So you are out in your Jeep and you are set to go. The engine is running and you press the clutch to put ’er in First gear, but all you get is grinding. Try as you may, you can’t get your Jeep into gear no matter how many times you pump the clutch. The truth is that this almost never happens without some forewarning—a slipping clutch as you drive down the road, spongy clutch pedal, or maybe some grinding while shifting. Either way, something is now very wrong with your clutch. The truth is that it can be caused by major clutch component failure, but it could be something simpler than that. What do you do? Well, this time in “What Now?” we will talk about a few things to check, a few things to try, and if those don’t improve things, we have a few tricks that might, just might, get you home.
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Many Jeeps from the ’80s and newer have hydraulically operated clutch linkage. If this system has a leak or even trapped air it can fail, leaving you clutchless. First, check the fluid in the clutch master cylinder reservoir. If it’s low or empty, you’ve found your problem. Check for a leak, and if you find one, use something to plug it or at least slow the flow. Now you have to add fluid and bleed the system to get all the trapped air out.
If your Jeep is older, it may have mechanical linkage comprised of links, a chain, cables, or some combination of these to connect the clutch to the clutch pedal. In this case, your first step should be to get underneath and check to see if something has broken or may have popped loose. If you find something, it may be as simple as popping a part back in place…or as difficult as replacing a broken cable with a shoe string.
If your clutch simply can’t be actuated, you can start the Jeep in First gear. You may have to bypass a clutch safety switch to get the engine to turn over in gear. In some TJs, this is as easy as pulling a fuse in other Jeeps you have to dig into the wiring near the clutch pedal and unplug a quick-connect plug and on some Jeeps insert a small supplied jumper wire (shown for a later-model XJ). Once you are moving, shift without the clutch by matching engine rpms. You’ll grind some gears, but you’ll be getting closer to home. When you have to stop, pop the tranny in Neutral and use the brakes. Then restart in First gear to get going again. If you suffer a complete loss of friction material or broken pressure plate components, you’ll have to somehow shove stuff (like sticks or pieces of a beverage can) between the pressure plate and flywheel to get enough friction to get home.