Another Clutch Bites the Dust in Mark's Kia

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Apr 24, 2012

Dear Tom and Ray: I purchased a Kia Forte Koup in March of 2010. After receiving the car, it blew three clutches in an eight-month period. I have been driving a stick my entire life, and I know how to use a clutch. The problem with this car is that the clutch is not failing from shifting gears. When I get on the highway, black smoke comes billowing out of the front of the car, and it burns the clutch. Kia is clueless about the problem, and has refused to help me. Any guidance would be appreciated. Thanks. -- Mark


TOM: Clutches are one of those gray areas where the manufacturer always argues that it's the customer's fault, and the customer always says, "I know how to drive a stick shift, so it's not me!"

RAY: Kind of a "clutch said, foot said" situation.

TOM: We know that this car has a very touchy clutch, Mark. Lots of people have complained about it. Even car reviewers who tested the car when it first came out noted that the clutch was extremely finicky and caused them to stall the car often. And these were professional reviewers who drive lots of cars.

RAY: You probably should have read those reviews before buying this car, Mark, and gotten the automatic!

TOM: Well, that's clutch dust under the bridge now. But here's why it matters: What do drivers do when a clutch is touchy and difficult? They give the car more gas and let out the clutch more slowly. And that does what? It burns out the clutch!

RAY: Once the clutch starts to slip and burn up, it continues a death spiral on its own, which explains the black clutch smoke you're generating when you accelerate hard. That's the clutch slipping, heating up and burning. That's also your sign to prepare for your fourth clutch, Mark.

TOM: So it's possible that both parties are at fault here: Kia is at fault for introducing a car with a particularly difficult clutch, and you're at fault for riding the clutch to prevent it from stalling.

RAY: Or, it's possible that your particular Forte has a defect of some kind and you're completely innocent. That's almost impossible for us to adjudicate from the pages of the newspaper.

TOM: So I think you need to look beyond this dealer now, and try to move up the chain of command at Kia. Ask the dealer to put you in touch with the Kia zone representative for your area. That's the person who handles special cases on behalf of the manufacturer and has the authority to do a little more for you if he feels it's necessary or appropriate.

RAY: You can plead your case to him, and see what he says. Going through three clutches in eight months is highly unusual for an experienced stick-shift driver.

TOM: If I were the manufacturer, I'd replace the entire clutch system next time -- the clutch, the clutch cover, the throw-out bearing and the flywheel -- just in case something was damaged during manufacturing and is causing your clutches to adjust themselves into oblivion.

RAY: And then, after that, if you came back in a month for another new clutch, I'd close the dealership and not tell you where I was relocating to. Good luck, Mark. Make your case calmly and politely, and hope that Kia is feeling customer-service-oriented that day.

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