Left foot braking

Posted on September 14th, 2007 in Handling,Opinion,Safety,Suspension,Tyres by Julian Edgar

brake.jpgWhen you were taught to drive I’d wager 10:1 that no-one ever said anything about left-foot braking. The left foot was for the clutch, or in an auto car, for bracing yourself when cornering. (The driving instructor never said anything about that either? Oh well.)

I first started left-foot braking about 15 years ago. After reading a story on RWD handling that described left-foot braking, I decided to have a go. The first thing that I found was that after years of accelerator operation, my right foot had developed a super sensitivity – but my left foot was used to only operating the clutch. Left foot braking therefore resulted in a crick in the neck, until I learnt some sensitivity with that foot as well!

The worth was proved when I found myself pedalling a loan car, one that handled like it was shod with 75 series rubber pumped up to 20 psi.  The auto car had chronic understeer, but – much to my surprise – I found that it could be largely cancelled-out with a dab or two of left foot braking.

It seemed to work best around large roundabouts. Going in hard, tyre squeal and then understeer would start to intrude. Not backing off the throttle at all, I’d dab my left foot on the brake, which would then cause an immediate tuck-in out of all proportion to the slowing in speed.  If it again started to understeer too much you’d just keep on dabbing…  It improved the handling sufficiently that I was impressed.

Back in my own constant four wheel drive car, I tried the same technique, but not so happily.  Firstly, I had to go so bloody fast to make the car, wearing sticky rubber, understeer by the same degree, and, secondly, the reduction in understeer wasn’t nearly as pronounced.  In the wet, you also had to be super-gentle – otherwise the transition to oversteer was quite abrupt!

However, these days I tend not to use left-foot braking for handling reasons. Instead, when driving any auto trans car, I use my left foot for all braking requirements. Why? Well, simply because I can be so much faster on the brakes. In any situation where braking might be required (a child playing by the side of the road; a car that looks like it doesn’t want to give way), I can poise my left foot over the brake pedal, ready to mash it down hard.

I only realised how much I had adapted to left-foot-braking-in-autos when I drove a people mover that had a steering column positioned so that left foot braking was impossible: braking with my right foot felt downright awkward!

If you’ve never given your left foot a chance at braking, give it a go. You might be surprised at the advantage it can give you. 

16 Responses to 'Left foot braking'

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  1. Lindsay said,

    on September 14th, 2007 at 6:34 am

    I got introduced to the concept of left foot braking during a motorkhana. Another competitor was giving me tips and said that I should try it.
    And so, I decided to give it a little go over the next few weeks. I too found out the steering wheel is scarily close to you head when you left foot brake. But now that I can do it without headbutting the dash it’s quite good.
    I never did get used to using it in the motorkhana.
    And I did learn the interesting “trick” of using my right foot on the accelerator too. It must look interesting to see someone driving (albeit an auto) down the road with their right foot hanging out the window.
    I recommend trying left foot braking to anyone. It one of those skills that I think will be useful one day, probably in an emergency braking situation!

  2. Marty said,

    on September 14th, 2007 at 9:53 am

    When I attended a driver training course several years ago, the instructors cautioned against left foot braking, because in an emergency braking situation, having your left foot bracing you against the firewall allows you to keep better control of the car, rather than possibly sliding forward as soon as you hit the brakes.

    Something else that really annoys me about left foot brakers are the ones who drive with their left foot resting on the brake pedal, resulting in the brake lights remaining on.
    Not only is this bad for your brakes, but it’s annoying for anyone driving behind these people…as the brake lights are always on, so you don’t know when they are actually applying the brakes!

  3. Ben Styles said,

    on September 14th, 2007 at 11:30 am

    Yeah – it’s amazing how “insensitive” your left foot is when all it has been doing all these years is operating a clutch!

    I only left foot braking to heat up my brakes (I run semi race compound on street) as I am approaching my favorate twisty bit of road. I just drag the brakes as I am accelerating until they get up to temp.

    I think a MUCH more useful technique to learn first is heel-toe downshifting. I groan everytime I see someone slam down through the gears without blipping…the engine braking unsettles the car massively, and severly affects corner entry.

    On the topic of general Hi-Po driving skills…if any of you have access to a real driving simulator like netKar Pro with proper H pattern shift and three pedal setup, I highly recommend using this to begin to develop some finness, as you can often cut your lap times massively by building some skills in a safe and accurately modelled environment…(don’t even consider games…they don’t teach you anything as they do not accurately model car behaviour)

  4. Steve Taylor said,

    on September 14th, 2007 at 12:33 pm

    I tried left foot braking for a while, but it became quite tiring holding my left foot over near the brake pedal – it’s almost as if the brake pedal should be over where the clutch pedal is in a manual (my car is automatic). I do agree on the much reduced reaction times if left-foot braking though.

  5. Darren Roles said,

    on September 14th, 2007 at 3:23 pm

    Left foot braking is definately handy when in a FWD car. Can reduce understeer substantially and can help control lift-off oversteer. Don’t really know about how it goes in a RWD car as I’ve driven FWD for as long as I can remember.

  6. Winston said,

    on September 14th, 2007 at 4:58 pm

    Agree with Darren, left foot braking is only a really a FWD performance orientated technique, used mainly in long sweepers to stop the nose of the car from pushing wide.

    Can also be used in laggy turbo vehicles (awd, fwd or otherwise) as a form of anti-lag; keeping the throttle down so the engine is on boost and braking with your left foot, so you’re on full boost on corner exit

  7. Howard said,

    on September 15th, 2007 at 3:54 pm

    I like to use left foot braking on challenging winding roads, especially down hill ones, where you don’t need to down change to negotiate a corner. It’s a semi-normal thing from when I learned to drive my Dad’s go-kart when I was a kid. Right foot for go, left foot for slow.

