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Saab Clutch Service
Bob Larson, ImportCar, November 1996
Modern Saabs, especially those made since 1979, are quite durable and with few exceptions are easy to maintain for the properly equipped service shop. Clutch components live a long time when these cars are operated with the same intelligence owners exhibited when they selected their Saab in the first place. Truthfully, 192,506 miles on a Saab is possible. Often, the customer may not even notice that the clutch rivets are digging into the flywheel because the hydraulic system requires no adjustment and will continue working until the friction surface starts to disintegrate. How are we to know when to advise service or replacement? See the maintenance and diagnosis tips later in this story.

Careful evaluation and diagnosis prior to spending customer dollars will go a long way toward positive customer relations and appropriate repairs. As with many aspects of Saab design, the initial mystery soon gives way to intelligent engineering and reasonable repairability. Saab built airplanes before it built cars and the company knows the value of maintenance, safety and durability.

Originally, Saab intended its cars to be serviced on a schedule of routine maintenance that would allow trouble-free operation for hundreds of thousands of miles. At 100,000 miles, or so, it seems as though the automaker intended for the owner to spend a little extra money to do some major renewing of various parts and a few major components, like the clutch system.

On early model Saabs, it was necessary to remove the engine and transmission in order to gain access to the clutch parts. While the engine was out of the vehicle, the hoses, water pump, radiator, motor mounts, timing gears, clutch slave, master cylinders and a few other critical parts could be serviced, lubricated or renewed to ensure that the next 100,000 miles would be as trouble free as the first.

Saab customers are normally aware of the maintenance needs their cars have and will be receptive to the suggestions you give them to prolong the service life of their vehicle. The education and financial standing of these customers is usually well above average and they know the value of taking care of their car.

Keeping up with your customers' need for clutch system maintenance will give you the opportunity to watch for transmission and driveline problems before they become expensive. Deserved or not, Saabs have a reputation for having high-priced transmission failures.

The following maintenance and diagnostic tips should help you keep your 1979 and newer Saab customer happy and away from the tow truck.


Keep plush carpets out from under foot so the clutch lever moves freely.
Remember to bleed hydraulic fluid at major service intervals (30,000 miles).
Inspect clutch pedal pivot at each major maintenance interval to be sure the pin has not stretched the hole in the arm.
We recommend changing the transmission oil at every 30,000-mile maintenance service, and recommend Redline MTL for regular and/or high mileage drivers.


Listen for gear noise when going into reverse (Crunch!). Also, watch for a pedal that engages high off the floor. This indicates wear.

With a high-engaging pedal you could also experience slipping. Often no slipping will occur until the clutch disc rivets are scoring the flywheel. You may also experience slave cylinder failure because of the extra stress and longer travel needed to disengage the clutch.

Be sure to test drive every Saab you service and listen for a driveline humming sound beginning in the fourth and fifth gears on the highway. This could be the beginning of transmission bearings wearing out and no amount of clutch work is likely to make it go away.

Again, we recommend changing the transmission oil at every 30,000-mile service interval. This is also a good interval to check the CV joints and driveline.

Since Saab clutches are hydraulic you may find air in the line. The clutch may work in warm weather and not disengage in cool temperatures. Try bleeding the system if function is erratic. Complete hydraulic failure is possible as well. Check for low fluid in the brake fluid reservoir. A line could have broken, or the slave cylinder or the clutch master may have failed.

The slave cylinder is replaced with the other clutch components as part of the clutch renewal. We recommend replacing the clutch master with a new unit only if it has failed. Bleeding the system at the 30,000-mile maintenance interval pays off in keeping the master healthy.

After concluding that the clutch is suspect, you can do some further digging in order to confirm your diagnosis. This consists of removing some hoses and plumbing (on turbo-equipped cars), or just popping out the inspection slot cover on the upper right side of the plastic shield covering the clutch/flywheel assembly. Inspect the position of the plastic ring on the slave cylinder.

