Clutch! Such an innocuous looking word, but when it’s used by a frowning mechanic it becomes a beast to fear. Unsealed 4X4 recently swung by its local Blue Mountains mechanic, Active Automotives, to understand why clutches are so damn expensive – particularly for 4X4 owners.
For a start, 4X4 clutches will always be more expensive than the clutch for a car because they need to be built to a higher standard to cope with heavier vehicles that operate in tougher terrain.
And you will spend more again for a heavy-duty aftermarket clutch designed for vehicles that haul big loads and do a lot of rugged off-roading. They are highly engineered, with a hell of a lot of heavy metal.
Changing a clutch on a 4X4 also requires more labour than on a car. There’s more bits and pieces that need to be taken off and put back on, the parts are heavier and there’s lots of fiddley things that make the mechanic’s job harder.
“The worst thing about 4X4s is that there’s always dirt falling in your eyes,” said Active Automotives’ Keith Stockill.
That same dirt and hard impacts mean the bolts on 4X4s are harder to undo, for example, or they can be damaged and need to be replaced or retapped – it all adds to the time and expense.
Even when everything’s straightforward, there’s a lot of labour in removing and putting back the drive shaft, exhaust, bell housing, electricals, speedo cable etc. before you even get to the clutch and flywheel.
The flywheel must be replaced or machined, otherwise the warranty will be void on your new clutch.
Keith says a clutch kit for a small car can be had for less than $200 and the labour can be as little as four hours.
A clutch suitable for a 4X4, however, will cost at least $600 and you can spend more than $2000. For a common 4X4 like a Toyota HiLux there are dozens of clutches across the price spectrum. Talk to your mechanic about the clutch best for your vehicle.
The labour starts at about six hours for a middle-sized HiLux and can be eight hours for a big Nissan Patrol.
Thinking of saving money by doing your clutch at home? You would think twice if you saw the delicate dance Unsealed 4X4 witnessed of two jacks and four burly mechanics when the clutch was being changed on a HiLux up on a hoist at Active Automotives.
And if that new clutch doesn’t go in dead straight – which is tricky because of the weight of the parts being manipulated – you will find yourself with a vehicle that shudders every time you change gear and a clutch that will have to be replaced again.
Your new clutch can also be ruined if contaminated by oil or dirt. Even a mechanic’s greasy hands can cause chaos. Some clutches are so sensitive that the natural oils in human skin are also a no-no. They come with a pair of gloves for installation.
Mercifully, Keith says clutches are getting better all the time and have a longer life – if not abused. And remember, there’s no use lying to a mechanic if you’ve been flogging your clutch. The evidence is plain and pungent. The boys at Active Automotives recently had to replace the clutch on a Mazda BT50 that had been given a workout and the burnt metal smell permeated the workshop for days.
HOW TO PROLONG
THE LIFE OF YOUR CLUTCH
Get the right clutch in the first place.
Get it professionally installed.
Change gears gently– don’t slam that stick.
Avoid excessively riding your clutch. Don’t hang around on the friction point when reversing trailers or negotiating rough terrain.
Don’t drive with you foot resting on the clutch pedal. That can be enough to engage the friction point.
Be extra gentle on your new clutch for the first 1000km. Avoid riding it while the clutch beds itself in.
Make sure the hydraulic fluid in your vehicle gets flushed and changed regularly when it is serviced.
A dual-mass flywheel clutch system (which is what many 4X4s come with out of the factory) gives better pedal feel, takes away gearbox harshness and shudder, creates a quieter ride and generally delivers better driveability. But if you are looking to upgrade to a heavy-duty clutch system better suited to big loads and rugged off-roading, a single-mass flywheel system is generally more robust and will last longer, according to 4X4 clutch specialist Xtreme Outback. Added financial advantages are that single-mass flywheels are cheaper and can be machined to be reused the next time your clutch fails. Dual-mass flywheels used to be much more expensive than single-mass flywheels but that price gap has closed.
Unsealed 4X4 recently had a quality new Xtreme Outback clutch and single-mass flywheel installed in one of its Nissan Patrols. This is a kit specifically designed to cope with heavy-duty rough stuff and big loads, delivering what should be greater reliability and clutch life in a vehicle that’s a genuine off-road work horse.
Xtreme Outback is the specialist 4X4 brand owned by Australian Clutch Services, which also boasts several other clutch brands.
The business was started in 1988 to develop heavy-duty clutches that could cope with the tough demands of Australia’s 4X4ers and has gone on to become a market leader and exporter with a trusted reputation.
It has its own in-house research and development facility in Adelaide to keep testing and improving its products.
The Xtreme Outback kit featuring a heavy-duty clutch and solid flywheel fitted to the Patrol retails for $1600 while a standard kit from the Clutch Pro brand would be $1300.
Xtreme Outback says its single-mass flywheel clutch kits give improved performance and durability while maintaining “near factory-type driveability” in your 4X4.
GOING THE DISTANCE
You can burn out your clutch in no time at all through misuse, but Chris Meadows from Australian Clutch Services says a vehicle driven sensibly, and possessing the appropriate clutch, should get 100,000km worth of value. He has seen some vehicles make it beyond 300,000km. ACS offers a 20,000km/12 months warranty on parts and labour and 24 months on parts only.
Words: Dan Lewis