Stalling On Your Driving Test

Stalled in the wrong placeBased on search terms used to find the blog:

Do I fail if I stall on my test?

No. Not automatically. It depends on many things, like where you do it, how many times, and how you deal with it. Stalling is NOT automatically a serious (or “major”) fault.

If you stall once when moving away or stopping, then as long as you start the car safely and move away or stop correctly afterwards, the worst that will happen is that you’ll get a driver fault (and you may not even get one of those). However, if you repeatedly stall when moving away, as a rough guide you’ll get away with it maybe two or three times (a couple more if you’re lucky) until the examiner decides it is a real problem – then you’ll get a serious fault for it.

If you stall at a junction a lot depends on what is happening behind and in front of you, and the delay, danger, and inconvenience that results. For example, if you want to emerge from a junction, stall, and miss a gap in heavy traffic – which causes inconvenience to those behind you – then you can easily get a serious fault.

If you stall in the middle of a junction (i.e., when turning right), the risk of inconveniencing others and causing a dangerous hold-up increases dramatically. It is possible to recover completely from this and come out of it with only a driver fault (and maybe not even one of those), but a serious or dangerous fault is also possible.

Much depends on how you deal with it. Stay calm, and make sure you get going again quickly and safely.

Will I fail if I stall twice?

As I said above, it depends on how and where you do it. The short answer is no, not automatically. However, stalling is a control issue, and you’re being assessed on how you control the car as part of your driving test. Any stall is bad and should be avoided, but if it happens just deal with it as I’ve explained elsewhere in this article and keep your fingers crossed.

If you stall, you can’t undo the fact that you’ve done it. But you can prevent it snowballing into other faults or further stalls.

If you repeatedly stall in the same situation – when moving off, for example – then you really can’t control the car and are probably chasing down a fail. You can’t blame nerves – the examiner is marking you on what he or she sees. As I say, avoid stalling – but deal with it properly if it happens.

If you stall several times in different circumstances – let’s say once in a queue of traffic, once during a manoeuvre, and once right at the start of the test –you just need to keep your fingers crossed and not let it worry you. You might legitimately blame it on nerves in this case, and the examiner may interpret it that way, too.

Will I fail if I stall more than three times?

An examiner once told me he worked on the “five strikes and you’re out” principle. Not all examiners adopt the same approach, and it certainly isn’t written down anywhere that they have to. I tell my pupils to assume “three strikes and you’re out – if you’re lucky!”

As I’ve said above, you can fail for stalling just once if it happens in the wrong place at the wrong time, or if you deal with it inappropriately. Stalling occurs due to poor control of the clutch and gas pedals – you cannot just blame it on nerves, though this may be a contributing factor. So, if it happens more than once it is definitely edging towards being marked as a serious fault. Three or more stalls is even further along the path.

I have seen people pass their tests with more than three stalls having been recorded. However, I’ve seen many more fail for less than that.

How many times can you stall on your test and still pass?

How long is a piece of string? You can fail for doing it once or pass after doing it any number of times. It all depends on the situation(s) involved.

Simplest advice: don’t stall. If you do, deal with it and keep your fingers crossed.

I keep stalling on lessons and my test is next week

If stalling is normally a problem on your lessons, you simply aren’t ready for your test. You need to sort the problem out and not look for ways of “getting away” with it. You should take your test when you are properly trained, not just because you want to.

Is stalling twice on my driving lesson good or bad?

As I have said elsewhere in this article, stalling is a driving fault. If you do it even once on your test, it could easily lead to a situation resulting in a fail. Do it more than once and that risk increases, because the more you do it, the more it points to an underlying lack of control.

You shouldn’t be stalling on a regular basis on your lessons – if you are, then you’re not really ready for your test. Having said that, we all make mistakes (or have “off days”), and a couple of stalls as an isolated event doesn’t mean anything at all. Just remember that even if you never stall on lessons, if you do it on your test you still run the same risk of failing.

What is a stall?

