There are different ways to ride the clutch...bare back, side saddle, western...

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Dec 01, 1991

Dear Tom and Ray:

A friend recently confided that she drives an automatic because when she had a standard, she had to constantly replace her clutch. Her mechanic, as well as members of her family, accused her of "riding the clutch." She admitted to me, however, that she didn't really know what that meant, and asked me. I realized that although I have heard the phrase for years, I don't know what it means either. I have not had inordinate amounts of clutch trouble, so I'm probably not doing it, but my curiosity is piqued. Can you explain?

TOM: Great question, Marcia. Strictly speaking, "riding the clutch" means having your foot on the clutch any time it doesn't belong there.

RAY: And there are many different ways to ride the clutch. There's bare back, side saddle, western...

TOM: Seriously, Marcia, one way people ride the clutch is by using it to keep the car from rolling back?wards. You often see these people stopped on a hill waiting for a light to change. And instead of holding the car still with the brake, they put the car in first gear, give it gas, and hold the clutch about half way out. That's riding the clutch in the first degree: Pre-meditated clutch riding. And if you live in a hilly area and do this all the time, it could mean a new clutch every 10,000 miles (or 2,000 hills, whichever comes first).

RAY: Second degree clutch riding is when you take too long to let out the clutch during shifts. It's when you use a lot of gas, and let the clutch out real slowly and carefully to keep the car from stalling or bucking. Second degree clutch riding is also called "killing the clutch in self defense," because people are defending themselves against stalling and being honked at by an angry mob of commuters.

TOM: But the truth is, you'd be better off letting out the clutch faster and giving it less gas, even if it meant stalling once in a while. Because the longer you take to let out the clutch, the sooner it's going to wear out. The penalty for second degree clutch riding: A new clutch every 30,000 miles.

RAY: Finally, the most common type of clutch riding is also the least understood. It's when you let your left foot rest on the clutch pedal after you've completed your shift. That's third degree clutch riding--involuntary clutch slaughter.

TOM: You may say "But I'm not even pressing down on it!" But you are! You may not realize it, but it doesn't take much pressure at all to start disengaging the clutch. There's only about an inch of free play in the pedal. Do you know what free play is?

RAY: Wait a minute, I thought this was a family column.

TOM: Be quiet. Free play is that first inch or so of downward travel in the clutch pedal where the pedal is "floppy" and is NOT disengaging the clutch. But if your foot is resting on the pedal and accidentally pushes it beyond the free play, you're wearing out the clutch!

RAY: So if you don't want to ride the clutch at all, Marcia, here's our advice. First, when you're afraid of rolling backwards, use the hand brake instead of the clutch. Second, when you're shifting, get your foot on and off the clutch pedal as quickly as possible. And third, if you're not shifting, stick your left foot out the window--or at least rest it NEXT to the clutch pedal. Or, ignore all of this advice and do what your very wise friend did: Get a car with an automatic transmission.

Get the Car Talk Newsletter

Got a question about your car?

Ask Someone Who Owns One