How ATV Clutches Work: Common Issues and Fixes | Hunt or Shred

Driving an ATV and getting the best performance without a functioning clutch is impossible. We’ll review how it works, some common issues, and the best fixes.

An ATV clutch uses stability and balance to transfer the power generated from the engine to the transmission. The crankshaft is linked to the clutch, so when the engine runs, it will spin and cause the clutch to engage it. An ATV has a multi-plate clutch, centrifugal clutch, or sheave clutch.

The ATV clutch is responsible for engaging and disengaging the engine from the transmission, allowing the rider to control the speed of the ATV. We’ll explain how it works, common issues, and common fixes below.

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How ATV Clutches Work: Common Issues and Fixes

ATVs are great for off-road adventures but rely heavily on the clutch system to change gears and transfer power to the wheels.

As with any mechanical system, ATV clutches can develop issues over time. Here's an overview of how ATV clutches work and some common problems you might encounter.

The clutch is a system of components that transfer power from the engine to the transmission. The main parts of an ATV clutch are the clutch plates, springs, and baskets.

The clutch plates are engaged when the engine runs and are pressed tightly together. This allows the engine to transfer power to the transmission, which rotates the wheels.

When you pull in the clutch lever, the clutch plates disengage, separating them from each other. This disengages the engine from the transmission, allowing you to shift gears without grinding or stalling the engine.

Types Of ATV Clutches

There are three types of ATV clutches, and each function differently. This includes the multi-plate clutch, centrifugal clutch, and sheave clutch.

Multi-Plate Clutch

A multi-plate clutch is the standard option used in most vehicles. It transfers power from the engine to the transmission. Multi-plate clutches are commonly used on high-performance ATVs too.

When the clutch is engaged, the friction material on the plates is squeezed between the metal plates, which causes the plates to lock together and transfer power from the engine to the transmission.

Multi-plate clutches can handle more power than single-plate clutches because they have more surface area for the friction material to grab onto. This allows the clutch to transfer more power without slipping or wearing out as quickly.

Centrifugal Clutch

A centrifugal clutch is a simple clutch that relies on centrifugal force to engage the clutch plates. This clutch will spin the crankshaft as the drive shaft moves. It also has an outer clutch drum.

As the engine speed increases, weights inside the clutch move outward, forcing the clutch plates together and engaging the clutch. The weights move inward when the engine speed decreases, allowing the clutch plates to disengage.

Sheave Clutch

Instead of using gears to change the ratio between the engine and the wheels, a sheave ATV clutch uses two conical pulleys, also known as sheaves, that can change their diameter to change the gear ratio.

As the engine speed increases, the sheaves move closer together, causing the belt to ride higher on the sheave and creating a higher gear ratio. This clutch type is often used with a CVT because it generates reliable power and runs at higher RPMs.

Most Common ATV Clutch Issues

Several issues can arise with an ATV clutch system. Here are some common problems we notice when dealing with an ATV clutch.


A slipping clutch is a common problem in ATVs. This occurs when the clutch plates fail to engage correctly, which can cause a loss of power and slower acceleration.

One possible fix is replacing the clutch plates with new ones, or you might need to adjust the clutch cable to ensure the plates engage correctly. But if the clutch is completely worn down, it requires a new clutch.

This is because the teeth will have no grip. Without these teeth, there is no way for the clutch to engage, and it will continue to slip until it’s replaced.

Hard Shifting

If you're having trouble shifting gears or the gears are grinding, it could be a problem with the clutch basket. Over time, the basket can wear down or develop grooves, making it difficult to shift gears.

This can happen for various reasons beyond just the clutch. If the idle is set too high, it will hard shift because the clutch engages too soon. It can also mean the clutch is dirty or the spring is losing strength.


If the clutch lever is sticking or is difficult to pull, it could be a problem with the clutch cable. The cable might need to be lubricated or adjusted to improve the feel of the clutch lever.

The cable cannot push and pull correctly when there is insufficient tension. This leads to a leak and a loss of pressure. This sticky feeling with the clutch lever is the result.

Loud Noises

If you hear a rattling or grinding noise when you engage the clutch, it could be a problem with the clutch springs or basket. The springs might need to be replaced, or the basket might need to be adjusted or replaced.

Hearing loud noises from the clutch area is common too. It’s not always a sign of something serious, but more times than not, a new clutch is needed.

Not Engaging

The first place to look when the clutch is not engaging is around the pressure plate area. Check to see if the plates are clamping down at all.

