On The Road

The lost art of the clutch adjustment

As December ended, I was doing my best to manage the shop, my family and my life. I had been thinking about all the complex problems we solved in 2017 and was trying to pick one to write about.

As I sat contemplating what I was going to write about, a longtime customer walked through the door and asked me if I could take a look at his clutch pedal.

A week earlier, the customer had brought in his 1990 Nissan pickup because the clutch pedal was going all the way to the floor and would not come up.

We checked to see if there was a leak from the clutch master cylinder or slave cylinder, but there were no external leaks. We then bled the clutch system (master cylinder, slave cylinder and clutch damper) to see if there was air in the system. There was a small amount of air in the system, but after bleeding it out, the clutch was still malfunctioning.

We then surmised that the seals in the master cylinder and slave cylinder were worn and should be replaced. We replaced both components and bled and adjusted the pedal. This solved the problem, and we sent our customer on his way.

Old-fashioned solution

A few days later my customer stopped in and said the pedal was working but did not feel like it did before. Before he was done talking, I already knew how to solve his problem. I have a tremendously capable staff, yet I knew this was a job for me. These days I mostly only work on cars with the aid of a computer, but every once in a while we encounter a situation that needs my “ancient” experience.

Twenty-five years ago, we adjusted valves, points, spark plugs, brakes, belts, clutches, etc. I wouldn’t say that we have stopped adjusting components on cars completely, but the modernization of automotive components has greatly decreased the need for manual adjustment.

As I walked to my tool box to grab a 15-mm wrench, I visualized myself performing the adjustment. I opened the driver door and placed my body on the floor of the car, close to the foot pedals. I found the clutch master cylinder adjustment rod and loosened the lock nut. I adjusted the rod until it was just touching the pedal and the end of the clutch master cylinder piston.

I then backed the adjustment rod off 1 mm. I made sure there was 1 inch of free play (an inch of free movement in the pedal before the clutch would engage) and test-drove the car. I had the customer get in the car and feel the pedal. He then exclaimed, “That’s how it used to feel.”

The clutch pedal felt perfect during the test-drive – and I only moved the adjustment rod approximately 2 mm. Final (or settling in) adjustments are more about feel than instructions.

The experience made me reflect on my early days in the business, when it was common for a customer to return after a few days for a final adjustment.

Matt Pataky owns Sunnyvale Foreign Car Service, 15 Pioneer Way, Mountain View. Contact him at 960-6988, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or via sunnyvaleforeigncar.com.

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