You’ve probably heard the phrase. You’ve probably done it yourself. But do you know what ‘riding the clutch’ is?
Clutch riding is a common habit among both learner and experienced drivers. Once you’re in the habit, it can be a difficult one to unlearn. However, for more effective clutch control and the long-term health of your vehicle, it’s an important habit to get out of your system.
This guide explains the purpose of the clutch pedal, clutch plates and covers what the phrase ‘riding the clutch’ means, before going on to cover some easy ways to avoid settling into this habit and wearing your clutch plate out.
What is a clutch pedal?
You might be asking yourself “what exactly is a clutch and what does it do in my car?”
It’s not as stupid a question as you might think. With so many complex mechanisms powering your car, it’s common for a driver to not fully understand them all in detail or have the first idea of what a clutch does and how riding the clutch might be bad.
In simple terms:
The clutch transfers the rotational power from the engine to the wheels of a manual drive vehicle.
The clutch is a vital part of a car’s working machinery, connecting two or more rotating shafts, providing an important connection between the power-generating engine and the wheels, essentially keeping them moving.
To change the speed of a car or bring it to a complete stop without switching off the engine, the clutch is needed to temporarily break the connection between the engine and the wheels. When your foot is off the clutch pedal, a series of springs keep the pressure plate pushed against the all-important clutch plate.
The pressure provided by the springs additionally pushes the clutch plate against the flywheel. This helps the engine transfer motion to the wheels through the shaft, allowing both to turn at the same time. When you’re pressing down on the clutch pedal, you are pushing down on a release fork, setting off a series of springs and pins to pull the pressure plate away from the clutch plate. This breaks the connection between the rotating engine and wheels, allowing the wheels to continue to spin under their own momentum, rather than through the engine’s power.
This design allows you to change gears and gain a greater deal of control over the vehicle.
Riding the clutch explained
Riding the clutch is the process where the driver keeps the clutch pedal partially pressed down while the engine is running.
This prevents the clutch plate from fully locking to the clutch pressure pad. However, it creates more friction. As a result, it is spinning at different speeds, which results in wear on the clutch.
Constantly riding the clutch provides just enough pressure to keep the clutch release bearing against the release springs. This causes the bearing to remain spinning, which can cause premature bearing failure.
Some examples of situations in which riding the clutch is common include:
Waiting in traffic
When stationary or stuck in slow-moving traffic it’s easy to start riding the clutch. A typical sight in this scenario is the vehicle ahead of you slowly moving forwards and backwards ever-so-slightly. They are more than likely holding the car in this position by riding the clutch.
While there is no outright danger associated with doing this, it can cause significant strain and wear on the clutch plates. If stationary in traffic, it’s safer and better for your vehicle’s health to apply the handbrake and move the gear to neutral.
Moving the car
Learner drivers will commonly be taught to try and identify the clutch biting point while practising clutch control. Finding this biting point is a great way to avoid staling the car when moving off, although it can affect the lifespan of the clutch. As the engine revs, you can access a perfect starting point from a static start.
More experienced drivers should replace this technique with a more secure method of clutch control. Fully depressing the clutch and slowly releasing it is a much kinder and sustainable way to protect the mechanism. More confident drivers should look to implement this into their driving repertoire quickly.
Resting your foot on the clutch
Keeping your foot on the clutch pedal is another typical example of riding the clutch, also known as clutch slippage. Whether this happens depends on the amount of pressure exerted onto the pedal and how light the mechanism is to the touch.
This can significantly shorten the life span of a clutch. When not using the clutch, your left foot should be removed from the pedal and rested on the floor.
Finding the biting point still has its benefits on hill starts, but there’s no need to use it in regular, everyday driving. Practice moving the car by instead releasing the clutch from the floor and holding the clutch in the biting point area until the car gains momentum and can be fully released.
Ways to avoid wearing out your clutch
As you can see, riding the clutch is a highly damaging way of controlling your vehicle. Let’s look at some ways you can avoid permanently damaging your clutch and other forms of costly, unnecessary wear and tear.
Sit in neutral when stopped
Good vehicle maintenance is all about not doing anything unnecessarily damaging to your car.
Sounds straightforward and obvious, but common little habits such as riding the clutch can lead to significant long-term damage.
When you’re at a traffic light or junction with your foot down on the clutch pedal, first gear engaged and your foot on the break ready to go you’re putting an excessive amount of strain on the clutch.
Instead, look to sit in neutral while static in traffic, ideally by using the handbrake.
Use the handbrake when parking
Another good use of the handbrake is while parking.
As noted, leaving the car in gear puts unnecessary strain on the clutch and engine. Where possible, use the handbrake to secure the car while parking rather than keeping it in gear. This relieves pressure on the clutch disc while not driving.
Change gear quickly
Try not to linger and be decisive when changing gears.
Quickly changing gears is difficult for new drivers first learning how to control a manual car in particular. However, a couple of seconds extra can quickly add up and have an impact on your clutch. Every time you change gear you’re putting pressure on your clutch. Remember that next time you fiddle around getting into third.
What damage can be caused by riding the clutch?
While there is no outright danger associated with riding the cutch, it can put unnecessary wear on the clutch plates.
Is riding the clutch possible on a motorcycle?
Motorcycles have two types of clutch systems. Wet clutches at submerged in oil and run cooler, therefore offering more durability. Dry clutches, by contrast, have less power. Some riders will use riding the clutch methods to turn around tight corners, although that can be dangerous as you are relieved of some control.