Zac Efron is ready to dump Vanessa Hudgens – but is too chicken to tell her.

The ENQUIRER has learned that the High School Musical star is taking an "actions speak louder than words" approach to breaking up – by hitting the Hollywood night club scene and flirting up a storm.

"Zac has been drifting away from Vanessa for months now," divulged a pal, who became close to Zac on the set of The Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud.

"He struggled with how to break up with her all through filming. When the cameras weren’t rolling, Zac would be on his cell phone saying things like, ‘I’m too young to settle down’ and ‘I don’t want to hurt her.’

"Each day, he would call his buddies in L.A. saying that was the day he was going to end the relationship, but he always chickened out."

The 22-year-old Hollywood heartthrob has shied away from the club scene since he began dating his 20-year-old HSM co-star Vanessa in 2006. But now he’s stretching his wings.

The actor realized how much he enjoyed his freedom while spending much of the last four months away from Vanessa as he filmed in Vancouver, according to his pal.

"Zac has never really been single since making it big – he hasn’t had much guy time or really experienced the clubs.

"He’s loving his freedom and wants to experience being single in Hollywood."

Zac was spotted without his girlfriend at the Nov. 10 premiere of Me and Orson Welles in Washington, D.C.

The week before, the star did a week-long club-hopping stint in Hollywood – also without Vanessa. He showed up at the trendy Italian restaurant Pace on Nov. 3, at XIV on Nov. 4, and at Hyde Lounge on Nov. 6.

"I saw Zac flirting with Lauren Conrad at Hyde Lounge," revealed an eyewitness. "They were definitely enjoying each other’s company that night."

Another eyewitness spotted the handsome actor doing close-ups with Hairspray co-star Brittany Snow at XIV – where he spent part of the evening rubbing her back.

Concluded Zac’s pal: "The bottom line is he feels he needs to experience life as a single guy before he can settle down.

" Zac will always love Vanessa, but he thinks they are both too young to be so serious about each other."