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How to repair a Neon: the clutch system

by Jim Grimmett. Printed by permission.

Neon clutch repair: the basics

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 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 faceplate/flywheel
  • 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.

The pressure plate forces the clutch plate against the faceplate of the flywheel. It is bolted to the faceplate side of the flywheel with the clutch plate sandwiched in between. Springs called fingers apply the force against the plate. The fingers are compressed by the throw-out bearing to release the clutch for shifting. If the springs get weak or the fingers break, the clutch will wear; you will notice harder shifting and probably a burning brake odor coming from the engine. Check the pressure plate side for cracks, heating, and grooves from foreign objects. If it is still good, clean it up just like we did for the faceplate.
The finger or spring side of the pressure plate should also be clean, check for cracks in the housing and on the fingers. If the fingers are worn, have grooves in them, broken, or cracked the pressure plate will need to be replaced.
The throw-out bearing rides along the fingers of the pressure plate to apply pressure for disengaging the clutch. It slides on a shaft over the input shaft to the transmission. It is actuated by a spoon or shifting fork and has two small tits to pull it back from the pressure plate fingers. The face of the bearing should not be scarred and the bearing should turn freely against the palm of your hand. If it is damaged in any way or if one of the tits is broken the throw-out bearing must be replaced.
Here is a close-up view of one of the tits.
This is a view of how the tits are supposed to ride in the throw-out bearing spoon.
The throw-out bearing spoon or shifting fork engages and releases the throw-out bearing. The clutch cable from the clutch pedal actuates it. The clutch cable slips into the small end and the throw-out bearing slips into the large end. The spoon pivots and connects to a pivot ball. The spoon should be checked for cracks or wear. If the spoon falls off the pivot ball there is a rebuild kit available from Mopar. 4796664 is the Mopar part number for the redesigned ball and spoon.
The pivot ball is pressed in to the tranny case and is a real bear to remove. If the ball is not in good condition you have no choice but to buy and press in a new one. The ball comes with the spoon kit listed above.
A view to help you locate the pivot ball.

Clutch system disassembly

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.

Clutch system assembly

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.

I like to put a very thin layer of grease on the crankshaft side. I am not sure this helps with separation or if it is just because I am old and like to play in the grease? I also grease the hole in the center of the crankshaft that the alignment tool slips into. That will keep any rust from forming in there at a later time.
Next dip each bolt into the grease and thread into the boltholes to make sure there are no stripped threads or dirt you may need to clean out before putting the flywheel on. After this checks out wipe the bolts clean with a rag. The proper amount of grease should be left inside the bolt holes and you will have every thing clean and ready for the next step.
Attaching the flywheel/faceplate can be a pain. If you have shims make sure to put them in now. Try to align the flywheel with all the boltholes and put in one bolt to hold things up. Eyeball the open boltholes to see that all of them are aligned or stick a small screwdriver in each hole. If you hit all the holes right on the first try, congratulations, you are a better man than me. If you are like me take the bolt back out, rotate the flywheel until you get things lined up and try again. When you do have everything aligned, tighten all the bolts finger tight, then with a 17-mm wrench snug down the bolts in a criss-cross pattern to properly seat the plate.

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.

Finger tight: As tight as you can get a nut or bolt with your fingers. This does not mean as tight as you can get with a messed up bolt or with dirt in the threads. It assumes that the bolt is properly seated.

Snug: When you place the box end of wrench on a bolt and turn it with one hand until the bolt stops moving.

Tight: When you apply pressure with both hands and lean on a box end of a wrench until the bolt stops moving.

OMG FLEMING TIGHT: I have a LARGE STRONG BOLT SNAPPING friend named Eric. For most of us this amount of tight would require a breaker bar or 12" long piece of pipe added to the handle to achieve this level of tight

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.

Now that everything is lined up and tight you need to clean all the greasy fingerprints off the faceplate. Rubbing alcohol, window cleaner, brake cleaner, or anything that does not leave a residue will work. Clean the faceplate twice to make sure. Again this is a critical clean area so you want to make sure. The penalty for having a dirty clutch surface is pretty high.
If you bought a kit then a clutch plate alignment tool probably came with it. If it didn't then you will WANT to have an alignment tool. You can purchase these tools or you can go to your local autozone store and borrow one. They will ask for a small deposit and return it when you return the tool. Not a bad deal for the average guy who will do one or two clutch jobs in his lifetime. I have done the job once without the alignment tool. It can be done but trust me it's not fun.
I made this picture a little larger so it would be easier to see. Slide the alignment tool through the clutch plate. Slide the tapered end of the tool into the center of the crankshaft. Slide the clutch plate up snug against the faceplate. Wiggle things a little just to make sure things seem to seat properly. Look around where the clutch plate contacts the faceplate for warpage.
Give the face of the pressure plate a final once over and clean it one last time. Be careful not to touch the face of the pressure plate as you assemble the clutch system. If you do by accident take it back off and clean it. Don't let a little grease ruin all your effort. I know I keep harping on this but it is the single biggest complaint I get after people have put together their clutch and it jerks or slips from the get go.
If everything seems fine then slip the pressure plate over the clutch plate. There are three alignment pins on the faceplate that will line up with three holes on the pressure plate. It may take a few tries to find the correct alignment, and it is handy to have a buddy hold the alignment tool in place while you get every thing in sync. The holes for the faceplates alignment pins are just big enough to fit the pins through. If you can move the pressure plate around you have the wrong holes and need to rotate the pressure plate. When you have the pinholes correctly aligned you will see that all the rest of the bolt holes line up. You won't be able to press the pressure plate flush with the faceplate yet so don't worry about that.
Give the 10-mm pressure plate bolts a light spray of WD-30 or a little oil of some kind and wipe them off. The bolts should shimmer in the light like this one. When you are ready and everything is aligned go ahead and put the 10-mm bolts in the pressure plate finger tight.
If you can, have a buddy hold the alignment tool as you slowly put a couple of turns on each pressure plate bolt. In a criss-cross pattern evenly bring the pressure plate against the clutch plate. If you don't have a buddy then do the best you can. The alignment tool HELPS with alignment but if you are not careful the clutch plate can slip out of position. As you tighten the pressure plate bolts, you will notice the fingers moving as the pressure plate positions itself. After you have snugged down all the bolts, give them a final two hand tightenings.
When all the bolts are tight, gently pull on the alignment tool. If the alignment tool pulls out freely then you probably did it correctly. If it is seems stuck then you may be misaligned. Look to see that everything appears to be centered and if it looks good CONGRATS!!!! You have just replaced a clutch.
The last pieces are the shifting spoon and the throw-out bearing. You will want to position the throwout bearing over the spoon properly and then slide it over the input shaft of the tranny. Slide them both back until the spoon contacts the pivot ball then give the spoon a light tap with a banger until the spoon is seated on the pivot ball. It sounds harder than it is.
Put a light coat of grease on the input shaft and the face of the throw-out bearing, and you are ready to reattach the engine with the transaxle.
See, it's so simple even these guys could do it.

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