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What is the clutch?
When a vehicle is switched on, the engine rotates generating power, irrespective of whether the vehicle is stationary or moving. The clutch mechanism is designed to control the flow of power from the engine. You can think of it as a tap, controlling the flow of water.
The clutch itself is made up of two plates. The first plate is attached to the engine and it constantly rotates, when the engine is switched on. The second plate is attached to the vehicle’s gearbox. When the two plates come into contact with one another and begin to rotate in unison, power is transferred from the vehicle’s engine to its gearbox and wheels.
When the clutch pedal is up, the two plates lock together and spin simultaneously. This creates a connection between the vehicle’s engine, its gearbox and wheels. This is known as engaging the clutch. The connection enables the vehicle to move, as power is transferred between the three components.
When the clutch pedal is pushed down, the plates separate and the connection between the engine, gearbox and wheels is broken. This is known as disengaging the clutch. When the connection is broken, power cannot be transferred between the three components.
Although the connection is broken when the clutch plates separate, if the engine is switched on, it will still continue to rotate. This break in the connection allows you to change gear, or stop the vehicle, while the engine continues to run. If you were unable to stop the flow of power by disengaging the clutch, you would not be able to change gear or stop the vehicle, without the engine cutting out.
How to use the clutch
To learn how to use the clutch effectively, you need to understand your vehicle’s biting point. The biting point is the point at which the two clutch plates, first come into contact with one another. At this point, the clutch is not fully engaged, as the plates are touching but not locked together. As a result, only a fraction of the available power is transferred from the vehicle’s engine to its gearbox and wheels. Controlling the speed of the vehicle when at or around the clutch biting point, is the essence of good clutch control.
Practising clutch control
Make sure you are in a quiet area when you first practice clutch control A quiet area will help you get used to the sounds your engine makes while making it easier to get to grips with the vehicle’s controls. For your first attempt, ensure you practice on a flat, straight road, as slopes and bends can add extra complexity to the routine.
Good places to practice clutch control include;
- Industrial estates
- Residential cul-de-sac
- Empty car parks
Once you have found a suitable location to practice, follow the steps outlined below.
Always make sure your seatbelt is applied, you are in the correct seating position and you have adjusted your mirrors before switching on the vehicle’s engine. For more information, check out our guide to the cockpit drill.
Clutch control: step by step instructions
Follow these step by step instructions if you’d like to learn and master clutch control.
Step 1: Check the vehicle is secure
Before starting the engine, check the handbrake is applied and the gear stick is in neutral. Starting a vehicle while it is in gear, could endanger other vehicles and road users around you, as the vehicle could lurch forward.
Step 2: Turn the engine on
Once you are sure the vehicle is secure, turn the key in the ignition or push the start button, to switch the engine on
Step 3: Clutch down and select first gear
Push the clutch pedal down as far as it will go and select first gear. It is important to maintain pressure on the clutch pedal, as the vehicle could stall if the clutch rises unexpectedly.
Step 4: Set the gas
The next step in the process is to set the gas. Gently press the gas pedal till the rev counter rises between 1000 and 2000 RPM. Setting the gas in this way reduces the chances of your vehicle stalling.
Step 5: Observe all around your vehicle
You must make sure it is safe to move off before proceeding. Even when practising in a quiet area, check all three mirrors and both blind spots before moving the vehicle.
Step 6: Release the handbrake
Once it is safe to proceed, release the handbrake and slowly raise the clutch pedal. Keep raising the clutch till the vehicle starts to move. The point at which the vehicle begins to move is its biting point.
Step 7: Allow the vehicle to reach walking pace
As the vehicle starts to move, keep both your feet still till the vehicle reaches walking pace. Once the vehicle is travelling at walking pace, slowly allow the clutch pedal to come up, until it is fully engaged.
Step 8: Push the clutch pedal back down
As the vehicle idles along, with the clutch pedal fully engaged, take a quick look in your mirrors to make sure it is completely safe, before pushing the clutch pedal back down again, as far as it will go. Doing so should eventually slow the vehicle down to a complete stop.
Step 9: Slowly raise the clutch pedal
Once the vehicle is stationary, set the gas between 1000 and 2000 RPM, then slowly raise the clutch pedal till you reach the vehicle’s biting point. Once the vehicle starts to move, keep both feet still till the vehicle is travelling at walking pace.
Repeat the steps above, till you understand the distance the clutch pedal needs to travel before your vehicle starts to move. This is how you control the speed of the vehicle using just the clutch pedal.
A general rule of thumb when operating the clutch, is to push the clutch pedal down quickly, but release it slowly.