If not, let's try to rotate the plates back into position. This indicates the teeth are worn and not capable of engaging. However, a replacement is probably the only solution if they are clamping but not engaging.

Burning Smell

If you notice a burning smell coming from the clutch area, it could be a problem with the clutch plates. The plates might be overheating or slipping, which can cause a burning smell.

The burning smell is a signal something is seriously wrong with the ATV. This happens because of worn-out piston rings or a damaged cylinder wall. And when the clutch slips, it can lead to this type of damage.

Most Common ATV Clutch Fixes

A clutch is critical for adequately operating an all-terrain vehicle. Knowing how it works and how to identify common problems can help you keep your ATV running smoothly.

By performing regular maintenance and addressing issues promptly, you can avoid costly repairs and keep your ATV running for years. These are some of the common fixes that work best.

Check For Gear Slippage

If the gear is slipping, the first place to look is at the plates. Identifying the problem as gear slippage is critical to fix the issue too.

If teeth are missing, replacing everything is best rather than simply trying to fix it. This can be done by looking at the chain and sprockets. A worn chain will always need more help or a complete replacement to engage with precision.

Inspect The Clutch Cable

Next. We can look at the clutch cable. Any signs of damage can hinder the clutch’s ability to engage correctly or generate enough power to accelerate.

We recommend tightening or lubricating the cable regularly. If you notice any signs of damage, we can replace the cable.

Clean The Clutch

Try to clean the clutch by removing the clutch cover. This will typically require a socket wrench and may require the removal of other components, depending on the ATV model.

Once the plates are removed, use a cleaning solution specifically designed for cleaning clutch components to remove any dirt, debris, and oil that may have accumulated on the plates.

Inspect the components for wear and damage. If any parts show signs of wear, it may be necessary to replace them. Be sure to clean the plates thoroughly and allow them to dry completely before reassembling them.

Can You Fix An ATV Clutch Without Replacing It?

In some cases, it is possible to fix an ATV clutch without replacing it. The proper fix will depend on the specific problem with the clutch.

For example, when the clutch slips, there is still a chance it’s only a poorly aligned or misadjusted lever and cable. We can readjust it and see if that prevents further slipping.

If not, then we are likely required to replace it instead. A replacement is needed when the inner hub teeth have worn out too much. This prevents proper engagement between the clutch and the driveshaft.

How Long Does An ATV Clutch Last?

The lifespan of an ATV clutch can vary depending on several factors, such as the type of riding you do, the age of the ATV, and how well you maintain the clutch system.

Generally, an ATV clutch can last at least 10,000 miles, but it's not uncommon for it to last much longer or shorter than that range. We recommend regular clutch checks every 3-6 months to avoid a sudden failure.

If you regularly ride on rough terrain, tow heavy loads, or engage in other activities that strain the clutch, it will wear out faster. It's essential to watch for signs of a worn or failing clutch, such as slipping, hard shifting, or unusual noises.

By addressing these issues promptly and performing regular maintenance, you can help prolong the life of your ATV clutch.

How To Tell If An ATV Needs A New Clutch

Here are some signs indicating that an ATV needs a new clutch.

Loud Squeaking Noise

If you hear a loud grinding or rattling noise when you engage the clutch or shift gears, this may be a sign of worn clutch plates or other clutch components.

Clutch Lever Moves Unevenly

If you're having trouble shifting gears, especially when the engine runs, this may be a sign of a worn clutch. You may experience difficulty getting the ATV to shift into gear or notice it slipping out of gear.

The clutch lever will feel uneven when trying to shift. This can be a sign of a worn clutch or a clutch not appropriately adjusted.

Worn-Out Inner Hub Teeth

If the clutch doesn't engage at all, this may indicate that the clutch plates are worn down to the point that they can no longer engage properly.

The inner hub teeth can become too dull. This is the most severe issue and typically means replacing the entire clutch rather than a quick repair is the only viable solution.

Key Takeaways

  • The ATV clutch transfers power from the engine to the transmission. Without one, it becomes impossible to accelerate and generate any movement for the engine.
  • The exact functionality of an ATV clutch varies depending on the type. The three common types are the multi-plate clutch, centrifugal clutch, and sheave clutch.
  • Slipping, hard shifting, sticking, loud noises, disengagement, and a burning smell are all common ATV clutch issues.




41 years old. I'm a freelance writer that specializes in informational blog posts. All my articles are detail oriented and well researched. I'm a huge Arizona Cardinals fan!

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