Every Man Should Know How to Drive Stick

by Brett & Kate McKay on October 17, 2012 · 308 comments

in Cars, Manly Skills

I can still remember the day I learned how to drive a stick shift. My dad and I were looking for a car for my sixteenth birthday. I had my eye on a red Isuzu Hombre (that’s right, the make of my first car was the Spanish word for “Man”). Only problem? It had a manual transmission, and I only knew how to drive an automatic.

“Not a problem,” my dad said.

He got the keys from the salesman and we went for a test drive. My dad pulled into a cemetery that had a big, empty road that winded throughout the grounds. He stopped the car, turned it off, and got out.

“Okay, Brett-os. Your turn.”

So began my initiation into the high art of stick shift driving.

I stalled out the first time I tried to get the car started. Then the second time. And then a third time. My dad just sat there and chuckled silently to himself, while offering some fatherly pointers. Finally, on the fourth attempt, I got the little truck going. When my dad saw that I could stop and start the Hombre consistently and shift gears without grinding the clutch, he gave the okay for me to get the truck. And off I went, lurching into my new freedom.

It’s been over a decade since I first learned how to drive stick, and I’m still cruising America’s highways and byways the very same way. But the number of my gear-shifting brethren are few; after Oldsmobile introduced the first automatic transmission in 1940, the number of manual transmission vehicles on the road took a steep dive, and for the last few years have represented only about 4% of annual auto sales in the US. (Interestingly, in the first quarter of 2012, sales of manuals jumped up 3%, perhaps signaling a small comeback). While our numbers may be few, there are several reasons you should consider joining our ranks.

Why You Should Learn How to Drive Stick

You never know when you’ll need to know how.  Has your friend become inebriated and you need to drive him and his old Ford “three on tree” Bronco home? Do you need to borrow a friend’s car, and the only one available has a manual transmission? What about renting a car while abroad? Manual transmission cars are much more common internationally than in the US, so automatics are not always available, and if they are, are much more expensive.

Knowing how to drive stick means you’ll never be caught flat, clutch-shy-footed, in a pinch. A man who knows how to drive a standard transmission car can also easily drive an automatic, but the reverse isn’t true. Better to know it and not need it, than need it and not know it.

Manual transmission cars are generally less expensive than automatics. Because very few people today know how to drive a stick shift, the demand for them is low. This can be annoying if you’re looking for a specific model of car with a manual transmission and it isn’t offered. But the upside is that manual transmission vehicles are often priced lower than their automatic counterparts, and the lackluster demand for them can be a bargaining chip when you’re buying used. They tend to sit on the lot longer, so tell the salesman you’d be more than happy to take that lonely manual off their hands if they’ll drop the price some more.

So you don’t hop into a “borrowed” getaway car you can’t drive. Because a manual transmission can act as a possible thief deterrent.

Manual transmission vehicles generally get better gas mileage. Not only will knowing how to drive a standard save you money when you purchase your car, it can also save you money for years after, as they typically get better gas mileage than their automatic cousins. While it’s true that recent automatics have closed this gap, and a few models can even beat their manual counterparts, manuals still have the edge; Consumer Reports found that, on average, a stick shift can improve gas mileage by 2 to 5 miles per gallon. With gas prices as high as they are, every little bit of savings helps.

You can sometimes push start a manual transmission car with a dead battery. If you have a dead battery, but no jumper cables, you can often get cars with a manual transmission, particularly older models, going with the good ol’ push start.

Some really cool cars only come with a manual transmission. If you ever decide to buy a vintage sports car and fix it up, knowing how to drive stick will greatly expand your selection of vehicles. And if you ever win a contest where the prize is an Aston Martin V12 Vantage or a Ford Shelby GT500, you better know how to drive stick. Those cars only come with manual transmissions, and there are countless other high-end and luxury sports cars that are standard transmission only too. Why? Because guys who are willing to drop some serious coin on such vehicles tend to want the full driving experience, which is to say…

Driving stick is simply more fun! If you’ve only driven with an automatic transmission your entire life, you don’t know the fun you’ve been missing. Driving an automatic feels passive and artificial – like you’re merely pointing or steering the car instead of controlling it. With a manual, you actually feel like you’re part of the car, and you’re attuned to its vibrations and noises. Plus, manual transmissions are proactive instead of reactive – you get into the gear you need instead of waiting for the automatic tranny to hunt for the right one.

Sure, this fun factor is dampened if you do most of your driving in stop-and-go traffic, or in a city with ginormous hills. But once they go manual, a lot of guys never go back, because automatics seem like a snoozefest in comparison.

How to Drive Stick: The Basics

First: Get Familiar With Your Cockpit

The pedals: clutch, brake, gas. The clutch pedal – absent on your automatic transmission car — is the pedal on the far left. You press the clutch pedal when you shift gears up or down. More on shifting in a minute.

The brake is the pedal in the middle; it’s used for, well, braking.

The pedal on the far right is the gas. Works just like your gas pedal on your automatic transmission.

One of the things that throws people off when driving a stick shift for the first time is the addition of that clutch pedal because you now have to use BOTH feet when driving — not just your right foot.  You’ll be using your left foot to press the clutch and your right foot to press the brake and gas pedal.

The gear shifter. Your gear shifter does just that — it shifts the gears on your transmission. Most modern manual transmission vehicles come with six gears: first through fifth gears, and then reverse gear. On the knob of the gear shift you’ll find a diagram that shows what position the shifter needs to be in in order to engage each gear.

The tachometer. The tachometer is a gauge on your dashboard that shows you how many revolutions per minute your engine’s crank shaft is going. When you begin driving a stick shift, the tachometer is a good way to help you determine when you should shift up or down. Generally, you should shift gears up when the tachometer is around “3” or 3,000 RPMs; shift down when the tachometer is around “1″ or 1,000 RPMs. After some experience with driving a stick shift, you’ll be able to figure out when to shift by the way your engine sounds and “feels.” More on that below.

Practice Shifting Gears and Pressing the Clutch and Gas With Car Turned Off

A little note before getting into the mechanics of driving stick: I highly recommend that you practice what we’re about to explain with the car turned off and the parking brake engaged. It gives you a chance to get a feel for how the gears engage and disengage and how much give or resistance the clutch has. It also allows you to get comfortable with the general body mechanics of moving the gear shifter and pressing the pedals with both feet versus just one. So after you read the instructions and before you turn on the car, practice going through the motions of shifting.

Getting the Car Going

Probably the hardest and most intimidating part of driving a stick shift is actually getting the car going in first gear. It takes a while to figure out how much you need to press down on the gas and how slowly you need to disengage the clutch for the gears in your car to catch and get moving. To prevent any frustration and self-inflicted violence, accept from the outset that you’re going to stall the car. It’s okay. It’s all part of the initiation into the Brotherhood of the Manual Transmission. The good news, though, is once you get the car moving, shifting gears is super easy.

Let’s get this car rolling.

Practice in an empty parking lot. You’re going to stall and lurch the car, so practice where there isn’t any traffic and where you have a flat surface. Empty parking lots are the ideal stick shift practice venue. It’s also a good idea to have somebody in the passenger seat who knows how to drive manual so they can provide pointers.

Press in the clutch and brake pedal, and start the car. To start a manual transmission car, you’ll always need to press the clutch while you turn the ignition switch. While you don’t need to have your foot on the brake to start the car (like you do with an automatic transmission), it’s a good habit to keep.

With the clutch pedal pushed down with your left foot, and your right foot pressed on the brake, turn the car on.

Put the car in 1st gear. If it isn’t already, push the gear shifter into 1st gear. If there’s only one thing you get from what I’m about to explain, let it be this: never shift gears without fully depressing the clutch pedal. Failing to do so while the car is on will result in a horrific grinding sound and you making regular trips (and payments) to the transmission shop. So make sure your foot is still pressing the clutch pedal all the way down before shifting into 1st gear.

To put the car into 1st gear, use your right hand to move the gear shifter up and to the left.

