Today’s Pontiac GP post got a discussion going about clutches and parking brakes, for starting off in a stick shift car. Let’s open the discussion a bit more. How did you learn to use a clutch (and stick shift)? And what’s the best way to teach someone?
I got an early start, on tractors when I was nine. There was no real instruction, but somehow I figured it out, with a little divine intervention (full story here). Pretty soon, I could play the clutch friction point to be able to back a tractor at snail’s pace to hook up an implement. Nothing like the farmer standing there with the hitch in hand to give me the motivation to not run him down.
Fast forward some 25 years later, and I’m called on to teach my 20-year old sister in law how to drive the Ford Fiesta she just bought, having never driven it before. We went to an empty parking lot, and with the engine idling only, I had her repeatedly find the beginning of the friction point of the clutch, and just move her foot ever so gently to bump the car along, a little nudge at a time, in both first gear and reverse. I had her “bump” the car all over the parking lot, for some time. The point being that becoming truly familiar with the friction point, and knowing how to delicately play it is essential to mastering a clutch, for parking and for starting on hills.I’ve used the same technique successfully several times since.
All too often, inexperienced drivers use the clutch like an on-off switch, or roll backwards on hills when starting because they don’t really know how to use the friction point to keep the car from rolling backwards. Even at idle, a car will generally not start rolling back much on a steep hill, if the friction point is engaged before the driver lifts the right foot off the brake. It should not take much gas or slipping the clutch at all to get going on a hill. And it shouldn’t require a handbrake either. Becoming intimate with the friction point is the crucial first step.