentioned: "You could observe the gear shifting. Generally a burnt off clutch plate causes gears to get stuck while shifting. As for the smell, I wouldn't rely much on it. Burnt clutch plates don't smell much untill they get really hot." Commented Apr 6, 2016 at 13:27

It is technically harmful, but if it only happened one time, and you don't notice any difference now, you're fine. If it happens a lot you can damage your clutch (or other parts) but once in a while is fine (if not exactly desirable).

Think of your clutch like a brake pad, there is a kind of "pad". What you smelled was a tiny amount of of that pad burning off, like an eraser. Just like an eraser, when you erase a lot, you can smell it, but there is usually plenty of eraser left.

That doesn't mean you want to go around do this all the time, but it's okay if it happens once in a while. In fact, just like the brakes in your car, you loose a tiny fraction of the "pad" every time you engage and disengage the clutch. And just like the brakes, "heavy use" uses up more, but not all, of that "pad".

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pqF-aBtTBnY May have some helpful information. The part you smelled burning was the "friction surface" in the video.


This happens all the time at autocross events, in extreme cases the clutch will get "glazed" and slip a lot until the burnt material is worn off. Since you aren't having any trouble, you'll be fine.

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