Clutch Installation and Setup: Tips From the Pros

12/04/2023

Clutch Installation and Setup: Tips From the Pros

12/04/2023

Automatic transmissions have some advantages in certain applications, and it’s not hard to understand why they’re so popular. But there are many among us who feel that any car built for fun should have three pedals. This is especially true in the muscle car world. Although plenty of V8 powered muscle machinery from the past to the present has an auto trans, the image of true muscle car glory centers around rowing gears on a smooth-shifting floor-mounted stick.


But anytime you mix performance cars and manual transmissions, you’re going to be replacing clutches – they’re consumables just like brakes. And that’s where car owners sometimes get into trouble. There are some specialized techniques needed to install and set these deceptively simple looking devices up correctly. With that in mind, we’ve assembled some of our best tips for installing and setting up the clutch in any car, so you can get back to banging gears and rocking victory lane as quickly as possible.

Three pedals and a stick are an absolute must for many enthusiasts. Indeed, a manual transmission can be a thing of joy. But without the right clutch setup, it can be a source of frustration. Follow our clutch tips to keep things smooth, tight, and trouble-free.


Do It Right the First Time

To replace a clutch, you need to drop the driveshaft, pull the transmission, and remove the bellhousing. And before that, you may need to also remove the exhaust system, emergency brake assembly, and other things to gain access. In other words, the job is kind of a pain. It isn’t something you want to keep doing over and over again every few months. So do yourself a favor and don’t skimp when you’ve got it all apart and you’re replacing things. Look at what else might need to be done soon and get it over with now while it’s relatively easy.


You’ll hate yourself if you have to do this again soon because of something you neglected in haste.

It takes a fair amount of effort to change a clutch. You'll be removing the driveshaft, transmission, and bellhousing, and possibly other components. So do yourself a favor and fix all the related components at once. This isn't the kind of job you'll want to do every month.


Change the Whole Clutch – Not Just the Disc

At the top of the list for changing all the bad stuff at once, is the pressure plate. When replacing your clutch, you may be tempted to change out only the clutch disc itself. After all, it's the part that takes the most abuse and wears more than any other component in the system. But you’ll be setting yourself up for problems down the road if you don’t replace the whole unit at once. When the clutch, disc, and flywheel wear in, the surfaces conform to each other. If you install only a disc, it won’t properly seat, because it’ll only make contact on the outer edges. You’re likely to get a very chattery clutch, with premature slippage and failure.

Always Resurface or Replace the Flywheel

While you’ve got it all apart, take care of the flywheel surface too. This is another area you shouldn’t skimp on. A flywheel surface can look like it’s in good shape, and yet still have irregularities and high spots that can cause chattering and uneven wear on the clutch. So, if you want your new clutch to seat properly, either have the clutch resurfaced or replace it altogether.


One option is to buy your clutch and flywheel as a matched set. Hays Hot Street clutches and flywheels come matched as a kit, to ensure they’re the ideal combination that will work right together. It avoids the potentially frustrating mismatches that can arise from buying one brand of flywheel and another brand of pressure plate, only to discover they don’t really work well together. The Hot Street series clutch kits eliminate those unwelcome variables.


See Hays Hot Street Clutches now!

When replacing a clutch, you should always have the flywheel refaced, or replace it altogether. Hays Hot Street clutch kits combine all the major components into one pre-configured set, to avoid potential mismatches between incompatible clutches and flywheels.


Don’t Install the Clutch Backward

Yeah, we know – this one sounds obvious to the point of absurdity. And yet, according to Hays, the company still sees discs that get bent from being installed inside-out, with the disc in backward.


With the flywheel installed on the engine, lay the clutch disc on the flywheel and rotate it. It must sit flat against the flywheel and not be contacting the flywheel bolts as you rotate it. If the disc does not sit flat, make sure you have it in correctly.

Don’t Use Power Tools to Tighten the Pressure Plate

With all the steps needed to install a clutch, it can be tempting to use power tools to tighten everything down and keep the job moving. But this is an invitation for trouble when it comes time to bolt on the pressure plate. Using power tools can bend the clutch cover flange. That can leave the clutch fingers uneven once the clutch is fully tightened down, which will cause extreme clutch chatter.

Use the Proper Tightening Pattern for Clutch Bolts

Another fairly common mistake is tightening the clutch bolts down completely one at a time. This can damage the clutch flange cover and cause the fingers to sit unevenly. Instead, the proper procedure is to tighten the bolts in a star-shaped or crisscross pattern a few turns at a time – just like torquing wheels.

Get a Better Clutch Pedal Line

If your vehicle has a hydraulic clutch system, this is a good time to also replace the flimsy plastic clutch line that most late-model vehicles use. These types of OEM lines aren’t built for the rigors of high-performance use and they can fail under the high pressure required to manipulate aftermarket clutch setups.


Premade stainless braided PTFE clutch lines are available for many cars. And if not, Earls offers aluminum adapter fittings for using pre-made stainless braided PTFE lined hose. These adapters make it easy to mix and match OEM and aftermarket parts when doing an engine swap or building a racecar. These adapters are available in several styles to fit most OEM late-model master cylinders, slave cylinders, or hydraulic clutch release bearings.


See Earl's clutch bearing release line kits now!

Selecting the right clutch kit for your needs can give you a durable clutch setup that's a pleasure to drive. To help you select the right one, Hays technical assistance is just a phone call away, at 1-866-464-6553.


Adjust Your Clutch Properly

All the work of installing a clutch properly will be wasted if you don’t adjust it properly. So don’t rush through this critical step. Start by making sure all fasteners are torqued correctly. This can affect clearances and therefore negatively impact your adjustments if not correct.


The actual adjustment will vary depending on the type of pressure plate being used. With the clutch pedal completely depressed, a diaphragm clutch should have .030-.040 air gap between the disc and flywheel. For a Borg & Beck unit, the air gap should be .040-.050. For a Long-Style pressure plate it should be .050-.060. On vehicles with mechanical linkage, with the pedal released, an air gap of .250 should exist between the throwout bearing face and the pressure plate fingers. On cable and hydraulic applications, the throwout bearing face should rest lightly on the pressure plate fingers.

Clutch release adjustment is an ongoing need with older cars that have a mechanical clutch mechanism. It's an important maintenance step that not only adds to the satisfaction of driving, it can also increase the longevity of the clutch.


Adjust Your Release Properly

Setting up the proper release for your clutch is not only vital once you’ve installed it. It should also be part of your regular vehicle maintenance. A mechanical or cable type clutch linkage should be adjusted for minimum release – only enough release that the clutch will disengage cleanly for shifting. This will result in a pedal that's lower to the floor, with maximum free play.


As the clutch disc wears, the fingers of the clutch will get taller, and if you have the bearing adjusted too close, it could ultimately unload the clutch fingers and not let the plate put its full load on the disc, causing excessive slippage and wear.

Add Adjustable Height for Your Hydraulic Clutch

Unlike mechanical clutch systems, hydraulically actuated clutches are self-adjusting, eliminating the ongoing chore of adjusting clutch release. But with this advantage comes the downside of being stuck with whatever engagement point was designed into the vehicle. Fortunately, Hays has developed a simple yet effective solution. Hays clutch pedal height adjustment valve works with almost any hydraulic clutch system, allowing you to adjust the pedal height, as well as the overall travel.


Installing a clutch and getting it functioning ideally isn’t beyond anyone willing to give it the time and attention required to do the job right. By following these tips, you’ll soon rejoin the deeply satisfied elite who know the tactile joy of shifting a vehicle with a smooth operating, well sorted out clutch.


Click Here Now to see the full line of Hays clutches and components.

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