I am driving a manual car and I usually have no issues with hill starts. Today, however, after pulling my e-brake on on a hill and then engaging 1st gear. My car would not pull forward from accelerating. I pushed the rpms to around 5000 after which it stalled and then I smelled a burning odor. Subsequently, my car would not accelerate on 1st gear for two times. Now, however, my car is behaving normally. I am worried that I may have an issue with either my brakes or clutch. My car is very new, under 3500 miles. Model is a miata nd.

Edit: I realized I must have accidentally shifted to 3rd gear rather than 1st in panic. This explains why my car was stalling.


2 Answers 2


More than likely you did what is commonly referred to as smoking the clutch. What this means is you overheated it a little. This caused the smell you referred to. More than likely you've caused a little bit of damage to the clutch, but nothing the car won't live with. If you do this over and over again, then you'll create a bigger issue. One of the big things which can happen is for heat cracks to form on the flywheel and/or pressure plate. This will make it fairly unbearable to drive and would cause it to need replacing. If you aren't having any issues now with it engaging (ie: no roughness or vibration), there's probably not caused any serious damage.

  • I literally just did this, I was in 3rd and tried going forward and didn’t realize I was in 3rd then all of a sudden a burning smell and smoke started coming out the left side of my car. I was worried I knew it was the clutch but didn’t know if it would damage it badly enough to need to be replaced. Jul 8, 2020 at 9:47

I agree. Most likely you were riding the clutch. It'll smell gross, not like a typical burning smell. It's common with hillstarts because people tend to stress about either dropping the clutch too suddenly (and stalling), and/or rolling backwards.

Basically, when you release the clutch pedal - the clutch plate and the pressure plate become interlocked. To put it simply; it connects the gearbox (and by extension, the wheels) to the motor, causing the wheels to turn (i.e. drive/rotate).

Clutch GIF
←Gearbox | Engine→
The clutch pedal is an extension of the pink fork/lever.
It connects/disconnects the blue pressure plate to/from the gold clutch plate.

So, when you don't release the clutch pedal quick enough - the clutch plate and the pressure plate won't fully engage quick enough; they'll just rub up against each other and generate heat, until the pedal is released enough for them to interlock.

It's like what happens to the tyres when someone does a burnout. The tyres are spinning really fast against the ground, unable to gain enough traction, but generating a lot of friction instead (and thus heat), causing the rubber to burn, smell, and produce smoke.

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