Starting the Engine
This chapter covers the learning to drive basics of moving off and stopping. Before starting the engine, you must always remember to take the precautions of checking that the parking brake is applied and the gear lever is in neutral.
The next thing you need to do is make sure that the steering lock is disengaged. This is a simple security device which locks the wheel in place when the key is removed so that it cannot be steered. If the key won’t turn, just move the steering wheel up and down a little until the key clicks and releases the lock.
Starting routines do differ from car to car, especially with modern keyless ignitions and various other developments. You may need to adapt these instructions to suit and refer to your car’s manual, but here we will deal with a standard key ignition.
Turning the Key
When you turn the key it goes through three positions. The first releases the steering lock. In the first position you can also operate some of the minor controls.
The second position is the ignition. When the ignition is turned on, the warning lights will light up on the dashboard’s instrument panel. You should always check that those lights are working before starting the engine; familiarise yourself with what these lights mean. When you turn the key to the ignition position, you can also operate all the main electrical controls of the car.
The third and last position is the starter itself. To start the engine, the first thing you have to do is to hold the clutch down with your left foot. To get the engine running the key must be turned fully away from yourself. When you do that you will hear the engine turning. Sometimes it will start straight away; other times you will have to hold the key for several seconds. But as soon as you hear the engine start you can release the key, you can also ease your foot away from the clutch pedal.
The Biting Point
In preparation for moving off, you need to put the car into first gear and bring the clutch to the biting point. Remember that’s when the two clutch plates first begin to touch.
First thing is to put the clutch down and hold it there, then face your palm towards your left on the lever and select first gear. Now very lightly press on the accelerator to set the gas so you hear a steady hum, then keep your right foot still. Listen to the engine and slowly bring the clutch up until you hear the sound change then keep your feet steady. That’s the biting point.
Even this simplest of driving skills may not go right first time. Often the vehicle will stall or begin moving forward if you bring the clutch up too high. In the event of a stall, check that the parking brake is on and select neutral before restarting the engine. Stalling can be a regular occurrence at this stage. But you mustn’t worry if this happens or rush the restarting procedure.
If the car begins moving forward while attempting to find the biting point, keep calm. Just put the clutch down, take your foot off the gas, and try again. Once you have found the biting point successfully, practise this several times. When you feel confident, it is time to move on.
Before actually moving off and stopping, two other things need to be covered: ‘normal driving position’ and ‘adequate clearance’. During normal driving you should try to keep the vehicle about half a metre from the kerb while on the move. When passing stationary obstructions such as parked cars, you need to give them clearance of at least the width of an open door wherever possible. Where this is not possible, you should always reduce your speed.
You should prepare for moving off by going through the biting point procedure. When you are ready to move off you must make sure it’s safe, so check the mirrors, look ahead, and keeping your feet still, check over your right-hand shoulder to see if anything is hidden in the blind spot.
If it’s clear, keep your feet still and release the handbrake. Then with a final check in the mirrors, slowly bring the clutch up till the car moves then keep your feet still. Steer to the normal driving position; slowly bring the clutch up fully and check the mirrors once more.
Hopefully you should now be moving along at a nice slow speed. Once you have fully engaged the clutch, do make certain to take your foot away from the pedal. ‘Riding’ the clutch must be avoided from the outset to prevent it developing into a habit. Otherwise you may have a tendency to put the clutch down without even realising that you’re doing it. This happens in particular when approaching turns and unless the clutch is fully engaged the car is not properly under control.
You should maintain a slow steady speed for a short distance while getting used to driving along. Make sure that you get into the habit of having a regular check in your mirrors, particularly if you have to change direction to avoid an obstruction.
Before stopping, the first thing is always to check your mirrors so that you’re aware of any effect you may have on following traffic. Indicate left if necessary, ease off the gas and cover the brake with your right foot. Steer gently left nearer to the kerb, and cover the clutch with your left foot. Straighten the steering wheel, and with a final mirror check you can gently brake and put the clutch down, keep your feet still when the car stops. Apply the parking brake and select neutral before taking your feet from the controls.
Signalling to Stop
You may have noted that I said to ‘indicate left if necessary’. The reason for this is that signals need not be given if they are not going to help anyone. If someone is reasonably close behind you, they will need a warning signal. You should also indicate to help drivers ahead who may be waiting to emerge from a junction, or to inform any pedestrians who are about to cross the road. If you’re not sure, then signal to be on the safe side, but always try to put some thought into what you’re doing rather than just going through the motions. A thinking driver is always going to be a better one.
When learning to drive, moving off and stopping can take a bit of practice. Make sure that you practise this enough times to feel comfortable before moving onto the next stage.