If you want to drive a manual car, then you will have to master clutch control sooner or later.
Whilst it can be tricky to start with, clutch control should get easier with a bit of practice – and it is a necessary skill to get the hang of before your driving test.
Read on and find out what clutch control is, how to learn clutch control and what you can do if you are struggling with it.
What Is Clutch Control?
Clutch control is the skill and technique a driver uses to operate the clutch pedal in a manual transmission vehicle.
It is especially useful when starting from a stop, changing gears, or performing certain manoeuvres – like hill starts or parallel parking.
The driver controls the speed of the vehicle by partially engaging the clutch plate, using the clutch pedal instead of - or as well as - the accelerator pedal.
When the driver presses down on the clutch pedal, this disengages the clutch. This means that the engine’s power is not being transmitted to the wheels, so the vehicle can coast or idle without moving forwards.
Releasing the clutch pedal will gradually engage the clutch, transmitting engine power to the wheels and allowing the vehicle to move forwards.
How Do You Learn Clutch Control?
Practice makes perfect when it comes to improving your clutch control.
Start by shifting from first to second gear, and then you can work your way up to higher gears.
When shifting gears, release the clutch pedal fully before pressing the accelerator. This will stop the engine from stalling and ensure a smoother transition.
Be light when you press on the clutch pedal so that you can avoid revving the engine too much, and try not to be too heavy-footed with the accelerator pedal.
If you find that you are struggling to get the hang of clutch control, consider investing in a pair of flat shoes with a thin sole so that you can get a better idea of how much movement it takes to find the biting point, apply the gas, and set off.
Make sure that you wear the right shoes to your driving lessons and practice runs too.
Eventually, you might have to tackle clutch control on a busier road or at a junction. Even if you are in front of a line of traffic, try and take your time as you make your next move.
Every clutch is different, meaning that your driving instructor’s car could have a higher biting point than yours. You might have to move your foot up higher to find it.
Whenever you switch cars, it might be worth practicing so that you can get used to clutch control again.
How Do You Find the Biting Point?
Do you struggle with stalling your car? Then you might need to spend some time finding the biting point.
Once you get this under control, you can begin to rebuild your clutch control.
Find a quiet, flat road to practice on.
To find the biting point, you should release the clutch pedal slowly whilst pressing the accelerator.
You will feel some resistance as the clutch engages - this is known as the biting point.
Once you have found the biting point, you can then use this as a reference for all your gear shifts.
Take some time to practice this more than once, and you should eventually be able to find the biting point out of muscle memory.
How Do You Perform a Hill Start?
A hill start is when you move off or start your vehicle whilst on a hill or a gradient.
Hill starts can be intimidating for new drivers - as they require measured clutch control – but they are included in the practical driving test and you will need to perform them in your daily life.
During the driving test, you may be asked to pull over to the side of the road and pull away again, including stops at the roadside, pulling out from behind a parked vehicle and a hill start. You could also be asked to perform an emergency stop.
To perform a hill start, you should always start with the handbrake firmly on to prevent the car from rolling backwards
Put the clutch to the floor and select first gear. You can then push gently down on the accelerator, and bring the clutch up to the biting point. The engine sound will change slightly and you will feel that the car wants to move at this point.
Check that it is safe to move, and release the handbrake. Let the clutch bite a little until the car slowly begins to roll forwards. Push gradually down on the accelerator whilst bringing the clutch up slowly – the car will begin to move up the hill.
As you start to drive forwards, you can move through the gears – but remember, driving up a hill will require that you stay in a lower gear so that you have enough power to reach the top.
To recap, you should do the following when performing a hill start:
- Begin with the handbrake firmly on
- Put the clutch to the floor
- Select first gear
- Push down gently on the accelerator whilst bringing the clutch up slowly to the biting point
- When it is safe to move, release the handbrake whilst letting the clutch bite
- Gradually push down on the accelerator and bring the clutch up slowly
Some vehicles are equipped with Hill Start Assist technology, which can make this move easier for drivers.
If your vehicle has this feature, you can take your foot off the brake and the car will remain stationary on the hill for around 3 seconds, giving you time to find the biting point.
You will have to reapply the handbrake if you take any longer than this to find the clutch biting point.
What If I Stall My Car?
When you stall the car, the engine will cut out. This can put you in danger whilst pulling out at junctions or in traffic.
That being said, you won’t necessarily fail the driving test if this happens – you are more likely to be assessed on how you react to and handle the stalling.
If you stall, try and remain calm, put the car in neutral, and restart the engine.
If you stall whilst performing a hill start, this is usually a result of not pressing on the gas pedal enough and bringing the clutch up too fast.
Bring the clutch up to biting point gradually whilst pushing down on the accelerator so that you can keep the car moving forward.
Whilst stalling can put additional stress on your car’s transmission components, if it only happens now and then it shouldn’t do too much damage.
What If I Struggle with Clutch Control?
If you are really struggling to get to grips with clutch control, then you could consider learning to drive an automatic car instead.
Vehicles with automatic transmissions can deal with the clutch and gear changes for you, but you should think hard about this before making your choice.
If you passed your test in an automatic car, then you will only be qualified to drive an automatic.
Learning to drive a manual car can be useful – they tend to be cheaper, so it may be worth mastering the art of clutch control.
Most drivers make mistakes like stalling, grinding the gears and revving the engine too high from time to time. If you take the time to learn a range of manoeuvres, then you may well get used to driving a manual car.
Remember, proper clutch control is all about timing and pressing and releasing the clutch pedal smoothly.
Take some time to learn this skill, and you can avoid stalling the engine and enjoy a controlled driving experience.
Want to learn more about clutches? We have plenty clutch content on our blog for you to read right now.