Fly Wheels, Clutch Plates and Friction

In a car's clutch, a flywheel connects to the engine, and a clutch plate connects to the transmission. You can see what this looks like in the figure below.

Exploded view of a clutch

When your foot is off the pedal, the springs push the pressure plate against the clutch disc, which in turn presses against the flywheel. This locks the engine to the transmission input shaft, causing them to spin at the same speed.

The amount of force the clutch can hold depends on the friction between the clutch plate and the flywheel, and how much force the spring puts on the pressure plate. The friction force in the clutch works just like the blocks described in the friction section of How Brakes Work, except that the spring presses on the clutch plate instead of weight pressing the block into the ground.

How a clutch engages and releasesĀ­

When the clutch pedal is pressed, a cable or hydraulic piston pushes on the release fork, which presses the throw-out bearing against the middle of the diaphragm spring. As the middle of the diaphragm spring is pushed in, a series of pins near the outside of the spring causes the spring to pull the pressure plate away from the clutch disc (see below). This releases the clutch from the spinning engine.

Clutch plate

Photo courtesy Carolina Mustang

Note the springs in the clutch plate. These springs help to isolate the transmission from the shock of the clutch engaging.

This design usually works pretty well, but it does have a few drawbacks. We'll look at common clutch problems and other uses for clutches in the following sections.