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No sympathy for people who drive junk.

Dear Tom and Ray:

There is a problem with my 1986 Renault Alliance that my mechanic can't seem to fix. Just recently, and only occasionally, when I depress the clutch pedal to shift gears, I'll hear a sharp cracking noise. Then it will be hard to shift. But if I gently raise and lower the clutch pedal, it will shift normally again. The mechanic drove the car several times and, of course, it did not act up for him (very much like going to the doctor's office and having all your symptoms disappear). Can you offer any suggestions?

RAY: My first suggestion is to go to your local Renault dealer, Frances. I think the closest one is in Versailles, right outside of Paris.

TOM: That was a low blow by my brother, wasn't it Frances? The guy has no sympathy for people who drive junk, you know what I mean? All you really have to do is find a Jeep/Eagle dealer. They should have the parts you need.

RAY: And what you need is the "self-adjusting mechanism" for the clutch. It's a little ratchet that's made of very high quality cheap plastic. It sits right underneath the pedal, and adjusts the clutch cable automatically as the clutch wears down. Your ratchet is slipping occasionally (that's the cracking noise you hear). When you let the clutch out slowly and push it back in, you give the ratchet a chance to "catch" again, and it works fine.

TOM: If you're lucky, that's all you'll need, and it'll cost you about fifty bucks. But there's a chance that the self-adjuster is slipping because the clutch is completely worn out. And in this car, the cost of replacing the clutch is about the same as a trip to Versailles. So if that turns out to be the case, I'd take the trip. Good luck, Frances.
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