Clutch problems


New member
First of all I don't have a Bentlys but will by one. Second the clutch is not disengaging and everyone I talk to says to recheck the cable. Well did that and nothing is wrong there. May be some insight as to the problem. I have replaced the pressure plate and the flywheel and think it could be something with the throwout bearing.

Capt. Mike

What year & model? Please see the forum guidelines linked at the bottom of this index. Let us know when you have the appropriate shop manual.
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Capt. Mike

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Clutch chatter

nosliwmit, Junior Member, 10-09-2000 12:29 PM

I have an '85 Westfalia that lives outdoors in the Pacific Northwest. It's parked on an incline (maybe as much as 10 degrees nose down).

During the wetter part of the year (like the next 8 months), I get some fairly significant clutch chatter in the mornings. Sometimes it's almost violent, with the poor thing bucking like a bronco for the first half-dozen or so clutch engagements. The chatter eventually goes away, but I'm concerned with the possible effects on the clutch disk and the rest of the drive train.

Does anyone else experience this? I suspect it's related to the composition of the disk, but I don't have any solid evidence... Incidentally, I just bought a new Subaru Outback and it's doing the same thing (my wife's Honda Civic doesn't, neither did my last Subaru).

Tim Wilson

Capt. Mike, Moderator, 10-09-2000 07:13 PM

Have you tried reversing the parking position? All engines, especially with advanced miles, leak around the seals. You have a flywheel seal on the engine side and a transmission main seal on the tranny side.
Both will leak to a certain extent and usually fling their oil film outward due to centrifugal force to the bell housing. Level and with minor amounts, it will cling to the housing and follow it around and out the vent without ever getting on the clutch. That occasional drop or spot on the parking pad. But heavy amounts or an off-angle parking may disrupt that process and allow some to get on the clutch surfaces. This will cause slippage, chattering & grabbing until it has had a chance to wear/burn off. You may find this compounded during the wet & humid season.

In a Westy, head down would lean towards the flywheel seal.

I wouldn't discount totally that you are just experiencing condensation and even overnight rust film on the pressure plate & flywheel that is drying and wearing off after a few engagements, not related to the incline. Try a dry and heated/dehumidified garage storage to see what happens.

Clutch problems

kevinv, Junior Member, 10-29-2000 06:18 PM

Ok, here's the deal. I drive a '73, 1700cc, dual carb, all stock. Problem started last week. The clutch began to slip a little whenever I started out in first. I'm a relativly new VW and manual shift driver so I deemed it as driver error and, after some adjustment in gas to clutch ratios, I got around the problem. But then yesterday I was sitting in a drivethrough line, and couldn't get into first, or second, or third, or fourth. I could get into reverse, but the sounds it made weren't pretty. So I pushed the old girl back into parking space. I thought maybe the clutch was loose, and thereby not engaging or disengaging enough to allow me to get into the proper gears. So I tightened the clutch cable up, this didn't do anything but take away all my gears period ( I think I tightened it to much). So now, its in my garage, (my buddy and I towed it home) and sometimes when its being pused it still makes a weird popping noise. Do I need to replace my clutch, or just readjust the tension on the cable? Any suggestions are welcome! Thanks

Capt. Mike, Moderator, 10-29-2000 06:55 PM

I'd start with the clutch cable. Usually a worn clutch still works some.
As to adjustment: Bentley Section 5-15.5. However beside adjustment. you also need to have the correct flex-tube arc.

There is a clutch trouble-shooting chart Section 5-16.g.

Slipping, as you mentioned first, is when the engine will speed up on acceleration faster than the vehicle after the clutch is fully released. If that was your symptom, the clutch should still work. Causes are worn out clutch and/or oil leak onto clutch surface. Both have to be fixed at the same time.

Before you pull the tranny to inspect the clutch, go through the shift linkage, plate inspection & adjusment. Bentley Section 6-3.4. A broken bushing or badly adjusted/damaged plate can cause shifting problems.

[This message has been edited by Capt. Mike (edited 03-18-2001).]

Capt. Mike

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Will not go into gear

branchdm, Junior Member, 03-15-2001 07:37 PM

I had my '77 Westy on the road last summer on a trip to Newfoundland. She dropped a valve guide in #1 cyl. SO in some very nice Newfies' driveway, we dropped the motor.
Machine shop put in a new guide and seat (the old one fell out on the bench when the head was set down!) Parts being scarce in Cornerbrook, NFLD, the machinist said he could make a seat from a chevy fit!? No problems. Put her together and drove back to Virginia.

