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What is an Adjustable Clutch?

By Ray Hawk
Updated May 17, 2024
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An adjustable clutch is a clutch system on a manual transmission car or truck that can be reset when it begins to wear out, instead of simply replacing primary components such as the clutch plate. Not all standard transmission vehicles have an adjustable clutch, but after-market parts can usually be purchased to make one adjustable. Being able to adjust the clutch either from factory settings or with retrofitting can save money on clutch maintenance over time and enhance clutch performance.

Clutch adjustment is usually done by resetting the free play in the adjustable clutch slave cylinder push rod, or the adjustable clutch cable. There are many reasons for doing this aside from just prolonging the useful life of a moderately worn clutch assembly. The original setting on the clutch may be too tight initially, or the clutch pedal may feel soft and unresponsive even if it’s operating within established tolerances. Shifting may be stiff or unnecessarily loose depending on arm length and height in the seat of the driver as well.

The adjustable clutch cable or adjustable clutch lever can be reset by a layman with only general automotive knowledge. Nevertheless, it is best to have expert advice and guidance before making any changes to a transmission, since it is such a crucial component of a car’s drive train and designs can vary considerably from model to model of vehicle. Since a clutch adjustment is relatively quick and of no cost in terms of new parts, it is worth trying, however, before investing in a professional clutch overhaul.

Safety steps that need to be followed when resetting an adjustable clutch include making sure that the car is turned off and that the transmission is set in the neutral position. The owner’s manual may give instructions for basic clutch adjustment that simply require pulling back all the way on the clutch pedal while the car is on a level surface with the parking brake engaged. Self-adjusting clutches will reset themselves with this procedure.

For auto enthusiasts that want to adjust the clutch for performance enhancements, the job becomes more complicated. It is first necessary to find where the clutch cable runs from the pedal through the firewall behind the dashboard and to the transmission. Clutch adjustment from here on can require some guidance from an experienced transmission mechanic, as the clutch cable assembly works off of a small ratchet mechanism that affects how much work the clutch cable’s pull does. Changes should be made incrementally, one-quarter of a quadrant at a time, or one-quarter of a circle of rotation, to gradually tighten or loosen the clutch pedal, as described by the owner’s manual.

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