Piston Slap: The 3rd Clutch's the Charm?

Sajeev Mehta
by Sajeev Mehta
piston slap the 3rd clutch s the charm

Patrick writes:


My winter car is a 2001 Focus, 170k, duelcam, with a stick. At about 155k the original clutch was replaced. A year and a half later the replacement clutch was replaced. Now the car is in my hands, roughly a year from the previous replacement, and the clutch is in dire need of being replaced. My local trusty mechanic does not do engine and tranny work because he doesn’t want business to back up with tear downs. That’s fine, but I asked his advice anyway.

The first symptom was a clunk from the drive wheel when engaging first from a stop. Feathering the clutch and slow on the gas prevents this but is annoying. The second symptom started on the highway, in cruise control, on a rise, the clutch would start to slip. It would rise about 1500 rpm, and then slowly fall back into place. The first has not gotten any better or worse in the last month or so, and the second has gotten to be much worse.

So, my question. 3 clutches in 3 1/2 years? I have had a ’97 Probe GT and the clutch lasted 130k, ’01 Miata replaced at 120k as preventative maintenance with the water pump. My only guess about this is that the seals were not replaced when the clutches were replaced and that oil is leaking onto the clutch and prematurely burning it out. However, I smell no burning oil, I have no oil leaks, and the oil level remains steady. I have no evidence that it is oil on the clutch but I cannot explain why the clutch on this car has needed to be replaced repeatedly in such a short amount of time.

My mechanic was non-committal on is answer, but he didn’t think it was oil on the clutch. I’d like some advice before wheeling into an unknown mechanic.



Sajeev answers:

Did the flywheel ever get machined? Did someone put on a new pressure plate? How bad is the throwout bearing? Why do I get a brain freeze when I shovel ice cream down my throat?

All those questions are important, and I assume you cannot answer any of them…except for the brain freeze one. Since it sounds like you can’t go back to the installer of the last clutch, the only way to know is to make sure the next person installs it correctly: machining the flywheel and replacing the pressure plate if needed. Maybe the throwout bearing needs replacement too…might as well do it all when you go in there.

Whomever does the work next time ’round, make sure they give you a good diagnosis of all the critical parts of the clutch system. If they do, odds are the problem will disappear. Fingers crossed on that.

Best and Brightest, off to you.

Send your queries to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry.

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2 of 14 comments
  • Rum Rum on Sep 13, 2012

    Is the clutch on this car hydraulic? If so have you checked the slave cylinder? Sometimes they can leak internally.

  • Andy D Andy D on Sep 16, 2012

    A bad slave C will just mess up the release action. I would suspect the pressure plate is faulty. Resurfacing a flywheel will lessen the grab a bit because the clutch has to travel further. This is helped by a shim between the flywheel and the hub. Apples and oranges perhaps , but when I put a clutch in my old Ranger, I replaced, the RMS, the pilot bearing, flywheel, disc and PP, and the slave/ throw out bearing. The last,just a while you're in there thing. I was hoping to replace just the disc, and get the flywheel milled. I couldnt find anybody local to do the machine work. So, I went with a 60$ Chinese FW. I used a LUK rep-set. The parts were about 300$. The installation was simple and the end result was a smooth release and a firm engagement. I would be looking for another mechanic, the last guy skimped some where.

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