The proper way to use the clutch.

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | May 01, 1992

Dear Tom and Ray:

I just learned to drive a standard transmission, and appreciated your recent column on "riding the clutch." Could you please give more details concerning the proper time to use the clutch? Being new to this, I have started watching friends drive, and have decided that everyone does it differently, and they all think they're right. Examples: Friend A--Puts foot on clutch whenever braking, even when going down a long hill. Friend B--Puts car in Neutral going down a long hill. Friend C--Puts car in Neutral at stop light, and takes foot off clutch. Friend D--Depresses clutch at stoplight and puts car in first gear while waiting for green light. Everyone has his or her own method. Which are right?

RAY: Well, Nancy, I'm pleased to let you know that three or your four friends have received special commendations from the Clutch Remanufacturers And Producers Of Los Angeles (CRAPOLA). CRAPOLA represents after-market clutch retailers, and is delighted to see that your friends are doing everything they can to keep the clutch business healthy (I guess the clutch business has been slipping lately).

TOM: Actually, Nancy, you're dealing with two different sub-disciplines of Clutchology here. The first involves what to do when you're descending a hill. The second concerns stop lights.

RAY: Let's deal with hills first. Both friends A and B are doing things that are dangerous. The engine provides a natural braking action. And keeping the car in gear helps keep the car from speeding out of control. So you should always be IN GEAR when coming down a hill.

TOM: That also keeps you from having to over-use your brakes, which can cause them to overheat and fail. So you never want to keep the clutch in or put the car in Neutral when you're coming down a steep hill. And in fact, it's illegal to do so in many states. Find a gear that keeps the car at a reasonable speed when descending a hill, and leave it there.

RAY: And at stoplights, Friend D is all wet. There are two parts of the clutch that can wear out. One is the clutch disc, which wears down every time you change gears. It wears out even faster if you ride the clutch (as we described in a previous article).

TOM: The other part of the clutch that can wear out is the "clutch release bearing." It's being used every time your foot is on the clutch pedal--even if you're not changing gears! So when you sit at a light with your foot on the clutch, you're shortening the life of the release bearing, even though you're not wearing out the disc.

RAY: So in this case, Friend C is the only one who's correct. Friend C puts the car in Neutral at a stoplight, and takes his or her foot off the clutch pedal. And that's what you should do.

TOM: Then, as soon as the guy behind you in the Camaro starts blowing his horn and giving you the requisite hand signals, push in the clutch, put it in first, and away you lurch. Good luck, Nancy.

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