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My wife and I were driving across the country on...

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Dear Tom and Ray:



My wife and I were driving across the country on
a concert tour about five years ago in our 1986
VW Golf. Starting uphill at a traffic light, the
clutch made a whining sound while she released
the clutch pedal. When we got home, we brought
the car to the dealer, who said it needed a new
clutch. We decided instead to buy a new 1991
Golf for our long-distance trips.

I still drive the '86 around town and it still
whines when I start, especially on a hill. But
it's been years and the clutch doesn't seem any
worse. Should I get a new clutch? Should I
continue to drive carefully and hope to avoid
making this noise? Should I quit music and get a
job at a downtown bank and commute by public
transportation? Thanks for the advice. --
Michael

RAY: I don't think you need to quit music to
commute by public transportation, Michael. Just
start playing downtown. Claim a street corner,
open your guitar case, and see what happens. I
find that one of those signs that says "I'm
working my way through correspondence school"
helps tremendously.

TOM: Actually, I'm going to guess that the
original diagnosis was wrong, Mikey. If the
clutch had been slipping five years ago, it
certainly would have gotten worse by now. So I
don't think it's the clutch making that noise.
I'd look at the slip joint on the front exhaust
pipe.

RAY: A lot of front-wheel-drive cars have a
ball-and-socket joint where the front exhaust
pipe meets the exhaust manifold. And when you
really torque the engine -- like when you're
trying to start on a hill -- that joint flexes.
And it can certainly make a screeching sort of
noise.

TOM: And that problem would be made worse if you
have a loose or broken motor mount, which allows
the engine to shift around more than it's
supposed to.
RAY: To confirm our theory, I'd do the
definitive clutch-slipping test. First, check to
be sure the clutch pedal has an inch or two of
free play -- the pedal should move through the
first inch or two of travel with virtually no
effort. That'll tell you that the clutch is not
grossly out of adjustment.

TOM: Next, park the car in front of a large,
immovable object -- like a tree, or your mother
in law. Set the parking brake, put the
transmission in fifth gear, let out the clutch,
and give it a lot of gas. One of three things
will happen.

RAY: If the clutch is good, the car will stall.
In which case you can ask your mechanic to look
at the slip joint on the exhaust system, or some
other possible cause for the noise you hear.

TOM: If the clutch is slipping, the car will
continue to run after you let the clutch out. In
that case, the clutch IS in need of replacement.

RAY: The final possibility is that you smash
into the tree. That tells me that, in addition
to your other problem, your parking brake
doesn't work. Good luck, Michael.
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