It is when the engine can’t handle what it is being asked to do and stops. The car (usually) has an engine management system which will attempt to avoid stalls at low revs, but when you try to move off with too little gas set the weight of the car slows the engine down so much it just stops. This can happen even more readily on upward slopes and hills if you don’t set enough gas, or if you don’t accelerate away hard enough as you raise the clutch further.

Sometimes, the car can’t make up its mind whether it is going to stall or keep going, and that’s when you get the “kangaroo hop” everyone associates with learners. If this happens, put the clutch down quickly and you’ll probably rescue the situation. Then apply the gas and find the bite gently again.

What is “repeated stalling”?

Someone has recently been finding the blog on that precise term. I would have thought it obvious that if you stall once, then again, then stall again when you try to move off, you are stalling “repeatedly”. Likewise, if you stall every time you try to move off, or at every junction, or set of traffic lights, you are also stalling “repeatedly”.

You shouldn’t stall at all, though it can happen to anyone. If you do stall – even once – then it is usually just a driver fault on your test. If you do it more than that – especially if you do it repeatedly – it becomes a serious fault.

Note that stalling even once can be marked as a serious (or even dangerous) fault if you do it in the wrong place or at the wrong time, as I have explained elsewhere in this article.

Why do learners stall so much?

Actually, if they’re being taught properly, most learners don’t stall much at all. The time when stalling is most likely to occur for a typical learner is when it comes to moving away promptly. Stalling occurs due to poor control of the clutch and gas pedals, as explained above, and early-stage learners have not developed this skill. So, when in a stressful situation (or if they’re not prepared) then they can easily lift the clutch too quickly, resulting in a stall or a kangaroo hop.

Stalling when moving off is not the same as stalling after they’ve stopped – or rather, it does not occur for the same reasons. It is quite common in the early stages for new drivers to pull over and take their foot off the clutch before they’ve put the car in neutral (often, they’ve tried to put it in neutral and got it into another gear instead). So, stalling after they’ve parked is a completely different situation to stalling when they’re in flowing traffic (something I’m always quick to point out to them).

Some learners find clutch control much more of a challenge, and these might stall a lot more than the majority do. It’s simply a case of working hard to correct the underlying cause, which varies from person to person.

What should I do if I stall?

Above all else, don’t panic! Your absolute main priorities are to get the car started safely and to move it promptly out of the way, maintaining control throughout.

Your priorities are NOT to automatically stamp on the footbrake, put the handbrake on, and get it into neutral. Sometimes, that’s what you will have to do – but other times it will just make the situation worse by causing a delay in getting going again. Remember that if you cause a hold up, that’s far more serious on test than a simple stall that you quickly and safely deal with. You have to decide at the time which is the best way to deal with it.

Start the car quickly, check that it’s safe, and move away.

Do I need to use the handbrake if I stall?

No. Not necessarily. Sometimes, putting the handbrake on (and/or selecting neutral) just adds to the delay. You must do what is appropriate for the particular situation you’re in.

If you’re likely to roll backwards or forwards into danger, then use the handbrake. The examiner’s brief is that you deal with things safely and maintain control if you stall – not that you systematically use the handbrake every time.

Should I go into neutral if I stall?

No. Not necessarily. However, if you are going to start the engine with the car in gear, make bloody sure you have the clutch down. Some newer cars won’t start without the clutch down anyway, but if yours isn’t one of those the car will lurch forward if you start it in gear with the clutch up. That’s almost certainly a guaranteed serious or dangerous fault because you are not in control, and you are not safe.

Should I put the handbrake on and go into neutral every time I stall?

As I explained above, this may add to the delay and allow a dangerous situation to develop, so the answer is no – not automatically, and not every time. Some instructors argue that because you might panic, then you should go through this laborious routine for every stall. That is a bit of a cop-out, though.

Every situation is different – and plenty of them are such that if you did go through the full handbrake/neutral routine then it would push you into a fail, whereas using another approach would not.

Should I stop if I stall?

No. Not necessarily. Slamming the brakes on when it isn’t necessary could quite easily cause someone to go into the back of you at a busy junction if they see you start to move. It’s hardly much consolation knowing it was technically their fault if they’ve written off your car and given you whiplash (and are probably blaming you anyway with their insurer). You have to decide whether you need to stop or not depending on the individual situation.

