Why Is My ATV Clutch So Stiff? 

The clutch is a manual transmission component of your ATV that can willingly engage or disengage the transmission. Lately, your clutch has been running so stiff that you don’t know if your transmission is active or inactive. What is causing this issue?

Your ATV clutch may be stiff for these reasons:

  • Lack of lubrication
  • Old clutch plate
  • Wear and tear on the clutch cable
  • Damaged slave or master clutch cylinder (hydraulic clutches only)
  • Old pivot ball
  • Bad cross shaft

This guide will examine the causes of a stiff ATV clutch and what you can do to loosen yours. Even if your ATV is running in tip-top condition now, you won’t want to miss this article!

Check out our ATV Page to Learn More!

6 Reasons Your ATV Clutch Is Stiff and What to Do About It

ATV clutches are usually either manual or hydraulic but are also sometimes electric. Problems can occur no matter the type of clutch your vehicle uses, leading to the components’ stiffness and sometimes even failure.

Per the intro, let’s go over the six reasons your ATV clutch feels so stiff.

1. Lack of Lubrication

When was the last time you lubricated your ride? 

Is the answer never? Can you simply not remember? In both cases, it’s a long time since you grease up your vehicle.

Most ATV models will feature a grease fitting, also known as a zerk fitting, where you can send lubrication through. You’ll find this fitting near the U-joints at the end of each shaft. 

The lubrication will ensure all the cables and other moving parts of your ATV (of which there are many) are properly greased up and ready to go.

Be sure to use a grease gun full of multi-purpose moly grease. Apply only a shot or two of the grease once a month. 

Overlubricating the ATV can leave you with worse problems than a stiff clutch, including gunky components that are sluggish or even stop working altogether.

If the issue with your ATV clutch is anything more than minor, then greasing the vehicle will be like putting a Band-Aid on a broken arm. It doesn’t really solve the problem.   

2. Old Clutch Plate

So now, let’s look at some of the components of your ATV that could have malfunctioned or are actively malfunctioning and causing you the headaches you’re dealing with now. 

One such component is the clutch plate, which is also known as the clutch pressure plate or clutch disc plate.

The clutch plate is part of a system that works in conjunction with the flywheel and the clutch disc. 

A flywheel is a device that conserves rotational energy, whereas a clutch disc is the moving part of your ATV clutch. 

The clutch plate and related components are supposed to move whenever you use your clutch to engage the suspension or disengage it. 

This is what helps you stay at the desired speed when riding and shift gears as you wish.

The longer you own your ATV and the more miles it racks up, the greater the amount of wear and tear on the clutch plate. 

You might notice that riding your ATV sometimes produces this shaky sensation like you’re about to fall. If you want to shift gears, which you can do manually using the clutch, you could find that shifting feels sluggish and difficult. 

If the issue is indeed with your clutch plate, then you’re better off taking your ATV to your favorite mechanic and asking them to replace it. 

3. Wear and Tear on the Clutch Cable

In non-hydraulic clutch systems, the clutch uses a clutch cable. The cable allows your ATV to seamlessly shift from one gear to another. 

Most clutch cables are a part of your transmission system, so the cables can send data to the wheels and the engine. 

If the clutch cable is worn after years of use, you must apply more pressure to make it work. 

You can always replace a clutch cable yourself, but this is again a rather complex job that’s best left to a mechanic. 

4. Damaged Slave or Master Clutch Cylinder

What if your ATV uses a hydraulic clutch? In that case, then it’s a good idea to check the slave and master clutch cylinders. 

The clutch master cylinder and clutch slave cylinder work together. Whenever you disengage the ATV’s clutch, it’s due to both these cylinders. 

The master cylinder receives an influx of pressure. That pressure travels to the clutch slave cylinder and is used to send a rod into the clutch fork or lever. That disengages the clutch. 

Unfortunately, it only takes one of the two cylinders to stop working for your ATV clutch to suddenly run so much stiffer. 

That’s the first sign that something is wrong, but it won’t be the last. If you continue to use your ATV without addressing either the clutch master or clutch slave cylinders, then you might struggle to change gears. 

You can spend about $30 on a clutch cylinder repair kit to patch up one or both of these clutch cylinders if you’ve ascertained which of the two is damaged. 

Your mechanic might sell you such a kit, or you can possibly find one at an auto shop. Check online as well.

Another thing you can do before calling it quits on either of the two cylinders is bleed them of air. 

Most cylinders have a bleed valve for releasing the accumulation of air pressure. 

You’ll need to have a second person press on your ATV clutch pedal, applying as much pressure as possible. Now quickly open the bleeder valve with a wrench. 

Hydraulic fluid should begin to seep out. You should have a bucket close by to catch the fluid since you don’t want it all over your garage floor or your driveway. 

When you’re confident the cylinders are empty, tighten the bleeder valve screws again and ask your buddy to gradually let go of the clutch pedal, lessening the pressure.

If these measures don’t work, then you need a new slave and/or master clutch cylinder. You’re better off letting your ATV mechanic handle that replacement.

5. Old Pivot Ball

The pivot ball, despite the name, isn’t a ball at all. Rather, it looks like a small metal gear (the design can vary depending on ATV make and model).

The purpose of the pivot ball is to engage the bearing from the ATV clutch or disengage it as needed. 

As is the case with many parts of your ATV, long years of usage on the vehicle will cause the pivot ball to wear away. Your clutch feels stiffer than ever when this happens. 

Lubricating the pivot ball more regularly might be able to resist the stiffness, but that depends on just how much wear and tear the pivot ball has experienced.

Once it’s worn beyond a certain degree, your best option is to get a new one. 

6. Bad Cross Shaft

The last component that could cause your ATV clutch to be stiff is the cross shaft. 

This lever within the transmission sends the appropriate amount of pressure to the clutch release bearing. The pressure is dictated by how hard you push on the clutch pedal. 

Due to its placement in the transmission, once the cross shaft goes, the transmission’s performance can as well. You’ll also have a stiff clutch, so the problem is twofold. 

You’d have no choice but to get the cross shaft replaced so your ATV runs better. 

Other Signs That You Need to Replace Your ATV Clutch

Even if your ATV’s clutch isn’t stiff per se, that doesn’t mean that it’s running perfectly. If you’re experiencing the following issues, you must bring your vehicle to a mechanic, stat. More than likely, you’ll need to replace the clutch.

You Feel a Drag When You Ride

Whenever you engage or disengage the clutch, it feels sluggish, jerky, or even a bit bumpy. This points back to a problem with the clutch plates and possibly the clutch basket.

The clutch basket is a diecast aluminum component that engages with the clutch plate. The basket can develop notches along the edges contributing to that dragging feeling.

Upgrading to a new clutch basket isn’t enough. You need one made of a more durable material that’s less likely to get notched.

You Smell Something Horrible

Ugh, what is that smell? It’s unlike anything that’s ever come out of your ATV before. It almost smells like something is burning.

That’s because it is! The friction plates of your ATV’s clutch can burn; when they do, it smells like acrid, burning metal. 

Since they’re metal, the friction plates may be intact, but they’ll be black or have streaks of dark color that indicate they’ve been burnt. 

If the damage is so severe that your clutch plates have become warped as well, then you’ll have no choice but to spring for a brand-new clutch.

Final Thoughts

A stiff ATV clutch makes enjoying your time on this vehicle difficult. Now that you know the myriad of malfunctions that could cause clutch stiffness, you can get the issue addressed so you can once again ride smoothly! 

Geoff Southworth

I am a California native and I enjoy all the outdoors has to offer. My latest adventures have been taking the family camping, hiking and surfing.

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