  8. doctorpat said,

    on September 18th, 2007 at 1:24 pm

    I first learned to do this after Julian first wrote about LFB some years ago.

    I am grateful. Not for the handling (I tend not to drive on a public road to the point where a BMW will understeer) but because of the reaction time.

    There have been a number of times when, having the braking foot ready to go, has meant a much safer emergency stop than otherwise.

    Thankfully, I don’t think any of them would have been accidents if I was using my right foot to brake, but they would definitely have activated ABS or locked wheels. And I regard doing so on a public road as a personal failure.

    Off road is a different matter all together 🙂

  9. Jennifer said,

    on September 18th, 2007 at 6:14 pm

    I have found a left-foot dab at the brakes useful before entering a certain sweeper at my local track. This is less unsettling to the car than coming off the throttle to dab the brake. However, it is necessary to remember that, if you have vaccuum assisted brakes, the usual assistance will not be sustained for long if you are also using the throttle.

  10. Ray K said,

    on September 19th, 2007 at 2:04 am

    Had to laugh when I read Darren & Winston, NOT saying they are wrong, just that I was going to say the opposite. I learned to left foot in the ’60s when racing RWDs , havent tried on a modern FWD.
    Have to disagree with the “doc”, left footing should be a calculated and practiced technique not an emergency responce. Read the article in Motor this month from Mercedes. Most drivers dont brake hard enough ! If your car has ABS , in an emergency you SHOULD brake hard enough to activate the ABS. It is the fastest and safest way to stop and keep control (except on gravel-whole ‘nother story). I learned to “cadence” brake – slam-release-slam-release – ABS in your head.

  11. John Sancrant said,

    on September 19th, 2007 at 5:14 am

    While a skilled driver who is aware of the technical subtleties involved may use left foot braking to reduce brake application delay time, the practice has draw backs for the average person.
    The main problem from using the left foot, is that it typically results in the brakes being partially applied unintentionally, a considerable percentage of the time with the obvious negative consequences, of excessive fuel consumption and very high brake lining wear. In addition, “unintended acceleration” is more likely for some unskilled persons who are easily rattled when the unexpected occurs.

  12. Lindsay said,

    on September 19th, 2007 at 9:42 am

    Just read Winstons comment.

    And I have to agree with Ray K. Not entirely true. Using LFB on a FWD to encourage some increased oversteer (or reduced understeer), it is the same for a RWD.
    If you ever do Motorkhanas then it is exceptionally tight turns that you’re trying to achieve. You want the rear tyres to loose grip, so you really want serious amounts of oversteer around the turns.
    Similarly, understeering becomes more of an issue with an LSD.

  13. Darren Roles said,

    on September 20th, 2007 at 8:55 am

    Just to clarify what I said earlier in this thread: I said I had NO EXPERIENCE with LFB in RWD cars, I didn’t say it had no benefit in this application I was only stating my experience using LFB in a FWD vehicle.

    However, I would imagine that using LFB in RWD cars to induce oversteer would require modifications to brake bias and the like?? Not to mention issues with ABS and stability control systems which from my understanding are designed to eliminate/minimise any oversteer or what the ECU determines to be a ‘loss’ of control.

    Now we starting to get into tuning of your vehicle for specialist applications; drag racing, drifting, motorkhana, circuit and rallying all would require different set-ups wouldn’t they…

  14. Lindsay said,

    on September 24th, 2007 at 12:58 pm

    Motorkhanas are great, because you can take an otherwise ordinary car and have a go. I used my road car (albeit that I am setting the car up for occasional track work) to the event and had a go.
    My car is nothing fancy, none of the modern driving aids, so i don’t know how those would affect LFB.
    And no, no special changes need to be made to the braking bias. Just as in a FWD, the use of LFB to shift weight to the front and induce oversteer works the same in a RWD. There may be subtle difference on how it all feels and works in practice, but principally they have the same effect.
    I accept that you said you had no experience, I was mearly meaning that there is some use for it, be it RWD, FWD or AWD.
    I would see LFB as a skill to be known, but not necessarily one that needs to be used. The use of LFB, in my opinion, is something that is normally only needed off the street.

  15. on July 16th, 2008 at 1:43 am

    I was a left-foot-braker ever since my first driver’s lesson. My instructor tried to beat it out of me, but when the lessons were done I waited for a few months and bought myself a new automatic car.

    I couldn’t even understand why everybody would NOT want to left-foot-brake. It’s something so natural to me, it’s so fast (talking about the response time and ability to give gas, too), it’s so easy, it’s so smooth!

  16. Richard Eldred said,

    on August 24th, 2008 at 9:27 pm

    I learnt how to drive in a ’89 Volvo 740, an Auto. Left foot braking was what was taught to me by my parents right off the bat, driving instructor and mates who had just gone for their license beat it out of me. However, not long after, I put my left foot back where (I think) it belongs. Can’t say I really felt much effect of left foot braking in a RWD, theory wise I can’t see how it can really work in the FR layout. I drive a ’93 Suzuki Swift with a manual trans now, and after keeping my left foot on the clutch the whole time while I learnt to manipulate it, I’ve now shifted to more rally style peddle juggling.

    The effect during cornering in a FWD car is immense. With anywhere from a squeeze to an outright smash, understeer can be turned into neutralsteer, or into oversteer.

    I’m not looking forward to the day I do an advanced driving course to snag the cheaper insurance, I’m far too used to having the brake pedal so close to foot. It’s empowering to know that you can attack a corner you’ve never seen before and respond to any change in the road in a near instant.