VW Polo clutch / gearbox problem

2 Aug 2008
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United Kingdom
I have a problem with either the clutch or gearbox on a 1998 (S) VW Polo 1.6 GL. The car has done about 90,000 miles although only about 30,000 on this engine. Car has FSH so I know the clutch and gearbox are original.

There is no problem when the car is cold but after it's been run for a few miles the gears crunch when selecting reverse and the stick seems stiffer when selecting forward gears although these don't crunch. After the car has been parked for a while again the problem disappears.

I realise the problems of accurately diagnosing a fault online, but from the description, is it more likely to be the gearbox - or the clutch?

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If the gears select well enough with the engine switched off, the clutch is certainly to blame in this case....what happens is, the diaphragm spring 'fingers' dont lose their springiness all at the same time - hence the crunch and awkwardness selecting gear.
John :)
Thanks burnerman. The gears select no problem with the engine off.

I'd actually just been out having a look at it. I traced the clutch cable from the pedal through the firewall and discovered a cone shaped object with fins midway along the clutch cable casing which should have been clipped into a plastic housing attached to the firewall (any idea what this is?). For some reason it had slipped out of this clip and reduced the tension in the cable so I guess the clutch wasn't engaging fully.

I've clipped this back in and it's definitely improved - the pedal feels more positive and most gear changes are easier. However, it's still stiff changing into first - and still crunches slightly when selecting reverse, but it's been doing that for while anyway.

My best (uninformed) guess is that the clutch is still not engaging fully so I'm wondering whether it's worth adjusting the clutch cable or whether it needs a visit to the expensive private doctors at the Volkswagen Infirmary for a new clutch?

Any thoughts?
OK . . . I've tightened the clutch cable a small amount and . . . problem solved. All the gears select easily, the pedal feels right and even the long-standing crunch when selecting reverse has gone :D

I guess I may need a new clutch cable in the not too distant future though.

Thanks for your post burnerman.
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That sounds good, and I do hope you've sorted it!
The clutch cable does need a nice smooth route from the pedal to the gearbox to work ideally - I'm not really sure what the cone shaped object is, unless its a grommet to protect the cable as it protrudes through the bulkhead or something. Cables may be finned to keep them away from the hot exhaust, too.
Anyway, so long as the cable has some free play and the gears engage well, lets not worry about it - a new clutch cable could be a good move at some time.
Nice one mate!
John :)
I've driven the car a couple of times now and everything feels correct. No slip or anything. I assume there is a danger in overtightening the cable where the clutch would always be partially disengaged?

Cone shaped object isn't a grommet. I found a pic of the entire clutch cable assembly:


The cone shaped finned object is bottom left. Still curious to know exactly what this is . . .

EDIT: I'm guessing this part has 3 functions. It's a spacer to stop the cable sleeve from rubbing on the bulkhead and it's clipped to help with tension and keep a nice smooth cable arc to the clutch arm.
There must always be clearance in the clutch cable adjustment, so that the clutch release bearing isn't in constant contact with the pressure plate - you can determine this either at the end of the clutch operating arm (Pull the arm against the direction that the cable would pull it) or at the pedal itself (if you can lift the pedal up with your foot all should be ok).
As for that cone thing...well, its anyones guess but I think its just a spacer of sorts to prevent the cable being trapped somewhere.
John :)
Just an update on this one.....I've just had a 1.0 Polo dropped off (R plate) and the clutch cable seems to be the same as yours. The cone shaped thing is clipped onto a Terry clip type bracket on the bulkhead behind the engine. I guess the funny shape is just to let air circulate and to stop the cable vibrating against the bodyshell.
John :)
Totally agree with your assessment of the cone shaped thingummyjig.

Unfortunately, this afternoon, after a couple of days driving with everything seeming fine, the gears went stiff again, reverse started crunching and the pedal felt spongey. I assumed the cable was stretching and close to breaking or maybe the lock nut on the cable adjustment wasn't tight and the adjustment nut had loosened. So, I adjusted the cable again, started the engine and the gears were fine. Yay :LOL:

So to the test-drive. Pulled off down the road, reached for 2nd gear and PING . . . clutch pedal is on the floor. Limped home assuming the cable had snapped to discover that the cable guide arm is no longer attached to the pedal box! :cry:

Apparently, it's a common fault on this Polo model. Not surprising when you discover there are only 2 spot welds and a 10mm butt weld holding this arm to the pedal box under high tension!

I'm doing a temporary fix and bolting it back on. I've clamped it in place and managed to get in there using some contortionist skills I learned at the circus and a right-angled drill with the bits cut down so they only just protrude from the chuck.

That should be enough to get through to the weekend when I'm going to take the entire pedal box out (pig of a job) get a mate to weld the arm back on at every possible contact point and I'm going to whack some extra bolts through it as well.

Only one little snag - I'm told that the only way to remove the plastic retainer on the brake pedal is to break it off and fit a new one when I put the pedal box back in. They're only about £5 but I can't find one and I don't know the correct name for this part.

Any idea what it's called Burnerman?
Well, it's back on.

Incredibly awkward and painful to drill it in situ, but I got 3x M8 bolts through it in a triangular layout and it's solid - only the tiniest amount of flex on the arm when the pedal is depressed. Have some mileage to do this afternoon so I'm taking some extra tools but am confident it will hold. It's definitely more solid than it's been for a long time. The creaking when the pedal is depressed has vanished.

Need to get a couple of cheap parts then I'll take the whole box out and get the arm welded and bolted.

Apparently you need to break the shear bolts to drop the steering column and replace them when you put it back, but it seems to me this can be done by simply removing the pin from the steering column adjustment.

Has anyone ever done it this way?

My clutch pedal ended up the floor a few days ago. I took the car to the garage and they (without looking at where the problem could lie) have stated that I need a new clutch and cable from the outset.

I've never had a problem with the clutch before, and although the car is 13 years old, it has only got 29,000 on the clock.

The problem suddenly appeared - as if something broke or fell off. There was no gradual deteriation in functioning. I did manage to look at the pedal, and then follow the cable through to the engine, and if I move the pedal, the cable at the engine side also moves.

Is it possible that both the cable and the clutch itself have given up at the same time?

I have been quoted £100 for the cable replacement, and another £200-£300 for the clutch replacement. If I need to have them both fixed, then so be it. But I'm concerned that the mechanics (a national chain) made up their minds before even looking at where the fault lay.

Any advise?
Initially I would suspect the cable...they don't always snap in two but rather 'destrand' which has similar effects.
Try pulling the clutch arm towards the front of the car and see what happens.
John :)
Thanks ch427 and Burnerman.

I'm afraid the car is at the garage just now, so I am unable to check the clutch arm.

But I did have a bit of a play-about before towing the car there; and the problem appears to be close to, or 'in'(?) the clutch - the pedal doesn't automatically spring back to its correct position, but can be pulled back using the cable.

Sounds like some sort of spring-mechanism failure near the clutch? But I don't know enough.

The mechanic stated that they replaced the cable (although he referred to it as the 'gear cable') and said that didn't fix the problem. I am seriously having a difficult time accepting their version of the problem. But like I say, I am a bit of a novice - haven't had a clutch problem in over ten years.

All advice appreciated - as I will be having a chat with the mechanic tomorrow morning.
An interesting one, if I'm understanding it correctly.....you say that the clutch pedal won't return on its own, but if you pull the clutch arm back, the pedal rises...thats about fair enough so I guess the problem is in the clutch itself - maybe a collapsed release bearing.
Please post back with the findings!
John :)
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