New clutch after only 68 miles -- a new world record?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | May 01, 2004

Dear Tom and Ray:

Hi, guys. I just bought a cool new 2004 five-speed turbo VW Bug convertible. I bought it last Wednesday. Happy birthday to me. Saturday, I took my daughter out to teach her how to drive a stick. After 45 minutes of driving around a parking lot, she seemed to have the hang of it. We started out of the parking lot, and smoke started pouring out, along with a terrible smell. Yes, the clutch was gone. Monday morning, it went back to the dealer on a flatbed truck. It had 68 miles on it. Is it likely that there was an existing problem, or could this have burned the clutch out? I learned to drive stick on a Bug 35 years ago. It took me hours to learn how to shift. I can't believe this would be so touchy. What do you think? -- Marj

RAY: This might be a new record, Marj! A new clutch in 68 miles. That's truly impressive.

TOM: It's possible that there was some kind of defect in the automatic adjuster, or that some knucklehead kid who delivered the car to the dealership drove it like Jim Rockford before you ever got it. But given your story, I'd say it's much more likely that your daughter simply "lunched" the clutch, as we say in the business.

RAY: I know it's hard to believe that she killed it in such a short time. But under the right set of circumstances, it can happen.

TOM: Many, many years ago, I loaned my car to a neighbor, who shall remain nameless. Anyway, Judy apparently had trouble driving a stick shift without bucking and stalling, and so she compensated by using a tremendous amount of gas each time she had to let out the clutch. When she got back, after 30 miles of driving, she proudly proclaimed, "I didn't stall it once!" And sure enough, the clutch was done for. So it certainly can be accomplished.

RAY: You can think of a clutch like the bottom of your sneaker. If you just wear your sneakers normally, they'll last you for months. But if you were to shuffle around everywhere you went and drag the bottoms on the sidewalk with every step (the equivalent of riding the clutch), you'd be lucky to get a week out of them.

TOM: If the dealer is real nice and has mercy on you, he might give you some partial credit toward a new clutch, Marj. But he's under no obligation to, as the clutch is considered a "wear item" under the warranty. That is, it's a friction item that's designed to wear out in order to do its job, and the speed at which it wears out is substantially under the control of the driver.

RAY: But this makes us curious. Is 68 miles, in fact, the record? Has anyone else out there burned through a new clutch in less than 68 miles? Drop us a note. The winner gets a bouquet of flowers from the ACLU -- the American Clutch Lunchers Union.

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