Around NYC we lost a lot of compression in #1 cyl. (Chevy seat did NOT work)Limped home, parked bus. All fine and good. few months later, went to drive it down the road to a friend's garage to drop motor Again and chech the damage. Bus won't go into any gear. All slack in the linkage adjuster was already taken up but there was a good bit of play. Threw in a couple of spacer washers as a test. Clutch pedal felt signifigantly better but the washers did nothing to help shifting problem.

I checked the flex tube and other linkage components as best as I could but could not find any glaring problems. All appeared in order. What gives? could something have been botched when the motor went back in that would only raise its head after 2500 miles? does it make sense that there wasn o problem at all with shifting prior to this occurance? The Clutch was a LITTLE soft but not anywhere near slipping when the bus was working. Any insight would be a great help.

Capt. Mike, Moderator, 03-17-2001 09:39 PM

Until you pull the engine &/or tranny to inspect the clutch, not much help. However, I did once experience another mechanical clutch where the lining literally came unbonded and "exploded" into a bell housing full of clutch fibers. Gave the same symptoms. Happened a couple of thousand miles into a trip; things had gotten quite hot and the clutch was heavily worked in some major traffic; got a little soft; then one morning -- poof! -- no clutch.

Good side; only the disk needed replacement. There was no damage to the flywheel or pressure plate. Replaced throw-out bearing as a matter of pre-caution with a few million fibers floating around it.

Capt. Mike

Transferred from another post to consolidate same topic.

How do I know when my clutch is going out?

jose4ph Junior Member # 1065 posted 07-05-2001 01:17 AM

I have an 85 westy. I live in San Francisco and have recently noticed that taking off from a complete stop on somewhat steep inclines is becoming more and more of a problem. What is happening is when I let off the brake, start gasing and releasing the clutch im getting less acceleration response. At times it almost feels as if I am going to stall out. All this of course while rolling backwards with cars behind . This is the only time I notice it at all...other than than, no slipping or anything. Is it time for a new clutch? Will a mechanic be able to drive or test it somehow to let me know?

ben Member # 671 posted 07-05-2001 09:19 AM

Good day,

Here is a simple old trick to test your clutch. At full stop get into second gear, and make a normal start (in second gear and on a flat surface); the engine should stall or almost stall with some heavy shaking, otherwise you have a slipping clutch and it will be time soon for a replacement. BUT,
You quote: "I'm getting less acceleration response / other than that, no slipping or anything." That has probably nothing to do with the clutch and more like a "timing" problem or many other small things like a complete tune-up??? Have all injection parts checked (throttle body, airflow meter, Oxygen sensor, idle stabilizer . . .). Yes, a good VW qualified "VANAGON" mechanic will be able to find the problem.


[ 07-05-2001: Message edited by: Capt. Mike ]

Capt. Mike

The '85 has a hydraulic clutch, so should go 100,000 miles or better with proper driving techniques. What is your mileage on the clutch?

Clutch failure generally falls into two categories -- slippage or worn linings. With a hydraulic clutch, there is also the possiblity of a hydraulic system deficiency.

Slippage may be caused by a glazed lining (usually overheated from excessive slippage by driver) or an oil leak from the main seal that has finally gotten on the lining too much for 'burn off'. The typically symptom is slow starting or acceleration on hills. In these cases, the engine will usually rev up without corresponding acceleration -- i.e. the engine speed is up until the vehicle catches up. You may see the tach jump a little, then bog back down as the clutch finally starts to grab.

With worn linings, there is generally shudder and chatter. It may be accompanied by a metalic noise, though difficult to hear in a Vanagon with the rear engine and other noises. In these cases, the engine may shift normally in the upper gears, though when easing into 2nd, may also have a little chatter. In its worse case, there may be grind when shifting or going into first from nuetral as the clutch doesn't get good disengagement.

The clutch slave cylinder is easily visable in the LR engine compartment. Examine it for leakage and smooth 'throw'. Also check the amount of actuating rod visible. Unfortunately VW doesn't mark or otherwise spec that throw, but as the clutch adjusts for wear, the rod length will increase. If the rod has a lot of 'throw', the clutch may be worn.

There is really no way to visually inspect or measure clutch wear without removing the transmission. And at that point, you are pretty well committed to changing the clutch anyway because the labor exceeds remaining clutch part value.

If the clutch has worn to its surface or rivets, it may have taken the flywheel with it. The pressure plate also. Continued driving with a worn clutch is sure to do so.