Make sure the gear is fully engaged. How do you know when it’s fully engaged? You’ll be able to feel it as well as see it  — the gear shifter should stay in place when you remove your hand from the gear knob.

Keep the clutch pedal and brake pushed down. Don’t take your left foot off the clutch yet or else you’ll stall out. Keep the brake depressed as well.

Move your right foot off the brake and onto the gas pedal. At the same time, start to release the clutch with your left foot. This is the tricky part when you’re first learning. Take your right foot off the brake, move it onto the gas pedal, and start pressing it…while at the same time slowly letting up on the clutch pedal with your left foot. You don’t want to stop pressing on the gas with your right foot while you do this or else you’ll stall. Keep light pressure on the gas pedal with your right foot so that the tachometer stays around 1,500-2,000 RPM while you’re letting up on the clutch with your left foot. If all goes well, you should begin to feel the gears “bite” or take hold of the spinning engine and you’ll start slowly moving forward. When you’re rolling at a steady clip, you can let up on the clutch completely. Congrats! You’ve successfully got a car moving in first gear.

If you stall, begin from the beginning. If you do stall the car, don’t fret. Just start the above process from the beginning.

Come to a stop. To stop, simply press down on the clutch with your left foot and the brake with your right foot at the same time.

Repeat until you can get the car going in first gear without stalling. Keep practicing getting the car going over and over again until you can do it regularly without stalling the car. If you do stall, laugh at yourself, and start the process over again.

Starting the car in first is basically the same process you’ll use when backing up, only the gear shift will be set in reverse. Sometimes if you’re on even a slight decline, you can get going in reverse without needing to press on the gas by simply taking your foot off the clutch.

Find a hill and practice there. Once you’ve mastered starting on a flat surface, find a hill to practice on. Starting from a standstill up a hill requires much more finesse with the clutch and gas pedals. You don’t want your first hill start to be in actual traffic with a car directly behind you. Trying to get your car going without stalling or rolling back into the driver behind you can be nerve-racking for a new manual transmission-er.

Upshifting

As mentioned earlier, once you can get the car moving from a standstill and into 1st gear, you’ve pretty much mastered 90% of stick shift driving. Upshifting into other gears is a breeze. Generally, you’ll want to upshift when the tachometer hits about 3,000 RPMs. It will be different for every car, but it’s a good rule of thumb. If you shift too soon, you’ll feel the car shudder, and you’ll need to downshift to keep it from stalling.

When you’re ready to upshift, just follow this pattern:

  • Take your right foot off the gas pedal and press the clutch all the way down with left foot and move gear shifter fully to next gear in one, synchronized motion.
  • Release clutch pedal while simultaneously pressing down on the gas pedal with right foot.
  • Completely let your left foot off of the clutch pedal once you’re in gear and continue to press the gas.

Downshifting

While you shouldn’t downshift to get your car to come to a stop in normal driving conditions (see below), there is a place for it in your stick shift driving arsenal. Obviously it’s needed when you’re driving in traffic that slows and speeds up as you go along. Downshift as your car slows and the tachometer drops to around 1.

Also, when you’re driving on hazardous roads, particularly on snow and ice, you don’t want to rely on your brakes to slow down lest you slide into the car in front of you. Instead, slow the car down by shifting into lower gears. If the roads are really slick, you’ll probably just want to stay in second gear.

Knowing When to Shift Gears Without Looking at the Tachometer

You’ll probably rely on the tachometer when you first start driving a stick shift to know when to shift gears. But with experience, you’ll be able to do it by how the car sounds and feels. If the engine is making a high pitched noise and it feels like no matter how much gas you give, you’re getting nowhere, then you’re in too low a gear and need to upshift. If the engine is making a low, rumbling noise and is vibrating a lot, you’re in too high of a gear and you need to downshift.

Don’t Ride the Clutch

You’ll want to avoid “riding the clutch.” What that means is avoiding resting your left foot on the clutch pedal when you’re in gear. While the light pressure of your foot resting on the clutch pedal is not enough to disengage the gear completely, it is enough to partially disengage it which causes premature wear and tear on your clutch.

Bottom line: when you’ve successfully shifted into a gear (or neutral), remove your left foot completely from the clutch pedal.

Coming to a Stop

There are two schools of thought on how one should come to a stop when driving a manual transmission car. The first method is to slow the car down by downshifting until you get to second gear and only then applying your brakes. The second method is to press on the clutch and shift the car into neutral, and then remove your foot from the clutch pedal, coasting to a stop using the brake pedal as needed.

While it’s true you can slow your car down by simply downshifting, it does cause a lot of wear and tear on your clutch and transmission. According to Click and Clack, (and this is also the way I learned to do it), it’s easier on your car to use the second method. Shift to neutral and use the brake. When you’re not able to put it in neutral, remember that you need to press in the clutch and the brake at the same time when you come to a stop.

Parking

When you park a manual transmission car, the emergency brake is your friend. You’ll want to set it every time you park your car, whether on a flat or sloping surface. For added safety, leave the car in first gear. If you’re parked on a hill, pointing downhill, put it in reverse. And no matter which direction you’re pointed on a hill, turn your front wheels so that if the car started rolling, it would roll into the sidewalk.

Well that covers the basics. There’s more to understand about driving stick, but you’ll learn most of what remains from experience, as you get attuned to listening to your car. After a while, shifting gears will feel as natural as breathing!

Any other tips for the first-time stick shift driver? Have any funny stories about your stick shift learning experience? Share them with us in the comments!

 Illustrations by Ted Slampyak

 

{ 308 comments… read them below or add one }

101 Chase Morgan October 18, 2012 at 10:15 am

I love the illustrations in the post, very well done.

I learned how to drive a stick with a jeep my parents bought for me after my first car died in a busy intersection in town (fun, fun haha). One thing I would add to the list too is pretty girls usually want to learn how to drive a stick shift, its a good foot in to door if there is a certain lady you are trying to woo.

102 Quentin October 18, 2012 at 10:18 am

The car I learned to drive on was an automatic.

I actually taught myself how to drive manual. I just watched my step-dads hands and feet, then one week they went up to the family cabin and I stayed behind. He had left his Nissan 4×4 behind, and I decided that I wanted to learn how to drive it. No permission.

I was doing fine, no stalls, not even the first start, made it down into town, then came to a (thankfully out in the middle of nowhere, so didn’t really bother anyone) 4-way stop. Well, I couldn’t get the darn thing to start up again. I kept bunny hopping my way across the intersection, thinking that I had somehow broken his truck, and dreading having to tell him so.

Well, I finally figured out what the problem was: I was trying to start out in 3rd gear. And while its easy to start out in 3rd if you that you’re in that gear, if you think that you’re in 1st, and only giving it enough gas for that gear, you’re going to have some problems. Once I realized the issue, there were no problems.

My first and second vehicles were manuals, then my ex-wife and I bought a couple more manuals. Since then I’ve only had automatics, but I think my next car is going to be a manual.

103 Michael October 18, 2012 at 10:21 am

When my brother was in college he helped a professor move. The professor had just bought a new Porsche 911 and on moving day asked “Who can drive a stick shift.” My brother quickly raised his hand and the prof said, “Terrific, you can drive the new U-Haul!”

104 Derek October 18, 2012 at 10:21 am

I learned to drive stick from my uncle in his BMW Z3 just in time to borrow it for my Senior Prom. After that I simply couldn’t go back to boring automatics. There really is something about “driving” the car instead of just “steering” it. My college car was a 5-speed, and it’s about time to trade it in for yet another manual.

105 Wiseguy October 18, 2012 at 10:29 am

What a coincidence! When I was 16, one of the vehicles I was considering was a red Isuzu Hombre! (Fast forward, I currently drive a stick-shift VW TDI.)

Several years ago, the car my [then] girlfriend wanted was a stick-shift. I drove it off the lot and taught her to drive it. Now eight years later, she bought a brand new car and insisted it have a stick. I got her hooked!

