How to reverse a car with a manual transmission? Once you’re behind the wheel of a stick shift this question will inevitably pop up.
Driving in reverse is a task on its own and certainly demands some extra skills, regardless of a car having an automatic or manual transmission.
But the truth is that cars with manual transmissions are a bit harder to drive in reverse. Mainly because of using the clutch. You simply have to coordinate more movements at the same time while watching where the car is going.
The point of this article is to show that it’s not that hard to master and with a bit of practice you can overcome it in no time.
I must say that all of these tips come from my own experience as a driver with over 20 years of experience and over four hundred thousand kilometers ˝on the clock˝.
HOW TO REVERSE A MANUAL CAR STEP BY STEP?
Before we start I must mention that if you have minor or no experience with stick shift cars you can read a separate article-tutorial on this topic.
If you’re not in the mood for reading you can also watch a video tutorial on our YouTube channel.
Also, a lot of the steps shown below can be applied to cars with automatic transmission minus the clutch work.
1. Before you get in the car check for any obstacles at the rear side of the car (like curbs, closely parked cars, low mounted poles, or else).
2. Once you’re in the car, set the rearview mirrors properly-both the one in the passenger cabin and the side mirrors.
3. Remove any obstacles that may block the view through the rear windshield (like ill-adjusted headrests, smudged rear windshield, or else).
4. Fasten your seatbelt of course.
5. Pull the handbrake, press the clutch, and put the car in neutral (if it isn’t already that way).
6. Start the engine and release the handbrake (unless you’re parked on a hill or some sort of ascent). If it is there is more information about that lower in the article.
7. Put the car in reverse (the ˝R˝ letter on the gear knob). If you’re having problems finding the reverse gear, check out a separate article and video on that topic.
8. You have three options: look at the rear while both your hands are on the steering wheel, turn your head and put one arm around the co-drivers seat, or use the rear and side-view mirrors. I would always recommend the second option, a bit crude and old-school but very effective as it gives a better view of the situation behind the car. More about using rearview mirrors lower in the article.
9. Slowly start releasing the clutch while slightly pressing the gas pedal. Remember, you need the engine to work just above idling speed (on flat surfaces). That’s about 1500 RPMs on the rev counter. Do not use high revs except on up or downhills but more about that lower in the article.
10. By this time the car is starting to move. Release the clutch pedal completely, again do it slowly. Best keep your foot slightly on the clutch pedal as you’ll need it shortly again.
11. Keep the speed down as this will enable better control and reaction. You’ll have to simultaneously watch either through the rear windshield or the rearview mirrors, steer and control the gas pedal and clutch. Sounds more complicated then it actually is, trust me.
12. Once you’ve reversed enough, release the gas pedal and press the clutch. At the same time use the right foot (for the gas pedal) to press the brake. The car will stop.
13. Put the car out of reverse gear into neutral (while the clutch is pressed, of course). From this point, you can continue to drive forwards.
Once again, just like learning how to drive a car with a manual transmission, driving in reverse sounds and looks complicated.
But when you get the hang of it will become second nature that’s for sure.
Till then, best try driving in reverse in a secluded safe place with lots of space (like vacant parking lots, parking garages, secluded roads, or else).
Don’t hit the road until you’ve completely mastered how to reverse a car so you don’t cause unwanted trouble and problems.
HOW TO REVERSE A CAR LEFT AND RIGHT?
Besides learning how to reverse a car, one of the main obstacles (even for more experienced drivers) is steering the car in reverse.
A lot of drivers have a problem with this as it’s a pretty awkward task.
This is natural as everyone is more accustomed to steering forwards. Most ˝suffer˝from a sort of tunnel-effect that starts to appear as the visibility seems narrower looking towards the rear of the car.
It gets worse as the car starts to gain speed.
There are three main rules that you should apply if you want to reverse a car left and right the correct way:
As mentioned, don’t have a lead foot on the gas pedal. Slow driving in reverse will allow you to correct the direction on time and avoid trouble. Fast driving will certainly mean a loss of control.
The direction in which you turn the steering wheel is where the car will go
A rule that you should remember.
If you want to reverse left, turn the steering wheel left. If you want to go right, turn the steering wheel right. Simple as that.