Many automatically change the pressure plate and release bearings when changing lining disks. Usually, with the labor already expended in removing the transmission, change the starter bushing and both seals (flywheel and transmission main shaft).

VW uses Fitchel & Sachs clutches as OE, which are excellent and may be available aftermarket at reduced prices. A VW or F&S reman is fine; I'd be very leary of any other discount remans or rebuilds.

Capt. Mike

Transferred from another post to consolidate same topics.

Clutch judder

lance-assery Junior Member # 2350 posted 09-21-2001 05:29 PM

I have an '82 westy with 89k on it. I have a Bentley Manual. The three causes of clutch judder are oil saturation, misalligned retainer spring and something else. The van is with my wife at work so I cannot look up the other reason. I found a used clutch plate in the van after I bought it which would indicate it was.... replaced. SO, help me with the retaining spring thing if you would. It only judders in first and reverse.
What to do without recreational troubleshooting.

lance-assery, SSgt
US Air Forces in Europe

Capt. Mike

There are more than 3 things that can cause clutch shudder! Besides oil, you can have a warped, damaged or glazed flywheel; warped, damaged or glazed pressure plate; broken or bent pressure plate 'fingers' (Might be what you are calling retaining spring.), a damaged release shaft or a worn release bearing. Finally, the shaft itself could be damaged or burred so it won't slide smoothly. Unfortunately, none can be checked or repaired without dropping the transmission.

About the only thing that could give you some clutch shudder at start that wouldn't be inside the flywheel housing would be a hydraulic problem where you either have air in the system; or a bad master clutch or slave cylinder. Bleeding is simple and like brakes except you half to catch the pump in mid-stroke since you can't do the 'pump & hold' method like brakes. In the US, you can get rebuild kits for the slave cylinder but not the clutch master cylinder.

Capt. Mike

Transferred to consolidate same topics.

Clutch disengagement problem, '84 Vanagon.

KenS Junior Member # 1852 posted 11-15-2001 08:37 PM

I got the shift lever and linkage put back together. I did a visual inspection of the rest of the linkage and it appeared to be fine. The same problem remained where the clutch would not disengage the transmission from the engine. The only way to get the van moving was to turn the engine off, put it in first and and restart it which is not the smoothest. I limped the van back from the test drive, and had my wife press the clutch pedal to make sure the clutch lever was moving at the transmission. It was, about 1 inch. I concluded that it must be the clutch itself, but left it for a week as I was going out of town.

Today when I went to put the van in the garage to take the transmission off so I could have a look at the release bearing, clutch disk and pressure plate, everything worked fine. I drove it around the block and it shifted through all gears fine and the clutch seemed to be working fine. I suspect the problem will reoccur. Anyone have anything like this happen or have any ideas about what may cause it?

I noticed in one post on clutch problems that there is a clutch troubleshooting chart in the Bentley manual for earlier models, but I haven't found one in the 80-91 Bentley manual. Is there troubleshooting charts at all in it?

Sorry, one more question... I lent my 85 Jetta to my brother for 6 months and told him to keep an eye on the tranny oil as the oil seals are notoriously bad. He ended up filling the clutch housing with oil accidentally and got oil all over the clutch. I have recently rebuilt the transmission and was wondering if there is a way to clean oil off of the clutch, or if there is any point using the clutch again? I would like to as it is almost brand new.


Capt. Mike Moderator Member # 11 posted 11-17-2001 05:21 AM

The trouble-shooting aspects of the older Type II manual are applicable to the physical side of the clutch -- they are pretty much identical internally. The difference is the water-cooled Vanagon clutches are hydraulic. If the hydraulic linkage has failed, the clutch won't operate properly. A leaker can get air in the system and operate somewhat but not reliably. The hydraulic slave cylinder only operates the release lever inside the same way the old cable did. Try a clutch bleeding process first.

When a clutch has been oiled, the disk is lost. If caught in time, the pressure plate and flywheel can be cleaned up (off the vehicle) with a non-residue cleaner like brake cleaner.


