Why your clutch may need replacing earlier than normal

Why your clutch may need replacing earlier than normal

Here are a few reasons why your clutch may need replacing earlier than normal.

Busy junctions

With trickier pupils at busy junctions, we often tell them to set the gas perhaps 1-2 seconds earlier so when they bring the clutch up to the biting point, the risk of stalling is a lot less. How we should teach them is to coordinate the clutch and gas simultaneously – still setting the gas first, but doing it a lot quicker.

Hill starts

Hill starts will be another cause. Again, less coordinated pupils will set the gas a lot longer in advance than an experienced driver.

Riding the clutch

Check your pupils aren’t riding the clutch while they are driving. Riding the clutch means the clutch is slightly depressed while the right foot is on the gas. It’s okay to cover the clutch, especially approaching potential hazards, but the left foot shouldn’t be chilling on top of the clutch pedal. If it is, your pupil may be pressing the clutch down by 1-2cm – this is easily done with no noticeable changes to the engine noise.

Adding complexity too soon

Thoroughly lay the foundations of moving away and stopping, clutch control and gear changes (1-3 up and down) first – especially if teaching in a petrol car.

Many instructors get their pupils doing junctions too early in order to please them so the pupil thinks they are progressing quicker than they actually are. In reality, the pupil doesn’t always understand the clutch or gears very well. This causes problems at busy junctions and roundabouts later, which has a long term effect on the lifespan of a driving instructor’s teaching vehicle clutch (especially in petrol cars).

I know this because I have been there myself in my earlier days proving driving lessons in Bedford and Milton Keynes. My pupil and I would be the lead vehicle at a junction then a lorry turns up behind us. I’m looking in my rear window thinking, “this lorry driver isn’t paying much attention, he’s looking to the right before we have even gone. If we stall, we could be going to A+E.”

Remaining calm, I would often verbally assist the pupil to prevent them from stalling by saying, “gas, gas, more gas” just as they were deciding to go.

With the gas over set, even if the pupil brings the clutch up slightly quicker than normal, there’s a good chance we can leave the junction and my back/spine survives another day from being hit from behind.

It took my first burnt out clutch to realise the route problem was my teaching causing my clutch to go too early at 50,000 miles. I knew I had to change my teaching style to reduce my payouts on new clutches and flywheels. Ultimately, my pupils started to receive better and more thorough teaching at the early stages of learning to drive, making life easier for them later while also financially better on my car.

If you find yourself doing this, go back to quiet and straight road. I used to do an exercise called ‘ready, steady, go’ with pupils.

What is Ready, Steady, Go?

This must be done on a quiet road, ideally where you can get 4-5 move off and stops done.

You first tell the pupil to imagine they are at a roundabout with the handbrake down and in first gear. You deal with the observations and only instruct the pupil to go when safe. Ask pupil if they are ready and, between 1-5 seconds of asking, say “go”.

You may experience a lot of stalling at the beginning of this exercise but this will just emphasise how much you have been verbally assisting your pupil to set the gas in busy situations to avoid stalling with traffic behind you.

Once the initial practice exercise is up to a level where the pupil isn’t stalling and they are moving away briskly on command, then extend it to practising while creeping, then with the handbrake on as well.
When moving onto creeping and with the handbrake on, you may experience pupil stalling.

Finally, once all 3 exercises are being performed by pupil unaided then practise mixing up the type of start-up.

Remember that some learners depend on remembering and some will understand. By mixing it up, you will establish whether they understand or are remembering. Understanding in both theory and practical is want you and the pupil should really want.

See the top 5 reasons for failing standards check for more information on VARK and the 4 different learning styles.

Further practice

Another exercise to practise is holding the car on the clutch in small doses. This can be done on a hill with focal points by the side of the road. Ask your learner to move the car with just the clutch to the next lamp post and, without using the brake, hold the car steady with just the clutch so the car doesn’t move backwards or forwards. This will help the learner understand the biting point.

Letting the clutch up too quickly

Many instructors say you have to count to 3 seconds before the clutch comes up fully. This often doesn’t work because the bottom part of the clutch is just springy and the last third to the clutch coming up is just as springy – ONCE the engine and clutch plates have joined.

After your pupil can execute holding the car on the clutch, get them to do it again on a flat service. Once the car starts moving (allow 2 seconds), say to the pupil, “bring the clutch up as quickly as you can.”

This will help them to understand that it’s middle area of the clutch that is sensitive and should be held long enough for both the clutch plate and engine plate to join. Once the learner can feel this, they won’t be pressing the clutch 1/4 down still going down the road.

Any clutch control exercise should be done on quiet roads where the pupil can solely focus on seeing, hearing and feeling the clutch/engine work together.

If you master this early with all of your pupils in a petrol car, you will thank me later. These exercises and foundation knowledge could be the difference between your pupil learning quicker, less frustration from both parties and, of course, saving your clutch so it lasts more than 50,000 miles before it needs to be replaced.

I do believe that a higher level of technical instructor knowledge is required when teaching in a petrol car. Diesel cars are more forgiving with the higher torque, meaning less gas is needed to move away. In many instances like manoeuvring, no gas is required.

Diesel vs. Petrol

It’s a big debate for another article – they both have their pros and cons.

As a general rule, I would recommend trainers and or those just about to become a driving instructor in the near future to start with a diesel tuition car then consider petrol later on when you believe you fully understand the mechanics of the engine, clutch and gears.

You will find your teaching style and techniques will vary slightly on the type of car you are driving; whether diesel, petrol, a 1L engine or a 2L engine. By fully understanding the gears, clutch and engine, you and your pupils will have the transferable skill set to adjust to any vehicle. Which is more easily said than done for many new drivers and instructors out there.

If you have read the above and feel you may benefit from some an extra driving instructor trainer/advice then please feel free to contact us for more information.

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