Stalling, the biting point and clutch control

Beginners' guide to clutch control and the biting point

If you’re learning to drive in a manual car, there’s no two ways about it – you’re going to have to master clutch control. Although this may seem frustrating to begin with, after a while it should become second nature. It’s also essential to becoming a capable driver, and ultimately passing your test.

Biting points and clutch control

In this article:

What does the clutch do?

We’re not going to go into too much technical detail about how the clutch works here. Suffice to say that it connects and disconnects the power from your engine to your wheels, via the gearbox.

When you press down on the clutch, it disengages the engine from your wheels. This allows you to change gear. In other words, you can’t change gears when the clutch is raised.

Unless you’re in neutral, when you raise the clutch, it engages the power.

Clutch control is essentially mastering this power transfer. It’s particularly important for maintaining control of the car at low speeds. It allows you to do a number of things, such as change gear, pull off, and drive in slow-moving stop-start traffic.

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Clutch control

When you’re learning clutch control, there are a few tips to bear in mind.

First of all, treat the clutch gently. You should raise your foot with care, as small changes can have a big effect on the car. Control is the key word here.

When it comes to the biting point, you need to find the balance between your clutch and accelerator. There will be a point where you apply a certain amount of pressure to each, and the car will be on the brink of moving while remaining stationary. Try not to over-rev the engine, but apply the accelerator enough that you won’t stall if you raise the clutch. The most common reason for stalling is not giving it enough gas.

As mentioned, finding the biting point is sensory. Get used to the feeling when you find the biting point, and this will help you to avoid stalling. Being in tune with your pedals will help later on when you need to master hill starts.

It is worth saying you might want to try out different shoes when driving, lots of people have specific driving shoes they leave in the car to help them feel the biting point.

Avoid heavy-soled shoes, getting used to the clutch is harder if you lessen the sensation in your feet. You should always drive in a pair of shoes that allow you to pick up on the subtleties of the pedals.

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Finding the biting point 

Follow these steps:

  • Using your left foot press the clutch fully down to the floor before selecting first gear.
  • Place your right foot to the accelerator pedal and hold it steady.
  • As you slowly start to lift your left foot off the clutch, you’ll feel the engine and wheels starting to engage and may see the front of the bonnet rise a little. Now hold your feet steady.
  • When you first learn to drive, finding the biting point will be something you have to play around with. This is a case where practice makes perfect.
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Hill starts and biting points

Once you’ve started getting to grips with the basics of driving, you’ll probably be tasked with stopping and starting on a hill. Hill starts will show your driving instructor you’ve got excellent control of the car, and there’s a high chance it’ll be a part of your driving test if your test centre is anywhere near a hill. But finding the biting point can prove more difficult during an uphill start. 

Tips for a successful hill start:

  • Understanding the importance of good clutch control is the basis for a successful hill start. You’ll first need to press down harder on the accelerator than usual.
  • On a flat road, when moving off, your gas is around 1500rpm on the rev counter; on a hill start you should aim for around 2000rpm.
  • When you move the car off it must work harder to pick up momentum and you may need to release the clutch from the biting point area slower than normal to avoid stalling.
  • You’ll probably have to stay in lower gears for longer than usual, giving the engine more power to drive up the hill.

To learn something properly, often you need to put down the books and get some hands-on experience – or, pardon the pun, you need to put yourself in the driving seat. Your driving instructor will show you everything you need to know, but a little head-start can ease your nerves and get you prepared for your life on the road faster.

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What happens if I stall?

If you don’t use your clutch effectively, you’re likely to stall. When this happens, the engine cuts out. True, this can be dangerous depending on the situation. If you stall while pulling out at a junction, it can leave you vulnerable to other traffic. But while learner drivers dread stalling, its downsides can be overstated.

The best thing to do if you stall is remain composed, put the car in neutral, and restart the engine. Even if you stall on your driving test, it needn’t be a huge deal, and certainly won’t necessarily mean you’ll fail. You’re more likely to be marked on how you deal with stalling, rather than the stalling itself.

It’s certainly best not to make a habit of it though. Frequent incorrect use of the clutch can lead to mechanical problems, and a clutch that’s worn can be expensive to fix or replace.

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Struggling with clutch control, should I drive automatic?

If you’re really struggling to get the hang of clutch control, you might consider learning to drive in an automatic. Vehicles with automatic transmission essentially deal with the clutch and gear changes for you.

Think hard before making this decision though. If you pass your test in an automatic, you’ll only qualify to drive an automatic. Manual vehicles are more plentiful, cheaper by and large, and situations may well arise where it would be handy to drive one. Mastering clutch control and qualifying to drive a manual car opens up a world of motoring opportunities.

Although it may seem embarrassing when you stall, rev the engine too high, or grind your gears, most drivers will do this from time to time. And this is true regardless of how long they’ve been on the road. All drivers make mistakes now and again, and you’ll get used to it.

Read more on driving in an automatic.

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