3 Clutches in 6 Months!

I have a 1985 Westfalia and live in Redondo Beach, CA. I acquired the car in 12/1995 at about 116,000 miles. The clutch had been replaced by the previous owner at 86,000 miles.
I had the clutch and engine replaced at 156,000 miles in 9/1998. About 2 years later, I had severe clutch slippage on a long drive home while carrying a heavy load. I had to continually watch the tach to keep the rpms from racing. On inclines, I had to downshift to 2nd gear to "crawl" up the hills. However, after I returned home, the problem stopped, and never occurred again.
At 192,958 miles (8/2001) the clutch and slave cylinder (and engine seal) were replaced by my regular mechanic at home. The clutch had "fallen apart" while on a long drive home. I couldn't shift and drove 230 miles in 4th gear only.
At 195,040 miles (10/2001) the clutch started slipping on a long incline while on a trip to Oregon. It happened quickly and I was not able to maintain enough speed to get up the hill.I had it towed to a garage in Eugene where they installed a new clutch for the 2nd time and replaced the engine seal. They thought the problem was that oil had leaked onto the clutch.
At 200,490 miles (11/2001), while returning home from Utah, the clutch again started slipping on inclines. I stopped in Las Vegas and had the clutch checked out and they replaced it for the 3rd time. I explained the history to the mechanic and he took extra care to try to find out what the underlying problem was. Again the problem was oil leakage. He determined that the transmission seal was the culprit and replaced that seal along with the engine seal.
At 205,000 miles (4/2002), I had the following symptoms. I drove 350 miles from home to a trailhead in the mountains with no problems. The van sat in a parking lot for 4 days. When I finished my stay, and started to drive home, the clutch started slipping. I was very lightly loaded on this trip. Whenever the rpms got to 3000, the tach would race. As soon as I took my foot off the gas, they would return to 3000. I drove for about 150 miles in that mode constantly watching the tach to keep the rpms below 3000. I stopped and slept in the van that night half way home. The next morning I finished the trip with no problems at all. The tach never raced once.
I have talked to my regular mechanic at home and he is baffled. He has never encountered anything like this before. I believe that both of the garages that worked on my car in Eugene and Las Vegas were competent.
Any help would be appreciated.

Capt. Mike

When seal leakage is excessive and occurs frequently, the problem usually lies in the seal housing being damaged or distorted (the bore it fits in), or the shaft that passes through it (crank or transmission main shaft) is damaged and quickly eating up the lip of the new seal. You could also have a turned down shaft from a rebuild and the replacement seals are not oversized to compensate.

Vanagon clutches are hydraulic. What have you checked in the hydraulic system? Air or moisture in the system will expand when hot and can 'activate' the clutch unintentionally, thus acting much like you were pressing in on it -- i.e. riding the clutch and slipping it. Clutch fluid -- actually part of the brake fluid system -- should be flushed & changed every 2 years with DoT 4 grade brake fluid.

Clutch activiation combines three parts: the 'throw' of the master cylinder by the petal; the hydraulic movement within the lines; and the 'throw' of the slave cylinder. All three must be without slack and in proper adjustment. A hang-up on any of the three could restrict the 'release', which is engagement. The clutch contains one section of flexible hose, which if deteriorated, could also swell and not allow release flow.

When the clutch gets extremely hot from slipping, it can cause seals to deteriorate, harden and leak at a premature rate. Therefore you must first diagnose which is the cause and which is the effect.


New member
My 1990 GL camper clutch started having a squeaking sound when engaging. I removed the tranny to investigate and it turned out to be the pilot bearing. To remove the pilot bearing you must remove the flywheel and here is the problem. The previous owner had the engine replaced and whoever installed the flywheel must have been a gorilla because the bolts will not budge. They are allen caps screws and according to the Bentley should be torqued to 81 ft.lbs. The person who installed it also messed them up just enough that they are slightly loose when the allen is inserted. I tryed a pneumatic impact with approx. 150 ft.lbs. of available torque and they will not budge. If anybody has any ideas other than scarfing the heads off with a torch I would be in there debt.

Capt. Mike

First, be sure you are using the right flywheel cap screw socket. They SHOULD be spline heads (NOT Torx).

Once a bolt has been subject to rust, heat and dirt, it often takes considerably more torque to remove than original. Assuming you are basing your 'torque' on the published capacity of the air wrench, it is probably only about half that due to the natural losses in air flow, hose length, air lubrication quality, etc., and the tendency of the manufacturers to grossly inflate their 'real world' capacity with some artificial, hard to achieve, conditions in the lab. I frequently have to go to either increased air pressure or a hand tool to remove lug nuts tightened to 133 ft-lb. and my impact wrench is a fairly new Snap-On rated at 600 ft-lb.

In the TOOLS forum there are some posts on hand impact tools and other substitutes, lock washer/nut/bolts (contains info on stuck ones, and in the posts on CV joints in the rear axle and suspension topics. There is also one in the SUPPLIERS forum on a product called PB Blaster that appears to work better than most. In the case of such chemicals, give them TIME to work -- non are instant. Reapplication over several days is often required.

