Dear Tom and Ray:
My dad had a rule when we were growing up: “You can’t drive any car until you learn to drive a stick shift.” I have two brothers who had no problems learning, but boy did I give my dad a run for his money on that one. I just had a heck ofatime getting the feel for it, although it didn’t help to have him screaming, “CLUTCH! CLUTCH!”, and turning red while the car was shaking and we were weaving around on country roads. Anyway, I ﬁnally got it, and I actually really enjoy driving a stick now, and I have never bought an automatic. My question is this: One of my dad’s many, many rules of driving is, “Foot off the clutch when you turn a corner.” And when he’s with me and I’m driving, every time my foot is even near the clutch, my dad has to bark, “Foot off the clutch, foot off the clutch!” I swear I hear it in my nightmares. I recently moved back to my hometown, and my dad said, “I don’t know what happened when you left town. You were a perfectly good driver, and now I have to re-teach you everything.” He claims that by leaving my foot off the clutch when taking turns, I will extend the life of it. I think he’s full of it and likes to critique all aspects of my driving and ﬁnd faults. Please help.—Tesa
TOM: Well, your dad technically is correct, but he needs to switch to decaf.
RAY: There are times when you simply can’t avoid using the clutch when you’re turning a corner.
TOM: There are two parts of the clutch that tend to wear out, Tesa. The one you should be most concerned about is the clutch disc, which is the “gripping surface” that does the bulk of the work of transmitting power from the engine to the transmission. The way you can abuse the clutch disc and send it to an early grave is by riding the clutch, which means spending too much time with your foot in between fully on and fully off the clutch pedal.
RAY: The other part that sometimes wears out is called the clutch release bearing, which is a device that applies pressure in order to separate the clutch plates. You use that bearing every time you step on the clutch pedal. But it’s very difﬁcult to abuse your clutch release bearing unless you make a habit of sitting at stoplights for minutes on end with the clutch fully depressed. Or unless you drop your gym membership and start using your clutch pedal to do lightweight, high-rep leg exercises.
TOM: So Dad’s being a little over-zealous here. Plus, sometimes you have to push in the clutch when you’re taking a corner. Let’s say you’re in second gear and you’re making a left turn at a trafﬁc light. He wants you to just stay in second and then accelerate out of the turn.
RAY: But what if leaving it in second gear makes you go too fast through the turn? Or if trafﬁc in front of you slows down? Then the right thing to do is push in the clutch.That allows you to slow down and control your speed, and then, when appropriate, either re-engage second gear or shift down into ﬁrst.
TOM: So your dad’s technically correct: Every time you step on the clutch pedal, you are wearing out your clutch release bearing a little bit. Just like you’re wearing out your knee a little bit every time you walk. But is it worth worrying about, or yelling about? No.