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by Jim Grimmett. Printed by permission.
The first thing to understand about clutches is that they need to be spotlessly clean. Even the smallest bit of dirt or grit will send all your hard work to an early grave. Grease even from your fingers will make the clutch squeal or make the car jerk on take off and shifts. None of this is to say that the average guy can’t replace his clutch, only that care needs to be taken to keep this area exceptionally clean. If you do mostly city driving or tend to be hard on the clutch by racing or hard shifting I would suggest you try some of the fine heavy-duty distributors links from Allpar.com. If you are a normal driver then a good quality rebuilt clutch from a local parts shop will work well.
The clutch system consists of these parts:
The clutch plate
The pressure plate
The throw-out bearing
The throw-out bearing spoon
The spoon pivot ball
This is the faceplate/flywheel. It attaches to the engine crankshaft and spins at the RPM of the engine. You should check for cracks, heat stress, grooves cut in to the face of the clutch by foreign objects. If you find any of these the flywheel is bad and you need to order new one. I guess you could get one out of a junkyard but I prefer a new one. If everything checks out you need to clean the faceplate side. I use a wire brush wheel on a drill motor and emery cloth over face where the clutch plate will come in to contact to remove any glaze. When it’s done you will have a smooth finish that you can see the scratch marks from the sanding.
The flywheel is on the engine side of the faceplate/flywheel combination. It has teeth all around the circumference that are engaged by the starter when turning over the car. You need to check for the same things as with the faceplate side and check that there are no cracked, missing, or broken teeth. If everything is OK get the wire wheel back out and clean it up. When removing the flywheel from the engine check to make sure there are no shims. Our engine did not have any but some do. (Shims are generally small pieces of metal used to move a part into position. They normally have bolt holes and attach to the flywheel side.)
The clutch plate is the part that actually connects the power of the engine to the transmission and because of that is critically important. If I have an engine or tranny out of a car I will always replace the clutch plate unless it is very new.
The clutch plate has two sides. One flat and one raised for the springs. The flat side is the one that mates to the faceplate. You can press the clutch plate against the CLEAN faceplate to check that everything fits and is straight. A bad clutch will have wear along the pads or missing pads. The springs will be worn or loose as will the pins that hold the clutch together. If you’re not sure spend the money and get a new one.
I personally like to get the complete clutch kit but many people check the rest of the components and will replace just a bad plate. I know who the guy is who has to pull it back out when a clutch fails so I replace it all. Clutch kits range from about $150 for a rebuilt unit to several hundred if you are planning to trick out your Neon to 500 hp. For most people I recommend the standard OEM replacement at your local AutoZone store.
This assumes that you have already removed the engine and transaxle from the car and separated the engine from the transaxle.
There are several 10-mm bolts that hold the pressure plate to the flywheel/faceplate. Break each of the bolts free with a quick smack of a beater of some kind on the wrench or socket that you are using. A beater is a hammer, 2X4, you know anything to beat with. Always use the box end side of the wrench to break bolts free.
After you break all the bolts free loosen the bolts a few turns each in a criss-cross pattern to evenly release the pressure plate. When all the pressure has been released remove the bolts and store in a marked baggie. After you have removed all the bolts you will see that the pressure plate is positioned over three guide pins that are a bit sticky. GENTLY use a big screwdriver or bar to pry the pressure plate from the faceplate. Watch your feet and your fingers the pressure plate and clutch plates tend to fall off and squish important body parts when you least expect it.
Next break free the 17-mm bolts that hold the flywheel/faceplate to the end of the crankshaft. You have to smack them again just like you did the 10-mm bolts. If you are lucky and have an air compressor this is a good job for air tools but it can be easily done with hand tools. If you don’t smack the bolts free you will find the engine will spin. You can use a 2X4 and a clamp to hold the pressure plate while you lay on the wrench if you have to. The smacking is the best way I have found. When you pull the faceplate from the crankshaft check for shims. I think most of the shims will be found with automatics but I am not 100% sure. Inspect and clean all the parts, take the core and the list of new parts to your auto parts supplier, get cleaned up and take your lady out to dinner. Tomorrow we put the clutch back in.
Before you start have some alcohol, brake cleaner, or something that cleans grease, and some clean rags handy!!!
The next few steps are not difficult to do but are critical to the performance of your drivetrain so be prepared and take your time to do the job right.
Now here is where we have to get TECHNICAL. I am sure that some person smarter than I am has placed a torque specification on these bolts. Most people who have worked with cars for a long time have torque wrenches but the average guy doesn't. For these guys I have found a different system of specs.
In this application you want to go for the OMG fleming tight spec. Having these bolts loosen up or fall out would be a disaster. I would not use Loctite on these bolts but I know people who do. The choice is yours to make but get these bolts really tight before moving on. If you do manage to strip one out your local Chrysler dealer has them in stock. The threads are pretty thin on these so don’t brag to much if you manage to strip the groves off one or two.
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