Driving a vehicle with a manual transmission? Which pedal do you use to bring it to a stop? The brake pedal? The accelerator pedal? The clutch? How about all of the above! If you answered, “all three”, then feel free to ignore the rest of this article. But if you wonder why in the world you would use the gas pedal to slow your car down, read on and consider how each of these pedals used correctly can affect braking.
Learning to drive a stick
Learning to drive a car with an automatic transmission is simple for most drivers. Shift the car into drive and let the transmission do the work of selecting the proper gear for every situation. Not so in a car with a manual, or “stick shift” transmission where you need to constantly change gears by hand while pressing a pedal to disengage the clutch. Factor in the need to take the transmission out of gear (or hold the clutch pedal) at every stoplight or the difficulty of preventing the car from rolling backward when stopped on a hill and it can be quite a bit more work.
Recently, a dad helped his young adult daughter to buy a car to replace one that had recently been wrecked. There were a couple of challenges they faced. The only vehicle available on short notice (and in her price range) had a manual transmission. And she had to get the car home the same day. The problem was, she had never driven a stick. After a couple of hours in the parking lot with dad, off she went. She managed to make it to her apartment on her own, but her journey was not without plenty of jerking and stalling in traffic.
Unlike an automatic transmission that is, well, automatic, it can take hours or even days to learn to safely operate a manual transmission. Careful synchronization of the clutch, accelerator, and brake system are necessary to make the car move. The same concept holds true for braking as well. There is more to stopping a stick shift than just pressing the brake.
Using the brake
Naturally, if you want to stop any motor vehicle, you need to use the hydraulic brake system, which is the same as that on a car with an automatic transmission. The same pedal. The same brake calipers that grab hold of the rotors with pairs of brake pads. But the way you use your brakes will vary a bit with a manual transmission.
For instance, when you are driving a stick and you want to come to a stop at an intersection, you cannot simply step on the brake pedal as you do with an automatic. When your speed gets too low for the gear in which you are driving, your car will begin to jerk and your engine might stall. If you come to a complete stop using the brakes with the clutch and transmission engaged, the engine will stall for sure.
That is because, where an automatic transmission uses a fluid coupling (torque converter) between the engine and the wheels, the clutch in a manual transmission creates a solid connection.
If your car has an automatic transmission and you use the brakes to stop, the decrease in engine torque (as you slow down) decreases the amount that the torque converter engages the wheels until there is so little force that the brakes can hold back your vehicle.
But a clutch does not adjust to let the engine turn without the wheels turning also. When the clutch is engaged, the torque from the engine goes to the wheels. Try to stop and your brakes are fighting the engine. The brakes usually win.
So, use your brake pedal to slow your car down, but be careful not to allow the brakes to overpower your engine.
How do you do that? By making sure that, as you brake and your car slows down, that you either shift to a lower gear before the engine rpms drop too far, or that you press and hold the clutch pedal, disengaging the engine altogether (although this should not be your primary means of stopping your car, since it is hard on the brakes and renders your vehicle powerless at the wheels, essentially in neutral).
(Read about 5 Things That Can Go Wrong With Your Brakes)
Using the accelerator pedal
It is best if you have full control of your car at all times. That means having the transmission engaged so that you can maintain traction. Of course, you use the accelerator pedal to keep your wheels engaged. That is why, when you enter a curve in the road, it is better to slow down before and accelerate through the curve rather than to decelerate while turning. Weight distribution is thrown off and traction is lost when you give up power to the wheels.
But what does that have to do with stopping?
Your brakes are not the only components capable of slowing down your car. So is your accelerator pedal through a process called “engine braking”.
Engine braking is the process of letting your engine assist in slowing down your car, truck, or SUV. Imagine a tricycle. If a toddler stops pedaling his tricycle but does not remove his feet from the pedals, his legs will slow down his progress. In the same way, when you let off of the accelerator pedal on a car with a manual transmission, the retarding forces inside your engine slow your wheels down too.
Engine braking will not bring you to a complete stop, but it will aid in slowing down – even without using your brakes. How do you do it? Simple: let off of the accelerator pedal and you will automatically slow down.
Using the clutch
Right along with letting off of the accelerator pedal to slow down is using the clutch. Actually, using the clutch and shifter to downshift.
What does that mean?
Well, in order to accelerate and move your car, you need to place it in gear with the clutch pedal depressed. Then you press on the gas pedal while simultaneously releasing the clutch. If you time it just right, the clutch will engage and the engine will propel your car forward. Now, if you want to travel more than a few miles per hour, you have to change gears. Each higher gear allows your car to travel progressively faster.
The same idea applies backward. When you employ engine braking by releasing the gas pedal, your car will slow down. But at some point, you will need to downshift to continue the process.
Using the clutch to slow down works in tandem with the accelerator pedal. Let off the gas and let your car slow down a bit. Then press the clutch, downshift, and ease the clutch back out. If you time it right, you will feel a firm but smooth deceleration. Continue through enough gears to slow down to the appropriate speed – or until you are ready to stop.
When to use each method of slowing down
So each method of arresting your speed is necessary when you drive a stick: using the brakes, releasing the accelerator pedal (engine braking), and using the clutch (downshifting). But when might you use them, or in what fashion?
Here are a few instances of when and how a combination of the three might be used:
Slowing from a moderate speed under normal conditions.
When you are traveling at a nominal rate of speed, say less than forty or fifty miles per hour, you can apply all three strategies. They need to be timed just right so you do not over-rev your engine or stall it out. Release the gas pedal and let the engine bring your speed down. If and when that is no longer effective, downshift to the next gear and repeat.
Slowing from a high speed under normal conditions.
If you are driving at highway speeds over fifty in most cars, you probably cannot downshift without over-revving your engine. In that case, Either release the gas pedal and coast until your speed drops, or use your brakes to slow down until you are moving somewhere around forty to fifty mph. At that point, you should be able to begin downshifting. Just make sure to match the gear with your speed.
This one can be tricky. Drivers who are used to a manual transmission are conditioned to press in the clutch pedal when coming to a dead stop. But when you have to panic brake in an emergency situation, you can use all the help you can get. That means keeping your foot off of the clutch so that you get full use of engine braking, even if you stall. It may be possible to engage the clutch at the last moment to avoid stalling, but better to avoid hitting something.
Rolling up to a light.
Here is where you want to use your clutch pedal before you stop. You have two options: press the clutch and use your brakes to stop, or use engine braking as long as possible and brake when necessary. Whether you choose ceramic or semi-metallic brake pads, the latter option will save on brake pad wear.
Driving downhill (especially on long mountain roads) can be really hard on your brakes and cause them to overheat. You should use your brakes as little as possible. That means applying engine braking by selecting the appropriate gear to keep your vehicle at the correct speed.
Who knew there was more to braking than putting on the brakes. Driving a car with a manual transmission requires a higher level of engagement with the driving process. That is one of the qualities that drivers appreciate. It also makes it necessary to ensure that your vehicle is serviced properly. If you suspect your car needs brake repair, stay away from the costly results of cheap brake service, and schedule an appointment (or have your car looked at during an oil change and 21-point inspection).
Columbia Auto Care & Car Wash | Author: Mike Ales | Copyright
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