Miata Clutch Replacement

by Dave Kasakitis - david.kasakitis@compaq.colm

I offer the following information regarding my experience in replacing the clutch in my '93 1.6L Miata (89k mi). I'm not going to give a complete 'how to' as there are several good repairs books on Miatas. (I used Rod's Miata Enthusiasts Repair Manual). Instead I hope there are a few hints here that will make the job easier for you AND ALSO give you information that allows you to better judge whether or not you'll even WANT to attack this job.

A clutch job, (new pressure plate, new clutch disc, new throw out bearing, and new pilot bearing) apparently costs somewhere between $500-$600. Replacement OEM parts cost about $170. (links off of Miata.net will get you a number of good suppliers). So if you do it yourself, you might save $300+. However, it will probably take your Mazda dealer or local shop less than a day to do this work. You might want to balance that with the experiences documented here and in the forum. After having accomplished this job I sat down to analyze it and decided that in order to do this job one needs the following:

  1. Time
  2. Team
  3. Tools
  4. Talent
  5. Tenacity

(Sorry for the "T's", but it just worked out that way).

Time - A clutch replacement job seems to take somewhere between 8-12 hours for the 'average' car owner. Shops, of course, can do it in much less time, but they have hydraulic lifts, power tools, and experience most of us just don't have. Once you do the job you'll be able to do it again in much less time, but that's what the learning curve is all about.

Although I didn't time myself, I'd say that my clutch job also took somewhere between 10 and 12 hours. My '93 is just a weekend car. I worked on it an hour or two after work every day or so. A business trip interrupted the repair, along with time sending back an incorrect part and receiving the correct one, so my car was 'down' for about three (3) weeks.

If your Miata is a daily driver (only car), I'd really think long a hard before I committed to this job. Murphy, as we all know, will certainly visit. (More on that later). Even if you think you can do the job in a weekend, make sure you are well prepared, having reviewed the job before you start. I used Rod's Miata Enthusiasts Repair Manual as my guidebook. This book jumped around a good bit, but covered the job. You might try a Hayes or Clinton, etc. manual, but read up on the job before you start.

Team - Like many of the people in this forum I did my clutch replacement by myself. However, I will say there were a few times when an extra set of hands would have certainly helped out. Also there's nothing like a helper, especially if the helper has been through a clutch job, a Miata clutch job!. I'm not saying don't do the job unless you have a helper, but having one would have certainly made my efforts easier, safer, and faster.

Tools - You're going to need a good set of hand tools to do this job and I do mean good as in brand name, life time replacement tools. You'll need the following:

For your sockets you'll need to make sure that you have 6 point sockets, at least for the 17mm bolts. Trust me on this, twelve point sockets, even good ones can round off the bolts you'll have to unloosen. Why? Well although the shop manual says that transmission bolts are torqued to 58 ft/lbs, don't believe it!!! The bolts become rusted, corroded over time, and are initially put there by men named Moose and Tiny. You won't believe the amount of force necessary to loosen some of these bolts. I wound up using my feet pushed against the frame rails of the car whilst pulling with two hands on my breaker bar to free some bolts. It's a flipping work out!

Anyway, use 6 pt sockets, there's less chance of a round off. I rounded off the very 1st 14mm exhaust bolt I tried to unloosen (with a 12 point socket). Then I spent 1 hour filing down the rounded corners with a miniature file. All of this was done from underneath the car, reaching up into a space a chimpanzee would have difficulty getting into. Once I got the bolt's corner dressed up I took great care ensuring the sockets were squarely placed upon the bolt heads. The bolts, despite an overnight AND liberal soaking with penetrating oil, were very hard to loosen. Breaking them loose yielded metallic screams of agony from the fasteners who were finally free of their prison.

* hint - use 6 point sockets. If you have or can borrow a set of 6 point impact sockets then all the better!

You will also need to configure some combinations of extensions and swivel (universal). If your ratchet and / or swivel are worn you won't be able to loosen some bolts that are tucked tightly away. You'll find it's so tight all around the transmission tunnel that your ratchet may only have 15 or 20 degrees to swing through. If your tools are a bit worn then you'll wind up using the available space taking up slack in the tool 'train'. I lost 2 hours, stopping the job to get cleaned up and running over to Sears to pick up a new 1/2" drive universal (and 6 point socket).

I let my tranny drain the night before I started the disassembly process (and let the penetrating oil soak the various bolts). I didn't cover over the end of the tail shaft and didn't have a drop of oil leak on the garage floor. To keep the oil in the shift turret from spilling (after the shifter was removed), I did the following:

Take off the exhaust system (per Rod's instruction) as a complete exhaust system. I was a bit unsure about this, but it worked out most excellently.

