The Clp ATPases were originally identified as a regulatory component of the bacterial ATP-dependent Clp serine proteases. Proteins homologous to the Escherichia coli Clp ATPases (ClpA, B, X or Y) have been identified in every organism examined so far. Recent data suggest that the Clp ATPases are not only specificity factors which help to 'present' various protein substrates to the ClpP or other catalytic proteases, but are also molecular chaperones which can function independently of ClpP. This review discusses the recent evidence that the Clp ATPases are indeed molecular chaperones capable of either repairing proteins damaged during stress conditions or activating the initiation proteins for Mu, lambda or P1 DNA replication. A mechanism is suggested to explain how the Clp ATPases 'decide' whether to repair or destroy their protein substrates.