Was this burned out clutch caused by its foreign moniker or by towing a boat?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Sep 01, 1995

Dear Tom and Ray:

It was very reassuring to learn from your booklet "Ten Ways You May Be Ruining Your Car Without Even Knowing It!" that I'm doing a lot of the right things to keep my car in good condition. I hope you can also help me with this situation. I own a 1993 Toyota 4-Runner, V6, 4WD, 5 speed. It was equipped with a towing package that allows it to pull up to 3,500 pounds. I noticed when towing a boat and trailer less than this weight that the clutch would smell burnt. I've towed the boat six or eight times since I've owned the 4-Runner. I asked the Toyota dealer to look at the clutch for the above complaint. He said the clutch was slipping and needed replacing to the tune or $675 (not covered by warranty). I declined to repair it now as I don't notice any problem unless I'm towing the boat. My questions are: 1) Even with the towing, should my clutch be going bad this soon? 2) How do you know when a clutch needs to be repaired? 3) Why isn't this covered by warranty? 4) And are Toyota clutches of lesser quality than other makes? I purchased the Toyota because it is supposedly very reliable and last a long time. Could my father be right about foreign cars?

RAY: The answers to your questions are: 1) yes, 2) when it slips, 3) because it's your fault, 4) no, and 5) no, your father is not right.

TOM: The towing is what ruined the clutch, Karen. The hardest thing a clutch has to do is get the vehicle going from a dead stop. And adding a couple of thousand pounds to the back of it makes that job infinitely harder. And not insignificantly, it makes each start (the time from when you start letting your foot off the clutch to when the clutch pedal is all the way out) take a lot longer. That's why we strongly recommend automatic transmissions for tow vehicles. They have fluid clutches that don't burn out under load.

RAY: And the way you know a clutch needs replacing is when it slips. If it's slipping really badly, you can even smell it. If it's not slipping during normal driving, then you can just keep driving it for now. It'll eventually start slipping when you're climbing hills or accelerating. But you won't do any further damage by waiting until it gets worse. The worse that will happen is you'll get stranded somewhere.

TOM: It's not covered by warranty because the clutch is considered a "wear item." That is, it wears out based on how it's used--or abused. If you hadn't towed the boat, it's possible you could have gotten 100,000 miles out of this clutch, so it's not really Toyota's fault.

RAY: And in our opinion, Toyota makes some of the best cars and trucks in the world, so their parts and materials are not of lesser quality than other manufacturers. In fact, they're probably better than most.

TOM: Which brings us to the final question. Is your father right about foreign cars? I would have to say no. I have to admit, this is pure speculation on my part, since I don't even know what he thinks about foreign cars, but I'm going to guess that he's wrong. Why? I'm a father and I've been wrong so many times myself! Just call it a father's intuition.

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