Do you fail your driving test for coasting?
Let’s have a look at what coasting is first of all and then I’ll explain why it can be bad and how it can affect your driving test.
If you prefer to watch a video than read the answer then this video below explains everything you need to know about coasting.
What is coasting?
Coasting is when you drive a car with the clutch pedal held down.
It is bad practice because it means the engine isn’t connected to the wheels as the car is moving which can result in you losing control.
Just saying that you lose control doesn’t really explain anything though. There are even times when coasting is necessary or you could damage the car by not doing it.
How do you lose control? What happens? Let’s look at those things in more detail.
Coasting is driving with the clutch pedal down
Coasting reduces your braking power
When the clutch pedal is up the engine is connected to the cars wheels.
If you take your foot off the gas pedal then the engine will slow down which will in turn slow the wheels down. This is known as engine braking because your engine is helping the car to brake.
Engine braking might sound bad but we’re talking about the kind of braking that reduces speed – not engine breaking which would mean we were damaging your engine! Braking, not breaking.
Whenever you brake with the clutch pedal down you will lose about 10% to 20% of your braking power. It’s hard to give a number like that because it depends on so many things like the wear and condition of your brakes, your car in general and many other factors.
Coasting too much will wear your brakes out more quickly because they’re doing all the work themselves instead of being helped by your engine.
This was more of a problem in the past than it is today. If you go back to the 1940s then car brakes were very different to how they are these days and they’d struggle to slow you down without help from the engine.
The thing is we’re not in the 1940s anymore and technology has moved on. Modern brakes are able to handle coasting much better so it’s not as much of a problem as it used to be.
In summary, if you brake with your clutch up then you will get stronger braking which is usually what you want.
Coasting when driving can alter your speed
If you’re going down a big hill with the clutch pedal up the engine helps slow you down.
That’s because the engine is not being told to accelerate when you come off the gas so it just runs at a set speed.
You’ll feel this if ever you drive down a hill in 2nd gear and then change up to 3rd gear. The car will go flying away with the clutch down.
Sometimes that may be what you want but other times it can put you in danger.
Imagine heading down a steep hill as you reach a higher speed limit. You’d be helped by changing to 3rd gear then because you’d pick up speed as you change.
Now imagine going down a steep, twisty hill on a housing estate towards people crossing the road. You don’t want to be speeding up in that situation.
When coasting is necessary
There are times you need to coast to drive safely.
What if you’re driving very slowly at 2mph in heavy traffic? If you lift the clutch up you’d drive into the back of the car in front. You also don’t need the clutch up for maximum braking power because you’re only driving at 2mph!
You also need to coast when changing gear. If you try changing gear without using the clutch you’re going to do some serious damage to your gears and engine.
Think of having the clutch down like putting the car to sleep with anesthetic as you operate on it and when the clutch is up the car is fully awake. How would you like to be operated on without an anesthetic?
This is where many driving instructors get it wrong. They insist coasting is always bad at any time and that coasting on a driving test will result in you failing and being sent to hell for all eternity.
Have you ever heard the saying a little knowledge is a dangerous thing?
More examples of when coasting is necessary
How about coasting when you’re stopping at the side of the road? You don’t want the engine connected pulling you quickly as you’re trying to slowly manoeuvre up close to the kerb. That could pull you up the kerb doing lots of damage.
What about when you’re approaching traffic lights? Putting your clutch down allows you to stop. The people crossing the road won’t thank you for leaving the clutch up, avoiding coasting but running them all over.
Another example of coasting being acceptable it when you’re driving up a steep hill slowly and need to stop. If you brake first you’ll have the power of the brake, clutch and the hill stopping you – triple braking! You’ll get a very hard and sudden stop which can be dangerous and hurt when it sends your body flying.
Coasting up a hill allows your speed to slowly drop as you lightly tap the brake to put your brake lights on to show you’re slowing down.
So you see there are many times when you need to coast to drive. You’re coasting anytime the clutch is down so it’s simply impossible to avoid.
It’s good to have the clutch up as much as you can but you don’t always need it up and anyone that says you do is missing the point of coasting.
So what about coasting on the driving test?
Coasting on a driving test really does not matter much at all.
I have done hundreds of driving tests and have sat in on over 400 of them. I’ve never even heard any examiner use the word coasting or mention coasting at all.
That doesn’t mean you should do it because it certainly can have bad consequences as we’ve described above.
What I’m saying is that many driving instructors overdo it when it comes to coasting. They make out that the driving test examiner will be staring at your clutch pedal throughout the test and you’ll fail if your clutch goes down 0.2 seconds too early.
That is just nonsense. The driving test is more about the end result rather than how you achieve it.
I would even argue the driving test isn’t marked in as much as a mechanical way as it should be. They really don’t care at all if what you’re doing isn’t textbook perfect according to engineering. So long as what you do is safe you will pass.
There are a lot of myths and rubbish on the internet about coasting on your driving test in general. Take it from someone who has done hundreds of driving tests; coasting really isn’t a big deal.