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How To Know When To Upgrade Your Mustang's Clutch

Created by Tyler Rodriquez
Last Updated 8/29/2018

Your Mustang's clutch is a vital part to making your manual equipped Stang run properly, learn how to spot early warning signs of a damaged clutch in LMR's clutch upgrade guide.

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How To Know When To Upgrade Your Mustang

If your Ford Mustang has been making disquieting noises and sounds that have captured your attention, it may be time for you to have a check-up. In fact, it might be time to examine the possibility that you need a new clutch for your Mustang. Let’s take a look at how to know when to upgrade your Mustang’s clutch.

An Extremely Important Part of Your Car: The Clutch

You might not realize it, but the clutch is an important part of any vehicle — especially the Ford Mustang. For those who may be unaware, the clutch plays a crucial role in the performance of your Mustang. Over the years, the clutch has changed slightly, but the purpose has always remained the same. The clutch connects and disconnects the drive shafts or line shafts and therefore sends power to and from the engine. This is a necessary part of any automobile.

How To Know When To Upgrade Your Mustang

Learn More About the Clutch and How It Works

Understanding exactly how the clutch works can be a little complicated, so let’s break it down. The clutch transfers engine power by engaging and disengaging the pressure plate. With the use of both the flywheel and the clutch disc, rotation begins to occur. In short, the pressure plate rotates when the flywheel rotates. Like gears in a clock, our vehicles only work due to the intricate workings of thousands of different moving parts.

The clutch is made up of several important parts:

  • Cover plate
  • Diaphragm spring
  • Pressure plate
  • Clutch disc
  • Release bearing

To better understand the clutch and how it works, it’s essential that you know all about each part. Bolted to the flywheel, the cover plate, along with the pressure plate, applies pressure on the drive plate. Pressure is applied through the diaphragm spring attached to the cover plate.

The clutch disc works on a ridged shaft between the flywheel and pressure plate. On each side of the clutch disc, there is friction material. Once engaged, this material grabs hold of the flywheel and pressure plate. As far as the release bearing is concerned, it presses firmly against the diaphragm spring and, to interrupt the power transmission, it releases spring load. This can be done in two ways — by a cable or hydraulically.

The Most Common Symptoms of a Damaged or Bad Clutch

We get accustomed to many things in life. We know when the dishwasher sounds odd, we recognize when the water pressure in the shower feels a bit different and we definitely, usually rather quickly, understand when something is wrong with our bodies. As humans, we instantly know when we’re beginning to get a cold or when that sore throat begins to creep in. The same concept applies to our automobiles.

If you’ve noticed your Mustang functioning differently or if you’ve heard strange noises coming from your vehicle, your car just might be trying to tell you something. It’s possible that your Mustang might have issues. If we know anything about a problem, it’s always to face it head on and immediately have it seen to before it turns into a much bigger, costly issue.

Some of the common symptoms of a damaged clutch include:

  • Changing gears becomes difficult
  • The gas pedal has a different feel
  • Various noises and sounds come from the car

Some of these issues are self-explanatory, such as difficulty changing gears. However other problems are a little harder to diagnose. For instance, you could experience noises, vibrations, stiffness, chatter or a variety of other issues when you press down on the pedal.

Other problems related to the clutch:

  • Clutch chatter: If you’re experiencing a vibration or a spongy feel when you press down the pedal, you’re probably experiencing clutch chatter. This occurs when the pedal releases and the clutch engages. Clutch chatter is often caused by contamination on the clutch disc, possible slippage or a flywheel that wasn’t properly installed.
  • Clutch slipping: If you’ve ever smelled a strange burning scent coming from underneath your car, you might be experiencing clutch slipping. Clutch slipping is usually caused by an incorrect bearing setup, an incorrect clutch cable adjustment or contamination of the disc friction facing.
  • Transmission stuck in gear: We’ve all felt firsthand what it’s like for a car to be stuck in gear or not go when we expect it to. Sometimes there’s even a grinding sound that accompanies this moment. Gear shifting problems can occur after a new clutch is installed and is usually due to a leaky hydraulic release bearing, damaged clutch fork, incorrect cable adjustment or worn pilot bearing.

As you can see, there are many ways a bad clutch can cause problems for your car.

Luckily, many problems that plague the clutch can be easily fixed. For starters, if you’re having problems with clutch chatter, usually replacing the clutch and flywheel is all there is to it. For some issues, such as clutch slipping, it’s important to recognize the signs and symptoms right away before further damage is caused to your car. As far as your transmission being stuck in gear is concerned, this is an obvious sign that is instantly recognizable by the driver.

No matter the symptom, if you’re experiencing any issues with your automobile, it’s always best to have trained technicians examine your car and take a look at the problem. We all have to see doctors and dentists throughout our life. Your car also requires help and TLC from time to time. Another important reminder — always pay close attention to detail when you’re performing car maintenance on your automobile.

How To Know When To Upgrade Your Mustang

Why It’s Important to Replace Your Clutch

When it comes to car maintenance, there's something satisfying about making repairs to keep your automobile functioning properly and extend the life of your vehicle.

Sure, you may wait several months before seeing the dentist regarding a sore tooth. The problem? By waiting, you potentially turn an easy fix into something worse. The same scenario can be applied to your Mustang. When it comes to taking proper care of our vehicle, we can’t let issues persist. If we do, they usually turn into bigger, more expensive problems down the road.

For instance, the average annual maintenance cost per vehicle went from $514 in 2011 to $537 in 2012. As buyers hold on to their vehicles, more maintenance and repairs are required. Those who collect Mustangs, especially older models, know that routine maintenance comes with the cost of owning a vehicle. This is why you should replace a damaged or bad clutch sooner rather than later.

