Clutch control is a driving skill that many learner drivers find difficult to start with. For some it can become such an issue that they give up learning to drive or switch to learning in an automatic car. It doesn’t have to be that way. Anyone can quickly and easily master this fundamental driving skill with proper explanation and the help of a good driving instructor. This article explains how to master clutch control.
What the clutch does
The clutch separates the engine from the wheels. Imagine that the clutch is two smooth disks or plates. One is connected via the gear box to the engine. The other is connected to the wheels. When the clutch pedal is up the two plates are jammed together with a whopping great spring. They are pushed together so firmly that if one disk turns the other has to go with it.
When you push down on the clutch pedal the two plates are pushed apart. Now the plate on the engine side can keep spinning and the plate on the wheels side can stop rotating as the car comes to a stop.
If you forget to put the clutch pedal down as the car comes to a stop the engine is forced to stop too. It gets stalled. Not the end of the world but it would be more convenient and smoother to come to a stop with the engine still running.
The Biting Point is when the two clutch plates are brought together so that they are just touching and there is just enough friction between them to start the car moving. Calling it a ‘point’ is not strictly accurate. Think of it more as a very small ‘zone’. With very tiny movements of the clutch pedal we can have more or less ‘bite’. From hardly touching at all to enough friction to stall is about the width of two pound coins.
You can’t feel where the biting point is on the pedal. But the car does give clues.
Clue 1 – As you very very slowly bring up the clutch pedal the first clue is that the engine sound drops slightly as it works a little harder to overcome the friction.
Clue 2 – As you very very slowly bring the clutch pedal up a little further the front of the car starts to lift slightly. This is the sign that the front driving wheels of the car a trying to pull the car forward but the handbrake is on so the back wheels are trying to hold the car back.
(If you are driving a rear wheel or 4 wheel drive car you won’t get clue 2 – sorry.)
Clutch Control Moving Off
The key thing to remember here is – keep your feet still.
- Clutch down – select 1st gear
- Set a little gas – a lively tick over is enough – with the gas set – keep your right foot still.
- Very slowly bring the clutch pedal up, ideally with your heel on the floor if you can. When you hear the engine note change, even more slowly bring the clutch pedal up another millimeter or so until the front of the car rises. Then – keep both feet still.
- You have now done enough to get the car moving. Only the handbrake is holding you back. So, when it is safe, slowly release the handbrake. If the engine didn’t stall with the handbrake on it certainly won’t stall when you release the handbrake, as long as you keep your feet still.
- As the car moves away keep both feet still until the car is moving at about walking speed. Then you can relax and allow the clutch pedal up the rest of the way and drive normally.
Clutch Control Moving Off Uphill
Clutch control for moving off uphill is virtually the same as above for moving off normally, except it may be helpful to set a little more gas. A lot of learner drivers seem to struggle with the uphill start so here are some tips that will help.
- When you stop the car on the hill you will need to use the foot brake to prevent the car rolling after it has stopped. After you have firmly applied the hand brake you can take your foot off the foot brake. When you do the front of the car will drop as it tries to roll back but can’t because the hand brake is on. The amount the front of the car dropped is slightly less than the amount it will need to rise up when you set the biting point to move off up the hill.
- When you release the hand brake to move off up hill release it slowly, keeping your feet still. If the car doesn’t start to move off as you release the hand brake, re-apply the handbrake, give it a little more gas and bring the clutch up a little more, lifting the front of the car a little further. Then try releasing the hand brake slowly again.
A Useful Clutch Control Skill Exercise
This exercise should only be done for a few minutes or the clutch will overheat, be damaged or experience excessive wear.
The exercise should be done facing up a moderately steep hill.
Move off up hill as described above. As the car begins to move away ease down slightly on the clutch pedal far enough that the car comes to a stop without using the foot brake. Too far down on the clutch pedal the car will stop but then want to roll back. Not far enough down on the clutch pedal and it will keep going up the hill.
The aim of this exercise is find the point where there is just enough friction between the clutch plates to stop the car rolling back down the hill but not enough to move up the hill.
When you do get the car stationary. Without using the foot brake, apply the handbrake.
- Keep your right foot still so that you are only adjusting the clutch.
- Keep your left heel on the floor when the pedal is around the biting point.
- Only move the clutch pedal very slowly and a tiny amount.
- Remember – up on the clutch pedal to go up the hill – down on the clutch pedal to go down the hill.
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