This information is critical. Make sure you learn this well, as mistakes that are easily avoided can cost you your driving test.
Stalling happens to everyone. We all have moments when we make a mistake and stall the engine. It shouldn't happen, or at least it shouldn't happen very often, but it does. None of us can claim to be perfect, we will all stall at some point.
Learner drivers seem to think that stalling is the end of the world. It's perhaps embarrassing, it might mean that other people don't think they're very good at driving, and if it happens on their driving test it must mean that they've failed.
If you feel like this and you're worried about stalling the car and failing your test because of it, not only do you run the risk of stalling even more because you're so afraid of it, but you're worrying without any valid reason for doing so.
Many, many learners stall the car at some point on their driving test. Many, many of them still pass. The reason is because stalling the car does not mean that you've automatically failed your test, it simply means that you've made an error with the controls of the car and not quite managed to get things right. It's often a problem with clutch control and it's easy to fix with practice.
I've had many learners who'd previously been with other instructors who had no idea how the clutch works. Worse, their previous instructor had helped them by using the clutch for them on the dual controls. That's not teaching you anything and if your instructor does this I suggest you look for a new one immediately. I can absolutely 100% guarantee that the examiner will not help you on your test, so learn to do it yourself and make it easy to pass.
However, read this carefully and take note of what I'm telling you. If you stall the car at any point during your driving test, the act of stalling is almost irrelevant compared with what you do next. Read on to find out how to react.
Stalling the car is not usually a problem. What you do immediately after stalling the car can be an absolute disaster and can cause you to fail your driving test. If you stall during your driving test it is critical that you deal with it properly because I can assure you, the examiner will be watching you intently for how you deal with it.
Accept the fact that stalling happens. We don't want to stall, no one does, but get over it because it's going to happen. It doesn't mean that you're the worst driver in the world.
Once you've accepted that it does happen from time to time, the next most important step is to develop a routine to follow after it happens. Learn the routine and practice it.
Before we discuss a routine to deal with stalling after it happens, let's just think about why, where and when it's likely to happen in the first place.
How the Car Stalls
The car will usually stall when the engine is being asked to propel the car forwards whilst the engine is not spinning fast enough, or when it is turning over quite happily but the clutch is lifted too quickly and the engine can't cope with the sudden stress of moving the weight of the car.
What it usually boils down to is not enough gas or the clutch being lifted too quickly.
Sometimes other factors such as leaving the handbrake on when trying to move off can cause the car to stall. Another common reason for stalling is leaving the car in 3rd gear instead of 1st gear when trying to move off or emerge slowly from a junction.
The way to deal with this is to get plenty of practice with your instructor and to make sure that you always select the correct gear.
Practice controlling the car at slow speed. Practice this a lot. You cannot drive anywhere without having to control the car at slow speeds, and the more experience you have of this the better.
Practice getting the car down to crawling speed at 2 or 3 miles per hour, select 1st gear, slowly let the clutch up whilst squeezing more gas and gradually build up the speed. Do it again. And again, and again.
Where Stalling Usually Happens
Stalling is common when moving off from the side of the road, when emerging from junctions, at roundabouts (exceptionally common) and on hill starts.
If you read through that list you'll perhaps notice that all these situations have one thing in common - these are all the very aspects of driving that learners fear the most and some instructors don't like to teach.
It's clear that the reason for this is that learners really do have a fear of having to stop at roundabouts or emerging from junctions. In fact, it's so much easier to stay in 2nd gear than it is to go into 1st gear and have to control the car that they'll often do anything at all to avoid it.
The problem is that this almost desperate need to keep the car moving in 2nd or 3rd gear can lead to emerging onto a roundabout or from a junction when it's just not safe to do so. Without doubt, this is because they have either no idea how the clutch works or haven't had enough practice.
The fear of slow car control and stalling is so deep that many learners avoid it at all costs, even if it means risking the result of their driving test.
As I've said above, the answer is to face this fact, accept that controlling the car at low speed and in low gear is vital, then practice it with your instructor.
What To Do After You Stall
OK, so let's assume that you've just approached a busy roundabout. There's quite a lot of traffic about, it's a sunny afternoon, you've seen your gap to enter the roundabout, press the gas and . . . Uh, oh . . . You stall.
First things first, don't panic.
The normal and understandable reaction here is absolutely the wrong thing to do. So many learners in this situation immediately reach for the ignition key and turn it to start the engine, only to find that the car lurches forward even further onto the roundabout and won't start.
The key point here is that the initial stall isn't usually a problem and it certainly doesn't guarantee that you've failed your test. What our learner did next almost certainly did guarantee that they'd failed their test.
