One of the most difficult challenge of learning to drive is the correct operation of the clutch, which we know as clutch control.

A significant problem with many learner drivers is lack of preparation by not looking at what is happening in front. For example if you have stopped in traffic, a learner will often wait till the car directly in front starts to move before they think about operating the clutch.

This lack of preparation leads to stress as they think that they are holding everyone up behind them. As a result, they will operate the clutch too quickly which often ends in stalling the car.

Ideally they need to be looking further ahead for signs that the traffic has started to move and to get themselves prepared to move.

How does a clutch work

To gain a better understanding of clutch control, you need a basic understanding of how a clutch works. A car engine, even on tick-over is constantly spinning. A clutch separates the car wheels from the engine.

If the car wheels were permanently linked to the engine, it wouldn't be possible to stop the car without the engine stalling. Without a clutch, it would also be very difficult for the car to move off from a stationary position. A clutch also enables you to change gear.

Engine A
In the diagram provided, we can see the two plates that represent the clutch. Engine A has the clutch pedal depressed to the floor, which in turn separates the clutch friction plates. When the clutch plates are separated, it disconnects the car engine from the wheels, which also prevents any power to the wheels.

One of the clutch plates is still spinning along with the engine, as the engine is constantly spinning. A gear is then selected.

Engine B
Now that the car is in-gear, the clutch pedal needs to be raised, which in turn brings the clutch plates together. When moving off from a stationary position using 1st gear, lifting the clutch pedal slowly allows the clutch plates to come together slowly. This allows the plates to slip and allow the car to move off smoothly until they are tightly pressed together, joining the broken link between the wheels and the engine.

 

 

 

 

 

Learning clutch control

Clutch control is a technique that allows a driver to control a car's speed. Learning clutch control is essential for passing the driving test as you may be required to demonstrate a hill start to the driving examiner, also the mandatory manoeuvres require a high level of clutch control to keep the car incredibly slow.

Ensure the car is setup correctly so that you can depress the clutch fully without overstretching, you are wearing your seat belt, the engine is turned on and the handbrake is OFF.

  • Depress the clutch fully and select first gear.
  • Provide the engine with a little extra power by very gently pressing the accelerator so that the rev counter reads around 1500 rpm (about the width of a £1 coin).
  • Check all around to ensure before your car moves that it is safe to do so. If so very slowly, raise the clutch.

·         When the clutch plates just start to meet, this is called the clutch bite point. You will know it's the bite point at the car will slowly start to move. The clutch bite point can occur at any point during the clutches working travel as you lift it, as all clutches are different. The bite point however will always be in the same place for that particular clutch. The key here is with plenty of practice is to remember where the bite point is.

·         Now that we have found the bite point, the car is slowly starting to move forward, now fully depress the clutch and gently brake to a stop. Keep repeating the process by giving the engine a little power and very slowly lifting the clutch till the car starts to move and fully depressing the clutch. By repeating this, you will gain an understanding where the bite point occurs.

Once you have got the hang of that, try it again but instead of fully depressing the clutch once the car starts to move, press the clutch just a small amount; try and think the thickness of a one pound coin. By doing this you are slightly releasing the clutch plates, disengaging the wheels and letting the car slow down. As soon as the car has slowed slightly, lift the clutch around the thickness of a one pound coin again to move the car again. Essentially what you are trying to achieve is to keep the car moving but at the slowest possible speed.

This technique is called slipping the clutch and is required to perform the driving manoeuvres on lessons and the driving test.

Moving a car off quickly

Moving a car off quickly is the same technique as above except you will need to provide significantly more gas/revs to the engine. By providing more gas, in the region of 2500 rpm, you are able to bring the clutch up faster without fear of stalling. This will enable you to move the car off much faster in situations such as busy roundabouts and pulling out of junctions.

Be a little cautious however as giving the car too much gas and releasing the clutch too fast may result in wheel spin.

Clutch control techniques

More advanced clutch control techniques will need to be mastered for holding the car steady on the clutch bite point. These techniques are important for safely moving a car off on a hill. Further information can be found in How to stop stalling a car.

Clutch control on a hill

A driving test may involve the examiner requesting you stop and move off again on a hill. This depends on the location of your driving test centre as certain parts of the UK are very flat.

If you stop on a hill, the process is similar to above, except you will require the use of the handbrake. Once stopped:

  • Apply the handbrake and select first gear.
  • Provide the engine with a little extra power, again around 1500 rpm to 2000 rpm on the rev counter.
  • Gently raise the clutch until you reach the bite point. You will know when you have the bite point as the car may creak a little or the bonnet may rise slightly as the car tries to move forward but cannot due to the handbrake being applied.
  • Provided you have the clutch bite point, the car will not roll backwards when you release the handbrake.

The hill starts tutorial explain how to move park up hill and downhill, plus how to correctly make hill starts and downhill starts in detail with the emphasis being on clutch control. Explained also are frequent mistakes learner drivers make during a driving test and how to avoid them.

Clutch control in traffic

During driving lessons and the driving test, there will be plenty of occasions that you stop in traffic. Look well ahead for any indication that the traffic is starting to move. This can be traffic lights changing ahead or through other car windows

This will better prepare you to move the car off and less likely to stall. Sometimes it is worth keeping the clutch at the bite whilst waiting (same technique as clutch control on a hill). This should only be done if a very short wait is anticipated. If you will have a longer wait get into the habit of fully depressing the clutch while stationary and finding the bite point just before moving off.

Clutch control at junctions

During the driving test, you will likely be taken through many different types of junctions. Often the most challenging are closed junction. A closed junction is very difficult to observe and approaching traffic as there are often obstacles blocking your view, such as  trees, bushes, fences etc. A high standard of clutch control is required at these types of junctions as you will need the ability to move forward very slowly. Fractionally pressing the clutch just under the bite point to slow the car and lifting very slightly to move forward. The technique for Learning clutch control should be employed in such instances. Quick and constant observations should be made and the ability to quickly depress the clutch and brake if there is need to stop. You will look at the junction and then inch forward. Then you look again and inch forward again. Repeating this procedure until you can see the junction fully. We call this technique "PEEP and CREEP".