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Clutch at stop

In the 1970s, when I attended my first traffic school for a traffic ticket, I recall the instructor saying it was safer, when stopped at a stoplight, to be in neutral with your foot on the brake - in case someone hit you from behind, etc…rather than riding the clutch. True?

Why would it be safer? If you were already in gear…you could at least move out of the way if you saw the other vehicle approaching. In neutral…you are just a sitting duck.

I believe that the case is that the cable and bearings are overdesigned for the steady state load and that the highest stresses come from the cycling of the object. The cable reaches peak strain at the start of the cycle as it breaks friction. Also the most wear on the bearing happens while is going from zero to 1500 RPM or higher. I would argue that cycling the clutch causes more wear on all components than the time spend under steady state load.

Don’t ever “ride the clutch”. I agree with others that you should be in gear with the clutch fully depressed, and not “riding” it. Your clutch will wear out prematurely if you do that.

The question was about safety rather than wear.
I think it’s up to the driver to be “in control of the vehicle” and make the correct decision and be responsible for it. I’m not aware of any laws anywhere specifying use of the clutch when stopped.

I totally agree with Lucky. I always put the car into neutral and my right foot on the brake when I am stopped at a red light. The concept is that the car should not be in gear with the left foot pressing down on the clutch, in case one is hit from behind and the left foot slips off the clutch and then the car goes into the intersection, possibly getting hit by another car going through the intersection. Better safe than sorry.

More important is not having the wheel turned. If you get hit from behind with the wheel turned you are going into oncoming traffic. You are probably not going to be pressing hard enough on the brake, clutch in or out to prevent Mayhem. I do agree neutral is better as the throwout bearing is a limited life item, and say it is 1000 hours, spending the hours with the clutch engaged at a stoplight is wasted hours.

Put the shift in neutral and let the clutch out. Saves wear and tear on your knee, which is much more expensive to replace than your car.

Here is how I handle this:

-If I’m first in line at a red light, I’ll have the car in gear and the clutch pressed so nobody behind me has to wait for me to disengage the clutch and shift into gear before pulling forward. However, there is an exception to this rule. If I can see the traffic signal for cross traffic, I might leave the car in neutral and shift into gear when the yellow light comes on for the cross traffic. This exception helps preserve the throw-out bearing.

-If I’m not first in line, I leave the car in neutral and I leave my foot off the clutch to preserve the throw-out bearing. There is plenty of time to shift into gear when the light changes before the car in front of me starts moving.

In terms of safety, one could make the argument that being in gear ready to go is safer than being in neutral because you’re ready to pull away quickly if a carjacker approaches your car or you see a semi in your rear view mirror barreling down the road toward you at high speed. This is a good rule to follow if you ride a motorcycle since motorcycles have more options while sitting at a red light. If you hear tires squealing and cars colliding behind you, you can pull your motorcycle between the cars in front of you to try to get out of the way.

I just do what @Hokiedad and most others do, use neutral. It only takes a moment to get into first, no need to plan for it.

I agree with Whitey on all counts.

@BMWR50, what kind of car are you driving that if your foot slips off the clutch, the car will be propelled into the intersection? Is it some kind of V8 or diesel, or is it an average 4 or 6 cylinder gasoline powered car?

In most cars and non-commercial gasoline powered trucks, if your left foot slips off the clutch while your right foot is on the brake, the engine will stall and the car won’t move. At idle, the engine shouldn’t have enough torque to push the vehicle forward unless you release the brake and slowly engage the clutch.

If you drive a commercial diesel truck, you can release the clutch without touching the throttle and you shouldn’t stall the engine, but in the average car, I don’t see this happening.

Who knows what evil lurks in a stopped vehicle? Whitey knows!! (remember “The Shadow”?

Don’t forget, those thrust forces have to go somewhere. When you press the clutch down, the whole of the crank is pushed forwards. This isn’t normally a problem but some cars have weak thrust bearings in the engine. You can see the front pulley move forwards when someone puts their foot on the clutch. Better be safe than sorry and slip into neutral…

I’m a big fan of putting the handbrake (emergency brake) on too, so as not to dazzle the driver behind but that’s another story!


At stoplights I always leave the tranny in neutral with the throwout bearing unloaded…foot off the pedal.

And I agree with the cop in Luck’s post. If hit from behind, it would be very easy to have your foot slip off the clutchpedal, allowing the car to take off unintentionally. That IMHO increases your likelihood of having the accident involve more vehicles, and possibly even become dangerous if the steering is turned.

When I took a UK driving license test 30 years ago not only did I have to drop into neutral at every red traffic light but also set the handbrake.

Have you ever had your foot slip off the clutch while the engine was idling? I haven’t, but I have forgotten the car was in gear and accidentally let up on the clutch before shutting off the engine.

The car didn’t move. The engine simply stalled.

Who in this forum has ever seen this happen with a car, where someone accidentally releases the clutch pedal and the car propels forward? Anyone?

I asked BMWR50, and now I’ll ask Mountainbike. What kind of car are you driving that would “take off unintentionally” if your left foot slips off the clutch pedal while your right foot is on the brake and the engine is running at idle speed?

I challenge everyone who thinks your car will “take off” at idle speed to test this theory. In an empty parking lot, deliberately duplicate these conditions, and I bet your car doesn’t more more than an inch, if that.

I did this on my very first car. It was a '73 Chevy Vega GT and it had the starter interlock switch on the clutch. I jumped in, pushed the clutch, started the engine and released the clutch - without checking that it was in neutral. Being cold and on fast idle, the damn car jumped right through the shelving in the back of the garage. I disconnected the switch after that.

Whitey, I suggest that you read my entire comment that includes “If hit from behind”.
Or are you, as I suspect, simply attacking my post for the sake of attacking my post?

If you choose to “test this theory” and have a friend of yours unexpectedly hit the rear of your car with his while your foot is on the clutch pedal, do so with my blessing. I’ll “pass” on that test. Have him hit you good and hard, just to be sure you’re doing a “worst case” analysis.

Kiwi, welcome to the Vega survivors’ group! Mike and I also had Vegas.

@MB, I was simply trying to discuss this issue, but nobody seemed to be willing to discuss it. I wasn’t trying to attack your post.

Do you ever ask a question and feel like you’re invisible when nobody answers it?