Why did I stall?

A lot of possible reasons, including:

  • not depressing the clutch before stopping
  • being in the wrong gear for the speed
  • not enough gas when moving off
  • bringing the clutch up too quickly
  • using the handbrake incorrectly (e.g., using it to stop or leaving it on when trying to move off) with the clutch up

It could be any combination of these. Before you try and move off again, make sure that you’re in the right gear. That eliminates one possible cause.

Remember that you need to calmly set the gas, find the bite, check all round, then release the handbrake. Keep your feet still once you have the bite, then after the handbrake is released apply more gas and gently raise the clutch all the way. The most common reasons that people stall when moving off are that they panic and keep lifting the clutch beyond the bite while the handbrake is still on, or they suddenly lift the clutch after they release the handbrake. It has to be a smooth action.

Keep all these stages absolutely separate. If they all start to merge together it is a recipe for disaster! There will be plenty of time to develop overlapping control once you gain experience – but as a learner you must work on the basics and keep everything structured so that you can develop good basic control skills.

Why does my car “kangaroo hop” when I change gear?

I’ve mentioned elsewhere that learners often bring the clutch up too quickly without having enough gas set. So, the car lurches forward, then decelerates as it nears stalling point. However, sometimes there is just enough gas set for it not to stall, at which point it lurches again, and then the process repeats itself. That’s the “kangaroo hop” in action.

If you don’t change gear smoothly – and I mean bring the clutch up gently, then apply the gas – you can get the same effect. You may find that it’s more of a problem if you were taught in a diesel and are having problems in a petrol car (i.e., you’re not setting enough gas), and you may find that it’s also a problem in older cars (try having your car serviced if you really think there is a fault).

In the majority of cases, it is probably because you’re changing gear too soon so you’re in the wrong gear for the speed the car is moving at. The two graphs of speed against time show how an experienced driver will accelerate in 1st gear, and when the car is well into the 2nd gear speed range he will shift into 2nd gear, then repeat for subsequent gears. Learners (and new drivers) will often robotically shift from one gear to the next before they’ve built up enough speed. They will also sometimes compound the problem by taking too long to change the gear, so the car actually slows down during gear shift.

Is lurching forward a driving fault?

Yes, and it could be regarded as serious or even dangerous depending on when and where you do it.

Lurching happens when you bring the clutch up too quickly and is pretty much the same as the “kangaroo hop”, but without as many hops. It could be very dangerous if you did it when you were stopped behind another vehicle, if pedestrians were standing in front of you, or if you were waiting to emerge into traffic.

Lurching is a sign of poor pedal (clutch) control. If you only, do it once and no one or nothing is close by you’ll probably get away with it, but if it is obvious that this is how you operate the pedals it is most likely going to be marked more seriously.

Can I fail if my gear change isn’t smooth?

You are unlikely to fail if you’re a bit rough a couple of times. But if every gear change is like a bag of spanners falling down the stairs, then it IS a fault, and you may find yourself being marked down for it. After doing it a handful of times, it COULD end up becoming a serious fault. Read the article which explains your driving test report. You’re supposed to operate the controls and pedals smoothly, so if you don’t you are at fault and could be marked down accordingly.

Note that selecting the wrong gears also progresses in a similar way, with the possible exception of getting it into 1st instead of 3rd. If you do that, the car decelerates rapidly, and that’s extremely dangerous – it’s like braking hard for no reason, and cars behind could hit you. A lot would depend on only doing it once, and not having anyone behind you when you did.

What causes my car to “switch off” when I’m driving up a steep slope?

It’s stalling. You haven’t got enough gas set, you are in the wrong gear, or a combination of both. It can happen going forwards or backwards.

If you’re talking about something else when you say “switching off”, take it to a garage and get it looked at.

How should I handle a stall?

It really depends on the situation. You can use the full handbrake/neutral procedure sometimes, but there are many other cases where just restarting the car is going to be the quickest and safest way out of a stall.

In the middle of a busy junction, for example, if you start to move forward but then stall, you could quickly start the engine while the car is still moving as long as you don’t roll into a dangerous position. Keep the clutch down as you restart it.