106 Claude October 18, 2012 at 11:01 am

I’ve always loved manual transmissions. One thing many of you are forgetting; they aren’t very easy to find in this country! Even the biggest dealerships don’t have vehicles with sticks. I can’t buy new, so I can’t special order them.

107 Russ October 18, 2012 at 11:13 am

Great article!

My dad taught me to drive in a cemetery. He said he took me there so I couldn’t kill anyone while learning stick.

I had an old FJ40 that had its starter go out. I parked on hills for several weeks until I made it to the parts store and got a starter. With an automatic I wouldn’t have had that ‘luxury’.

108 Claude October 18, 2012 at 11:19 am

Good luck finding a manual. Even the biggest dealerships don’t carry many, and I can’t afford to order new cars from the factories.

109 Slavo October 18, 2012 at 11:23 am

I never understood why Americans make such a big deal out of this. Most places in the world considered automatic the exception until a couple of years ago. Some still do. In Bulgaria, where I’m from, you cannot get a license on an automatic.

110 Snowfox October 18, 2012 at 11:38 am

I’m of the feminine persuasion, so maybe I shouldn’t be posting :P but I agree, not only is driving stick useful and WAY more fun, it also completely ups your badass rating!

My first car was (and still is — all hail trusty old Civics!) stick, and I know I’ll never go back. I learned on a far nicer car, though, and was always terrified the tiniest of slopes — even though it had that new-fangled “hill assist”! I even killed the engine on a slight downhill once — and promptly bounced my head (gently) off of the steering wheel, sounding the insanely loud horn. I was mortified at the time, but we still laugh about it to this day. :D

111 Chase Venters October 18, 2012 at 11:43 am

If you’re already an experienced stick-shift driver, it can be fun to learn techniques like the heel-toe double-clutch downshift. (Not what “Fast and the Furious” was probably thinking of when they referred to double clutching.)

Say you’re coming into a corner, and you want to exit as ferociously as possible, or to be in a low enough gear to assist in keeping the right weight distribution to execute the corner at speed.

The first part of the technique is the double-clutch, which refers to shifting into the neutral space between gears (say, 4 to 3), foot off the clutch, blip the gas to get the tachometer, the flywheel, the clutch and input shaft of the transmission up to the speed necessary for your car to go the same MPH in gear 3, then complete a second shift smoothly into 3. This doesn’t upset the transmission or rely on the synchronizers because you have manually synchronized the input side of the tranny to the correct speed.

The heel-toe component refers to using the right foot to simultaneously operate the gas and brake. I tend to use the left and right sides of my foot, but depending on pedal layout and the size of your foot, actual “heel-toe” may be more effective. Brake with the left side of your foot, and use the right side to blip the gas when you’re in the neutral stage between gears and while the clutch is engaged for the manual rev-matching.

It takes practice to do it smoothly, but if you are driving with another experienced stick driver, it can be fun to effortlessly shift into 1st at 20 mph+ with no hesitation from the car, whilst simultaneously braking for a red light. “How did you do that?” :)

112 Furby October 18, 2012 at 11:55 am

I’m dutch and I’ve driven both manual and automatic cars, the only place to prefer an automatic is in a video game. It’s just a more boring ride.

Though it doesn’t have to be. There used to be races with a dutch car called the DAF, that had an automatic gearbox that would go as fast in reverse as forwards. Off course, people would race their cars backwards, resulting in hilarious driving. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zoh8i0jfpTo

113 Dave S. October 18, 2012 at 12:04 pm

I had two rules for my kids when they were learning to drive. One; you are going to know how to drive the largest vehicle I have so that you learn to use mirrors-an old Ford F-350 4 door, dually, 1 ton pickup. My 5 foot tall daughter was quite the sight wheeling that into a parking lot and backing it (important for a large vehicle) into a parking space meant for a small car like it was no big deal. Second rule, and more important; you are going to know how to drive a stick. And they both got basic schooling on driving that stick without using the clutch, including how to stop and start it with no clutch. Of the four vehicles my wife and I now own, three are sticks. Sometimes we get asked why. My basic answer is if you have to ask then you wouldn’t understand, and I probably can’t explain it to you in a satisfactory manner.

114 David Nystrom October 18, 2012 at 12:10 pm

I dearly miss not having a stick shift vehicle and for a sports car it is the only way to really enjoy the ride (although paddle shifters are pretty cool too). One more advantage, if an automatic transmission goes out – chances are you’re not moving. With a manual transmission, you can usually limp home or to a repair shop.

115 MT October 18, 2012 at 12:17 pm

Coming from the rest of the world where most of the cars are not powerful enough to waste energy on automatic transmission i would love to have RWD V8 like you guys but I would still stick to manual.To bad that those kind of cars are getting CAFE’d out of production.

116 Ryan October 18, 2012 at 12:56 pm

Started driving manual at 16 and never looked back — hoping that I never do have to change over to automatic.

It is so true about being “attuned to your cars vibrations and noises”. You become part of the machine and it makes driving more engaging. Small things like getting on freeway are more fun when you downshift that all-wheel-drive Subaru to whip around a curve and hit 65mph before even merged onto the freeway. It simply can’t be done in a automatic, where you hit the gas and wait for the car to react.

Also moved to San Fran recently — the hills are merely mental for the best of us manual drivers.

117 Nusy October 18, 2012 at 1:13 pm

Hailing from Europe, I never even looked at an automatic car until I arrived in California, and I had a hell of a time trying to adjust to driving with one foot only, not having a clutch, and not shifting into first at every stoplight. Even today, after several years of driving automatics, when I’m really tired, I sometimes put the car in park (thinking it’s first) at a red light. (I know, I shouldn’t be driving when I’m so tired, but you gotta get home from work.)
Also, if you go skiing, snowboarding, or to do anything else that requires you to go up and down a wintery mountain… I would never trust myself to an automatic. Hill assist, chains, and ABS aside, I feel a lot safer when I know I have complete control over exactly what gear ratio I’m rolling on, and how it affects my car.
And I agree with Snowfox above – also being of the “feminine persuasion,” being able to drive stick ups your badass rating by a good 10% or more.
On the graphic: while this gear loadout is true of most classic cars, most manuals have 5 gears, and may have them loaded out completely differently! Some European cars even have the reverse at odd places – my old Renault used to have 1 and R in the same slot; you just had to pull up a switch on the stick itself while shifting to move it to reverse rather than first.

118 Kevin October 18, 2012 at 1:16 pm

Great article. I wish it gave tips for people to get out and actually learn stick shift. I don’t know anyone who drives a car with a stick and where I’d go/what to do to learn.

119 Bryan C October 18, 2012 at 2:22 pm

There was one helpful thing no one ever tipped me off to, and I’ve always been frustrated by it. That is, with the gear lever in 1st, if you keep your hand on the knob, and keep it pressed forward firmly against the housing it’s in, you can feel the vibrations change ever so slightly when the clutch begins to engage. This gives you a helpful heads-up when you’re getting going, especially on a hill.

When you feel the vibration change, you know you’re in that ‘sweet spot’ of being able to start adding gas, but also relying on the clutch to keep the car from rolling backward.

Had to figure that out on my own, and I rarely stall any more.

Love manual transmissions! Good article.

120 R J Vincent October 18, 2012 at 2:23 pm

I learned to drive stick from a friend and right after that, I got my first new car (1980 Mustang) with a four speed. I learned to drive a stick on that car (fried the original clutch in 10,000 miles) and can pretty much drive anything with a stick. While I like to drive stick, with the stop and go traffic in my area South Jersey/Philly area, an automatic just makes life easier. @Kevin – Call up some driving schools in your area. I’m sure at least one of them would offer lessons in driving a manual transmission.

121 Dominick October 18, 2012 at 2:26 pm

I learned how to drive a stick shift in Rome. I became an expert quite quickly.

