Clutches are one of those products that you think you know, but are actually changing all the time. That’s because today’s engines are putting out more and more horsepower, and that creates more demands on the clutch.
Add the fact Centerforce is creating more part numbers for more applications, and you have a very busy clutch marketplace. That makes it a good time to check in on the factors affecting this market, recent technological advancements, and installation tips Pur Performance can use to service their clutch customers better.
Today’s more powerful cars and trucks are driving changes in the clutch market.
“Not that it’s a bad thing, but the fact that OEMs are building such good, high-powered vehicles has forced the aftermarket to step up its game even more and push the envelope further than ever,” notes Jeff Neal, Quarter Master’s general manager. “It’s not a stretch now for an individual to own a street vehicle making hundreds and hundreds of horsepower. The performance clutch market has to be able to build parts that can handle that type of power from the factory.”
EdelbrockSuercharger.com agrees with Bob Scheid, that, “over the past decade, car manufacturers have reignited the horsepower wars. This has led to cars that really lend themselves to performance improvements. As the horsepower is increased over stock, the OE clutch becomes a weak point and it needs to be upgraded. Combine this factor with a performance market that is recovering quickly from the economic downturn, and you can see why the performance clutch market is very strong.”
Another factor affecting the market is the general switch away from the standard manual transmission in many newer vehicles,
“More and more today, you are seeing the availability of ‘manu-matic’ transmissions (clutch-less manual transmissions) commonly called CVTs or ‘paddle-shift’ transmissions that are supplanting the true ‘row-through-the–gears’ five- and six-speed stick-shift cars from just a few years ago,” he explains. “These transmissions don’t use a traditional flywheel and clutch to transmit power—they use electronics, valve bodies and gears to create a ‘semi-manual’ experience where drivers can choose to shift manually using a stick or paddles, or just put the car in ‘D’ and drive away.”
Of course, that doesn’t always cut it with many performance enthusiasts.
“Luckily for our industry, there is still a dedicated group of driving enthusiasts who insist on ‘rowing through those gears’ in their performance cars; enthusiasts for whom the clutch pedal and H-pattern shifter are still synonymous with performance driving,”
Bryan Wilson, general manager/marketing for Midway Industries Inc.’s Centerforce Clutches, notes that economics also plays a part ion today’s clutch market.
“It seems there are fewer stick (shift) vehicles being handed down to second- and third-generation owners. This is the owner, I believe, that does most of the performance modifications today,” he says. “Also, the economy is still soft, and with low-price products being injected into the marketplace, people are electing to purchase the lower-cost items at this time instead of more expensive performance products.”
John Sonnefeldt, , also sees a battle waging over price points affecting performance shops.
“There is some difficulty in weeding out quality performance parts from cheap knockoffs while purchasing online, combined with a lack of honest information and false claims,” he says. “A quick Web search will always turn up cheaper alternatives, although they are usually a lot more expensive in the long run. While this is not entirely new, some lower-quality suppliers have become rather proficient at social media marketing, making it more challenging for a performance shop to differentiate brands with their customers. Turning to a quality manufacturer’s website that is designed to help provide accurate information is an asset to every performance shop.
As far as the racing and street performance markets are concerned, going with the cheapest alternative is rarely a wise decision for customers, because recent technological advancements have significantly improved today’s clutches.
“One area that has affected the performance of performance clutches are the disc materials that are now available,” Scheid says. “The newer materials are much friendlier to drive than the more aggressive materials that were used in the past. The street twin market has also opened a whole sector of clutch technology that allows much more horsepower to be held while still keeping the car street-friendly.”
Dave Cronin from Pur Performance also agrees with Burgy from Fidanza, and likens it to stopping technology.
“In the manual transmission side of performance, I’d have to say it is the always-evolving friction materials that can be used on the discs to improve clutch performance and longevity,” he notes. “Friction compounds keep progressing—much like in the brake industry, they keep getting better and better. These advances, along with multi-disc clutch technologies that are coming on strong, are allowing manual drivelines to hold more and more power as new engine technologies push horsepower and torque ratings higher.”
