True manual transmissions are becoming the white rhino. More people choose to buy vehicles with automatic transmissions because they don’t like to row through gears while applying make-up, shaving, tending to children, or shoveling cheeseburgers into their mouths, all while using their mobile device of choice. Those of us who’ve opted for the manual transmission are enthusiasts, control freaks, or somebody who doesn’t want to pay $400 on top of the $25K sticker for the slush-box. We like having them because they’re fun more than anything. When it goes wrong, it sucks.
I recently crested the 100,000 mile mark on the Toyota a few months ago. I was ecstatic. The clutch, not as much and made it known with slippage. I won over by replacing it. What a chore. (If you don’t have a Toyota 2ZZ-GE engine, skip ahead…) I wanted to install a brand name clutch on the car to save a few bucks over a Toyota brand assembly (that doesn’t come as a kit…really). I opted for a SACHS kit as they make a ton of parts for a ton of cars. Its a German brand “surely its level of engineering is on a BMW level.” My car is a rare species so I wanted to find the exact application for my car. I turned to SACHS’s website and found it to be German too, as only an EADS engineer could navigate the damn thing. Through other means I found the part # and purchased my kit from a local auto parts store.
Now. One would think that replacing a clutch on a Toyota should be straight forward and easy. Well, it should have been. There were more obstacles than I had imagined and then came to to actually fit the new clutch. For starters, the original Toyota clutch looked extremely plain aside from the springs. The pressure plate as well. The flywheel surface was remarkably clean, but I cleaned the surface anyways. The SACHS clutch had more of a performance oriented looking contact surface. The pressure plate spring was different as well. The provided release bearing was the only thing that looked the exact same. I shrugged it off and began to install the parts. Anyone who has installed an aftermarket clutch knows they come with alignment tools. This was was no different except that this particular one was more of a chode. It had some slop and fits shallow thanks to my engine’s design. Aligning the clutch with a chode is almost hopeless. Ultimately I got it close enough and was able to re-install the trans-axle. That’s where the real problems began.
Everything all set in place, reinstalled, tested and primed. I go out on a test drive with the new clutch. All good actually…the pedal feels lighter than it did before but no biggie, the engagement is spot-on. I go on a second test drive and notice theres a slight shudder when letting off the clutch pedal. No biggie.. it’ll just go away when the clutch is more broken in. Fast forward two weeks. I’m on my way home from my friends place and downshift into 5th to ease onto a parkway and notice somethings a little off. I’m cruising at about 60mph and theres this sensation of harshness. I turn my music down and thats when I hear the whine. Turning the music down was a mistake! Okay, so its a little noisy and harsh in 5th above 60 mph… up-shift to 6th to cruise, or downshift to 4th and be about overtaking. Fast forward another week. I’m in a town center looking for a parking space when once again I mistakenly turn my music down. Upon doing so I hear release bearing squeal/chirp, and its not exactly quiet. Fuuuuuuuuuudge (“only I didn’t say Fudge”). That means the transmission is coming back out to fix that. Over a couple more weeks the transmission became less willing to shift and the vehicle more harsh to drive overall.
Le sigh, Time to pull the trans back out. I get angry when I have to do things like this all over again. I decided I would lash out at my wallet. Boy. did I. Punishment was doing things right with Toyota parts and having the trans rebuilt with new bearings and gears. I’m NOT buying a used transmission that could have been driven with a ham fist. That’s some other poor soul’s problem to inherit. I also decided to install brass shifter cable bushings as the original ones were probably about as used as a Bangkok whore. All of this came to a tune of just about $2,000. It could have been more but the trans shop gave me a shop discount. The Toyota parts where wholesale (and ultimately $30 more total than my SACHS kit). The transmission rebuilt parts where the bulk of the cost. Apparently I had ruined 4th and 5th gear, and trashed the bearings inside. My bad. I had the flywheel properly machined instead of just cleaning off the surface. Everything was done completely by the book. It took the trans shop a few days to order the parts and do the work. I had to drive a Saab 9-7x (Chevy Trailblazer) with a binding transfer case over that time. I could not have been more ready for the phone call telling me the trans was ready for pick-up. What a woeful drive-train that 9-7x has. Thats enough of that though.
After having put everything back together it was time for the test. The clutch felt light again but after having driven numerous times there was no shuddering or grinding. No whining or harsh drive-ability. On the highway going home it felt downright fresh. Like a new car. I was absolutely beside myself, thrilled that it felt so good again.
I initially didn’t think of all the time and money (and time) I sunk into the damn thing. Only when I looked at my bank account over the coming days did sink in. Then again, it occurred to me that this car hasn’t really given me any problems (knock on wood) and that at some point I probably would have had to spend a chunk of change on it. I wasn’t really upset about the money lost on the SACHS kit that didn’t work out so well because it was more of a lesson. If you’re going to do something that involved, make sure you do it right with good parts and double check the condition of things while they’re out. After having to do it twice I have what feels like a new car again. Why do it twice though when you can do it the first time?