122 Katrina October 18, 2012 at 3:22 pm

Being of the female persuasion aside, I learned to drive on a manual and have never wanted an automatic. I love being involved in driving my car, rather than just pointing it in the right direction in an automatic. So far I have been lucky to find manuals since my first car, but it’s definitely getting harder, at least here in the United States.

123 Ted Slampyak October 18, 2012 at 4:24 pm

I always put my Beetle in reverse when I park it, whether it’s flat, uphill, downhill, or whatever. Reverse has a higher torque than any other gear — am I using that word correctly? — and nothing is going to make that car budge, regardless which way gravity’s pulling.

124 James October 18, 2012 at 5:12 pm

I wonder what the factors were that caused automatic transmissions to become so prevalent in the U.S. and not so elsewhere.

I would say from observation that this transition took place at some point towards the end of the 80s or early 90s, when demand for automatics started to overtake demand for manuals.

125 Mike October 18, 2012 at 5:23 pm

Everyone, should know how to drive a stick shift, that’s why my kids first cars were stick shifts… that’s what they both still drive. I learned to drive a tractor wayyy before I drove a car or truck. The first vehicle other than the 1950 Ford Tractor,I drove on the paved road was a Chevy 2.5 Ton Dump truck with a split transmission… now that was an experience!

126 kirk October 18, 2012 at 5:45 pm

Theorectically I can drive one but never have actually done so. My dad hated manuals. And then later only some very rich friends had them and they sure weren’t going to let me try out driving with them.

127 Joseph October 18, 2012 at 6:35 pm

I guess I’m in the minority but I only care if a car gets me from point A to point B. While I appreciate the idea of better mileage, I think I’ll stick to my automatic Honda. Good article though.

128 Joshua October 18, 2012 at 7:21 pm

Great post.
The friction zone is your friend. When I learned to ride a motorcycle they had us slowly take pressure off the clutch until you started to feel the bike pull forward a bit, right before the bike stalls out. The key was to learn where the zone is to put the bike in gear. I believe the same process would work with a car. Might help gents stall less when learning.

129 Nicholas October 18, 2012 at 7:55 pm

My dad always taught me to drive in a higher gear than necessary on ice, so that the wheels won’t spin. If you keep it in second on ice and you give her gas, then the wheels could spin out from under you.

130 Seth October 18, 2012 at 9:07 pm

This past summer when shopping for a new car, I told my Dad that I wanted a stick shift because I believed that every man needed to know how to drive one.

Lo and behold, here is the article! I chuckled reading the instructions and the warnings that first timers will stall quite a bit…I sure did at first. After the 451st stall, I finally got the hang of it :)

131 Mark R October 18, 2012 at 9:13 pm

My car is a 1996 Acura Integra. Its a stick shift. I love driving it! You can do all sorts of burn outs and drifting in it. And the ladies always want to learn!

132 Peter October 18, 2012 at 9:50 pm

Another advantage of driving stick shift is that it helps ADD and ADHD people stay focused while driving.

133 John October 18, 2012 at 10:36 pm

Reading this story reminds me of how I learned to drive a stick. My mother had to keep telling me “give it more gas”. After the millionth time and 2-3 days of training I got. Now if I am in the market for a different vehicle I get drawn to sticks.

134 JeffC October 19, 2012 at 12:24 am

Have been doing my own shifting for 35 years, and at age 52, I have no intention to give up control of the car. Right now it’s a VW Jetta TDI. :)

Tricky article to write, but an excellent job, and as always, Ted’s illustrations of the Bug always bring a smile.

Done it all: semi-truck double-shifting, clutch-less shifting, bump-starting a manual, driving a manual across town to the shop after the clutch cable snapped by slipping into neutral and coasting to each stop, shutting off the engine, slipping into 1st gear, then starting the car in gear & proceeding with clutch-less up-shifting to the next light.

A few notes:
1) modern cars have more-than-adequate braking systems. Down-shifting as you near a stop is both unnecessary and wears out the clutch pad. Don’t coast: leave it in gear, decelerate with the brakes, and shift to neutral when your speed drops to 10mph or so, or when RPM drops to near the idle-speed of the engine. If you find you need to re-accelerate before you come to a stop, down-shift to the appropriate gear on-the-fly and continue under power.

2) Slippery roads require gentle shifting and braking to maintain traction. Care must be taken not to accelerate heavily, especially in lower gears, or to brake hard at any speed. Hardy acceleration in low gears and slowing the car by down-shifting could cause the tires to break free, so should be avoided.

3) Using engine-braking to help check speed on long downgrades is an essential skill. I wouldn’t take a trip down a mountain road with someone who was not proficient at it: once the brake pads glaze over from heat, you’re a runaway, and you’re only option is to steer immediately into the mountainside at 30mph and live, rather than accelerate uncontrollably and fly over the guardrail at 70mph and die. Choose the gear that will satisfactorily check your speed, and apply light brake pressure if necessary to keep the engine from over-revving. Apply a little accelerator when needed.

4) Stopping on an incline in traffic is a special challenge. To start from a stand-still, using the hand-brake to hold the car still until the clutch begins to bite is the right technique. One way I decrease the likelihood of a tail-gater behind me is to purposely let my car slip backwards a couple of inches as the car behind me approaches. When they see me inching back, 9 times out of 10 they stop with plenty of space left between us. I always makes me smile.

135 Red October 19, 2012 at 12:56 am

No one has mention that as less people today know how to drive stick, it makes for a great anti-theft deterrent. I just sold a manual truck which I do miss driving. My new truck (an automatic) has more bells and whistles in features and does well on gas, but nothing beats the feeling of shifting gears. You become one with the vehicle.

136 Baz October 19, 2012 at 1:39 am

Everyone should be able to drive a manual, not just men.

I have to say that I think this is mainly an American problem.
I personally haven’t ever encountered an Australian male (women are another story) who wasn’t comfortable with manual, although it’s rare to a new car that isn’t automatic these days.
Perhaps we’re just lagging by a few years.

137 Daniel October 19, 2012 at 2:22 am

I’m taking driving lessons now and am learning on a manual transmission car, but the way I’m taught to come to a stop is slightly different from how it’s described in the article. I’m told simply to step on the brake first, and only to put the car in neutral to prevent stalling – i.e. to coast as little as possible. This way braking is more effective, since if the car is in gear, simply stepping off the gas will slow the vehicle.

For the same reason, going downhill in neutral is dangerous – besides, not using the engine break can also cause breaks to heat up and work less effectively, at least on older cars.

138 Niall October 19, 2012 at 5:48 am

Good article but I have to disagree with the part in Downshifting where you say keep it in a low gear in hazardous, slick road conditions.

Coming from Ireland, the land of constant rain and frost and where automatic cars are virtually unheard of, I’ve always been thought to drive in a higher gear but lower speed than normal in slippery conditions. Even the road safety authority (the people who oversee driving tests and who regularly fail drivers for using the wrong gear or riding the clutch) here recommends doing this.

The idea is that at a higher gear the engine is less able to transfer power to the wheels and so the car is less likely to start skidding if the is a sudden loss of friction between the wheels and the road.

139 red beard October 19, 2012 at 8:24 am

I’m surprised no one knows or has talked about the sweet spot in manual driving. With the sweet spot no one ever has to stall even on their first try. Next time teaching this follow this simple step. Let out the clutch slowly till you feel the car rumble. Then add plenty of gas with the gas pedal. Release the clutch and you’ll bolt forward. Then fine tune how much gas to give. This trick is amazing on inclines. On that verge you won’t role back what so ever.

140 Leonardo October 19, 2012 at 9:14 am

Once I learned to drive a stick almost a decade ago I never went back. This article brought back too many awesome memories, thanks.

141 Jack Stanley October 19, 2012 at 9:34 am

Be patient and have fun with it!

My first week in college I totaled my automatic 2001 Honda CR-V. That weekend I went car shopping because, being an Aviation major, I needed a vehicle to get me from campus to the airport. On such short notice I was able to find a used 2006 Ford Escape at a family friend’s Ford dealership, but it was standard.

