A clutch is a mechanism for transmitting rotation, which can be engaged and disengaged. Clutches are useful in devices that have two rotating shafts. In these devices, one shaft is typically driven by a motor or pulley, and the other shaft drives another device. In a drill, for instance, one shaft is driven by a motor, and the other drives a drill chuck. The clutch connects the two shafts so that they can either be locked together and spin at the same speed (engaged), or be decoupled and spin at different speeds(disengaged).
There are many different vehicle clutch designs but most are based on one or more friction discs, pressed tightly together or against a flywheel using springs. The friction material varies in composition depending on whether the clutch is dry or wet, and on other considerations. Friction discs once contained asbestos, but this has been largely eliminated. Clutches found in heavy duty applications such as trucks and competition cars use ceramic clutches that have a greatly increased friction coefficient; however, these have a "grabby" action and are unsuitable for road cars. The spring pressure is released when the clutch pedal is depressed thus either pushing or pulling the diaphragm of the pressure plate, depending on type, and the friction plate is released and allowed to rotate freely.
When engaging the clutch, the engine speed may need to be increased from idle, using the manual throttle, so that the engine does not stall (although in some cars, especially diesels, there is enough torque at idling speed that the car can move; this requires fine control of the clutch). However, raising the engine speed too high while engaging the clutch will cause excessive clutch plate wear. Engaging the clutch abruptly when the engine is turning at high speed causes a harsh, jerky start. This kind of start is necessary and desirable in drag racing and other competitions where speed is more of an issue than comfort.
In a car the clutch is operated by the left-most pedal using a hydraulic or cable connection from the pedal to the clutch mechanism. Even though the clutch may physically be located very close to the pedal, such remote means of actuation (or a multi-jointed linkage) are necessary to eliminate the effect of slight engine movement, engine mountings being flexible by design. With a rigid mechanical linkage, smooth engagement would be near-impossible, because engine movement inevitably occurs as the drive is "taken up." No pressure on the pedal means that the clutch plates are engaged (driving), while pressing the pedal disengages the clutch plates, allowing the driver to shift gears or coast.
A manual transmission contains cogs for selecting gears. These cogs have matching teeth, called dog teeth, which means that the rotation speeds of the two parts have a synchronizer, a device that uses frictional contact to bring the two parts to the same speed, and a locking mechanism called a blocker ring to prevent engagement of the teeth (full movement of the shift lever into gear) until the speeds are synchronized.
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