If the distance between the front edge of the plastic sleeve and the front edge of the turned surface is less than 2mm, Saab recommends replacing the clutch disc.


Remove hood with washer hoses disconnected.
Remove turbo inlet and outlet hoses.
Remove throttle housing inlet hose.
Remove turbo bypass valve with hose to valve body.
Free positive battery cable from transmission case.
Free wiring harness from clutch cover.
Remove black plastic clutch cover.
Have a helper press the clutch pedal down while you install spacer ring into pressure plate.
Remove input shaft cover and take out the star wheel (or propeller), which serves to throw oil on to the bearing. Put 8mm bolt into end of shaft and pry out shaft. Push shaft back toward radiator.
Remove three bolts holding slave cylinder to transmission case. Separate hydraulic line from slave.
Remove six 8mm bolts holding pressure plate to flywheel. Take out the slave cylinder and pressure plate at the same time.
Remove flywheel and have it machined. Remove pilot bearing.
While waiting for the flywheel, replace main engine seal and input shaft seals.
When remounting flywheel be sure to put sealant on bolts. Be sure to use a mild threadlocker, not an RTV. Remember to put pilot bearing in the flywheel.
Transfer spacer ring to new pressure plate and grease disc splines.
Mount pressure plate and disc to flywheel.
Place slave cylinder assembly (slave, boot and bearing) into system as a unit. It will only fit into place from top right of the case (as you face the car). You may have to move the flywheel a small amount to fit the slave assembly into place. Replace three bolts to the transmission case. With new slave units, replace Allen bolts with regular metric head bolts.
Set input shaft back into pilot bearing in flywheel. As the shaft passes through disc splines it must be lifted in order to align with pilot bearing hole.
Install star wheel and plastic clutch cover, and hook up hydraulic line to slave.
Have a helper assist in bleeding system and remove spacer ring from pressure plate.
Reassemble in reverse. Remember to hook up windshield washer hose after replacing the hood.
If you have been careful, used quality parts and followed the above steps, your customer should now be ready for another 100,000 miles or more.

Slave cylinder #87 22 209
Pressure plate #87 24 841
Disc #87 15 260
T/O bearing #87 21 995
Input shaft bearing #87 10 881
Input shaft seal #87 10 881
Rear main engine seal #93 50 158
Where possible, the turbo version is used on all the cars we service.

Special tools:
Spacer ring #83 90 023 (old type)
#87 91 618 (new type)

Seal press
Flywheel lock

Since the fall of 1980, Swedish Auto, San Marcos, CA, has been in the business of servicing Swedish cars.

Bob Larson, managing partner, has been driving and working on Saabs since the winter of 1975. Starting in a Ridgefield, CT, Texaco station, Bob worked in snow and ice on early two-strokes Saabs and has lived with these cars up to the present day in San Marcos, CA, located in central North San Diego County. Jeff Bauman, who assisted on the technical steps in this article, is an eight-year veteran of Swedish Auto and currently is the shop's lead Saab technician.

All technicians at Swedish Auto are ASE Master certified and are members of the AAA of Southern California's approved automotive repair program. They were recently awarded the Quality Service Award for outstanding customer satisfaction.

In Review…..

Saab clutch components were engineered to last a long time, and customers may not even notice that they need clutch service because the hydraulic system requires no adjustment and will continue working until the friction surface starts to disintegrate.

Maintenance of the clutch system will also give technicians the opportunity to catch transmission and driveline problems before they become expensive.

There are certain maintenance recommendations to keep the clutch system in top-working order. One of those is to change the transmission oil at every 30,000-mile service interval and to use Redline MTL for regular and/or high mileage drivers.

Typical clutch failure signs include slipping, slave cylinder failure, longer travel needed to disengage the clutch, and a driveline humming sound beginning in fourth and fifth gears on the highway.

Complete hydraulic failure is also possible. A line could have broke, or the slave cylinder or clutch master may have failed. Replace the slave cylinder with the other clutch components as part of your clutch renewal procedures. Replace the clutch master with a new unit only if it has failed.
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