Does your learner understand clutch control?

Does your learner understand clutch control?

2nd October 2017

Clutch up gently, NO, gently, gentler, keep feet still. Pull up on the left just alongside the next lampost, quick press the clutch down quick. Now move off when you think it's safe, no, you need some gas, set the gas, a little less gas. Now come up to the biting point, that's too much biting point, down a bit, no up a bit - Does this sound like you on some of your driving lessons?

For some learner drivers, when they first start out having lessons it can be a very daunting experience for them. One of their first biggest challenges is to move and stop the car. Even before they've got into the driving seat they're probably worried about stalling. Getting used to the car and moving off smoothly without stalling can be the holy grail to some learners. On their first lesson, they don't know yet how much pressure to put on the pedals, they don't know how quickly to move the pedals up and down, they just don't realise how hard it can be but yet mum or dad make it look so easy and effortless.

Having good clutch control is one of the many arts of a skilled driver and this takes time to develop. When I have a client who has never driven a car before, I don't go too in depth about how a car works and what components make up a clutch, gearbox, engine or driveshaft. After a quick explanation of the main controls of the car, basically the one's they're going to be using on that day I just try to get them moving. Any other controls I usually just inform them at a later date. When I'm explaining the main controls, I ensure I cover a logical pattern such as Location, Function and Operation. So for example, do you know which one is the brake pedal (this is location), what does it do (this is function) how do we do it (this is operation).

I'm digressing slightly here so I'll get back on track to what I was talking about, clutch control. Once I've got my complete beginner moving off and stopping a couple of times, I then ask them to turn off the engine and relax. Now, what I'm about to say, I don't do this will all of my learners but some I do, and that is talk about the clutch and how it moves the car. Also, what I'm about to say is very mish-mashy and not exactly the correct terminology or the correct mechanical principles of how a car works, but for some reason, my explanation of the clutch and how to prevent stalling when moving away seems to work with a good 95% of my learners.

Now, we've done moving off and stopping once or twice and there's been lots of "up a pound coin, down a pound coin, feet still coming from me". So now, I want to educate my learner a tad so they can have a go at pulling away on their own, so I run into this explanation of a clutch and engine. It goes something like this...

I ask my learner to start the car. Then I ask them to listen to the engine. I tell them that the engine is ticking over at 5mph, we're not going anywhere yet because we haven't selected a gear yet. I then explain that the engine CANNOT go slower than 5mph, it's just not physically and mechanically possible. An engine can't go 4 or 3 or 2 mph, if you try to make it go this slow then it will always stall.

Now, we have the frame of the car, its load and the wheels. At the moment, we are at zero mph but we have to get the wheels turning from zero mph up to 5mph as smoothly as we can. So we've got to go 1mph, 2mph, 3mph, 4mph and then 5mph. When we reach 5mph we can then give the engine the car.

However, in order for us to do that we use the clutch for this (the clutch has a couple of jobs). I explain that from the bottom position of the clutch, when its buried in the floor, and up to the top position, like it's in now, it's all the way up, halfway between this range lives the biting point and the driving point, both are the thickness of a pound coin. Below these points is nothing but fresh air. So, its this middle area where all the magic happens. I now get my learner to engage first gear (engine is still running) and just using clutch only I get them to bring the clutch up to the middle, this is where my biting point lives. I then get them to bring it up a pound coin to the driving point, the cars bonnet will rise and we might hear a creaking noise coming from the rear brakes/handbrake. I know explain that this is the driving point, the car wants to drive.

I now do a few exercises such as lowering the clutch to the biting point and then raising it back up again to the driving point and then back down again. I may even get them to push clutch to the floor, find drive point now lower to bite point and then back to the floor (eat, sleep, repeat).

Now bear with, here's the really technical bit. I explain to my learner that when we're pulling away under normal conditions, we set the gas and find the driving point and then lower it a pound coin to the biting point because we don't want it stressing the handbrake. I then explain that we're going to pull away when its safe but we're only going to bring the clutch up to the driving point. Keep feet still at this point because we're using the driving point to build up some momentum, so in essence, we're using the driving point to go from 0mph to 1mph and so on up to 5mph because we've got to get the wheels turning from 0mph up to 5mph. Once we reach 5mph we can the hand the whole of the car to the engine and then drive on.

Under normal conditions, 0mph to 5mph can take approximately one and a half car lengths so I may use a marker such as a drain cover and ask my learner to not come above the driving point until we get to the drain cover. I even talk out aloud to my learner as we're pulling away.. 1 mile an hour 2 miles an hour 3 miles an hour now bring the driving point up a millimetre 4 miles per hour and 5 miles per hour now clutch all the way up to the top and a bit more gas.

There is no way in the world that this method is perfect or meets any technical blueprints, it's just a different way of an explanation.

I hope this Blog has helped some driving instructor people in some way but no worries if it hasn't, it was nice of you to swing by and take the time to read it. I'd really love it if you could share my Blog on any one of the Driving Instructor Facebook groups by simply clicking on the you know what button below. Whilst you're at it, just move your mouse or finger a little more to the left and hit the Blue "Like" button too - Thanks.