Driving a car with a manual transmission offers better fuel economy and handling than an automatic. A stick shift comes with a clutch that allows you to change gears fluidly, but if this part begins to break or wear down, you could find yourself in hot water on the road. As is true with nearly every component of your vehicle, the clutch can encounter a variety of problems.

What happens when the clutch slips

Clutch slipping is by far the most common problem drivers encounter on manual vehicles. The clutch disc is covered in a friction material similar to that used on brake pads so it does not slip when the pedal is fully released. If it does slip, this can generate more heat on the disc, which could lead to further slippage. This will commonly occur in older clutches, as they do not last forever. However, if your clutch is still relatively new, there could be grease or other contaminants on the surface, a problem with the flywheel, an incorrect release system adjustment.

You can check for slippage by starting the car, engaging the parking brake and then putting the car into a high gear. Slowly take your foot off the clutch pedal. A healthy clutch will cause the engine to stall almost immediately, while a bad one will allow the motor to continue running.

Noises you don't want to hear

While the growl of an engine is music to your ears, the sounds of a failing clutch can be more like nails on a chalkboard. They also raise a red flag for problems going on within the clutch system. If you detect any sounds you're not accustomed to hearing when you use the clutch, you may be looking at either internal or external issues.                                 

To determine exactly what the noise may mean, start the engine, leave the car parked and in neutral. For example, when the clutch pedal is depressed, grinding metal sounds likely mean you're dealing with a faulty transmission input shaft bearing (external), while a high pitched squeal could be linked to a worn, misaligned or improperly lubricated pilot bearing (internal).

Other common issues

Unless you're just learning how to drive with a stick shift for the first time, your car probably doesn't usually jerk around when you shift gears. If you notice this is happening when the clutch is engaged, you may be dealing with chatter or shudder. This is most commonly associated with flywheel issues, whether the part was not surfaced properly when you installed a new clutch, the two surfaces are not parallel or the flywheel has the wrong cup dimension. There may also be oil or grease on the clutch linings, a loose clutch cover, a worn bearing retainer or a bent clutch disc. Poor shifting, if you can rule out your own driving skills, may be due to a faulty linkage that affects the clutch release, use of the wrong lubricant, a bellhousing misalignment or bad pilot bearings.

In most cases, a worn clutch or other damaged parts will need to be replaced rather than repaired. This can be a complicated process that may be best left to the professionals. Since alignments and adjustments are so crucial to the functionality of the transmission system, you might not want to risk messing something up and having to spend more money and time fixing the issue. However, having a basic knowledge of what may be going wrong can help you understand what your mechanic is talking about when you go over the car's problems.