Will I wear out my clutch by keeping the car in gear at a stop light?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Jan 01, 1995

Dear Tom and Ray:

My husband and I have an ongoing argument about the clutch in his truck. He says that it is bad to have your foot on the clutch when the truck is at a total standstill, and that it will wear out sooner than if you leave your foot off the clutch. He says it's better to keep the truck in Neutral and use the brake at a stop light. I say it doesn't matter if you have the clutch in all the way when you are stopped at a light. Please settle this once and for all so that we can move on to more important issues, like whether the fan should be left running on the air conditioner in our house.

RAY: We can settle it, Debbie. But you're not going to like the solution, because your husband is technically right.

TOM: There are two parts of the clutch that wear out. There's the clutch disc, which is the part that actually gets "grabbed" or "clutched" by the spinning flywheel and connects the engine to the transmission. The way you ruin the disc is by taking a long time to get into, and out of, each gear. That's called "riding the clutch," and my brother's real good at that.

RAY: The other important part of the clutch--the one that most people don't think about--is the "throw-out" or "release" bearing. That's the part that presses against the pressure plate and "releases" the disc.

TOM: So technically, when you're sitting at a stop light with your foot on the clutch, you're wearing out the clutch release bearing. And I say "technically," because in the big scheme of things, it's really not that big a deal.

RAY: So here's what you do, Debbie. When you're driving a manual transmission car, and you stop at a red light, shift into Neutral and take your foot off the clutch. And while you're sitting there in Neutral, you two can tackle some really important issues, like the air conditioner fan and whose turn it is to get up to jiggle the toilet handle tonight.

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