Knowing how to drive manual transmission cars (also known as stick shift) is one more ability that every driver should definitely have under his/her belt.
Manual transmission cars are pretty widespread so it’s only a matter of time before you encounter one (like through rentals, borrowing a car or else).
Instead of finding yourself in a tight spot, this article will hopefully help you learn how to become a master of this “trade” and a more complete driver.
If you’re not in the mood for reading, you can find a video tutorial or a crash-course (shortened version of the video tutorial) at the end of this article or watch it on our You Tube channel.
DRIVING STICK SHIFT-ALMOST ANYONE CAN DO IT.
Before we start, just wanted to tell you something I’ve noticed over the years:many people have resentment towards learning how to drive stick shift.
Either due to a more complicated driving procedure or “war stories” from other drivers, many people give up on driving manual transmission cars or don’t even try it.
I assure you there’s no need for this and almost anyone can get the hang of it.
Just set aside fear and prejudice which are the biggest enemies. This comes from someone who has years (decades) of experience in driving manual transmission cars.
Where there is a will there is a way . Heck, millions of people around the world do it everyday, why shouldn’t you?
WHY SHOULD YOU LEARN TO DRIVE MANUAL TRANSMISSION CARS?
Most people don’t like to put some extra effort in doing various tasks, that’s a fact.
It’s the same with driving. Simple is better for lots of people.
Lets face it: automatic transmissions make a drivers life more easy as it does the shifting for you.
Nevertheless, driving manual transmission cars has its advantages:
- Cheaper to buy
Manual transmission cars are, on average cheaper to buy, both new and used. Especially in countries that don’t favor manual transmission (for instance USA).
- Lower fuel consumption on average
Cars with automatic transmission, on average, tend to consume more fuel.
With some wise stick shift driving, you can spare a significant amount of fuel.
If you’re interested on more tips on how to increase your car’s fuel efficiency, click here for a separate article on that topic.
- Choice of car performance and driving style
When you drive manual transmission, you’re the boss.
It gives you the freedom to create and hone you’re driving style, letting you explore the minimum and maximum of both you’re car and yourself as a driver.
On automatic transmissions, you get what you get. Although you have “kick-down” shift assists and other gizmos it’s just isn’t the same.
Exceptions are performance and luxury cars (paddle shift gear boxes, tip-tronics, semi-automatics etc.) which, in my opinion, combine the best of two worlds, more or less successfully.
- Driving experience
Once you get the hang of it, you’ll see what I mean.
This is a highly subjective opinion on my behalf but:
It’s much like being good at a sport or martial art.
It will simply make you, as a driver, feel very good and skillful. Especially if you’re a fan of driving.
If you grow to like it, driving a car with automatic transmission will never be the same again and will seem a bit boring.
DIFFERENCE BETWEEN MANUAL AND AUTOMATIC TRANSMISSION CARS
Before actually starting to drive manual transmission cars, here are a few words about the differences that you’ll encounter once you’re in the driver’s seat.
If you’re interested about the difference in technical details between manual transmission and automatic transmission cars, click on the links for a great explanation on Wikipedia.
Main point is that the automatic transmission does the gear shifting on its own so to say, while when driving manual transmission cars, you’re in charge of shifting gears.
So from a drivers point of view these are the main differences :
- Gear shifter
How you move the gear shifter and the markings on the gear knob or panel
- Number of pedals
Automatic transmissions have two pedals (brake and accelerator), manual transmission three pedals (clutch, brake and accelerator).
Automatic transmission needs much less effort and attention while manual transmission needs a decent amount of effort and practice.
HOW TO PREPARE YOURSELF FOR DRIVING?
When you’re learning to drive manual transmission cars, you’re in fact increasing your ability of multi-tasking.
Of course driving, on its own, is multi-tasking.
You’re only adding to the procedure list.
Driving a manual transmission car will demand (besides paying attention to your driving): using the clutch pedal extensively, shifting gears, listening to the engine or looking at the rev counter.
For beginners, this procedure will surely be a bit confusing.
In order to avoid problems in driving, it would be good to prepare yourself before actually hitting the road.
Here are some useful tips:
- PRACTICE IN PLACE-WHILE THE ENGINE IS OFF
May sound awkward, especially to drivers with previous experience (with automatic transmission).
But it will, help, trust me.
Simply place yourself in the driver seat, use the clutch, shift gears, get the feel of it.
Main purpose of this is to learn the location of all commands, practice movements and most important, your overall configuration.
It will help, trust me. Starting to drive right away can cause problems or even be dangerous.
Note: be sure to wear proper footwear. Flip-flops or any sort of slipper type footwear is out of the question.
