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What Happens When Oil Gets on a Clutch Plate?

by Richard Rowe

Oil on your car's clutch can really ruin your day, especially when you consider that it may cause permanent damage. Unfortunately, oil, coolant or even rainwater can get into your clutch and ruin it beyond a simple drying out or burning off.


Oil on the clutch plate almost always comes from a rear main seal leak, but it could also come from a loose or leaking oil gallery plug or oil pan. While oil from other places may leak into the transmission bellhousing from other sources, odd are good that it won't be enough to penetrate the clutch disc.


Clutch slippage is the first and most obvious symptom, but your nose will tell the true tale. Burning clutch material has a particular smell, something like sulfur or rotting eggs. If you smell oil burning instead of clutch material, then the clutch disc has been contaminated.

Consequences and Solution

Oil doesn't just sit on the friction material surface; it soaks in and embeds into the material. Once that oil gets in there's no way to get it out short of soaking the clutch in boiling solvent or caustic lye, which would destroy the clutch. No matter what, you're looking at a clutch removal and replacement.

About the Author

Richard Rowe has been writing professionally since 2007, specializing in automotive topics. He has worked as a tractor-trailer driver and mechanic, a rigger at a fire engine factory and as a race-car driver and builder. Rowe studied engineering, philosophy and American literature at Central Florida Community College.

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