Clutch Chatter Trouble Shooting on Older Fords

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A frequent complaint among owners of older manual transmission cars and trucks is the issue of clutch chatter. This annoying condition rears its ugly head when the driver attempts to engage the clutch from a full stop, in either first gear or reverse gear. It can be more obvious in one versus the other. Once the vehicle is moving, the issue is generally not noticed during higher speeds and shifting into the higher gears. This list of conditions may help you pinpoint the problem area in your vehicle. Sometimes the repair is fairly simple and inexpensive, and other symptoms are more difficult to make the necessary corrections. If it's a subtle condition in your car, you may decide to adjust your driving (clutch engagement) technique to minimize the chatter and let things go. If the chatter is shaking the entire car badly, you should try to fix the problem as the heavy vibrations can cause other damage to the vehicle over time. 

Firs t , always be sure t ha t you have t he clu t ch properly adjusted. Your clu t ch linkage has an adjus t able clevis t ha t allows you t o adjus t t he free play in t he clu t ch pedal. This means t ha t when adjus t ed properly, you have approxima t ely 1” t o 1˝” of pedal t ravel a t t he upper range (pedal up) before t he clu t ch begins t o press on t he pressure pla t e fingers (pedal moving down). By disconnec t ing t he clevis t o t he clu t ch release shaf t , you can ro t a t e i t t o leng t hen or shor t en t he linkage, t hen reconnec t t he clevis. This procedure is done from below t he car.

The following is a list of possible conditions that might affect the smooth action of the clutch. These are not listed in any particular order of importance.


1)    Worn out clutch pressure plate (loose or broken springs, warped friction plate, broken – bent – or out of adjustment fingers. REMEDY: replace pressure plate with a new or rebuilt . If the pressure plate is known to be recently new or replaced, and is the old style with small adjustable contact bolts on the three fingers, they must be adjusted to provide the same contact point with the clutch release bearing. This is usually done by the clutch manufacturer. Some pressure plate fingers have small adjusting bolts/screws at the finger ends. These are not for primary clutch adjustment, but are to assure that the fingers come into contact with the release bearing at the same moment.

2)    Loose pressure plate bol t s. The six bolts that hold the pressure plate to the flywheel should be tight (with lock washers) and torqued properly (17-20 f t /lbs). REMEDY: Tighten to spec.

3)    Worn out clutch disc. Particularly the possibility of broken/cracked marcel plate, or loose/broken springs. REMEDY: Replace with a new or rebuilt clutch disc.

4)    Worn or warped flywheel. If t he surface t ha t ma t es wi t h t he clu t ch disc is scored, or t he flywheel is warped, t he clu t ch disc will no t ma t e evenly wi t h t he flywheel. REMEDY: replace t he flywheel wi t h a new one (difficul t t o find), or have your flywheel (or ano t her available used one) resurfaced a t a machine shop. This will t rue up t he fric t ion surface again. Check t he used flywheel for fine cracks in t he fric t ion surface before spending money t o have i t resurfaced as t hey may become a problem again af t er a shor t t ime of use. Also, check the runout of the flywheel with a dial indicator. You should not see more than 0.005” of runout (meaured near the outer diameter of the flywheel).

5)    Worn, saggy, oil-impregna t ed mo t or moun t s. Af t er t ime, t he rubber moun t s become t oo sof t and allow t oo much la t eral movemen t . This would include bo t h t he fron t mo t or moun t s, and t he rear moun t which is bol t ed t o t he rear of your t ransmission. REMEDY:  If you have t he 1932-36 t ype rear suppor t , you have t he large round rubber ring which was vulcanized t o t he me t al suppor t on t he t rans. This t ype requires disconnec t ing t he t orque t ube cap, and unbol t ing t he rear suppor t & bearing re t ainer from t he back of t he t ransmission in order t o replace t he rubber componen t . If you have t he 1937-41 s t yle suppor t , your t rans is suppor t ed by t he same “donu t ” s t yle moun t s as t he fron t of t he engine. They are easily replaced by jacking up t he t rans sligh t ly, and unbol t ing t he donu t moun t s t o ins t all new ones. The 1942-48 rear suppor t uses a single saddle-shaped moun t (rubber bonded t o s t eel) t ha t again is easily removed when t he t rans is lif t ed sligh t ly wi t h a jack. The 1949-53 type rear supports are easily accessed under the trans tail housing under the support cross member.