The last thing that comes to mind concerns the jack stands. Although I thought I had my car up sufficiently high, I wound up taking it up higher, three times. I did a bit of work, decided the car wasn't high enough and jacked it up further. Did more work and decided it still wasn't high enough. And then during re-assembly I took I higher still. You'll need plenty of space to work from.

I've spent plenty of time underneath cars but I'm still spooked when I get under one. Make sure you are safe.

Talent - Replacing the Miata's clutch isn't a complex job, but I found it time consuming and just plain hard work. If you haven't tackled a job like this, make sure you are well prepared. Get a repair manual (Rod's Miata Enthusiasts or Hayes, etc.) read it ahead of time and study the pictures and diagrams. Most of the stuff you need to take off or get out of the way is pretty self-evident. Just go slowly, look carefully and think about what needs to be taken off (especially the various wires attached to the transmission!).

Tenacity - Like I said, the clutch replacement on the Miata isn't complex but I found it to be very physically demanding. Space is tight to work in (duhhh). Bolts are frozen. You'll probably be on your back, straining to look about, etc. You'll be switching sockets or extensions, etc. trying to find the right combination that will work for a particular bolt, etc. You'll need to some stamina and stick to it-ness. You'll also need the correct parts. This is the last area that caught me and cost me time.

My pressure plate, clutch disc, throw out and pilot bearing were all correct, but the clutch pilot tool (also known as a clutch alignment tool) was NOT. When I reached the point to start putting the clutch in, after dressing the flywheel with emery cloth, I found the clutch pilot tool was the wrong tool. I couldn't center the disc in the pressure plate and didn't want to try 'eyeing' it up. Make sure you have the right replacement parts.

I'm assuming most people understand that if you do a clutch job you should replace all clutch components. It's too costly and time consuming to cut corners and have to go 'back in' a few months later to replace something like a throw out bearing or pilot bearing that might cost 15 bucks.

  1. The clutch disc fits properly onto the splines of the transmission's input shaft. It has to fit without binding or jangling around. Unless you are changing to a different clutch configuration, it must be the same size as the one being replaced.
  2. The throw out bearing fits properly on the nose of the input shaft housing. Again it has to fit without binding or jangling around.
  3. match the pressure place up to the old one (unless you are changing to a different clutch configuration).
  4. Do replace the pilot bearing, making sure it matches exactly.

(Pilot bearing replacement) - You can replace the pilot bearing in one of two manners. 1. Purchase (as I did) a tool to reach in and pull the bearing out. I purchased a hydraulic lifter remover tool. The auto store I went to did not have a pilot bearing puller, so I improvised with the lifter remover tool. It was the right size for the bearing. This tool is pushed into the bearing's opening, expanded to catch the inside edge, and then uses a weighted slide to pull/pound the bearing out. 2. If you don't want to purchase this improvise tool OR the actual tool, you can remove the flywheel and just drift the bearing out. (I didn't want to take my flywheel off).

If you do take your flywheel off you might seriously consider having the flywheel professionally surfaced, especially if it's pitted or has deep blue heat streaks.

Summary - A Miata clutch replacement isn't a complex job, but I found it rather hard. (Actually harder than the American V8 clutch jobs I've done from time to time). I was surprised at the amount of 'stuff' you had to disassemble just to get to the tranny! Anyone with some good mechanical experience working on cars, with the proper tools and guidebook can certainly do the job. At times I was a bit frustrated at the puzzles I had to solve and several set backs. But now I'm pretty darn satisfied that I've accomplished something worthwhile and have done a good, high quality job. I took the car for a test drive and just couldn't believe the difference. The inner smile of satisfaction from tackling a job like this goes right to your very being. It's a good feeling and the Miata couldn't be happier with its new components!

If you decide to do this job, good luck and enjoy! If you decide you'd rather not do this job, well, at least you made an informed decision. Sometimes it's not a question of being or not being able to do a job, it's just a choice of whether or not you'd RATHER do that job! Balance the $300 or so savings against your time, team, tools, etc. and you'll be making an informed decision.

Comments from Ray:

Boy, I wish I read your article on replacing the clutch before starting this project. I learned a lot but I will only do it once and never again! One thing you might want to add is if you use air tools to remove 17 mm bolts you will find the job far far easier. It will also dramatically reduce the chance of rounding out the bolts. In fact, I would not ever let anyone attempt this job without the air tools, and I think that if you rented, or even spent some of the $300 dollars saved you would been loving life. Pneumatic tools are the BEST, just don't let your neighbors know you have them.

Back to the Garage

21 February 2001