The accelerator is the pedal on the right of the three foot pedals in a manual car. Sometimes it is easier for a driving instructor to say “gas” rather than “accelerator” but essentially they are the same.
The accelerator controls the amount of fuel mixture that goes to the engine. The more you press it down, the more fuel goes to the engine, the faster the engine spins. You press the accelerator to increase your speed and come off the accelerator to reduce your speed.
You should use your right foot when you press the accelerator and press it very gently. Try to keep the heel of your right foot on the floor of the car. Doing so will give you more control making it easier to be gentle with the pedal. This will take some practice but over time your brain will tell your foot what to do without you even thinking about it.
Press the accelerator gently to increase the speed of the car when accelerating. The car will accelerate strongly in low gears, and more gently in the higher gears.
If you come off the accelerator pedal completely the engine will slow down, causing the car to slow down also. This is a very efficient way of slowing down, as the engine uses very little fuel when you “come off the gas”.
Try spot problems in the road early, this way you can come off the gas instead of accelerating towards a place where you need to slow down, then braking late. Letting the car slow without braking much will help you save a lot of fuel over the course of a year.
The Foot Brake
The foot brake is the pedal in the middle of the three. The foot brake is used to slow the car down quicker than just coming off the gas. You would also use the foot brake to stop the car. When you press the foot brake the brakes act on all four wheels, slowing the car down or bringing it to a complete stop.
When you use the foot brake you should also use your right foot, and press the pedal gently at first, then more firmly as your speed decreases. This is known as progressive braking. Pressing the brake pedal too harshly may result in the car skidding or the activation of the ABS system.
ABS stands for Anti-Lock Braking System, which is when your brakes come on and off very quickly to stop the wheels on the car locking up. This will not slow you down quicker, but will help you steer away from a hazard when braking hard. The ABS often starts working when there is snow or ice on the road. You may feel a pulsing or grinding under your foot when the system kicks in. Most modern cars are fitted with ABS.
When you press the foot brake your red brake lights come on the back of your car. This lets people know that you are slowing down or stopping. Check your brake lights regularly and keep spare bulbs in your vehicle ready for if one of the bulbs blows.
The clutch pedal is the pedal on the left of the three. You should use your left foot to press the clutch pedal. When you are not using the clutch rest your foot on the floor, not on the clutch pedal. Resting your foot on the clutch could cause a loss of power and reduce the life of your clutch.
You should press the clutch pedal all the way down when changing or selecting gears. Also, you should press down the clutch before stopping. This will ensure that the engine does not stall.
How Does The Clutch Work?
The clutch is made up of two plates that separate when you press the clutch pedal down. This is shown below in Picture A. The two sides of the clutch come together when you take your foot off the clutch pedal as shown in Picture C. One side of the clutch is attached to the spinning engine and the other side is attached to the wheels through the gearbox.
When you push down the clutch pedal to select a gear, the engine is disconnected from the gearbox and wheels. This helps you change gear safely, before bringing up the clutch pedal and connecting the engine to the wheels again so you can accelerate.
The Biting Point
There is a point between “clutch down” and “clutch up” which is known as the “biting point”. The biting point is when the clutch plates are just touching enough to hold the car in place on a hill, but not connected enough to move the car forward. The position of the clutch when it is at the biting point is show in Picture B above.
It is important to be able to find the biting point on a vehicle so that you can be confident you are able to move away from the side of a road or a junction promptly. If your clutch is too low, you will not move away at all and could actually roll backwards. If it is too high you may stall the vehicle or move off too quickly. The clutch is what controls how fast or how slow you move off.
Finding the biting point takes time, and practice. We will go through how to find the biting point in the Moving Off section of this course.
On most driving school cars there will be a second set of foot pedals that the driving instructor can use if he/she feels the need to. The dual control foot pedals usually have a clutch and foot brake, but sometimes have an accelerator too.
If the driving instructor needs to use the foot controls, they should tell you when and why they used them.
A driving instructor should be sat in a position that allows them to reach the driver’s steering wheel if necessary.