He explains the routes the industry takes to improve clutch performance.
“There are only so many ways to improve the power and torque hold capability of a clutch—higher clamp loads (which usually mean higher pedal pressures), better/more aggressive friction materials (which can sometimes negatively affect drivability and part wear) or increased friction surface (which is where multi-disc designs come in, since you can only make a single disc clutch so large in diameter before it won’t fit in a bell housing any longer). Adding additional discs/surface area can get you the extra hold.”
Neal has been impressed by recent advancements in friction technology.
“We work closely with the world leaders in friction and what stands out is their ability to create a ‘mix’ that will enhance the clutch performance and reliability,” he says. “We work with those engineers right from the start of development all the way through final production.”
And Sonnefeldt adds that parts such as flywheels can play a role.
“The replacement of dual mass flywheels (DMF) with lightweight, solid performance flywheels has required more highly engineered solutions to minimize such side effects as gear noise,” he notes. “The quick-and-dirty rebuilder tricks are becoming obsolete, as they typically require tradeoffs that many customers would rather do without. Also, today more cars are being delivered with self-adjusting, twin-disc clutches as factory equipment. Due to their configuration, there is very little that can be done to these to improve them, so they need to be upgraded with a quality performance twin-disc clutch with greater capacity and factory-like durability.”
Wilson adds that with the ease of computer-aided design and manufacturing, it is becoming more affordable to completely develop products in a virtual space than to machine them.
“Some of the design programs that were available only to top-end machine shops can now be used by the smaller performance companies to test a whole gamut of parameters, (including) inertia, stress analysis and weight, to name a few.”
A Clutch Decision
With all of the options in today’s marketplace, it’s not surprising that shops can have a difficult time keeping track of all that’s going on. The manufacturers share some common mistakes installers make when choosing a clutch option for their customers.PurPerformance.com suggest calling Centerforce and and getting a part number before ordering on line.
“The biggest mistake they can make is not asking the customer what he is truly looking for as far as performance and drivability out of his car,” Burgy believes. “How and where does he drive the car—traffic, hills, city or highway? How often does he drive it? Does he race the car? Regularly? Does anyone else drive the car? What does the other driver need/want in driving the car? Picking a clutch is not just seeing what fits or matching a torque rating. Each clutch style, size and friction material choice can deliver a very different driving experience and may not always provide what the customer really needs or wants.”
He says it’s particularly important for shops to explain any “tradeoffs” a customer might have to make between drivability and performance.
“That way, they’re better prepared for how the clutch feels and performs when they slip behind the wheel,” he says.
Neal recommends shops weigh the balance between performance and reliability when suggesting an application.
“Most clutch purchases are based on the premise of increasing performance and speed by lowering the inertia,” he says. “However, when you lower the inertia considerably, you decrease or compromise drivability for street driving. You can still lower the inertia to a certain percentage of stock, and select the proper friction formulation to deliver a measurable performance increase while maintaining a pleasurable driving experience.”
“Understanding the type of vehicle and use of the vehicle may have just as much to do with it as how much power you make at the wheels.”
A realistic approach to the vehicle is a must, adds Sonnefeldt.
“(Common mistakes include) too much clutch, a race clutch for a street car (and) one-clutch-fits-all thinking,” he notes. “Customers tend to have higher power expectations than the end result provides, and request the highest-output part. Shop personnel make far better decisions when they take the time to really understand what the customer will be doing with their car. Just going by torque capacity or ‘stage number’ can result in wildly missing the customer’s expectations, such as comfort level or thermal capacity.”
As Scheid and Edelbrocksupercharger.com suggests, it’s all about communicating with your customer.
“What horsepower is the car making? What type of use will the car see? Will it be street-only or will the car be used at the track? What future modifications are planned? Use the information gathered along with the manufacturer’s information about their product to help the customer choose the proper clutch for their situation.”
