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A Chattering Toyota

Q. My wife has a 91 Toyota Camry four cylinder with a five speed standard transmission. The car has 131,000 miles on it and has been a great "commuter" vehicle. Just recently the clutch appears to "chatter" in reverse, first and second gear (only when it is cool, once warm the symptoms go away).

What do you think the problem is, and what is your recommendation. I'm a believer in these vehicles, but am not very impressed with their service departments.

Thanks.

A. One thing I like about Toyota owners is they love their cars. I have a very close friend who has a 1987 Toyota Camry and she just loves it. She has never driven anything but Toyotas her whole life. They are solid, well built cars that, with regular maintenance, will run forever. My personal favorite is Nissan. I have driven them for almost 20 years and they have never let me down. But now that gasoline is hitting anywhere from $1.76 - $2.00 a gallon, I'm starting to love my diesel Mercedes more every day. At $1.40 a gallon and 48 mpg, it's making me a happy man.

The main components involved here are the clutch master cylinder, clutch slave cylinder, flywheel, clutch disc, pressure plate and throwout bearing.

First thing to do is check the clutch master cylinder and see if it is full. It is usually mounted on the firewall just below or to one side of the brake master cylinder. Wipe the plastic reservoir and you will see some lines on it. The fluid must be at the max fill line. If it's not, fill it with fresh DOT 3 brake fluid. If it is abnormally low or empty, then chances are the clutch slave cylinder is leaking and needs to be replaced.

At 130,000 miles I'm willing to wager that it still has the original clutch in it. If this is the case, then the most likely problem is the clutch material has become hard and has no "give" anymore. All you can do in this case is replace it.

Another possibility is one of the springs inside the clutch disk is broken or missing. There are from four to six springs mounted around the inside center of the disc. These absorb the shock of clutch engagement and prevent judder or chatter. If this is the case, then you need to replace it.

One other possibility is that the mating faces on the flywheel, clutch disc and pressure plate are glazed. What this means is the surfaces are so polished from wear that instead of grabbing, they skip over each other causing the chatter. If this is the case, then the flywheel must be removed and turned on a lathe to renew the mating surface. Then the clutch disc and pressure plate must be well sanded with a medium grit emory cloth to remove the glaze.

There is no way to inspect these parts without removing the transmission. My recommendation is to take it in to a reputable shop and have the transmission removed and the components replaced. To do the job right you want to have the flywheel turned to remove the glazing and true up the face. You also want to replace the clutch disc, pressure plate and throwout bearing. Removing Camry transmissions are one of the more time consuming jobs to perform on this car so the job with parts and labor will run about $600.00.

I would also recommend replacing the clutch slave cylinder as well. Quite often an old slave cylinder will not be able to handle the new parts and will blow out in two or three weeks. It's not a guaranteed thing, but for an extra $20 or $25, it's good piece of mind.

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