My mom drove me down to get the car, and between she and the dealer, I eventually was able to drive off the lot with enough aptitude to get home (though I stalled it three times on the way home – once in an intersection!)

My mom had once owned a stick, and told me she was able to drive it off the lot in 15 minutes. It took several hours before I was comfortable driving it home, and it still took a few weekend sessions with my mom and tips from other students after the purchase to master the stick.

But if you’re not patient, you will get frustrated and end up damaging the engine. Relax, keep a clear head, do your best not to get to worked up about it, and before too long you’ll be driving like a pro and you’ll never want another automatic again!

142 Frank October 19, 2012 at 9:39 am

I drove a stick for 20 years.
Then I got married.

143 Ken October 19, 2012 at 10:24 am

I agree with everyone, manuals are the most fun way to drive. Whenever I borrow a friend’s automatic, I’m always stomping where the clutch should be when I come to a stop.

Easiest way to learn from my experience is to start the vehicle and without touching the gas pedal at all, slowly let off the clutch. On most vehicles, you will slowly start to crawl along without stalling.

I do get annoyed when I’m stopped on a hill and someone in an automatic comes up behind you and stops right on your bumper. I can start on a hill without drifting backward, but I’d rather not worry about it.

144 rob October 19, 2012 at 10:46 am

i suppose this article is a strange one from those hailing from the rest of the world. where manuals are the ordinary. people who drive automatics are either really old or lazy. didnt know americans mostly drove automatics.

145 Kevin October 19, 2012 at 10:54 am

The first car I bought myself was a manual 2007 crossfire, and I don’t think I’ll even go back to automatic. You’re much more focused on the road, and you always have an excuse for “hey, can I borrow your car for a bit?”.

A few point related to the article
After learning, when slowing down or other traffic maneuvers like turning, you’ll anticipate what gear you’ll need and prepare ahead of time.

You forgot to mention the drop and go! When you’re on the highway in high gear, you can drop down a gear to get a boost of acceleration to pass by a truck or car… very fun

I was always told 10mph / gear (eg, shift 0-10mph, 1st gear, 10-20, 2nd, etc). Seems to work out pretty ok, although its different for different situations.

I usually pop it in a stiffer gear than first while parking, but really I suppose that doesn’t matter much though, most the ‘braking’ pressure is done by the clutch while parked if you don’t have the ebrake on

146 Srinivas Kari October 19, 2012 at 12:03 pm

Here in India we only have cars with manual transmission. I learnt driving on a stick shaft. I feel awesome after having read this post.

147 Rafael Gomes October 19, 2012 at 3:42 pm

As a Brazilian, here, most of the cars are manual drive, so, it is a common trait to know how to drive a manual shift car, my car is a manual one! (and without hydraulic steering!)

148 Jake October 19, 2012 at 4:19 pm

Currently learning to drive a stick shift, but I’m still young (in my teens) so I guess it’s excusable. I do think though that it makes it a little easier on the learner if the first car they ever get behind the wheel of is an automatic. That is not to say that they shouldn’t learn stick in this period as well, it’s just that if you’ve never driven a car before and then you’re expected to go out and practice on roads as well as shift manually, it can be overwhelming. I would suggest knowing how to drive a stick before one gets their license though. If not before then, many people will never learn.

149 Phil October 19, 2012 at 6:40 pm

I’ve been driving stick for over 30 years, here in the US. My latest, a 2004 Pontiac does just fine thanks. They are not hard to find, just hard to find on the lot. A reputable dealer should be able to find one for you.

They are an excellent theft deterrent. Several years ago, a group of thugs attempted to carjack a local man’s stick-shift car. When they realized they didn’t know how to drive it, they demanded he show them how. He walked away, came back 10 minutes later, the car was still there and the would-be carjackers were nowhere to be found.

150 Spencer October 19, 2012 at 7:06 pm

My first car was a manual ’99 VW Jetta. I absolutely hated it when I first got it. I stalled and stalled and stalled again. I was so frustrated I wished I had gotten an automatic. But eventually it came to me. A week later I was doing all the tricks like a champ. I love driving manual now and I’d never go back by choice. The description of diving an automatic car is very accurate though. Every time I hop into an automatic car I’m just so bored and I even find my left foot moving when I’m coming to a stop. I can’t recommend manual driving enough.

151 Christopher Battles October 19, 2012 at 8:24 pm

Thank you. It has been a while since I have driven a stick and this was a good refresher.

K, bye

152 Matt October 19, 2012 at 9:14 pm

Dual-clutch automated manuals are becoming more and more common, and are really the best of both words: you’re in complete control of when to shift, you have the same powertrain efficiency of a manual transmission, shifting is lightening fast (at least faster than a human slotting in a gear by hand), and there’s no tricky clutch to worry about. And for heavy traffic driving, you can slip it into automatic mode and not have to worry about shifting at all. The only downside is that you’re forced to shift sequentially and can’t skip gears.

Mechanically they’re more complicated, and therefore more expensive. But costs are starting to come down and they’re appearing on more and more cars.

While I agree that everyone should know how to drive a traditional manual, if I had my choice, I’d take a dual-clutch. In fact, I did…

153 mark October 19, 2012 at 9:22 pm

How about a post on the three speed on the column.

154 Randy October 19, 2012 at 9:33 pm

When I was young I wanted only a manual transmission. I lived in small towns and did a lot of rural and interstate driving. Now I’m 61, the left knee has its bad days, and I face urban traffic jams, including on interstates at certain hours, frequently. The automatic has become the more practical transmission. However, some cars offer a compromise: the auto stick or the manual mode automatic where manual shifting can be an option. The new Fiat 500 can be equipped with such a “fun mode” transmission. Back in the day (about 1941-42, 1946-abt.1950) Dodge offered a “Fluid Drive” transmission that was the best of both transmissions: you could shift manually but you could also drive in the city without pumping the clutch pedal. Another Fluid Drive variant of some Chrysler products was a four-speed, dual range arrangement (the M5 and M6). The driver shifted only for reverse and to move between the ranges. My dad had this in his 1951 DeSoto. Both Fluid Drives had fluid couplings between the engine and a manual transmission. They were reliable and were popular in snow country for their resistance to wheel spinning like with a full automatic such a Hydramatic.

155 Ruprect October 19, 2012 at 10:01 pm

Something else to consider – any MOTORCYCLE worth owning will have a manual transmission. Different layout but same technique. So, start out learning on a car and you’ll be that much closer to being able to operate a motorcycle as well !!

156 Micah October 19, 2012 at 10:20 pm

Very well written.

I grew up in Brazil where probably 95% of the cars are stick shifts. I have driven an automatic since I have been in the US (almost 10 years now). Stick shifts are definitely more fun and you feel like you have more control of the car.
Next time I buy a car for myself, I will definitely look for a stick.

157 Liam October 19, 2012 at 10:27 pm

Brett, this is the article I have been hoping for! You covered everything I always like to tell people when the conversation swings toward cars and driving. Thanks a lot!

@Frank … I feel your pain.

158 Anonymous October 19, 2012 at 11:47 pm

Good article!
A bit of coincidence too, given that I was planning to learn manual in a few days!

159 paul October 20, 2012 at 12:20 am

Learned to drive a stick shift a Ford 8N tractor. No synchromesh. Double chutching necessary I was 14. By the time I got to cars, it was just too easy.

If you have a stick shift you might learn how to shift without the clutch. I once had to drive my VW across from Long Island to the Catskills with no clutch. Much harder these days with the starter/clutch lockout can be done though. Heel and toe downshifting is another lost skill.

160 Bevin October 20, 2012 at 12:24 am

I learned to drive when “standard transmission” meant manual transmission.
Now if percentages are the criterion for what is “standard,” it would presumably mean an automatic transmission.
As a car buff who has never purchased a car with an automatic transmission in his life, I find that terribly sad.