These can get stuck while pressing the clutch pedal and easily cause an accident.
- ASSUME THE PROPER DRIVING POSITION
Proper sitting position is crucial when you want to drive manual transmission cars.
- Make sure that you set the seat in such a manner that you can stretch your leg straight when pushing the clutch pedal to the floor.
- There should be no obstacle when working the gear lever (like ill adjusted arm rests)
Main point here: take a comfortable position. Don’t drive like you’re trapped. If you’re not agile it could pose a threat for driving (cuts response time).
- BASIC SAFETY MEASURES (FOR LESS EXPERIENCED DRIVERS)
- Adjust the rear view mirror
- Use your seat belt
- Assume the 10 and 2 o’clock hand position on the steering wheel. One hand will always have to be used to change the gear. Get accustomed to this especially if you’ve driven an automatic before.
- LEARN ABOUT THE GEAR LAYOUT
Maybe most important knowledge in order to avoid confusion.
Three important things to know here:
- Gear layout
As you’ve probably noticed, all stick shift cars have markings on the gear knob (numbers in certain orders).
The purpose of this picture is to show you what’s the direction of shifting (for example 1st goes toward you and up, 2nd goes down etc.)
It will be an “H” shape since this is standard for all manual transmission cars.
Depending on the number of gears and where the reverse gear is located, the “H” shape “spreads” differently.
Various car models have different layouts but the basic principle is the same.
- Number of gears
You’ll have 4 to 6 gears for moving forward. All depending on the car type.
In most cases there will be 5 gears.
4 gears are almost extinct and can be found mostly on old timers. 6 gears are used on performance and luxury cars mostly (cars that have more power output).
The gears are marked with numbers 1,2,3,4,5 (6) and an “R” .
You’ll find these imprinted around the “H” shape.
- Neutral position (same on all cars)
When in neutral, the transmission is disengaged.
This is the position for both starting the engine and being able to release the clutch while the engine is running without the car moving.
Also the car can freely role in all directions. When you put the car in neutral, be sure that the hand brake is pulled (activated).
You’ll know you’re in neutral when the gear knob can move freely left to right (opposed to other gears, when it’s stiff).
- Reverse gear
Of course for moving backwards.
Most common problem here is how to find the reverse gear as every car has a different system.
More on that topic and how to drive in reverse, lower in the article.
- USING THE PARKING BRAKE
Unlike cars with automatic transmission, manual cars don’t have a park (“P”) option.
Once in neutral, the car can freely role in all directions.
This is where the parking brake comes in.
Best practice when parking or stopping:
- put the car in neutral
- turn off the ignition
- pull the hand brake
You will both avoid unwanted motion and possible jolting of the car if the gear is left engaged.
Always pull the parking brake to the maximum.
HOW TO DRIVE MANUAL TRANSMISSION CARS (STICK SHIFT); STEP BY STEP PROCEDURE.
Once you’re in the car, assume a comfortable driving position. Make sure that you can press the clutch pedal to the maximum and operate the gear shifter freely.
1.Put the key in to the ignition.
2.Activate (pull) the hand brake-if it’s not already on.
3.Press the clutch pedal.
4.Put the gear lever in neutral
5.Turn on the ignition (make sure your foot is still on the clutch).
6.Put the gear lever in to 1st gear.
7.Slightly press the accelerator while slowly releasing the clutch.
8.Watch the rev count. It should be from 1200 to 2000 rpm maximum.
An alternative is to listen to the engine. Don’t let it bog down nor make it “scream”. Just high enough to work properly.
9.The car is moving from that point. Again, watch the rev count or listen to the engine. For diesel cars 2500 rpm will be enough for shifting, for petrol cars you can go to 4000 rpm. Don’t over do the revs, it’s bad for the engine
10.Once you rev up the car, push the clutch pedal to the end while completely taking your foot off the accelerator.
11.Shift in to 2nd gear and release the clutch freely.
(from 2nd, of course, go to 3rd, 4th, 5th or 6th).
12.Immediately press the accelerator. Not hard, just a mild press. Accelerate as much as you need or to the next gear.
Follow STEPS 11 AND 12 until you achieve wanted speed or reach maximum gear.
Be sure that you press the clutch pedal to its maximum every time or you won’t be able to shift gears.
HOW TO DOWNSHIFT A MANUAL TRANSMISSION CAR?
Previous instructions are for going forward and accelerating.
What about slowing down?
When driving manual transmission cars you’ll come across the term downshift .
This means shifting gears in reverse order (from 5th or 6th to 1st and eventually to full stop).
Without downshift, the engine would bog down, stutter, and eventually cut off when you want to slow down the car.
