How the Clutch Works
Many washing machines come equipped with a transmission to help the motor transfer rotating power to the tub and the agitator--the center, cone-shaped shaft inside the basket. The transmission, in turn, uses a clutch assembly to engage the tub during the spinning cycle and, depending on the washer configuration, the agitator, during the washing cycle. In addition, the clutch prevents the motor from rotating the tub at full speed at the beginning of the spinning cycle to prevent component damage.
Problems at the clutch may arise for several reasons. Over time, laundry soap, grime removed from clothing, and other chemicals, mix and accumulate around moving parts, including the clutch. In enough quantity, this buildup may interfere with clutch operation, causing the agitator to move slowly, move in one direction only, or prevent it from moving altogether. It can also make the tub to move slowly, leaving your clothes wet at the end of the spinning cycle, or unable to spin at all. You can see the same symptoms, however, if the clutch becomes damaged or has reached the end of its service life. Keep in mind though, that these symptoms may be related to problems with other components as well.
Many washing machines today come equipped with an electronic control board and display. These electronic systems can detect abnormal voltage changes in various electrical circuits and components. A failed clutch, for example, may cause a sensor to detect an irregular voltage signal and the control system to display an error code, pointing you to a problem with the clutch.
Replacing the Clutch
Depending on your particular washing machine brand and model, you may be able to replace the clutch yourself, if you are mechanically inclined or a DIYer. OEM (original equipment manufacturer) clutch repair kits are readily available for many washer models. When installing the new part, unplug your washing machine, close the water valves, and disconnect the hoses. Remove the agitator, water pump and disconnect the wire harness form the motor. Then, you are ready to remove the transmission, motor and clutch assembly, and install the new components.