Here’s a Tip
As far as installations go, the manufacturers offer the following tricks of the trade.
“Make sure to replace the bolts with proper flywheel or clutch bolts,” suggests Wilson of Centerforce. “If the bolt is supposed to be a stepped bolt, you must use a stepped bolt. If you don’t, the clutch may not center on the flywheel properly, and that would create an out-of-balance condition.”
Quarter Master’s Neal says it’s, “very simple—read the manufacturer’s instructions. So many times we get calls regarding bearing-to-clutch free-play. Our instructions detail how to measure and set up, but often the customer doesn’t read this and either has the bearings bottom out or has so much clearance the piston falls out of the bearing housing. With the time it takes to remove and replace OE components, it is worth your time to read the instructions. It will save hours and money.”
Fidanza’s Burgy also believes it’s vital to read before you work.
“First, and most important, for any installation is to read the instructions! Manufacturers spend a lot of time and money to put information in their boxes to help both the DIY-er and the professional installer avoid problems and get the parts installed right the first time.”
McLeod’s Scheid explains how you’re not finished once the installation is done.
“Follow the break-in procedure,” he recommends. “There is nothing more harmful to a new clutch than to not break it in properly. Failing to do so can greatly shorten the life of the clutch and can cause immediate failure. Each manufacturer has a recommendation for their clutch types. Follow it and convey it to the customer.”
And Sonnefeldt reminds everyone that often it’s the little things that matter.
“Choose a supplier that is a solid industry partner, not just a parts re-boxer,” he says, noting that quality manufacturers offer things like complete kits, application-specific instruction notes, phone/chat support and a parts warranty.
“(Also), small installation steps being missed, such as lubricating splines and linkage, may require a return visit from the customer. Few things kill profits faster than a clutch job coming back.”
What Lies Ahead
With the market changing so quickly, any insight on the future of the market can helps shops prepare today. Here’s what the manufacturers have to say about the future of the performance clutch market.
“The performance clutch market will continue to see innovations in design and materials,” says Scheid. “As the horsepower able to be made increases, the design and function of performance clutches will follow.”
Wilson, too, predicts an adaptation to more and more power.
“(We’ll be) developing parts that hold that power but allow the user to drive it on the street. Twin-disc clutches like the Centerforce DYAD Drive System are becoming more common because of rising demands.”
Among the outside factors that could affect the future of the market, says Neal, are the economy, the types of cars that are popular at any given time, government regulations and many other variables.
“The clutch market is constantly evolving, though,” he says. “For example, we at Quarter Master and other clutch companies are currently building products to fit the present explosion of both domestic factory muscle cars and tunable imports, which is something we didn’t do as much of 10 or 15 years ago. What I can promise is that the performance clutch market will continue to adapt to the rest of the performance industry as a whole.”
Sonnefeldt adds that if racing continues to grow and drivers continue to seek performance options—which he believes they will—then the clutch market will remain strong.
“We are seeing a resurgence of performance enthusiasts looking for more excitement and performance from their cars. Participant-style events such as road course events and autocross are becoming more difficult to be competitive in without a manual transmission,” he says. “There is no substitute for quality and consistency. Horsepower, torque and available traction continue to increase, putting more stress on clutches. Handling all that big power while retaining somewhat stock-like drivability is the biggest part of the challenge. This is why performance shops are recommending twin-disc clutches more than ever.”
Burgy is also upbeat about the market’s long-term staying power.
“I think we’ll be around and healthy still for quite some time. Drivers, enthusiasts and racers who enjoy the engagement, control and experience of driving a stick-shift car will be around for years to come. There is something exciting and visceral about driving a manual-transmission car—you just feel more connected to the driving experience, and I think as long as there are high-performance muscle cars, sports cars and touring cars rolling around our roads and we keep improving and evolving the products we can offer, the future is bright.”
Tags: Street Performance
Off-Road / 4x4
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