A line from Mystic River:

They were playing with a gun, saw a car coming. One of the kids lies down in the street, car swerves, clutch kicks out.

I can't find a definition for kick out that fits the context. The phrasal verb apparently means something along the lines of to stall or to cut out. But the dictionaries only have to kick someone out of a place. Is the phrase used in this context a common usage?

  • It's only commonly that a person is kicked out. In this case, it's the clutch that is suddenly removed from its normal position—or (pun intended) shifted unexpectedly. Jul 1, 2018 at 16:08
  • @JasonBassford you're confusing the transitive "to kick somebody out (of somewhere)" with the intransitive "to kick out" that is being asked about.
    – sk29910
    Jul 1, 2018 at 22:35
  • @sebastian_k No, I'm not saying that somebody else "kicks out" the clutch, transitively. It simply "kicks out," intransitively. All I'd expressed is that "kicked out" is commonly used in the sense of a person (and, yes, also in a transitive sense). But it doesn't have to be so . . . Jul 1, 2018 at 22:44
  • Ah, got it. I misunderstood your comment due to your passive-voice explanation of what happens to the clutch. :-)
    – sk29910
    Jul 1, 2018 at 23:09

3 Answers 3


The car stalled. When you're going too slow for the gear, the clutch can kick, and when you come to a dead stop, the car will stall if you don't depress the clutch pedal. There's another scene in the movie where they're discussing the events. The car pulls into the curb, and stalls.

This is a colloquial expression formed by analogy with other verbs that can partner with out. A candle wick can sputter out; it sputters as it goes out. The fuse on a dud firecracker fizzles out. A bad lightbulb flickers out. A clutch makes a kick, so it kicks out when it causes the car to stall.

  • I don't believe this is correct. A clutch kick is where you kick the clutch, which allows the engine to rev, then on the outward portion of the kick it re-engages the clutch and the engine violently re-engages with the wheels causing them to spin and the car to oversteer. This is used to induce oversteer to get the car to spin around or otherwise be sideways. This use of the term has been around for at least 30 years.
    – Ben
    Jul 2, 2018 at 6:29
  • Is there a good explanation of the meaning "a clutch makes a kick" online? I can't understand it. Jul 2, 2018 at 6:34
  • @CowperKettle: Is it the fact that kick is being used as a noun that is giving you trouble? Or is it the verb makes? We can also say "The clutch gives a kick". Jul 2, 2018 at 10:56
  • @Ben: The phrase in question is clutch kicks out.The verb is intransitive. And we know from another scene that the car is stuck against the curb. Jul 2, 2018 at 11:08
  • @Tᴚoɯɐuo then the book has it's car terminology incorrect. A clutch doesn't kick out, a gear can be kicked out. But even then, it is more correct to say the gearbox kicked out of gear. The clutch would still be engaged in that scenario, but the car wouldn't move.
    – Ben
    Jul 3, 2018 at 7:02

It looks like motoring jargon. When the clutch is suddenly engaged and the car jerks. It can feel as if the car has been kicked, and in extreme cases can cause the car to flip, as suddenly a torque is applied through the gearbox. Do you drive a car with a manual clutch? As automatics don't have the same system, so you don't get the jerks that you can get with a manual clutch.

  • Your first two sentences are correct, but the rest is really very context dependant and not all that much to do with a clutch kick and just down to an out-of-control car. You wouldn't normally swerve and kick the clutch in an emergency situation, you would kick the clutch if you had an intentional use for the oversteer to occur (such as spinning the car around on purpose or getting the car sideways). The kick part of the term isn't due to the kick you feel, it's due to the kicking motion you apply to the clutch.
    – Ben
    Jul 2, 2018 at 6:34

A clutch kick in modern car terminology is when you quickly disengage then re-engage the clutch with a quick kick to the clutch pedal. This allows the engine to rev momentarily, then when the clutch re-engages it will spin the wheels and induce oversteer.

A clutch kick is normally done intentionally in order to spin the car around on purpose, or otherwise get the car sideways on purpose, for example in rallying when being sideways is a more effective way to get around a corner, or more recently in drifting where being sideways around the corner is a core part of the sport.

Another way to initiate intentional oversteer is with a handbrake, so perhaps in the story mentioned it was being used as an equivalent to a hand brake turn (perhaps the kids were being pursued?).

To "clutch kick out" I would interpret as suggesting they "clutch kicked" (induced intentional oversteer) out of the situation, not that the clutch itself was kicked out, as that's not possible.

If it seems like they did in fact mean that the car was kicked out of gear (the car stalled or didn't move), then the book has it written incorrectly, and what they meant was that the gearbox was kicked out of gear. The clutch would have remained engaged in that scenario, but the transmission would be out of gear.

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