161 Steve October 20, 2012 at 12:25 am

I remember the day my father taught me how to drive stick. At first it was pretty blurry because it was my first time using the clutch and gear box. After a while I started getting the hang of it and I never want to go back to automatics. There is one thing I would suggest to those new to this, If you’re stopped at a hill, and there’s cars behind you, it can be dreadful because you have to finese your way through and not roll back onto the driver behind you, but once you stop at a hill, pull the e-brake up and once you’re ready to go, throw it in 1st gear, give it some gas to about 2 or 3 thousand RPM, then let off the clutch and disengage the e-brake.

162 Gil October 20, 2012 at 12:52 am

Yikes! I’ve driven both and find a car with a good engine and auto transmission is better than a manual car. Doubly so with start/stop traffic. If you can’t use the clutch properly you will quickly wear it out whereas an auto is always engaged in the appropriate gear. Besides the modern clutch system has more bells and whistle over the old-fashioned type getting close to negating the fewer parts over an automatic. Then again how about hand-cranking to start a car to make you feel part of the system?

163 Duncan October 20, 2012 at 4:09 am

It’s quite funny in a way (not meant as an insult) how normal it is stateside to drive an automatic. To my knowledge there is no other country who has that in such a manner and also who make somewhat of a deal out of it. In the Netherlands you are required to drive stick when you learn to drive a car for as far as I know, unless ofcourse you are impaired physically which makes that impossible. Not that driving stick makes a difference in being a man (in my opinion), but I do think that for the feel of the car and a connection with driving, it might be a good thing for learners to start with stick shift driving when they learn to drive.

164 Alan P. Carr October 20, 2012 at 8:39 am

I learned to drive manual, having ridden various motorcycles first.

Fact remains, I prefer an auto most of the time. 99% of the time you’re not racing but you ARE faced with traffic – and that’s where the thing changing gear and clutching for you is just too nice to give up.

Sure, sure, manual can be fun and for a fun weekend car, go for it. For normal transport though I’ll always opt for auto. Sorry.

165 P.M.Lawrence October 20, 2012 at 8:52 am

To start a manual transmission car, you’ll always need to press the clutch while you turn the ignition switch… With the clutch pedal pushed down with your left foot, and your right foot pressed on the brake, turn the car on.

Wrong! Wrong! Wrong! Normally, you turn the ignition switch while the car is in neutral. This gives far better control over getting moving, because you get the chance to look around rather than having to go as soon as you let the clutch go. And starting on an up hill slope generally needs a further technique as well, one that involves the hand brake (see below).

To put the car into 1st gear, use your right hand to move the gear shifter up and to the left.

Wrong! Use the hand that is on the same side as the gear lever, whichever side that is. (The diagram is wrong, too – most manual transmission cars in the world have the gear lever on the left, because so many cars outside the U.S.A. drive on the left. Tachometers are unusual in plain vanilla manual transmission cars, too. Eric, you don’t need them to learn, and in fact they make it harder for learners because learners are still sorting everything out and don’t need the added distraction.)

If you do stall the car, don’t fret. Just start the above process from the beginning.

Wrong! Put the car into neutral, and then start from the beginning the way I described, not the risky way this article describes.

To stop, simply press down on the clutch with your left foot and the brake with your right foot at the same time.

Wrong! That’s dangerous, because it risks the clutch and brake being disengaged at the same instant. When learning, always press the brake first and the clutch a fraction later, even at the risk of stalling since that’s not dangerous. As you improve, start pressing the clutch nearer and nearer the time you press the brake until it’s practically simultaneous, but never let that come first. And never, ever even think of it as “press down on the clutch with your left foot and the brake with your right foot at the same time”, because that will work its way into your subconscious and your reflexes as prioritising the clutch; only “press down the brake with your right foot and on the clutch with your left foot at the same time” is safe.

Starting the car in first is basically the same process you’ll use when backing up, only the gear shift will be set in reverse.

No, it isn’t basically the same process. Or rather, getting into reverse isn’t the same as getting into first, even though getting going after that is the same. The thing is, there is usually a safety catch you have to disengage to go into reverse gear, often by pulling up or by pressing down on the gear lever before moving it.

Once you’ve mastered starting on a flat surface, find a hill to practice on. Starting from a standstill up a hill requires much more finesse with the clutch and gas pedals. You don’t want your first hill start to be in actual traffic with a car directly behind you. Trying to get your car going without stalling or rolling back into the driver behind you can be nerve-racking for a new manual transmission-er.

Of course it needs more finesse. You need to use the hand brake too. This article is dangerously incomplete from not explaining how to do a proper hill start.

Here’s how:-

- Start the engine the way I described, in neutral while the car is parked and with the hand brake still on.

- Do all the looking around you need.

- Press the clutch down and go into first gear.

- Press the accelerator down just a little and let the clutch out just a little, until you can hear and feel the engine taking up a little of the load.

- Slowly let out the hand brake while letting the clutch out more and pressing more on the accelerator until you are going normally (observing traffic and bystanders so you can stop the sequence if you have to). For safety, deliberately press the foot brake and stall the car if you ever start slipping backwards (once you learn, you’ll never haqve to do this again).

You don’t use the foot brake at all, except if you have to abort the sequence. While learning, you will often let things in or out with the wrong timing or amounts, leading to the famous bouncing kangaroo start or to a stall, but you will soon learn the trick of pacing everything properly.

Upshifting into other gears is a breeze.

No, it isn’t. While going from first gear to second gear or from third gear to fourth gear or vice versa is obvious in gears that match the diagram’s layout, going from second gear to third gear or vice versa isn’t – unless your reflexes happen to work just right without training. That change requires a zig zag motion, but if you try to make that motion yourself you’re doing it wrong. Instead, just press the lever diagonally in the direction between the gears, allowing it to wobble either side of the direction you’re pushing rather than you guiding it; the gear gates will do all the guiding you need, and it’s faster too (the same principle is involved in loading a bolt action rifle – there are two motions there, but you only apply one kind of push and let the guide path do the rest of the work).

And, of course, once in a while you will find a car with three or five forward gears and a reverse, with reverse and first on the left and second and third on the right – and the same issues will come up between first and second instead (see what Nusy wrote).

There are two schools of thought on how one should come to a stop when driving a manual transmission car. The first method is to slow the car down by downshifting until you get to second gear and only then applying your brakes. The second method is to press on the clutch and shift the car into neutral, and then remove your foot from the clutch pedal, coasting to a stop using the brake pedal as needed.

And there is a third school, namely apply the brake and then the clutch. That second method is damned dangerous, because it sets you up for not having enough fore and aft control at a crucial instant, an instant which hardly ever matters but which makes it far more dangerous for building the wrong habits and reflexes in the rare split seconds when you really do need them.

Never, ever apply the clutch before the brake, when you’re not just doing a dry run in a parked car. You don’t want that habit and reflex in you later, when it counts.

Anyway, a gentleman’s car has an epicyclic gearbox with a preselector, which is a whole other story.

JeffC, if you ever come across a two stroke car (or, more likely, motorcycle), engine braking won’t work too well and may even damage the engine from oil starvation. Some engines even had free wheels to prevent that, and couldn’t do engine braking at all.

166 Sugar Ray October 20, 2012 at 9:00 am

Great article, AOM never fails to educate and inspire.

I do take a slight issue with the coasting to a stop philosophy. If the driver is using the clutch and properly matching the RPM’s on the downshift, (double clutching) there is very little additional wear to the friction plates in the clutch since the two halves are at the same speed.

This also reduces wear on the vehicle’s brakes. I have a vehicle up here in Canada with 260,000 km. (over 160,000 miles) that is still on the original clutch, and the original factory brakes !!! (40% remaining as of this spring).
I am also in agreement with Dave S.
My kids are learning on the largest, heaviest, manual shift vehicle I own at first, then progressing to the little nimble CUV.
The skills will last a lifetime

167 Gortex October 20, 2012 at 10:48 am

I learned to drive on an automatic, but I was taught to drive a manual by a good buddy in college.

