Is a vehicle easier to start with your foot pressing the clutch?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Sep 01, 2010

Dear Tom and Ray:

I am a college student who loves anything mechanical, and I work on a local farm to earn a little extra money. My boss likes to keep costs down, and that includes maintenance on tractors. That being said, none of the tractors has good batteries, and in the colder times of the year, you get only one shot of about five seconds to start them before the batteries die. My boss swears that putting the tractor in neutral with your foot OFF the clutch lessens the strain on the starter. I say it's easier to start if you press down on the clutch while starting. Who's right? I think he is wrong, but you can't argue with the man who signs the checks. -- Jeremy


RAY: No, you can't argue with him. But you can ignore him. You're right, Jeremy.

TOM: When you start the tractor with your foot off the clutch, you're forcing the starter to turn not only the engine, but also the main shaft of the transmission. So right there, you're giving the starter more work to do.

RAY: Add to that the fact that it's cold out, and that 90-weight gear oil in the transmission is thicker than my brother's skull.

TOM: That's thick!

RAY: When you step on the clutch, none of that stuff in the transmission is turning; you've disengaged the transmission from the engine. And if you've got limited battery power, that's absolutely what you want to do -- for cars as well as tractors.

TOM: In fact, if you start cranking the engine with the clutch pedal out, and then push it in mid-crank, you'll be able to hear the engine start to crank faster.

RAY: So you can do one of two things with this newfound knowledge, Jeremy. You can quietly use it to your advantage, and start the tractors the right way by pushing in the clutch.

TOM: Or you can go wave this article in your boss's face, and then after he fires you, you can use this information at your next job.

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