Over time, the material on the clutch that causes friction will wear out. Once this happens, clutch slipping will begin and eventually, you will start noticing problems. If you refuse to have your Mustang seen to, other problems will arise, and you could pay more money down the road on a problem that could’ve easily been fixed had it been checked out earlier.

From broken clutch cables to damaged clutch discs, there are numerous reasons why your clutch could be damaged. That’s why it’s important to have your Mustang seen about at the first sign of a problem. To ensure a long life for vehicles, as well as ourselves, we must put forth the effort to take proper care.

The Four Clutch Stages and What They Have to Offer

There are four stages of clutches, including:

  • The Stage 0/Factory Replacement clutch is an excellent choice if you're looking for a slight upgrade for your original equipment. It's perfect for daily drivers who see very minimal track days. This clutch typically features organic material, steel backing and a high clamp pressure plate. Choose this option for relaxed driveability and your average, comfortable stock pedal effort.
  • The Stage 1 clutch is designed for autocross, drag racing, pulling and street racing use. Its pedal effort is slightly firmer when compared to stock, but it's not overwhelming. It's best to not use sticky tires with Stage 1 clutches, as it will lessen their longevity.
  • The Stage 2 clutch is for race cars and street cars, as their power output can get you around the 500 HP range. It features torque capacity and a carbon six-puck sprung hub disc. Compared to Stage 1 clutches, the friction material is upgraded, but the pedal effort is about the same.
  • The Stage 3 clutch is intended for drag racing, autocross, streetcars and pulling. Intended for high-horsepower applications, vehicles with Stage 3 clutches can easily reach power capabilities around 600 HP. Your pedal effort will be the hardest compared to any other stages — aside from dual disc setups — and you can expect to hear some chatter. It comes with a heat-treated assembly, an 8-rivet hub and is offered in three, four or six puck configurations.
  • The Dual Disc Clutch consist of the pressure plate, clutch discs, floater plate and flywheel. They look very similar to a single disc, but with some added benefits. They require minimal pedal effort and much more holding capacity when compared to the single disc. They can be used on stock applications, but can handle more power if you add more mods down the road. In general, these clutches offer better power distribution, smoother rides, and allow for added power down the road.

As you can see, each clutch stage is different. While some may show slight differences, others are meant for completely separate types of driving. Pedal effort is another important factor to consider, which refers to the amount of force a driver must apply to the brake pedal for the vehicle to begin decelerating. For casual drivers, a lower pedal effort is more desirable, while high-horsepower vehicles typically require a harder pedal effort. When choosing your clutch, it’s important to recognize each stage and know which one most suits your needs.

Taking a Closer Look at the Various Types of Clutch Discs

Clutch discs are also a critical part of your automobile. Clutch discs come in a few different types:

  • Full discs
  • Puck-style discs
  • Twin discs

Aftermarket Mustang clutches usually have full discs while puck-style discs, commonly used in clutches for racing, are offered in multiple puck variations. A twin disc clutch, however, offers several benefits. Twin disc clutches add more friction and administer smoother shifting for the automobile.

How To Know When To Upgrade Your Mustang

Common Materials Used for Clutches

The clutch is made up of several different materials. Some of the common materials used for clutches include:

  • Organic
  • Carbon-Kevlar mix
  • Kevlar
  • Ceramic
  • Sintered Iron

The organic clutch option consists of numerous materials such as steel, metal fibers and more. The Carbon-Kevlar mix combines materials together, making for a sustainable clutch. Strong by itself, Kevlar adds extra protection. Ceramic materials are great at withstanding heat but can force the flywheel to wear more rapidly. If you use your Mustang for racing purposes, you’ll definitely want to consider sintered iron for your clutch since it’s best at withstanding high temperatures.

Choosing the best material for your clutch can make or break your Mustang depending on how you use it. That’s why drivers must know as much about their Mustang clutch as possible so that when the time comes to equip your Mustang or replace a clutch, you’ll immediately know what you’re looking for.

What Else Should I Replace Along With the Clutch?

Along with the clutch, you may find yourself replacing the flywheel, pressure plates, clutch forks, clutch cables and other crucial parts of your Mustang. We already know that these parts work with the clutch to correctly operate the vehicle.

Since the flywheel and the clutch go hand-in-hand, replacing the flywheel while you replace your clutch seems like killing two birds with one stone. After all, you wouldn’t replace a new kitchen table without adding new chairs as well.

If possible, having up-to-date parts is highly recommended. When the clutch and all of the surrounding parts are in top-notch shape, then your Mustang will be performing at its best. The goal with owning any vehicle, as we all know, is to keep it at its highest potential and top-quality.

Remember, Recognize and Review the Important Aspects of Upgrading Your Clutch

As you can see, clutches play an incredibly important role in your Mustang. Because clutches only last so long, it’s important to recognize the signs and symptoms of potential problems caused by a damaged or worn clutch. The harder a car is driven or the more power an engine produces, the faster the clutch will wear out.

If you’re interested in adding performance modifications to your Ford Mustang, remember that to be able to deliver extra power effectively, a new clutch will almost always need to be installed. Clutches, especially in newer Mustangs, should be installed properly.

The next time you smell something strange coming from underneath your car, you feel something off with your pedal or, you hear an unusual noise, remember all the ways to easily recognize if the problem is coming from your clutch.

Late Model Restoration: Dedicated to Fox Body Mustangs

How To Know When To Upgrade Your Mustang

Because there are so many options when it comes to choosing the correct clutch, it’s essential to have a reliable, dedicated go-to Mustang shop and a partner who can help answer your questions. Dedicated to the Fox Body Mustang, Late Model Restoration provides a place for you to find the parts and accessories you’re searching for.