This weekend I finally changed the clutch in my Saturn.  It had been slipping noticeably and I estimated only a couple of weeks until it would be completely gone.  I wanted to change it myself, and I wanted to do it on my own schedule.  The time had come.  This should have been a 12 hour job for someone like me.  Of course I ran into a problem that turned it into a 20+ hour job, but I got it done and it works!

There is plenty of good information on the Internet about changing a clutch on a Saturn S-series car, and I looked at a lot of it.  I want to throw my ideas onto the pile in case it may help some other idiot wanna-be mechanic like myself.  If anything I probably did not search enough, I found some helpful info online after struggling for hours with a part what was broken but I did not know it.  In my original search I quickly found the excellent how-to by Cris Thomas, which I printed and used for most of the job.  You can see it, along with my useless Haynes manual, in the cotter pin photo below.  There were several things that Chris blew right by that would have saved me a little time and a trip to the hardware store, so below are a few more things you need to know, and of course my witty observations about them. Please note that my car is a 2002 Saturn SL2 with around 168,000 miles, so the following tips may or may not apply to your year or model Saturn.

First of all, if you attempt this in a parking lot or in a driveway you are nuts, especially if it isn’t perfectly level.  Maybe a car-port that is smoothly paved would be acceptable if it’s not too hot, cold, or wet outside. I have an enclosed garage so this wasn’t an issue, but it was still a PITA spending so much time under the car on the pavement.  I highly recommend a creeper for this job.  I’m going to get one now, I’m only 38 but I’m getting too old to be sliding around on concrete for two days.  If you have any kind of back or neck trouble this is a must.

Need 15mm long socket here!
Need 15mm long socket here!
15mm long socket in use
15mm long socket in use

#1 – Chris covers the need for the long 30mm socket, but you need a 15mm long socket also.  I only had short 1/2″ drive sockets except for a few that I had bought for other repair jobs. You can get these almost anywhere, I got mine at the Ace Hardware near my house when I couldn’t get the top bellhousing bolts without it.  You will also need a 13mm 1/2″ drive socket if you plan to actually torque the two bottom bellhousing bolts properly, but it should be a short socket with an extension because the exhaust is in the way if you try to use a long socket.  My local Advance Auto Parts did have the 30mm socket in stock for $10.99, but the store I went to was the “local warehouse” for my area so they usually have plenty of everything they carry in stock. If you go to an Advance and they don’t have it, get them to check their computer for any other stores in your area that may have it, or they can get it next-day.  While you are there, get a 24″ 1/2″ drive “breaker bar” if you don’t already have one.  Trust me, you will wonder how you got by without one.  I use mine all the time now, pop a 19mm long socket on and it is great for breaking loose the lug nuts when rotating tires or doing brake jobs.

18mm box wrench won't fit
18mm box wrench won't fit

18mm open end fits
18mm open end fits

Make sure you have the 18mm open-end wrench also. If you have the combo wrenches like mine you have it.  You might be able to do this with an adjustable wrench but it was easy with the 18mm open wrench because it is a tight fit.  Check my photos for proof why you need the open-end…

#2 – Consider getting a second jack if you don’t have an engine support. I have a standard floor jack but also have an old bottle jack that worked great with a couple of scrap pieces of wood to support the engine under the oil pan.  This let me use my floor jack to help support the transmission while lining things up putting it back on the engine. Bottle jacks are cheap, you don’t need a fancy one. You don’t really need it at all but it comes in handy if you are doing this job solo.  I already had one so I used it.

Old and new cotter pins
Old and new cotter pins

#3 – While you are at the store getting the sockets, bottle jack, and creeper, go ahead and get 2 cotter pins. Chris just said “medium” but you know how that goes.  Here is exactly the size you need:  1/8″ by 1″ long. And don’t do like I did and think you can just re-use them if you are careful taking them out.  This was way harder than it should have been, they were not soft like copper pins.  I spent over 5 minutes trying to get one of them out and it was basically toast by the time I was done.  I bought two galvanized steel ones for 17 cents each at Ace, or I could have splurged and gotten aluminum for a few cents more. Judging by the look and feel I think the factory ones are steel, so it was probably a safe bet to stay with the steel replacements. Here’s a photo of the old and new pins…

Speed sensor is the blue plug
Speed sensor is the blue plug

#4 – Where in the Wide World of Sports is the engine temperature sensor and speed sensor?  Chris mentions disconnecting these early on, but I did not find them until much later.  The temperature sensor is on the end of the head, in the hollowed area just below the valve cover. Unless you have X-ray vision you will only find the speed sensor from under the car.  It is below the shifter cable mounts, just above the trans drain plug and where the mid-shaft goes into the transmission. It is easy to reach though, and you can wait to disconnect it until you take the mid-shaft out.  And remember that all these sensor connector plugs have little plastic retaining tabs that you have to lift with your finger to get them off.  They have sharp edges. Take my advice and wear some Mechanix type work gloves while removing them, or you may have a nice piece of your #1 finger sliced off before you even get started good. This makes the rest of the job a total PITA because the tip of your pointer finger hurts like hell.