Clutch control tips
Understanding how the clutch works and putting this knowledge into practice is one of the hardest things about learning to drive a manual car. A significant part of a learner driver’s first few hours behind the wheel will be spent figuring out how the clutch works. Although it can be quite challenging at first, there are a number of clutch control tips you can use, to reduce the length of time it takes to master the concept
Move the clutch pedal in small increments
Our top clutch control tip for learner drivers is to move the clutch pedal in small increments. To control the speed of the vehicle without using the gas pedal, you need to engage and disengage the clutch, using micro-movements of the pedal. This is known as slipping the clutch.
When at the vehicle’s biting point, push the clutch pedal down about the width of a pound coin, to slow the vehicle down. To speed the vehicle up, allow the clutch pedal to come about the width of a pound coin.
Rest your heel on the floor
You can improve your clutch control, by thinking about the way you position your left foot on the clutch pedal. The clutch pedal naturally wants to spring back to its default position of being fully engaged. If you rest your entire foot on the pedal, you will find it difficult to keep your foot still, at the exact moment the clutch bites. If however you keep your heel on the floor and operate the clutch with the top part of your foot, you will find it easier to control the distance the clutch travels.
If you are struggling to keep your heel on the floor while operating the clutch pedal, adjusting your seat by bringing it forward could help solve the issue
Keep your feet relatively still
The clutch can be quite a sensitive pedal. If you move your left foot erratically, the car will not respond as you would like it to. You will find it difficult to control the speed of the car and it will bunny hop or stall, when moving off, or reversing.
To improve your control, keep both feet relatively still when practising. Avoid the temptation to increase the speed of the vehicle by applying more gas. Instead, allow the clutch pedal to come up by a centimetre or two, to let more power in from the vehicle’s engine.
Practising without gas
If you are finding it difficult to control the clutch and accelerator at the same time, a useful clutch control tip for learners is to break the routine up into smaller chunks.
Step 1: Practice setting the gas
With the gearstick in neutral and the handbrake applied, practice just setting the gas. The objective of this exercise is to keep the rev counter steady between 1000 and 2000 rpm. During your first few attempts, It helps to watch the rev counter as you practice. Once you are able to maintain the same amount of pressure on the gas pedal while looking at the rev counter, repeat the exercise while looking ahead. The aim should be to apply the same amount of pressure on the gas pedal, each and every time, without looking at the rev counter. Once you are able to do so, you can then move on to step two.
Step 2: Move the vehicle without using gas
You do not need to apply gas to move the vehicle. Once the clutch bites, regardless of whether gas is applied or not, the vehicle will attempt to move. When raising the clutch pedal without gas, the pedal needs to move a lot slower and be held for a few extra seconds at the vehicle’s biting point, for the vehicle to move without stalling. This exercise improves your clutch control, as you have to move the vehicle using very fine movements of the clutch.
With your right foot on the floor away from the gas pedal, clutch down and select first gear as you normally would. Then very slowly, raise the clutch pedal in small increments till it bites. Once the clutch engages and the vehicle begins to move, keep your left foot still till you feel the vehicle pick up speed. Once the vehicle is idling along, push the clutch pedal back down again to bring the vehicle to a halt, then repeat the process.
Once you are able to consistently control the vehicle in this way, you can then combine steps one and two as you normally would.
In general, when moving off, it is very important to apply gas when lifting the clutch pedal, as this prevents the vehicle from stalling. As a rule of thumb, always set the gas before raising the clutch pedal This is essential when moving off in traffic or when moving off around other road users.
Clutch control at traffic lights
You can improve your clutch control at traffic lights, by planning ahead and anticipating the lights changing. The reason why many learner drivers, find it difficult to move off without stalling at traffic lights, is because they are unprepared for the lights to turn green. If you wait for the lights to change before preparing your vehicle, the chances of you stalling the vehicle, increase dramatically.
You can avoid this scenario by preparing your vehicle to move off when waiting at a red light. When waiting at traffic lights, apply the handbrake, set the gas and raise the clutch pedal till the clutch bites. At this point, keep both your feet steady and begin to look for clues that the lights might be about to change. Look out for things such as
- Countdown markers which control the pedestrian crossings, counting down to zero
- Traffic lights that control traffic in the opposite direction changing
- Cycle traffic lights which change before the main set of traffic lights do
By preparing your vehicle while stationary and anticipating the lights changing, you can improve your clutch control at traffic lights and prevent your vehicle from stalling.
Clutch control at junctions
In order to remain safe when emerging at a closed junction, it is important to use clutch control, to improve your visibility, before entering the new road. At junctions where trees, buildings or parked vehicles restrict your view of oncoming traffic, you must ensure it is safe to enter the junction before proceeding. If you emerge at a blind junction without observing first, it could lead to a serious accident or collision.
You can emerge safely at a closed junction, by controlling the speed of the vehicle using the clutch pedal. Raising the clutch about the width of a pound coin, then depressing it, will nudge the vehicle forward at the junction, before bringing it to a stop. If you repeat this process a few times, your view of the road should improve and this should allow you to emerge once it is safe to do so.