Think about it. The car was in gear, the handbrake wasn't on. As soon as the key is turned the engine is in contact with the drive wheels (unless the clutch is down) and the car will lurch forwards. Even with the clutch down the examiner will not be impressed because the car isn't secured properly to start the engine.
It's always essential when we start the engine to run through a simple cockpit drill. Starting the engine after a stall is no different. We must make sure that the car is properly secured before we even think about turning the key.
Here's the drill our learner at the roundabout should have followed.
Once again, we're at the roundabout, we see the gap, we judge it just right, we try to set off and . . . uh, oh . . . We stall
We are in a busy area, with other road users all around us. Although we may feel that we are inconveniencing other road users with our presence, we're not causing any danger by moving or driving at anyone, so we don't need to panic.
You can take just a second to clear your thoughts and realise that what's happened is not the end of the world.
The very first thing we should do is to secure the car. Leave the ignition key alone.
First, reach for the handbrake, squeeze the button on the handbrake lever, and apply the handbrake to make sure the car is safe.
Once the handbrake is on press the clutch to the floor and put the car into neutral. Feel free to wiggle the stick left and right to make sure it's not in gear. Being in gear at this point is the last thing you want and won't impress the examiner one bit.
Now, leave the gear stick alone and put your left hand on the steering wheel so that you can control it if necessary. You may think this is pointless because the engines not running, but what if the delivery driver behind you is reading a text on his phone and runs into the back of you? The car will move forwards and we need to keep as much control as we can.
You can leave the clutch down, there's no reason not to, it at least ensures that the engine is not connected to the drive wheels. You can then reach for the ignition key and turn it to start the engine without any fear of the car lurching forwards.
The engine will burst into life, but hang on in there, don't panic, let's do this right and let's pass your driving test.
You now have the car safe, secure and with the engine started, but think about where you are and how the road situation around you could have changed in the last few seconds.
Before you even attempt to move off again it is critical that you perform full, all round observations. I would suggest that you don't simply have a quick look, I'd suggest that you do the full all round observations I've written about in the moving off from the left tutorial.
Only when you’ve done these observations should you move the car forward and get back to driving.
Taking the time to do the observations has so many advantages. You now know exactly what's around you, you know it's safe to move, the examiner knows that you're capable of dealing with this situation, and on top of that it gives you time to calm down and take a breath. It gives you just a little space to control yourself.
Once again, here's the drill:
- Handbrake on.
Do not reach for the ignition key, do not reach for the gear stick, don't do anything until the handbrake is on
- Clutch all the way down, into neutral.
Do the wiggle with the gearstick to make sure the car isn't in gear if you want to.
- Left hand on the steering wheel.
Do not keep your hand on the gear stick because the temptation will be to go into 1st gear far too soon
- Reach for the ignition and start the car.
You can keep the clutch down as you do this if you like. Some models of car actually require this as a safety feature, mine does.
- Full observations all around.
Take time to do this and make sure it's absolutely safe before you move off
- Follow your usual procedure to move off.
Squeeze the gas, lift the clutch just as slowly as you need to, keep up the observations and get the car moving.
Common Serious Errors After Stalling
As I've mentioned, stalling itself is not usually a major problem. It's how you deal with it immediately afterwards that is.
It really is common for learners to make very serious or dangerous errors just after stalling and fail their test. They confuse the act of stalling with what they did after stalling and think that the initial stall was the reason they failed. That's really not often the case. They usually failed because they did something dangerous afterwards in their panic to get going again.
Here are the big no no's. These are common serious or dangerous errors after stalling:
- Starting the engine without securing the car.
"securing the car" means handbrake on, gear stick in neutral. The car is then safe to start up. If you don't do this you can't possibly be in full control. Think back to the possibility of being hit from behind. If the handbrakes not on you'll lurch forwards dangerously.
- Leaving the car in gear.
This is common and is always a fault. You should never, not ever, start the car whilst it is in gear. It's just not safe to do so.
- Moving off too quickly in a panic.
This is the number one cause of significant driving test problems. Believing they've made the worst mistake possible and that their world is coming to an end, so many learners panic, start the car quickly and move off dangerously to 'make up' for the time they've lost. It's always a mistake and usually one that leads to a test fail. Far better to take your time and get it right.
- Failure to carry out effective observations.
Along with moving off too quickly in a panic, this is a major cause of driving test fails. I can't stress this enough, if you've stalled the car on a roundabout or busy junction just realise where you are. The traffic around you changes by the second. You simply must take full and effective observations. Failing to do so is nothing other than dangerous.
Make sure you learn a routine for when you stall, because it will happen. Go through it and practice it. Yes, you can practice this by faking a stall then you're not doing it for the first time on your driving test. Discuss this with your instructor and make sure you stay calm, secure the car and carry out full and effective observations before moving.
I wish you well with your driving test