This is the most I could get the mid-shaft in before removing it
This is the most I could get the mid-shaft in before removing it

#5 – Speaking of the mid-shaft, Chris notes there is some debate about removing it.  Here are my thoughts: if you are a professional mechanic you might be able to pull this off. If you aren’t and are able to do it then please e-mail me six random numbers because I sure need to hit the lottery.  I actually was able to get the transmission off without removing the mid-shaft, but when I was putting the transmission back on I had a hard enough time getting the input shaft in and the bellhousing back on the pegs without worrying about the mid-shaft. I actually got the mid-shaft started back into the trans mission but I could not get the last 1/2 inch to go in.  I finally gave up and backed the transmission off and un-bolted the mid-shaft mount so I could move it out of the way and get the transmission on.  This worked but now I actually had to remove the passenger side driveshaft and mid-shaft anyway just to be able to put the mid-shaft in properly. Trust me, by this point in the process the last thing you want to have to do is remove another ball-joint and driveshaft, so go ahead and do it when you do the driver-side.  I probably spent more time messing with it than if I had removed it to start with.  Besides, after you do the driver side shaft the passenger side is a piece of cake, and having done both you will be able to change either one quickly if you need to.

#6 – This is a big one that cost me 8 hours of frustration and extra work.  As soon as you tighten the bellhousing up with the new clutch installed, try to put in your slave cylinder RIGHT NOW!  DO NOT WAIT UNTIL LATER. There is no reason not to put it in now and if you wait until later and have a problem you will have to take the whole damn thing apart again.  If you have installed your fork or release bearing wrong you may not figure it out until later either if you don’t try it NOW!  And remove the cap from the clutch fluid reservoir before you try to put it in.  Put the slave cylinder in and mash the clutch pedal a few times right now to make sure everything seems to operate freely and properly BEFORE you start putting it all back together and then have to take it back apart.  It turned out that my slave cylinder was bad also, but not in the usual way.  When I took it out the rod popped out and no matter what I did I could not get it to compress back in at all.  According to everything I have read you should be able to mash it in far enough to get the plastic tabs to catch. Mine was about 1.5 inches out and would NOT go in at all even after banging on it with a hammer. Since this was my first clutch job I didn’t know any better and kept trying to force the slave into the transmission with a pry-bar, but I couldn’t get it within 3/4″ of locking.  So then I backed the bellhousing out about an inch and still could not get it to go all the way in. After literally trying for several hours to get it in I gave up and went to the Internet to look for help.  I quickly found that I should be able to get the rod pushed in.  Considering the mileage of my car (about 168K) and that I have suspected iffy hydraulics for some time (it would occasionally “creep” with the clutch in) I now knew that my slave cylinder must be bad.  This turned out to be another few hours to remove the master/slave assembly and try to find one locally on a Sunday afternoon.  Advance was the only place that had it, but not the set just the slave.  Uh-Oh.  I looked at their slave and it was the exact same brand as my factory unit with the exact part numbers cast into it, and attached with the same retaining pin.  It was $65 so I got it because I really needed the car to be running that night, although I would have preferred to have spent the extra $35 and got whole set and have it all pre-bled for only $100. Luckily it was fairly easy to push out the retaining pin and put the new slave on the existing lines, then bleed it using the procedure found here.  I don’t think I did a very good job bleeding it because I could still hear bubbles in the damper unit, but it works so I can’t complain too much yet.  I still had a hard time getting the new slave installed in the transmission but not because it wouldn’t go in. I just could not get it to turn.  After trying for a while it  seemed like the circular seal was preventing it from going in enough, so I took the seal off and it went right in perfectly.  I put the seal back on and could not get it turned, so I pulled the seal back over the lip, put it in, then took a screwdriver and carefully pried the lip of the seal back over the lip on the slave until it was in place. Perfect!

So to sum it all up, it was both easier and harder than I expected.  If I had not had problems with the slave cylinder and had removed the mid-shaft when recommended I would have been done in around 12 hours without any real frustration.  If I would have known to test the slave by mashing it I would have saved at least 4 hours right there.  My actual clutch and pressure plate did not look bad at all compared to photos I have seen online. It was completely dry and had a reasonable amount of material left.  I’m thinking that my real problem was the slave cylinder not compressing/releasing properly which was allowing the clutch to slip and wear prematurely.  If I would have replaced the master and slave immediately when I noticed the “creeping” my clutch may have lasted well past 200K miles.  My new clutch grabs immediately when lifting from the floor. It still feels a little spongy so I’m going to try to bleed it again but considering the 168K hard stop and go traffic miles I could probably use a new master cylinder also.

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