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What is riding the clutch?

You've probably heard the phrase, but what exactly is riding the clutch? We explain it here, and teach you how to avoid doing it

It's a common habit among learner drivers, but riding the clutch is something that anybody can do while driving a car. The basic principle of clutch control is to fully disengage the clutch when changing gear by pressing the clutch pedal to the floor with your left foot then and re-engage by lifting off the pedal. Doing so means you can change gear smoothly, without letting the gears crash into each other.

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• Manual vs automatic - the pros and cons

While that's the basic principle, there are times when you need to let the clutch 'slip' to get going. This chiefly happens when pulling away uphill, or if you're trying to get a lot of power to the road when it's wet or in very slippery conditions. However, this kind of slip against the clutch plates can cause excessive wear, which will shorten the life of the component, hastening its failure. And as the clutch is considered a wear and tear item (like tyres and brakes), it won't be covered by your new-car warranty.

Nissan GT-R 1,390bhp drift car - pedals

Another situation that can cause extra stress and wear is when a driver 'rides' the clutch. This usually happens when a driver has failed to take their foot of the clutch pedal after changing gear, so the clutch isn't fully re-engaged. There may be a few reasons for this, but riding the clutch is something that you must try and avoid.

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How to care for and clean your car

One reason for riding the clutch could be a poor driving position. If you're sat too close to the pedals, you might not have enough legroom to put your left foot in a comfortable position away from the clutch pedal. To remedy this, we'd recommend adjusting your driving position. The best way to do this is to press the clutch pedal with your leg locked in a fully straight position, then move the seat until you are pushing the clutch pedal against the bulkhead in the driver's foot well. Once adjusted, take your foot off the pedal, and you should have enough room to move your foot to a position on the floor that avoids touching the pedal.

Many cars have an off-clutch footrest that makes this far easier, but if you're driving a car with a cramped footwell, see if you can position your foot behind the clutch pedal. It's not ideal, but at least that means you can drive the car without pressing the pedal unduly.

Honda Civic 2017 red - pedals

If you do ride the clutch, the one telltale sign that you're causing harm to the clutch is a distinctive burning smell from the clutch plates as they slip on the gearbox shaft will be the biggest clue. If you do notice this smell, adjust your footing accordingly.

How servicing can save you money

Having a better driving position is the best way to avoid riding the clutch in a manual car, but the other way to avoid it is by buying a car with an automatic or semi-automatic gearbox. With no pedal to rest on, and more foot space as a result, you'll never need worry about riding the clutch, and facing expensive repairs if the clutch fails, ever again.

Has riding the clutch ever caused you costly repairs? Let us know in the comments section below...

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Senior test editor

Dean has been part of the Auto Express team for more than 20 years, and has worked across nearly all departments, starting on magazine production, then moving to road tests and reviews. He's our resident van expert, but covers everything from scooters and motorbikes to supercars and consumer products.

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