I’ve NEVER had a situation come up when I needed to drive one though. Any truck, van, or car I’ve rented has been automatic. I doubt I know anybody who actually owns a vehicle with a manual transmission these days.

It’s fun to drive, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not one of the important skills a man should have these days (at least in Canada – other countries are apparently different!)

168 IndianaJohn October 20, 2012 at 12:12 pm

Among those of us 60 and up, operating a manual shift is inate. We never “learned” but we all shift the stick and always did.

169 Bill Jones October 20, 2012 at 1:21 pm

You missed the single most important point.

Never teach your kid to drive a stick shift that you own or may own.
Use somebody else’s clutch.

170 Gorib October 20, 2012 at 2:21 pm

I live in Finland and driving manual is still pretty common here. I must say that I love it and would not even consider buying an automatic. It’s cheaper to buy, cheaper to repair and it’s more fun to drive, you can have those “racing-driver” moments once in a while.

171 Don October 20, 2012 at 2:30 pm

It’s easier to work the clutch if you keep your left heel on the floor and use your foot as a lever rather than trying to hold your foot in mid-air.

Driving a manual transmission inherently keeps you in tune with what the vehicle is doing and how it is performing.

At first it seems like there is a lot of stuff going on but after you have a few thousand miles under your belt it all becomes 2nd nature and fluid.

A manual transmission lets you have better control over the vehicle.

In the early 70′s the battery in my 1966 Mustang went out and I was broke so I drove it for a few weeks with a dead battery, making sure that I always stopped on a slight incline. Then I could just push in the clutch and get coasting, dump the clutch in 2nd gear and violin’! it would start right up.

I’ve been driving my 1991 S10 with a 5 speed since the day it was born and probably won’t ever get rid of it.

When I drive my wifes automatic I get bored pretty quick, my right hand and left foot have nothing to do.

172 Mark.V. October 20, 2012 at 2:49 pm

When comming to a stop the easiest way is to depress the brake and when the engine is about to stall depress the clutch and change into neutral.

I notice you have not mentioned the fine art of double clutching, necessary when driving a vehicle with a non-synchro transmission.

173 spanio12 October 20, 2012 at 2:57 pm

I’ve driven a Saab since my first day of driving and they have a safety feature where you have to leave the car in reverse when parking to even get the key out. This has confused every valet and tire shop I have ever used (I’d add mechanics to that but I’ve never taken it to a non-saab mechanic).

174 John J October 20, 2012 at 5:05 pm

I learned to drive in the UK and although I have been in the US for 34 years my personal car has been a stick. In the UK we call the emergency brake the hand break and its use is taught to student drivers when executing a hill start.
You can pass your driving test in an automatic there but you are then licensed to drive an automatic only and not standard. Passing your test in a standard allows you to drive both standard and automatic cars. It is rare to find driving schools with automatic cars available

175 arlen October 20, 2012 at 6:30 pm

I didn’t realize my ’56 Chev PU and I had become so “now”…a 56 year old truck and an 85 year old driver…hard to reason.

176 juanster October 20, 2012 at 8:13 pm

Nice story.

One point, though – I’ve driven stick most of my life and don’t think there’s only two methods of stopping. I really don’t like the neutral-brake approach since I have no control over the vehicle apart from the brakes. Even automatics provide some drag when stopping.
But I don’t believe using the engine and transmission exclusively is the answer either – I use a combination – I downshift through second while using the brakes lightly.

Also, another really helpful tip is to have all your shifting and braking done before you enter a turn. Properly done, only the gas should have a foot on it during the turn itself.

Again, thanks for a fun story.

177 Gil October 20, 2012 at 8:58 pm

Actually this article only makes sense for rather old cars where the auto transmission was a drag on the system hurting fuel economy as well as people using gears to slow down a car to make up for mediocre brakes. However the modern auto transmission is more efficient and gets better fuel economy than a manual car.

178 Sapone October 20, 2012 at 11:20 pm

I had driver’s ed in high school on an automatic. I learned to drive stick in 1966 Hillman Husky, a small British station wagon. The first car of my own was my sister’s abandoned 1957 Hillman Husky, a ’50s car with ’40s styling and a ’30s drive train, which I had to overhaul myself in order to have a car.
Stalling is a problem when you first start out. You’ll acquire a feel for the clutch as you go along. It helped me to think of the clutch as a sander gradually being applied to a block of wood.
I could echo Randy’s comments on the Chrysler M5 and M6 semi-automatic transmissions. I had both a 1947 DeSoto Suburban (M5) and 1950 DeSoto Deluxe sedan (M6). Driving and working on those two cars helped me understand how automatics work, such as working the kickdown for passing by pressing the gas pedal to the floor.
P.M. Lawrence gave a lot of sound advice in his comments. Starting the engine by either putting the transmission (gearbox) in neutral or pressing the clutch pedal to disengage really depends on the individual car. Use whichever method works better for you. On some cars, like the older Volvos, it’s a bit hard to find neutral; so maybe it’s better to depress the clutch pedal at first if you’re not sure.
I have driven manual transmissions from an Austin Mini to a large International Harvester bobtail (wnich I nicknamed “Big Bastard”). My clutching skills have stood me in good stead, although I have only automatic-equipped cars these days. Happy clutching!

179 Sapone October 20, 2012 at 11:25 pm

The illustrations used in this article are from an old-school VW Beetle. This is a good car on which to learn how to work a manual transmission and clutch because the Beetle clutch has a long throw allowing much more room for error than other cars. I went to a memorial service for a man who taught several generations of young people to drive stick in his VW Beetle.

180 Sapone October 20, 2012 at 11:38 pm

When I first got my 1957 Hillman Husky running, I had to always park on hills and inclines because the battery had one cell that had dried out. There was enough juice in the remaining five cells to run the ignition but not enough to turn the starter. I’d get the car rolling, let it build up a little speed and then pop the clutch to start the engine. I was going to junior college and drove 12 miles to another college once a week to play bassoon in their orchestra. After about two months of this, my dad took pity on me and bought a used battery from a auto salvage yard to replace the deficient battery. Clutch-starting works but I wouldn’t recommend it as a lifestyle.

181 Charles October 21, 2012 at 1:50 am

A very well-written article that is spot on in every way. This is precisely the way I learned to drive stick, and I’ve been through 3 manual cars, driven each for about a decade, and never had to replace the clutch or really had any maintenance issues to speak of.

Btw, I am impressed with the number of international readers represented in the comments — awesome that AoM has gone worldwide. Keep the manliness coming!

182 John October 21, 2012 at 11:14 am

Boy, I’m an outsider with this article. My dad owned a red Volvo that was clutch — he’s from the Philippines where manual is the most common — but when I learned all the cars were automatic when I was taking my driver’s lessons. I only have one friend who decided to go manual because his ex-girlfriend had a manual. There is a possibility that I will learn manual since I want to move to Europe in my later years, but for now it’s automatic and saving up for motorcycle lessons!

183 D Bro October 21, 2012 at 12:43 pm

Ha, I hadn’t driven a standard in over 10 yrs. and yesterday morning I had to drive a Nissan xteera. The first thing out of my mouth was I don’t know how to drive a standard. The owner looked at me as if I was retarded and exclaimed,”Are you serious?” I wasn’t and enjoyed it without one stall. Having the parking brake release on the right side of the steering wheel was the only thing I had to get use to as we were stopping and starting promoting a candidate. No promotion added(YEH!). You are definitely more “one” with the vehicle with a standard. The cost of a clutch is the only thing not factored in when you save $1000 or more for no automatic transmission. I put 2 clutches in my 89 F150 with a straight 6 (4.9) and a Mazda OD5 transmission. I am a trim carpenter with tools but the load was usually about half way. I didn’t drive it hard but 30,000 miles and it was done. I enjoyed the vehicle but an uninsured senorita in southern California totaled my truck and ended my use of a stick. Glad I didn’t forget.

