Clutch control can be a real challenge to get the hang of. Some learners seem to grasp it in their very first driving lesson, but for others it’s an infuriating struggle to keep the car from stalling every time they stop or pull away.
What is clutch control?
Clutch control is the act of controlling the speed of a manual transmission vehicle by partly engaging the clutch plate, using the clutch pedal. This can be either instead of or in conjunction with the accelerator pedal.
How does a clutch work?
Very simply speaking, a clutch is two metal plates which can be separated when you depress the clutch pedal. When you separate the plates, you are separating the engine from the wheels, preventing power from passing to your wheels.
Because your car’s engine is always turning, power is always being passed from the engine to the wheels when the car is in gear. When you stop and forget to depress the clutch, your engine is trying to send power to stationary wheels and the car stalls. Similarly, if you try to pull away without getting your clutch control right, not enough power makes it through and the car stalls.
The more you release the clutch petal, the more the plates in the engine are allowed to touch. The point when the plates touch and start to transfer power from the engine to the wheels is known as the ‘biting point’. When the pedal is fully released the plates will lock together and power will be transferred easily.
If you think of the clutch pedal as a sort of valve to allow power through or to shut it off, it becomes a bit easier to use it gently and smoothly.
If you want a bit more detail about how clutches work, check out this excellent video from HowStuffWorks…
Clutch control tips
The first step is to find the bite point:
- Find a quiet and flat practise area
- Release the hand brake
- Depress the clutch all the way down and put the car into first gear.
- Give the accelerator a gentle nudge
- Slowly raise the clutch until the car starts to move forward
Let's break that down even further
When you're following our 5-step process above, there are a few more things that you'll need to be mindfull of.
First, you'll need to ensure the car is properly set up for you. If you’re not sure, check out our cockpit drill guide for more information. You'll also need to get your seatbelt on before you turn on the engine.
When you first nudge the accelerator, you're aiming to get the rev counter to somewhere around 1500 rpm.
Before raising the clutch, don't forget to make sure it's safe to move. When the clutch starts moving forward, that's because you're making the clutch plates touch. And that's the bite point. It's as simple as that!
Repeat the steps above until you're comfortable with the position of the bite point.
Slipping the clutch
So you’ve got the hang of the bite point, next it’s time to learn how to slip the clutch. Slipping the clutch is an essential skill if you want to pull off manoeuvres such as reverse parking or three point turns. Luckily, slipping the clutch isn’t that difficult.
To practise, all you’ve got to do is find the bite point and let your vehicle move forward very, very slowly. Try to control the speed of the vehicle with slight adjustments to the clutch; depress it by a centimetre or so to slow down and release it a similar amount to speed up. When making very small adjustments like this, it’s helpful to imagine something very delicate, such as an egg, underneath the pedals. Apply very gentle pressure and try not to crack your imaginary egg.
While you’re trying not to crack the egg that’s under your clutch, maintain gentle pressure on the accelerator. Don’t be tempted to try and use it to speed up and slow down, use the clutch instead.
Once you’ve repeated this little exercise a few times, clutch control will become second nature. You’ll be slipping the clutch like a pro every time you do a manoeuvre!
Once you’ve mastered clutch control, you’ll be able to control your car at low speeds, making manoeuvres such as reverse parking much easier. All it takes to get the hang of it is a flat and quiet road and a bit of patience. You can tackle clutch control in one of your driving lessons or you could find a safe place to practise with an appropriate co-driver.