What Does a Clutch Do?

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Market experts forecast the global clutch market to become a $16.2 billion industry by 2026. Automotive clutches, in turn, will be the biggest driving factor behind this growth.

With that said, you may be wondering what a clutch is, especially if you’ve been driving an automatic car. What does this unit do, anyway, and why does it even matter?

This guide will go over the basics of clutches, so be sure to read on.

What Is a Clutch?

A clutch is a mechanical device that connects and disconnects rotating shafts. It engages and disengages the power transmitted by spinning machine elements. It acts as a sort of link between a machine that produces power and one that absorbs power.

Automobiles are the biggest users of clutches. If you drive a Ford, GM, or Japan-made car, it likely has an Exedy clutch in it. However, you can also find these devices in chainsaws, drills, and even yo-yos.

Exactly What Does it Do?

In manual transmission vehicles, the unit takes the form of a pedal. That’s why cars with a manual shift system come with three pedals.

Stepping on the vehicle clutch pedal engages the clutch. Engaging the clutch, in turn, directs power from the engine to the transmission. The transmission then sends the power to the wheels, making them turn.

By contrast, releasing the pedal disengages the mechanical device.

A disconnected clutch stops the wheels from turning without killing the engine. In this case, the device interrupts the rotational power coming from the engine. It disconnects the transmission, and therefore, the wheels, from the engine.

That temporary disconnection then reduces or stops the wheels’ spinning motion. As a result, the driver can make smooth gear changes.

Do note that cars with an automatic transmission system come with a clutch, too. However, the clutch is no longer a separate pedal but a part of the vehicle’s torque converter. That’s why automatic transmission cars only have two pedals. 

What About Automatic Transmission Systems?

In automatic transmission cars, the clutch is in the torque converter system. The torque converter sits within the bell housing. The bell housing is the metal unit where the engine and the transmission system meet.

Aside from the clutch, the torque converter has several other parts, such as a turbine and an impeller. The impeller connects to the engine, driving the turbine by circulating transmission fluid.

The clutch in an automatic transmission works just like how those in manual systems do. The main difference is that the torque converter system automatically engages the clutch. As such, you don’t have to step on a pedal to connect or disconnect the clutch just so you can change gears.

What Can Happen if Your Clutch Goes Bad?

In manual transmission vehicles, a worn clutch can cause clutch slippage. In this case, the engine will run, but the wheels won’t spin. In automatic cars, a bad clutch can make the transmission spin but not the wheels.

A faulty clutch can also lead to the gears slipping in and out. In a manual car, a bad clutch can make it difficult to change gears.

All those issues can affect the handling and safety of your vehicle, putting you at risk of an accident. Car crashes, in turn, cause more than 4.5 million injuries each year in the US alone. That’s enough reason to keep your clutch in perfect working condition.

Keep Your Gears and Wheels Turning With a Functional Unit

There you have it, your guide to answering the questions, “what does a clutch do, and why does it matter?” Now, you know that it lets you change gears and, therefore, move your car forward. That’s why it’s also vital to know the signs of a bad clutch.

As soon as you notice the symptoms of a faulty clutch, have your ride checked out by a mechanic ASAP.

Ready for more automotive guides like this? Be sure to check out our other categories for more tips and tricks to keep your ride running smoothly!

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Mike Sluyter
Author: Mike Sluyter
Mike is the previous manager of Driven Autos Magazine. He is software engineer and was a Computer Science major. Mike resides in Texas.

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