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When sitting in traffic or at a long red light, is the Best Practice to have the car in 1st gear with your foot on the clutch, or in neutral with your foot off the clutch?

Some say that you should be in gear to be ready to move if necessary.

Some say that long-term clutch use can lead to premature wear of clutch components, such as the throwout bearing (and certainly many more if you don't get the clutch fully disengaged!).

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My choice would depend on the duration of the stop. If you're rolling up to an intersection and see the light change to red knowing you will sit for a full cycle I'd opt for "in neutral foot off the clutch". Pulling up to an already red light I would go for "in gear clutch depressed" as you can figure you'll have a short wait. Having the clutch depressed adds wear to the throw out bearing, slave cylinder and clutch fingers. Having the clutch engaged with the transmission in neutral does not add wear to the clutch as it is mated to the flywheel and not slipping which is what causes the wear. This does add some wear to the transmission but it has been my experience that transmission bearings and gears are more robust than the clutch parts and seldom fail from wear. Some may argue that cycling the clutch adds wear but the use is momentary, not the constant load of holding the clutch disengaged.

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This does add some wear to the transmission... Really? While driving, one of six (or more) gears is in use. In neutral, none is. In addition, no torque is transmitted, and the difference in RPM of the gear wheels and the shafts is small. I guess, one meter of driving puts more wear to the gearbox than one hour of parking in neutral... – sweber Sep 20 '15 at 20:30

Guidance from the Institute of Advanced Motorists in the UK is to place the car into neutral and use the parking brake. The wear on the clutch from keeping the clutch pedal in isn't likely to be an issue(*), but in the event of the car behind bumping you your foot could slip off the clutch, propelling you into the car in front!

From an ecological perspective, a more and more accepted best practice is actually to come to a complete stop, change to neutral, put on the parking brake and turn off the engine. For anything over a 15 second stop (or thereabouts) this is less ecologically damaging, and is the reason many modern cars do this automatically.

(*If you don't push the clutch in fully, you can wear your clutch plates quite easily, so if you have a strong spring on your clutch pedal you should take care holding the clutch.)

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+1 for using the parking brake - This also has the advantage of not dazzling the drivers behind you with your brake lights... – Nick C Aug 15 '12 at 9:20
FYI: quite a few cars in the USA tie the day-time running lights to the parking brake. So if you raise the handle, the lights go out, possibly making the person opposite think that you're trying to signal who knows what... – Bob Cross Aug 15 '12 at 12:03
Are daytime running lights in addition to your headlights (dipped or full) and rears/brake lights? – Rory Alsop Aug 15 '12 at 13:31
the Institute of Advanced Motorists? What a fantastic name! Parking brake advocates are clearly not interested in making a quick getaway. I agree with @BobCross re: potentially confusing on-off of the headlights and tail lights when the parking brake is used. Plus, I like the added visibility from the rear of having the tail lights/brake lights on. Last in line in stopped traffic is a vulnerable spot. – mac Aug 15 '12 at 14:46
The IAM is not an advocate of parking brakes, but more focused on reducing risk to the motorist than to making a quick getaway. And as for brake lights- I know I hate them dazzling me so I make sure I don't dazzle the driver behind. – Rory Alsop Aug 15 '12 at 15:38

In a properly maintained fully functional manual transmission equipped automobile, I prefer to be in neutral with my foot not on the clutch pedal. The reasoning is that if I happen to be rear ended or something, there is no way for me to accidentally take my foot off of the clutch and roll out further into cross traffic.

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Having driven a bus with a non-synchro gearbox and a wet clutch, I understand the meaning behind "stuck in neutral" - for if you didn't slide it into first before coming to a halt, there was no getting it into first without suffering the embarrassment of shutting down the engine. The habit dies hard; synchro or not, I still hold at a light in first gear, engine running, clutch fully depressed and some pressure on the service brakes.

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Wow, nice piece of info. I sometimes hear trucks start up when a light changes although they had been idling before. Always wondered what that was about. I had a car that sometimes didn't want to go into first from neutral, especially when the engine was not running, but I always thought that was just a faulty transmission. – no comprende Apr 6 at 1:42

As a somewhat paranoid motorcyclist, I'm a huge fan of remaining in first, with the clutch disengaged until at least one vehicle has fully stopped behind me, after that if the remaining stop time is long (frequently it isn't) I may switch to neutral.

Until that vehicle has completely stopped, you're at risk of being rear ended by someone failing to stop in time. Evasive action is much faster from first than neutral.

For cars, there's far less opportunity to take evasive action (A bike can slip between lanes, cars can't), so it may matter much less.

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