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What does riding the clutch mean?

Compact Cars, Bridgend

July 11, 2017 at 2:04 PM

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It is a phrase you might have heard and it might even conjure flashbacks to impromptu driving lessons with your Dad and being told not to do it; however, do you know what it means to ride the clutch? If you are not entirely certain, let’s demystify the concept. We will also look at why it is not a good idea, and what you can do to break the habit.

About clutches 

First, a few basic principles on how the clutch works. The flywheel on your engine is constantly spinning, but there are times when you do not want to be transmitting that energy to the gearbox. The clutch consists of a pressure plate that engages and disengages the power. To do this smoothly, it has a friction plate that takes up the power gently – it is similar in concept and material to the brake pads that make contact with your brake discs to gently slow the car down. 

From the perspective of the driver, you push down on the clutch pedal to disengage the clutch, allowing you to engage or change the gear you want to without moving parts grinding together. You then release the clutch to re-engage everything and smoothly drive along.

Riding the clutch 

Sometimes, it is not that simple, and you have to manipulate the clutch carefully – think hill starts, for example. In this situation, you are balancing the clutch between engaged and disengaged – this tightrope act is sometimes known as letting the clutch “slip.” 

Of course, what is happening here is that the friction plate is working overtime in its neither engaged nor disengaged state. All fine for a hill start – it is just doing its job – but is not something you want to be doing all the time.

When you ride the clutch that is what is happening. It occurs when you drive along with your left foot resting on, and slightly pressing down on the clutch pedal. Most people tend to do it as they drive away from a junction, not fully disengaging the clutch, and the chances are that you don’t even realise you are doing it.

By its very nature, a clutch is a consumable component, as friction plates are designed to wear with time, but if you look after it, a clutch can last for 100,000 miles. However, if you are in the habit of riding it, you could be facing a big bill for a new clutch after travelling a fraction of that distance. 

Kicking the habit

Just like smoking or putting too much sugar in your tea, riding the clutch has health consequences for your car and can cost lots of money, but it can still be a tough habit to break.

The first thing to do is check your driving position. You are probably too cramped behind the wheel, so try putting the seat back a little. Then, make a conscious effort to take your left foot completely off the clutch pedal when not using it for its intended purpose. 

 


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