The other option is pressing the clutch pedal at speed which would essentially put the car in a sort of “free fall”.
Downshift is essentially the same shifting procedure only in reverse order with adding the brake pedal.
So lets say you’re driving and you have to slow down. We’ll begin from the highest gear, let’s say 5th gear:
1.Take your foot off the accelerator (you won’t be using this pedal at all while doing the downshift procedure).
2.Start braking and slowing down
3.You’ll notice that the engine will start to bog down. This is the moment for downshift or else the engine will stutter and cut off.
4.Press the clutch pedal.
5.Shift in to lower gear. Follow the numbers so from 5th go to 4th to 3rd and so on. Don’t skip them.
6.Release the clutch pedal between every gear shift:by this time the car has slowed down.
7.Simultaneously mildly apply the brake.
By the time you reach second gear the car has slowed down to almost full stop.
8.Apply the brake some more till stopping and press the clutch (so the engine doesn’t cut off)
By not using the accelerator, you’re also using the power of the engine to slow down the car.
Important tip: stop the downshift at 2nd gear.
The 1st gear is meant only for moving the car from standstill.
If you downshift in to 1st gear while the car is moving, you can damage the transmission.
HOW TO FIND REVERSE GEAR IN A CAR WITH MANUAL TRANSMISSION?
One of the most common problems when encountering a stick shift car (at least from what I’ve seen) is struggling to find the reverse gear.
Unlike automatic transmissions where you just find the “R” and slide the gear lever to it, with manual transmission, it’s a bit trickier.
You see, every manual transmission is set up so you don’t accidentally shift in to reverse while driving.
This would be both dangerous for driving and can destroy the transmission.
Every car manufacturer has a “gimmick” of its own in order to put the car in to reverse gear.
This is also one of the main causes of a headache for a novice driver.
You’’ll either have to push the gear lever down, pull it up , give it a stronger budge to one side or even lift up a protective ring incorporated with the gear knob.
To tell you the truth, the easiest way to solve this problems is to simply ask someone or Google it. You’’ll save yourself a lot of time.
However if you don’t have the possibility (or internet reach) you’re just going to have to do it the old-fashioned way.
- First look for the location of the “R” sign on the gear knob.
- Follow the direction from the knob (toward yourself, from yourself, whatever the case maybe).
- Try to pull up, push down or give a stronger budge to one side. This is where the gimmick part comes in. Also look for a moving ring on the gear knob
- If you’ve done everything right, you’ll feel the lever sliding in to gear. If you haven’t, you won’t be able to put it in to gear.
Bit of a “wheel of fortune” on this part, but you should be able to manage if your persistent enough.
Also, one more reason to know the gear layout before you start driving.
HOW TO DRIVE MANUAL TRANSMISSION CARS IN REVERSE?
Once you’ve found the reverse gear it’s time to drive.
The reverse gear in the transmission is constructed in such a way that it limits your speed. You won’t be able to drive fast nor is it necessary.
Use the accelerator pedal moderately. Never push the pedal to the metal on this one.
We’ll start from this:
You get in the car and put the key in the ignition. The hand brake is pulled.
- Press the clutch pedal and put the gear in neutral
- Start the car
- While the clutch is pressed put the car in to reverse gear
- Lower (deactivate) the hand brake
- Slowly release the clutch while mildly pressing the accelerator pedal (maximum 1200 rpm-s)
- By this time the car is moving in reverse. Watch the accelerator, don’t press it too much.
- When you want to stop, take your foot of the accelerator, press the clutch and use the brake. This way, you can stop the car without it stuttering or the engine cutting of.
So, essentially the same as going forward only with one gear and much more slowly.
Since driving in reverse is a challenge on it’s own ( even with automatic transmission) you should practice this procedure.
Especially before parking or trying to get out of tight spots (tight parking places or else).
WHEN ARE YOU READY TO DRIVE MANUAL TRANSMISSION CARS?
For the end, a bit of advice before you hit the road.
Practice makes perfect. Don’t go out on the road at least before you have complete control over the car.
The masters in driving stick shift have perfect configuration of movement over the commands.
To clarify: if you can’t properly move from standstill, have second thoughts about where is the proper gear or God forbid mix up the pedals, don’t leave the training ground.
Of course, nobody learned how to drive manual transmission cars on the parking lot but you have to get the basics in order first.
Otherwise you’re a huge danger for both yourself and others in traffic.
Confidence and absolute certainty what you’re supposed to do is the name of the game.
Remember: you’re a true stick shift driver when this whole clutch-shifting, gear changing procedure becomes second nature.
Only then can you drive freely, pay attention to the road and most importantly, enjoy yourself.
Crash-course (shortened version of the video tutorial):