By on September 12, 2012


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 [email protected]com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry.

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14 Comments on “Piston Slap: The 3rd Clutch’s the Charm?...”

  • avatar

    I had the clutch done in my 2001 Focus ZTS two years ago around 140,000 km. It had been shuddering on engagement, particularly in cold weather.

    Dealer did it with Ford parts, machined flywheel, new pressure plate and throwout bearing. Mechanic said everything that came out looked good, just normal wear. No issues since.

    Sounds like you need a new clutch, and a new mechanic. Whoever did the work has already done it twice so they should be more than non-committal. Your trusty mechanic wouldn’t be able to guess if he hasn’t seen the parts. If you don’t have a reference for a good mechanic try the dealership, like McDonalds it’s not the best, but at least you know it won’t be the worst.

    BTW these are great cars, I’d buy another new 2001 if I could. Rustproof the rocker panels and drive it!

  • avatar

    Make sure you also have the rear main seal checked as well – clutches do not like oil embedded in them.

  • avatar

    I had a 93 5.0 that used to like to eat clutches…On that particular car I determined that the worn out clutch pivot bolt and machined flywheel were combining to create a situation where the the clutch always slipped a miniscule ammount, which led to the failure.
    Chinese flywheels are pretty cheap nowadays, so perhaps replacement is in order, as well as replacement of any worn out components inside the bellhousing.

  • avatar

    Perhaps the problem stems from those really sharp lobes on that ‘duelcam’. :P

  • avatar

    There are some really crappy offshore clutch parts out there. The shop might be trying to save you some money which might not be in your best “long-term” interest.

  • avatar

    When changing the clutch and pressure plate on my old 1.25 Ford Fiesta I once ‘resurfaced’ the flywheel by attaching it to a large drill in a vice, spinning it up to speed and using emery paper. No, it’s not what you’re supposed to do, but it was cheap and the clutch lasted.

  • avatar

    Also don’t let an idiot mechanic resurface your flywheel on the same lathe he uses to resurface the brake rotors. A flywheel needs to be ‘stone ground’. Sometimes called ‘blanchard stone’. That leaves the proper surface finish for the flywheel.

    • 0 avatar

      While I agree that a brake lathe is not the correct tool for re-surfacing the flywheel, it does not need to be ground. A good lathe can produce a good surface for the clutch. If you look at a new flywheel or pressure plate it is usually just turned and not ground. Having said that, most auto machine shops that don’t incorporate the “brake lathe” method will use a surface grinder.

  • avatar

    Motorcraft parts FTW. In addition to what has been recommended I would replace the clutch slave cylinder if it hasn’t been done.

    Find a few respected transmission shops in your area and compare their prices to that of the stealership. I would steer clear of general repair shops, especially ones you are unfamiliar with, for clutch work.

  • avatar

    I don’t know if this is true on the Focus, but a lot of modern vehicles use a flywheel with a slightly convex shape on the friction surface to aid in smooth engagement. You may want to check a factory service manual and see what it says about it. I know on my Jeep it says NOT to machine the flywheel, instead you should simply scuff it to keep the convex shape or replace it if it shows heat damage or has small fissures/cracks in it.

    If it turns out that the Focus calls for a convex flywheel and someone machined it during one of the previous clutch jobs, it’s time to toss it and get a new one.

  • avatar

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

  • avatar
    Andy D

    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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