How does a clutch work?
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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…
Learning clutch control
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. The first step of getting to grips with clutch control is finding and understanding your bite point. It’s easier than you think – just follow these steps:
- Find a safe, quiet and flat practise area.
- Ensure the car is properly set up for you. If you’re not sure, check out our cockpit drill guide for more information.
- Get your seatbelt on, turn on the engine and release the handbrake.
- Depress the clutch all the way and put the car into first gear.
- Give the accelerator a gentle nudge, aiming to get the rev counter to somewhere around 1500rpm.
- Make sure it’s safe to move and, if it is, very slowly raise the clutch.
- Eventually, the clutch plates will begin to touch and the car will slowly move forward. You’ve found your bite point! Repeat steps 4-7 until you’re comfortable with the position of the bite point.
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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!