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In November 2019 a new drive train was fitted. I was not advised that a new clutch was needed. The car is 4 years old and has done 87000. Just over a week ago I broke down. I couldn't get the car into gear and called a recovery vehicle. The recovery person put it into gear with the engine off, I presume to drive onto the recovery vehicle. Can this cause any damage? The reason I ask is that the car needed a new clutch, friction plate and flywheel. Less than 700 miles ago the car clutch was inspected when the drive train was replaced and it was shown to not have any wear according to the garage, which was why they did not make a recommendation to change at the same time. So I have three questions:

  1. Can putting a car which has a broken clutch system into gear with the engine off cause damage to the clutch or fly wheel?

  2. Can a pressure / friction plate and flywheel break up suddenly any subtle hints that it will happen?

  3. How long does it take to damage a clutch? If the pressure / friction plate has broken would this damage the clutch immediately?

The work for the clutch assembly to be fixed is £2500 including parts and labour, yet part of me feels there should have been some signs of this failing in November which were not mentioned by the garage. The other issue is whether the recovery mechanic made the problem a whole lot worse by forcing into gear.

Any help would be appreciated as I don't know if its just bad luck or if I need to query further with the garage or the recovery company.

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  1. Can putting a car which has a broken clutch system into gear with the engine off cause damage to the clutch or flywheel?

No. Without strain on the drivetrain (ie: engine running or car moving), there's nothing there to cause it any damage. Without power going through the system, there's virtually no way for damage to occur to the clutch.

  1. Can a pressure / friction plate and flywheel break up suddenly any subtle hints that it will happen?

Yes, a friction plage can break up suddenly. A couple years back I replaced a clutch in a vehicle and the friction material was tossed around all over inside the bellhousing. What a mess! There was absolutely no clutch left to allow movement of the vehicle.

  1. How long does it take to damage a clutch? If the pressure / friction plate has broken would this damage the clutch immediately?

Along with the flywheel, the pressure plate and friction disk make up the clutch. If they are broken (or damaged or whatever), your clutch is broken.

With your questions answered, there's something you didn't state: What do you mean by broken? I take it to mean your clutch no longer works. You press the clutch pedal and either put it in gear and when you release, the car doesn't move, or when you press on the pedal and try to put it into gear, all you get is grinding. Either way could be happening. If the original clutch was refit (the shop should have asked you if you'd like it replaced to along with a new drivetrain), the shop most likely felt it was in good enough shape. I'd wonder if the shop put it back in correctly, though. If they didn't, it might have caused damage to the clutch through use.

  • Hi Paulster… thank you for your answers. Question 1 - after the recovery man put the car in gear he started the engine to move the vehicle. I want sure if that could have worsened the damage. – Suzie Court Feb 7 at 14:56
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    Still, no. I don't see that causing any damage to the clutch. – Pᴀᴜʟsᴛᴇʀ2 Feb 7 at 15:02
  • As for the garage who changed the drive train they said they inspected the clutch and it didn't need replacing so they didn't offer to do at the sane time. They said the rest was sealed up so not visible to check it, but I thought there should have been something to indicate it wasn't done. The car has 87000 on the clock so I wondered what interval this should be changed as a matter of course. It's sad they did all that work but failed even to offer to do the extra at the same time. – Suzie Court Feb 7 at 15:28
  • As for it being broken - I just could not get the car into gear at all. The clutch pedal felt normal for a car I had only been driving for 3 weeks. The gear change was lumpy for a new drive train. I was not impressed as I thought the gears would have been much smoother after the drive train was replaced. – Suzie Court Feb 7 at 15:31
  • I found out today it was the pressure plate broke and this damaged the friction plate, flywheel and the clutch. Now its has been changed the gears are smooth. Prior to that the gears were not good at all. Does anyone know if there is an expected life for the pressure plate and what kind of interval a service or maintenance plan would suggest it be replaced? – Suzie Court Feb 8 at 17:50
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The act of engaging the transmission to a gear other than neutral causes the cogs to mesh. It's not uncommon to have difficulty in doing so while the vehicle is stationary and the engine is off.

A simple method to resolve this is to step on the clutch pedal, attempt to engage the gear. Presuming failure, attempt to place the transmission in any other gear, including reverse, then attempt the original objective.

It's possible that the synchromesh can prevent engagement while stationary, but using the above method will cause it to rotate the small amount necessary to eventually engage.

If the clutch system is broken, even trying other gears may allow engagement.

Releasing the handbrake and pushing the vehicle a small amount (centimeters) will often cause the blocking to clear, allowing engagement.

Performing the above actions will not affect the clutch or pressure plate in any manner.

Questions 2 and 3 can be combined into a vagueness. The usual cause of a clutch/pressure plate failure is poor operator practice. Excessive clutch slipping while starting will cause excessive wear and heat, affecting both the pressure plate and clutch disk and possibly the flywheel.

Driving with one foot resting on the clutch pedal (it happens!) is a quick way to destroy a clutch.

Popping the clutch while starting up, or excessively abrupt release of the clutch while underway is also damaging.

Unusual foreign substances reaching the clutch enclosure will cause damage, but this is rare. Equally rare is a manufacturing defect causing failure after an extended period.

Detecting clutch damage in advance of failure requires one to be attuned to the sounds of your vehicle while engaging the clutch and changing gears, as well as to the feel of the pedal in those circumstances. Unusually light pressure or unusually heavy pressure is a sign of pressure plate or throw-out bearing problems approaching.

Engaging the transmission while the engine is running with the intent of driving it on a recovery vehicle is not good practice. More details regarding this action would be useful, but unlikely to be important to the overall clutch problem.

I have placed a vehicle in gear with the engine off, due to the clutch linkage failure and then started the engine, allowing me to operate it sufficiently to return home. It's not good practice, but it was a '51 Jeep and didn't suffer for the action. Still not related to a later clutch damage concern, as you've described.

  • Thank you Fred… very helpful. So it could be just bad luck this happened so quickly after the gearbox change and nothing to do with the gearbox could have resulted in the failure? It was scary when it happened and now even more nervous the car is a Friday afternoon effort being only 4 years old. Suzie – Suzie Court Feb 7 at 14:54

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