6)    Any loose bol t s t ha t a t t ach t he t ransmission t o t he mo t or, or t he flywheel t o t he crankshaf t , or t he t rans t o a bell housing if so equipped, or t o t he t orque t ube. REMEDY: Tigh t en all bol t s. Replace lock washers wi t h new ones if needed.

7)    An t i-cha t t er rods. Ford ins t alled t hese t wo s t eel rods on mos t V8 cars and t rucks from 1933 t hrough 1941. Called radius rods, t hey carried Ford’s basic par t number 6044, and t hey were produced in t hree differen t versions (leng t hs). They were no t used wi t h 1942 or newer vehicles. The rods can help con t rol engine fron t - t o-rear movemen t , and are fi t t ed in t o “ears” on t he back of t he engine block, and bol t ed t o t he frame’s X rails. The forward ends were t hreaded wi t h fine t hread and used a cas t lella t ed nu t a t t he end. REMEDY: Check t he rods for t igh t ness. Adjus t t he nu t agains t t he engine block t o pu t some t ension on t he rod. I do no t have any specifica t ions for t his, so you will have t o use common sense on wha t you do. Over- t igh t ening t he nu t s will pu t some s t rain on t he cas t ing of t he engine block a t t he ears, and would pull t he mo t or backwards agains t t he fron t mo t or moun t s.

8)    Loose radius rod connec t ion for t he rear end, or loose rear spring moun t ing, or loose rear shock absorbers. Consider t ha t if t he rear end/axles were allowed t o shif t abou t , you could aggrava t e t he smoo t h opera t ion of t he clu t ch from t he na t ural t endencies of t he rear end t o t wis t and move when under load. REMEDY: Check all moun t ing poin t s for t he rear radius rods, t he spring U-bol t s, t he spring shackle bushings, and shock absorbers for loose hardware or worn bushings, and t igh t en as needed.

9)    Worn engine main bearings. If t he mains (par t icularly t he rear main wi t h i t s t hrus t surfaces) are worn, t he engine’s crankshaf t will have t oo much fron t - t o-rear movemen t , which will con t ribu t e t o clu t ch cha t t er. REMEDY: This can be an expensive repair obviously. The engine mus t be disassembled and t he main bearings replaced.

10) Looseness or damage in t he driveshaf t / t orque t ube (32-48 closed drive). This is difficul t t o spo t from any ex t ernal inspec t ion. Obviously, check all bol t ed connec t ions. A comple t e disassembly would provide a more comple t e pic t ure of problems here. This is more of a las t resor t in t he process of checking for clu t ch problems.

11)  Improper moun t ing be t ween t he t ransmission case and t he bell housing. REMEDY: Check moun t ing surface for burrs or dir t t ha t may preven t bo t h surfaces from con t inuous con t ac t a t all poin t s. A cracked gearbox fron t housing could also con t ribu t e t o misalignmen t .

12) Poor con t ac t surface where t he clu t ch release bearing hub rides on t he t ransmission fron t bearing re t ainer. REMEDY: Check bearing hub for excessive wear inside t he bore. Check t he re t ainer for wear on i t s ou t side diame t er (fron t t o rear). Replace ei t her par t if you find t ha t t he hub can wobble as i t moves back and for t h on t he re t ainer.

13) Ben t clu t ch release fork t ips. REMEDY: If t he fork t ips are no t aligned in t he same plane, replace t he fork wi t h a new one, or a good used one if available.

14) Worn pilo t bearing in t he flywheel. REMEDY: The bearing helps keep t he inpu t shaf t (which t he clu t ch disc rides on) aligned. If you have t he bushing t ype bearing (oili t e) i t may be badly worn inside. Replace wi t h a new bushing bearing or t he sealed ball bearing t ype. 

15) Worn pilot end on the front of the transmission input shaft (main drive gear). REMEDY: Replacement of this gear requires pulling the transmission and tearing it down to replace this gear. Normally, the pilot end may suffer a slight amount of wear that a new pilot bearing in the flywheel can compensate for, but occasionally the pilot is too worn and will allow the input shaft to move excessively during clutch engagement.


Don’ t forget that the chattering problem can be a sum of several problems, each of which is slightly off the original factory installation. Replacing/repairing one single component may reduce the chattering but not eliminate it if there is a problem elsewhere. Try to address all the possibilities.

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