How do the examiners assess a stall?

DSA SOP DT1 only gives only one example:

Assessment Criteria – (example)

Driving Fault

After stalling at a road junction, handbrake applied but attempts to start the engine whilst in gear.

Serious Fault

At a road junction, engine started whilst in gear, resulting in vehicle entering the new road with potential risk to other road users.

Dangerous Fault

Any situation brought about by a lack of ability to recognise the need to operate or being unable to operate the controls, which directly affects other traffic or pedestrians and causes actual danger.

This requires interpretation because it doesn’t cover every possible situation.

To start with, serious (S) and dangerous faults (D) are easy to identify. If the car moves into the new road – whether in gear or not – it is marked S or D. The division between a driver fault and a serious (S) fault isn’t as clear cut.

If you stall and restart the engine with the clutch down and still in 1st gear, as long as there is no risk to other road users, this is technically only a driver fault (but it may not be marked even as that). It is perfectly OK to do it, and it doesn’t matter if you don’t use the handbrake as long as you’re in control.

If you start the car in gear, but have the clutch up, the car will lurch. If it doesn’t enter the new road and there is no other risk or danger, it may only attract a driver fault, although it could easily be regarded as a serious (S) fault. If you’ve applied the handbrake when this happens then it may swing things in your favour. This is why some instructors end up blindly teaching the handbrake-neutral routine – albeit without realising why they’re doing it.

Of course, if you do the same thing twice or more – i.e., lurch forward without realising the clutch is up or stall due to being in the wrong gear when trying to move off – then you’re moving deeply into serious (S) territory.

Hopefully, you can see the point here. If you are a competent driver, then you can restart and continue as if nothing happened without using the handbrake or going into neutral. But if you stall and get any of the expected behaviour wrong, the meter starts to rise – how high depends on how much of a hash you make of it! And robotically applying handbrake/neutral creates its own problems because it takes time and causes longer delays in getting moving again.

It is important to stress once more that every situation is different and has to assessed at the time it happens. What is a driver fault one time could be a dangerous (D) fault another, just because of who is on the road behind and in front of you.

Is stalling dangerous?

It depends on where you do it, but yes – it can easily be very dangerous.

Cars behind will see you start to move and will expect you to move off normally and accelerate through the junction or crossing. If you stall, they might not see you stop and could easily drive into the back of you. Rear-end shunts, as they’re called, are one of the most common bumps news drivers (and driving instructors on lessons) have to put up with. And even if the car behind you manages to stop, the one behind him might not – and it is all because you stalled.

Admittedly, from an insurance perspective it will almost certainly be considered as the fault of the driver behind who didn’t see you stop, but that’s no consolation if your car is all banged up (and your own insurance might still rise as a result, because you’re going to have to lodge a claim). Remember that even minor damage to an old vehicle might see it get written off by the insurers, and you’re not likely to get the same money you paid for it.

You might also cause serious problems if you stall in the middle of a junction as the lights change, and traffic starts moving towards you from the other roads.

Stalling when moving away from a parked position tends to get marked as only a driver fault (under “control” on the marking sheet). However, doing it repeatedly means that you can’t control the car and it usually becomes a serious fault once it is clear you cannot move off reliably.

Does stalling damage your car?

Or as the term used to find the blog went, “can stalling a diesel break ya car”?

Cars are tough, so the occasional stall is unlikely to do any harm. However, when you think about how the clutch works, if it wasn’t so tough – or if the stall was a bad one – the potential for damage is always there. Part of the problem is that a stall can vary from just asking a little too much from the car on a slope as you move away all the way up to lifting your left leg up at the same speed as a bullet whilst pushing the gas pedal to the floor with your right. And it doesn’t matter whether it is petrol or diesel.

It happened to me a couple of years ago. Without any warning whatsoever, a pupil who was otherwise a perfectly competent driver at that stage of his training somehow managed to put the clutch down and bring it up again twice in roughly the same time it takes to blink when he panicked in moderate traffic. As a direct result of hammering the clutch surfaces together like that, I needed a new clutch (£800).

