Most Common ATV Clutch Problems (and how to fix them)

Do you find it difficult to shift gears on your ATV? Or are you getting a burning smell every time you use the clutch? If your answer is yes to both questions, it means that you are dealing with a bad ATV clutch. A malfunctioning clutch can prevent the ATV from moving. This is why fixing it is a top priority.

The most common bad ATV clutch symptoms are difficulty in shifting gears, slipping clutch, burning smell, grinding noise when shifting gears, and an overall lack of power. If you are dealing with any of these issues (or multiple), then your ATV clutch is clearly not working well.

While some ATV clutch problems can be fixed from the comfort of your own garage, most of them require you to visit a professional to get them fixed or replaced. Today I will show you how to handle all ATV clutch issues and what to do when you encounter them. Stick around for the final part because I will also go into detail on how to prevent ATV clutch malfunctions.

How to Diagnose ATV Clutch Problems?

ATV clutch lever being pressed down

Most people don’t realize that they are using a bad ATV clutch until it’s too late and the four-wheeler can’t be moved anymore. Therefore, it’s important to learn how to tell when your ATV clutch is bad (even if you are using an ATV wet clutch). This way, you will be able to stop and fix the issue ASAP. I have already presented the most common clutch problems you will encounter on a quad. Now, I will go into more detail. Let’s jump straight into it.

#1 Difficulty in Shifting Gears

The most common issue that ATV riders encounter when it comes to clutch problems is difficulty in shifting gears. If you are dealing with this issue, the first thing you need to do is check out the clutch cable. In general, the clutch cable is stretched or worn, and this causes it to not engage fully. Therefore, making it more difficult to shift gears. The fix for this problem is to replace the clutch cable. If you do this and the cable still doesn’t engage properly, then it means that you also need to check the clutch plates or springs. In this case, I highly recommend contacting a professional.

#2 Slipping Clutch

Having a slipping clutch is one of the scariest experiences on a four-wheeler. It will make you feel like you don’t have complete control over the ATV. When this happens, it indicates that there are problems with the clutch plates or springs. From my experience, this is caused by worn parts. So if your ATV has a couple of years (or you bought it second-hand), you know who the culprits are. Once again, the professionals are best suited to handle replacements like this.

#3 Burning Smell

A bad ATV clutch can cause a burning smell when it’s overheated. This usually happens when the ATV is put in the wrong gear or ridden too aggressively. My advice to everyone who feels a burning odor from their ATV clutch is to stop riding and give it enough time to cool down. Make sure that you also don’t ride the ATV too aggressively in the low gears.

#4 Grinding Noise

If you hear a grinding noise when shifting gears, chances are that you are dealing with a worn or damaged clutch plate or bearing. This is a serious issue, and it’s best to get it fixed as soon as possible. In fact, this is one of the most common Chinese ATV clutch problems. Whether the clutch plate or bearing needs fixing or replacing, you will require help from a professional.

#5 Lack of Power

Even though most people will think that the clutch is the last thing to look at when they feel a lack of power in the ATV, this isn’t very wise. The clutch plays an important role, and if the four-wheeler runs slower than usual, you might have a worn or slipping clutch. This is a serious problem, and you should have it checked out by a professional mechanic. The mechanic will also be able to tell if there are other issues, such as the engine, that are causing the ATV to lose power.

These are the top 5 most common ATV problems. While some might seem more problematic than others, they all let you know that you need to either fix or replace parts of your clutch. The best advice I can share with all ATV enthusiasts (both new and veteran) is to visit a mechanic’s shop when dealing with this sort of issue.

What Destroys Your Clutch? (and how to avoid it)

man riding a yellow yamaha 700R in the forest

ATV maintenance can be time-consuming and expensive. There is no doubt about that. I even wrote a guide about ATV maintenance that shows everything you must do to keep the four-wheeler in check. However, ATV clutch problems can be prevented. In fact, it’s not even that difficult. You just have to know what destroys your clutch and how to avoid it.

  • Riding in the Wrong Gear

Learning the proper way to shift gears is essential if you want to ride ATVs and not deal with clutch problems every week. Riding in a higher gear will put unnecessary strain on the clutch and cause it to wear out more quicker than it should.

  • Stalling the Engine

Stalling the engine is one of the most annoying things that beginners deal with. Mastering the clutch is essential to keep the engine from stalling and putting extra strain on the ATV. If you feel engine stalling is a big problem, then you should consider checking out automatic ATVs. There are some really great models out there.

  • Riding Aggressively

While it might feel cool to rev the engine and do wheelies, this will put the most strain on the ATV clutch. It’s okay to ride harder when going on challenging trails such as muddy roads where you need all the power you can get from your ATV, but you shouldn’t do it daily.

  • Overloading the ATV

This might come as a surprise to some of you, but overloading the ATV can cause issues with the clutch. Carrying too much weight will put additional strain on the clutch and therefore, make it wear out quicker. If you like hauling equipment for your outdoor activities, you should get an ATV for camping.

Maintenance Guide for Your ATV Clutch

The clutch is an integral component of your ATV, responsible for transferring power from the engine to the transmission and subsequently to the wheels. A well-maintained clutch ensures your ATV operates smoothly, giving you precise control over your vehicle, especially during shifts. As with any mechanical component, the clutch is subject to wear and tear, and its lifespan can be greatly extended with regular and appropriate care. Here’s a maintenance guide to help you keep your ATV’s clutch in optimal condition:

  • Regular Inspection: Check the clutch for any signs of damage or excessive wear at regular intervals. If you notice it’s getting hard to shift or there’s a noticeable slip when accelerating, it might be time for a more detailed inspection or replacement.
  • Adjust the Clutch Cable: The clutch cable’s tension can either make your rides smooth or turn them into a nightmare. Ensure it’s neither too tight nor too loose. Adjusting it periodically ensures smooth operation and reduces wear on the clutch plates.
  • Replace Worn Out Parts: Components such as clutch plates, springs, and the clutch cable itself can wear out over time. Depending on your riding style and conditions, consider replacing these parts every couple of years or as needed.
  • Use the Right Oil: The type of oil you use can impact the clutch’s performance. Always use the recommended grade and type of oil. Avoid oils with “friction modifiers” as they can cause the clutch to slip.
  • Avoid Unnecessary Clutch Use: Riding techniques matter. Try not to ride the clutch or keep it engaged when not necessary. This can cause unnecessary wear.
  • Keep It Clean: Dirt, debris, and old oil can hamper the clutch’s performance. When changing the oil or working on your ATV, take the opportunity to clean around the clutch area.
  • Stay Updated with Service Intervals: Refer to your ATV’s owner manual for specific maintenance intervals and recommendations. Adhering to these schedules will keep your clutch in top shape for years.

Bob Kelly

Hey there, my name is Bob and I've been riding ATVs, dirt bikes, and UTVs for most of my life. Going on outdoor adventures has always been my passion. I love sharing tips and tricks with beginners who are getting ready to join the world of outdoor enthusiasts. You can reach me at if you want to get in touch.

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