184 Bill October 21, 2012 at 5:38 pm

It’s not just that a manual gives you the ‘feeling’ of control, some fluffy psychological sort of thing. You really do have more control. And you can use that control to get better performance out of a manual than an automatic on the same car.

For example you know what’s coming up — a hill, turn, etc. — or you know you want to pass. So you can always be in the right gear. The automatic transmission can’t see ahead, it doesn’t know what’s coming up, so there will be a second or two when it’s in the old gear (probably too high and therefore not enough power) before it adapts to the new task.

185 Leridan October 21, 2012 at 6:24 pm

I’m not getting this “fun with a stick” thing. Almost anywhere in Europe and North America, having fun with a stick will get you a ticket, in many places it’ll cost you your driving license and may even get you in jail.

Get real. I hate it but you can’t drive anymore but the way you drive with an automatic.I’m French. Here people look at you like you’re an alien when you say you prefer automatics. Heck, most people are AFRAID to drive automatics here!

But the truth is you can’t drive anymore, almost anywhere. 20 years ago, the right lane on the highway was going 100mph. the leftmost was for 120+. mph, not kph. 120 gets you in jail nowadays in France on a repeat.

In the US, what’s the use of a stick when you can’t drive faster than 55? if you’re a guy you need an autopilot to keep within the law.

I drive most days for my job in the Paris metro area. I mark the days when I’m doing more than an average 15mph with a white stone. Automatic is great.

Don’t mistake me. One of the greatest days of my life was the day I drove a Maranello on a track. Give me the same car on the road and I’ll lose my licence in a fortnight. We live in a nanny society. If you want to survive you need Nanny’s car.

186 Peter Courtenay Stephens October 21, 2012 at 6:47 pm

In 1942 we were living in Westport, Ct on Narrow Rocks Rd. I was 4. My father came home with a 1940 Oldsmobile he borrowed form some friend and so we all went for a drive as we did not have a car at that time. As we drove aling my father made the comment that, “It almost drives itself.” Being only four I had no idea baout cars and this was a special occasion in a car in any manner, so for the next 20 years or so I tghought tha that Oldsmobile actually drove itself and all my father had to do was stear.
The memory pooped up one day and Eureeka, I relised that he was talkiing about that Hydromatic Transmission. Lordy, Lordy ! Won’t myracles ever cease.
I learend to drive in a 1950 Plymouth Subburban. Stickk Shift 3 on the column 6 cylinder. Try and find one on the antique market. Almost impossible.
The last stick we had was our 2000 Subaru Outback. Lent it to my daughter and she burned the engine up by ignoring the dash light.
MY other daughter has 2 stick shifts. A 2000 Ford Crew Cab Deisel and a 99 Dodge Cummins short bed. She shifts without using the clutch once she is rolling. It’s called slip shifting.

187 Chris October 21, 2012 at 9:55 pm

I would add before even trying to get the vehicle to move, figure out exactly where first gear is. In most “x”-on the floor vehicles, it is in the upper-left-most position. However, if you happen to be learning on, say, a 3-speed, where first gear is in the bottom-left, then you may be in for a rude awakening when you put the car into what you think is first, but turns out to be reverse…

…Take it from one who has been there!

188 P.M.Lawrence October 22, 2012 at 4:14 am

Sapone, when I want to be in neutral I deliberately move the gear lever from side to side to make sure it’s not in gear. And thanks for your kind remarks.

189 Jake Mendez October 22, 2012 at 11:47 am

I first learned to drive a stick when I was 13, it was in a 94 Jeep Wrangler. The funny thing about it was that it was my mom who taught me how not my dad. My dad is the kind of guy who instead of shows you how to do something will just tell you to do it so you learn it yourself and I guess he thought I could just do it. I only stalled once and since then I’ve had 4 cars that were all manual transmission and until recently I’ve always had a manual.

190 Chester October 22, 2012 at 11:51 am

Love this article. My sister taught me how in the 81 Mercury Lynx she sold me. After I got the basics down she would hit me in the leg every time I would grind a gear. I love stick and every chance I get I but a standard transmission car.
Thanks for sharing Brett

191 Fredrik October 22, 2012 at 1:02 pm

I live in Norway and when we get our license we have to learn to drive a stick, if you learn to drive an automatic and take your driving test with it your license will only allow you to drive the automatic. Over here everyone learns how to drive a stick! (yes, even those blonde girls)

192 Wes October 22, 2012 at 2:07 pm

My stick shift initiation was in my grandma’s 1982 Toyta Tercel. After the usual stalling hiccoughs my Dad did me the best favor he ever could, he taught me how to stay stopped on a hill without using any brakes. Just finding the balance of gas-to-clutch. I was hooked on manuals ever since, and in the 17 years I’ve been driving since, I’ve only driven a stick. Those hills in San Francisco are a piece of cake thanks to my Pops!

193 Fred October 22, 2012 at 3:00 pm

Can’t tell you how many times my buddies and I push started (clutch in, push, push, push, let out clutch) my ’66 VW. Love the illustrations from the VW manual.

194 Jay October 22, 2012 at 3:16 pm

Like many posters, my first car was a manual transmission. Today, I’d much rather have my arm around my sweetheart than the shift.
Good to have it as part of the whole “Life Tool Kit” but not something I’ll likely need to call upon (holding out for that Aston Martin sweepstakes win to prove me wrong).

195 Andrew GG October 22, 2012 at 7:13 pm

Some dude said that the ‘proper’ way to take off on a hill involves the parking brake.. No. Learn how to heel-and-toe. THAT is the truly proper way to do it. Way more man points too! :D

196 Spatenkampf October 22, 2012 at 8:18 pm

Well, im from Europe, und 90% of the cars are manual. And 140 mph is not a big deal.

So I think handling the stick shift is the first step… the REAL Thing is to shift down without using the clutch only by in -between gas. And change gears upwards too.

Well, Actually there is nothing wrong with automatic transmission. I sure like the comforts of it in luxury cars.

Offroad or in the snow ill always prefer Stick Shift.

197 P.M.Lawrence October 23, 2012 at 8:18 am

AGG, using the hand brake for a hill start is the “proper” way because it works reliably. Your way risks all sorts of things going wrong in the split second before it comes right – which is precisely the same risk that you get if you have the clutch down before the brake when you’re slowing down, which is why that is wrong too. Sure, it’ll work most of the time, but the time it doesn’t is what counts.

198 Johnny October 23, 2012 at 11:22 am

Great article, well detailed. I ride a motorcycle but recently rented an old vw beetle in Mexico and drove around. It was pretty funny had no ID, no credit card but did have about $30 in pesos so the guy rented me the car. Alot of people seem stumped on how to shift on a motorcycle so I actually wrote what I think is a pretty helpful blog post about how to shift on a bike. http://rulesforrebels.blogspot.com/2012/10/how-to-shift-on-motorcycle-beginners.html

199 PaulT October 23, 2012 at 11:27 am

It’s one of those odd differences between the US and England. Over here manual cars (as we call stick shifts) are more common than automatics. Generally if you learn to drive it’s in a manual. Personally I’d never consider owning an automatic transmission as manuals are way more fun. However here’s another oddity, if I drove a car in the US I’d hire an automatic. Because we drive on the left over here we operate the stick with our left hands – I’d never be able to cope with operating the stick with my right hand and the clutch with my left foot!

200 Scott October 23, 2012 at 12:31 pm

I don’t know if anyone here is a fan of Car Talk, but Click and Clack have a great method for learning how to drive a manual that I’ve used to teach several friends. Here’s what they say:

Once you start the car and shift into first gear, slowly let up on the clutch without adding any gas. Most people will stall the car a few times, but that way you’ll find the exact point in each car where the clutch starts to engage. From there it’s just practice, since if you can move the car without pressing the accelerator in first, every other gear gets progressively easier. It’s worked for my friends in learning, and I use it whenever I’m driving a new car with a standard, just to get a feel for the car.

Great article; thanks!

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