Does Burning Clutch Smell in Stick Shift Car Spell Trouble?

Has it ever happened to you when you are trying to creep up an uphill road and the burning clutch smell hits your nose? Well, it can happen to a lot of drivers on a lot of other occasions too. But, it doesn’t mean that all is okay. Different smells in the car mean different things. But, all of them certainly spell trouble. And, it certainly spells that you haven’t been taking maintenance advice right.

What Does the Burning Clutch Smell Indicate?

Whenever you detect a burning smell coming from the clutch, it simply means that you have burnt it. When the smell hits your nose, one thing is for sure the clutch plate is slipping more than it should. The burning of the surface of the plate leads to the glazing of the clutch surface. This, in turn, will result in slippage of the clutch plate because the burning is preventing it from engaging fully.

Here are 3 reasons why you have ended up burning the clutch plate.

  1. Normal wear and tear of the clutch disk over the years
  2. the clutch linkage going out of place resulting in no place for free play at the throwout bearing.
  3. The reckless, poor driving technique (which ultimately leads to 1 and 2 sooner than expected)

You will smell the foul or acrid burning smell after changing the gears or pulling away. An awful smell is also one of the symptoms of a burnt clutch. When the clutch is burning, the friction material of the clutch disc is overheating and worn out as it rubs against the spinning flywheel. This can occur because the clutch disc is not fully engaged by the pressure plate. The burning clutch smell is from the scorching friction material as it wears down. 

If the clutch is relatively new, it will be able to grip the flywheel once it’s under some pressure from the pressure plate and diaphragm spring. A worn clutch disc won’t be able to grip the flywheel so it may be likely to “slip” when it’s engaged and disengaged. A clutch is also more likely to burn when pulling away as the clutch disc will be put under more strain than usual as it initially grips the spinning flywheel.

Read more:

Watch the video to know what a burnt clutch looks like:

The Time of Occurrence of the Smell Matters

It is important to notice the time of occurrence of this smell in order to be able to diagnose it.

While crawling uphill

Impact of burning clutch smell
While you are crawling uphill slowly, make sure that you keep some space (Photo:

If you are creeping uphill, especially in heavy traffic, the smell is a result of overheated friction material. It happens because you are using the clutch constantly as you try to move up. And if you do this every few meters, friction palates are likely to overheat. This is exactly what you smell.

The good news is that it’s relatively simpler to remedy this trouble. While you are crawling uphill slowly, make sure that you keep some space between the vehicle in front of you and your car. Then go, stay in at first, and then use that distance as a margin to start and stop every time.

While you’re driving normally

If you catch a burning clutch smell during normal driving, then it is a sign of a slipping plate. Chances are that the clutch is totally worn out and is slipping due to this reason. The only way to fix that is by replacing the plate.

Whenever you drive a manual transmission, remember that your foot should not constantly touch the clutch pedal. You should place your foot on it only when you want to use it. When you do not take your foot off of it, some amount of force always stays applied. The result is that you do not completely press the clutch disk and it doesn’t engage fully.

When you’re being a show-off

Burning clutch smell during show off
Burning clutch smells in stick shift cars are not uncommon. (Photo: Dodge Challenger)

If you believe in showing off your wheelspins, you surely smell burnt clutch very often. And if you have been doing it very often, odds are that the smell always stays there even when you drive normally.

The smell primarily indicates that you are not driving well; and that you probably rev up high when starting from a halt. Eventually, it wears out the clutch. In case the smell emanates after reversing out of parking, driving uphill or simply driving a short distance, it’s a sign that you need to learn better driving techniques.

Not releasing the clutch pedal properly when shifting gears will cause the clutch to overwork, resulting in overheating and burning, producing a burnt smell similar to that of burnt rubber.

The habit of using the clutch incorrectly, if left for a long time, will affect the clutch disc, cause serious wear, and create a burning smell during the clutch pressing process. This is also an important sign that the clutch disc is worn out and needs to be replaced. 

The solution in this situation: According to car care and maintenance experience, you need to replace a worn clutch. Therefore, whenever shifting gears, it will be smooth.

Burning clutch smells in stick shift cars are not uncommon. However, if this situation is encountered, the car owner should take the car to a reputable repair center to determine the correct cause and have a reasonable solution.