And when finished, consider an anti-sieze product when installing NEW bolts (Never reuse a damaged bolt or one that has had to become heated to remove.) Be sure and use only OE or at least OEM hardness specs!

Capt. Mike

Capt. Mike

Oz Todd Member posted August 04, 2002 10:39 AM

I had the clutch slave cylinder replaced yesterday and now I find it really hard to get into gears, and it feels as though im lacking pressure in the clutch. The van runs fine, its not slipping once it is in gear, and gives no hint of problem with the gears themselves.
Is it possible that this is due to some shoddy work in replacing the clutch slave cylinder or could it be leading on to another problem?

magowanc Member posted August 04, 2002 06:37 PM

The clutch system works similar to the brake system. First check to see that you have enough brake fluid. As the clutch system draws near the top of the resevoir, the brake fluid resevoir should be at the max line. Also, the clutch system needs to be bled, just like the brake system. Air bubbles in the clutch system would create the symptoms that you are describing. If there is air in the line, this definately indicates shoddy work.

'85 VanagonGL Westy
1.9L Wasserboxer

Capt. Mike

Wade Yorke Member posted October 27, 2002 10:18 PM

I have a '84 Westy with 1.9 and four speed. Clutch engagement is nice and smooth as long as you use low engine rpm's. If you engage the clutch quickly with more rpm there is a driveline shutter. This shutter also manifests itself if you are starting in sand or loose gravel:if you engage the clutch quickly on the shift to second with slightly elevated engine rpm's; and starting in reverse at anything over an idle. It feels like the engine mounts are allowing drivetrain movement under high torque situations. I have only owned the vehicle for a year, so this may be normal. I seem to remember my new '73 bug doing somewhat the same thing, while my '71 bug did not (maybe stiffer engine mounts on the '71). My Vanagon clutch does not seem to slip and has only about 30,000 miles on it.

Capt. Mike

Clutch smoothness is dependent upon many things. Despite relatively new clutch, that does not mean -- especially if it is an aftermarket or rebuilt and not a VW OEM F&S unit -- that it got new and balanced buffer springs, a thorough test of the pressure fingers for even tension, and a check of the play in the spline engagement.

Presuming a new pressure plate and throw-out bearing at the same time as the clutch replacement, add that short of a new flywheel, you are already one-third 'old' stuff. Flywheels can be warped -- that's why the even torque on the bolts is so critical -- as well as the usual wear, grooves and glazing. Spot glazing is especially notorious for shudder.

And it only takes a few miles to oil one up if the tranny big end & flywheel seals weren't replaced at the same time as the clutch.

Capt. Mike

Transferred to consolidate sampe topic.

Vibration in clutch

wognacious Junior Member posted May 25, 2003 02:41 PM


I've got a slight vibration in my drive train after replacing my clutch. I can't for the life of me figure out what I did to create this situation. I do recall having to wrestle the tranny in when reinstalling it. Can the pilot bearing be pushed in if the end of the main shaft hits it? Any thoughts on this matter will be greatly appreciated
Posts: 1 | From: San Ramon, California, USA | Registered: June 24, 2002

Howitzervw Junior Member posted May 27, 2003 12:14 PM

Do you have a vibration as the clutch is engaging? If so your flywheel should be resurfaced.

A vibration as your moving down the road could indicate cv bolts loose or the trans mount out of alignment. Hope this helps. Barry


New member
I was told my transmission bearing (throwout bearing) is what's causing the noise I'm hearing. The mechanic quoted $1500 to fix it! Ridiculous. First off, I'll be calling other garages, but second, I'd like to learn from someone else how to do it. If there's anyone who can offer to help me fix it, here in San Jose, CA, I'd greatly appreciate it.

Capt. Mike

What year, what model? See Guidelines.

A Type II "release bearing" as VW calls the throw-out bearing is relatively inexpensive -- probably in the $30 bracket for OEM; see PARTS forum for aftermarket vendor recommendations (& warnings).

It requires removal of the transmission, about a 1 hour job by an experienced shop, 2-3 in the home shop. Description is in the [required Bentley, Section 6-4.1 (same procedure for FI engines). Replacing the release bearing is Section 5-15.4. The shop quote for that alone seems out-of-line.

While out, you will probably want to change the crank seal (15.3), the tranny seal (6-5.2). Also examine clutch, pressure plate & flywheel as the cost of replacing these parts now may save a second tranny R&R in the near future. Since you have to disconnect the inner CV joints, this might be a good time to repack and install new boots on them as well.