Should a Fan Clutch Spin Freely When It’s Cold?

Your fan clutch remains locked in position until your engine begins heating up. Once the engine is heated, a tightly-coiled spring expands and allows the fan clutch to freely engage.

How Should a Fan Clutch Operate?

While ‘fan clutch’ sounds like a singular part, it is a collection of components. You’ve got coupling and clutch plates. For instance, the coupling fills up with oil, and the flow of this oil is divided between two compartments and regulated by a valve.

One of these compartments simply holds the oil, while the other compartment is relegated to serving the clutch. The valve opens up to allow oil to pass freely into the clutch and then the fan starts spinning. When the valve is not open, the oil goes into the holding compartment and this leads to the clutch slipping.

Common Issues

Several issues may arise with the fan clutch. For instance:

  • The low consistency of the oil can result in a slipping clutch, and without that oil, the engine won’t cool properly.
  • Leaking oil may cause the clutch to become loose.
  • The spring sometimes becomes too sensitive, disturbing the expected oil flow

Thus, if the fan is spinning freely when it’s cold, you’ve got a problem that you’ll need to investigate. Let’s go over troubleshooting your fan clutch to isolate the issue.


We’ve compiled a list of checks that you should perform to isolate if your fan clutch is going to need to be repaired or replaced. By checking the following items, you should be able to isolate the issue.

Audible Symptoms

When the fan in your fan clutch is not spinning, then there are sounds that you will notice when shifting at high speeds. The air pushes straight through and you will hear a sort of ‘roar’ when you shift at a high acceleration rate. You might also feel a rush of warm air if it is in the summer.

Both of these are tell-tale signs that something’s up with your fan clutch.


During normal operation, you start your car and within approximately 5 minutes the fan clutch should kick in. To test if this is the case, engage the emergency brake, pop your hood, and simply listen for the fan to engage. It should start within 5 minutes. If it starts immediately or if you don’t hear it after 5 minutes, then there is a problem.

You can also keep an eye on the temperature gauge if you know what temperature your fan clutch normally kicks in at, but if you’re not sure, just listen and see if it starts.


Pick a stretch of road where you won’t run into other people or get a ticket and try accelerating to high speed to watch the cooling of the engine. When the fan clutch is working properly, at higher speeds your cooling rate should slow down as it should be letting the wind do part of the job in cooling your engine.

If the fan clutch is only kicking in at high speeds, then this is another sign that it might be damaged.


Another test that you can perform just requires cranking up the AC to see how it is performing. If it is warmer than usual, you might well have a problem with the fan clutch, but you’ll want to make sure that you check each vent first before jumping to a conclusion. If some vents are working normally, then you might just have some clogged vents.

Inspecting Manually

Now that you’ve done a little testing, a manual inspection is in order. Turn off the engine, pull your emergency brake, and pop open the hood. Wait for the engine to cool before getting started. Once it’s cool, take a look at the clutch itself to see if there is any visible damage. If we don’t see any visible damage, we need to check for leaks next.

Check the clutch to see if there is any oil leaking that you can feel with your hands. If only a little oil smudges your fingers, that’s fine and to be expected, but if you pull back your hands and you’ve got a heavy coat of oil, then you’ve got a leak in the fan clutch.

Next, try turning the fan manually. It should turn, but only slowly and with effort. If it just spins freely or if it is completely locked, then you’re going to need to replace your fan clutch.


With the symptoms that we have listed here, you should be able to learn if your fan clutch is working properly or if it’s going to need to be replaced. Just be sure to check all of the items that we’ve listed and you’ll know for sure. 

That said, if it’s moving freely and it’s cold, then the odds are you’ve got an issue. Get it replaced or replace it yourself and you’ll be back to enjoying your vehicle in no time!