The truth is that if you want to drive a car with manual transmission (aka stick shift) you must know how to use the clutch in a car.
Without this knowledge, you won’t be able to drive it. What usually happens is that the car will stall, stutter and the engine will eventually cut out.
No need to say how inconvenient and irritating but also dangerous this is.
In this article, we’ll try and help you learn how to properly use the clutch and avoid these situations.
If you want to see a video tutorial, go to the end of the article or you can watch it on our YouTube channel.
WHERE IS THE CLUTCH PEDAL?
To avoid any confusion before we start, the clutch is the pedal on the left.
So, from left to right, the pedals are the clutch, brake, and accelerator (gas pedal).
One more way to recognize the clutch pedal is that it has the longest travel when you press it.
It goes all the way to the floor, unlike the brake pedal or accelerator which has much less travel.
For more information about driving a car with a manual transmission, click here for a separate article we’ve made specifically on that topic.
HOW DOES THE CLUTCH WORK?
Think of the clutch as a connection between the engine which gives power and the transmission which uses that power to turn the wheels.
A very rudimentary explanation would be that there is one plate bolted to the engine (flywheel) and the other is in the gearbox (clutchplate). The clutch plate is near the flywheel and it’s commanded by the clutch pedal.
When you turn the engine on, the flywheel starts to rotate. In order to transfer that rotation to the transmission, the clutch plate (via the clutch pedal) gets near the flywheel and the transmission starts to rotate.
Essentially, one rotating plate moves the other.
Again, this is a very simple and basic explanation. If you want to see a more thorough and great explanation from Wikipedia, click here and take a look.
HOW TO USE THE CLUTCH IN A CAR?
Before you start, know that pressing the clutch pedal disengages the engine from the transmission meaning the car practically goes to neutral and will start freely rolling.
So, before trying this, especially if you’re on an uphill or downhill, best pull the handbrake.
The best way to practice working with the clutch is to be on a flat and leveled surface without any obstacles near the car.
1. PRESS THE CLUTCH FULLY
When using the clutch be sure to always press the pedal all the way to the floor.
Otherwise, you won’t be able to shift gears or the shifting will be much harder, or even worse, you’ll hear the transmission gears grinding.
This goes double if you’re moving from a standstill.
If you don’t fully press the clutch when shifting, every gear shift will be noticeable as the ride will be jerky all the time.
Besides this, not properly pressing the clutch can cause long-term damage to both the clutch system and the transmission.
2. FIND THE CORRECT DRIVING POSITION
This tip is closely related to the previous one. In order to properly press the clutch you must find a good driving position.
I would recommend adjusting the seat so that when you press the clutch to the end, your leg is fully or near fully extended.
Avoid cramped or distant positions. Both of these interfere not only with using the clutch but also with the vision of the road, response time, and else.
3. USE YOUR LEG PROPERLY FOR PRESSING THE CLUTCH
How you use your leg when pressing the clutch is very important. mainly because of the response time and proper control of the clutch.
The clutch is meant to be used with the whole leg, not just with the heel for instance.
When pressing the pedal, push from the knee and bend your heel and foot so you get an almost straight leg (like a ballet dancer).
When releasing, especially when starting from a standstill, control the movement from the hip and knee and slowly bend the foot.
It sounds complicated, but once you do it a couple of times, you’ll get the whole picture and it naturally sits in so to say.
4. HOW TO RELEASE THE CLUTCH?
There are a couple of ways to release the clutch:
- WHEN STARTING TO DRIVE
When starting the drive and from a standstill, release the clutch slowly and carefully.
- WHEN STOPPING
If you want to stop or disengage the transmission, press the clutch fully and without hesitation.
- WHEN SHIFTING WHILE DRIVING
While driving, push the pedal to the floor fully and freely release it. So push, shift, and freely release.
- WHEN DOWNSHIFTING
Downshifting is when you go from a higher to a lower gear and is done when slowing down. Here push the pedal, downshift but this time release the pedal a bit slower.
This especially applies when using the engine for braking.
5. KEEP YOUR FOOT OFF THE CLUTCH WHILE DRIVING
The last tip would be to keep your foot off the clutch once you’ve finished shifting.
Keeping your foot on the clutch pedal while driving is a bad driving habit. The most common reason for drivers doing this is to improve the response time.
The worst part about this is that it can cause long-term damage to the clutch system as the weight of the foot keeps the clutch slightly disengaged all the time. This is especially bad during a long drive.
In reality, there is no need for this. With a bit of practice of keeping your foot off the clutch, the response time will be the same.
So, the right thing to do is to shift gear and immediately move your foot to the footrest.
HOW TO FIND THE BITE POINT ON THE CLUTCH?
The bite point, simply put, is the point when the clutch plate starts engaging with the flywheel and engine.
At this point, the car starts to move.
Knowing it is a crucial factor for driving a stick shift. Without it, you can’t move the car and you’ll stall it all the time. Not to mention the inability to do more complicated maneuvers like starting to drive from an uphill while releasing the handbrake.
Finding the bite point is actually easy. There are two simple ways:
To get a better idea, look at the clutch pedal when releasing it. Know that on most cars the bite point is approximately halfway between the lowest point and when fully releasing it.
This is a less effective method but it can give you an idea and help in finding the bite point.
Listen to the engine
This is definitely a better way to find the bite point on a clutch. Just make sure to find a place where you can freely move the car forwards and backward without any nearby obstacles.
After that, release the handbrake and turn on the engine.
Then slowly release the clutch without pressing the accelerator.
When you start reaching the bite point, you’ll hear the engine stall a bit.
This is a sign that you’ve actually reached the bite point. If you were to drive further, you would have to press the accelerator pedal so the engine wouldn’t cut off.
In practice, it looks something like this: you press the clutch while the engine is off and get the feel of it, so to say. After that, start the engine and slowly release the clutch just enough to budge the car a few centimeters.
This should give you a good idea of where the bite point of the clutch is.
For the end a couple of more tips regarding how to use the clutch on a car:
Make sure that the floor mat under the pedals is properly set and that you have the proper shoes or footwear for driving.
If the floormats get in the way of the pedals it can interfere with the response time and endanger safety. For more information on how to choose the right floormats, click here to read a separate article on that topic.
Regarding footwear avoid flip-flops or other shoes that can get stuck when pushing the clutch.
Also, make sure that the footwear and clutch pedals aren’t slippery and that your foot won’t suddenly slip off while shifting.
All of this may seem irrelevant but it can cause serious problems while driving at a moment’s notice.
Written by: Sibin Spasojevic
Former car technician, life-long car and DIY enthusiast, author for Despairrepair.com
HOW TO USE THE CLUTCH IN A CAR WITH MANUAL TRANSMISSION? YOUTUBE VIDEO