Just face the fact that stalling is not good however you look at it, and that you should avoid doing it.

Can you stall in neutral?

No. Not unless there’s something wrong with your car. Learn how the clutch works, then you’ll understand.

Can you stall a diesel?

Yes. People who have reached test standard only have problems when they switch to a petrol car because they have been taught the finer points of control incorrectly. Simply because they didn’t stall in the diesel, they learnt in doesn’t mean diesels can’t be stalled – they can.

It’s worth noting that some modern cars are “semi-stallproof”. If you stall them, then immediately put the clutch down, they will automatically restart. They still stall, but there’s no fiddling with the key and restarting and moving off again is much quicker. You still need to make sure you know why you stalled, though – otherwise you’ll just do it again.

Do petrol cars stall more than diesel ones?

They stall more easily. If driven properly – with enough gas and in the correct gear – petrol cars do not stall any more or less than diesels do.

I had my clutch replaced and now the biting point is completely different

Been there. Done that. Got the T-shirt! And it’s horrible, isn’t it?

Don’t worry, though. When I bought an 18-month-old Citroen Xantia many years ago, at its first MOT the garage told me the clutch was worn and would need replacing soon. Since I didn’t do many miles, I ended up driving it for at least another 4 years, but eventually the clutch began to slip, and I had to bite the bullet. When I went to pick it up after the clutch was replaced, I couldn’t move it out of the garage!

As time had gone by, the biting point had risen gradually, and I had just gotten used to it. With the new clutch, the bite was now right back at the lower end of the pedal movement and my foot’s “memory” kept trying to go to the higher position – which meant stalling. A lot.

It took a few hours to get used to it, and a few minutes each day for about a week until my foot was re-trained. It’ll be the same for you, so just persevere and it’ll be all right.

I just bought a car but I keep stalling it

A lot of my learners tell me this. Again, don’t worry. There’s nothing wrong with it or you. All cars are different and whenever you get in a new one it will take time to get used to it.

My car has a weak biting point

Although this could mean a lot of things (it was a real search term used to find the blog), it most likely refers to the clutch slipping. That usually means the clutch is virtually gone and needs to be replaced. Trust me, if you try to drive your car it could easily just give up on you and leave you stranded (with expensive recovery charges).

Why do I keep stalling my diesel car?

Usually, diesels are harder to stall than petrol cars. If you are stalling your diesel – and you are absolutely certain that if you got in a petrol car then you wouldn’t stall – my first reaction would be to suggest you have a fault and need to get it looked at in a garage.

As I have explained, a stall is when the engine is asked to do too much and stops. It usually happens because you bring the clutch up too quickly, don’t have enough gas set, or a combination of both these things. Stalling is more likely when you’re moving off uphill, and it gets even more likely as the gradient increases (i.e. the steeper the hill).

Are you sure you’re putting gas on? Your instructor’s car – if it was a diesel – was likely to be new and properly serviced, and you may well have been taught (incorrectly) not to set any gas. It isn’t just petrol cars that become more temperamental as they get older, and it may be you are trying to drive your instructor’s way in a car that just cannot handle it.

Why do petrol cars stall?

All manual cars can stall. Diesel engines are less prone to stalling because they usually have more torque – or “turning power” – which means they’re harder to stop. People who have been taught inappropriately (i.e., not taught to set gas or allowed to be clumsy with the clutch) will have problems if they drive a petrol car simply because its lower torque makes it easier to stop the engine when it has load applied to it.

Will a racing accelerator help me stop stalling in traffic?

This was actually used to find the blog.

If you mean fitting some kind of boy racer mod, then NO. Stalling happens because you aren’t controlling the pedals properly, not because of the kind of pedal you have.

If you mean applying some gas before you find the bite, then more gas before you raise the clutch further, YES. That’s what I have explained above.

Can I fail for over-revving?

Short answer, yes, though it may not even get marked if you do it once or twice – slightly. Doing it all the time, or if it is grossly excessive, shows you have poor pedal control or the wrong attitude to driving.

Over-revving is bad for the clutch and is potentially dangerous. You should not try to move off with a wheel spin.

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