Turn the steering wheel slowly
As you’ll see, turning the steering wheel while going in reverse will result in a momentarily change of direction.
Much faster than driving forwards. Again, this is where going slow is critical. If you go faster in reverse a slight budge of the steering wheel may mean a difference between passing an obstacle or hitting it.
This is because the front wheels are fixed and you’re steering with the rear wheels. If you don’t get what I mean, try watching fork-lift drivers do their job and you’ll get the idea.
HOW TO REVERSE IN A STRAIGHT LINE?
Turning left and right is one business when learning how to reverse a car with manual transmission. But keeping it in a straight line is another.
Seems pretty simple and obvious; just keep the steering wheel in the central position and drive in reverse.
As you’ll see, the car does anything but stay in a straight line. This is again due to steering coming from the back of the car while the wheels on the other end are fixed.
Even the slightest (like a millimeter) turn of the steering wheel can mean half a meter of turning on the road.
So best do this:
Keep the speed down
Constantly adjust the direction with the steering wheel
Face the fact that whenever you want to reverse a car in a straight line you’ll have to make slight corrections.
These corrections of the steering wheel are measured in millimeters. So just slightly turn the wheel, no harsh movements are needed for reversing in a straight line.
HOW TO REVERSE A CAR USING MIRRORS?
Before we start on this part I must express my opinion: this method for driving in reverse should be reserved for experienced drivers.
I also think that driving in reverse using mirrors should be reserved for truck and pick up drivers. Two main reasons: big and wide side mirrors and experience. This is why truck drivers are the undisputed kings of this skill.
And this is a skill trust me. A lot of drivers see this a knowing a martial art.
For us regular drivers with cars, the best method is hugging the co-drivers seat, turning your head, and taking a good look through the rear window.
As mentioned, bit crude and old-school but very effective and will get you out of harm’s way.
However, if you choose to use this method of reversing a car here are a couple of tips for doing this successfully:
Properly adjust and clean the side and rearview mirrors.
Especially pay attention to the side mirrors as they are the most important in my opinion. Make sure that the side mirror covers the rear edge of the car and the surrounding (about fifty-fifty when you look at the mirror).
Keep every mirror clean so it doesn’t distract you.
Constantly monitor all three mirrors when reversing.
I like to do it in this sequence: first the drivers one then the co-drivers and then the rearview mirror. Put the accent on the side mirrors and give the rearview mirror a casual but necessary glance.
Find a guideline in the side mirror
Edge of the road, curb, road markings…whatever will give you a good sense of driving in a straight line.
This is very important when reversing a car using mirrors as it momentarily warns you if you’re losing direction.
In practice, you should find two of these guidelines for each side mirror. Monitor both of them to your best abilities while driving in reverse. This will ensure that the car will not start going in the wrong direction.
Watch for blind spots
Mirrors are not almighty, they can cover only so many view angles.
This goes double for car side mirrors who were not predicted for these kinds of tasks. Unlike truck and pick up truck mirrors.
The view perspective is seriously narrowed and be very careful with this. It’s not uncommon to while being focused on the mirrors, miss a big obstacle behind you or by the side of the car.
This is why constantly monitoring all rearview mirrors and slow driving is very important.
I must also mention that this method is often used as a bit of a show-off and seen as a display of master driving skills.
In fact, it is, if done properly, safely, and with experience. Otherwise, it can be downright dangerous.
The choice is yours. Just don’t let some over-confidence or laziness to take a look back get you in trouble.
If you like this method, practice makes perfect, of course with caution as an all-present factor.
HOW TO REVERSE A CAR ON A HILL?
Sooner or later you’ll find yourself in a situation where you’ll have to park a stick-shift on a hill or ascent of some sort.
The main problem in this situation: gravity. The weight of the car will pull you down the moment you press the clutch and release the handbrake.
I won’t lie to you: this is perhaps the most complicated skill to overcome when learning how to reverse a car with manual transmission.
Demands some serious experience and shouldn’t be done without it, especially on steep hills. So much so that asking a seasoned driver to get you out of a tight spot is a very welcome option if you don’t have experience.
But it can certainly be learned and mastered and here are a few tips that should help:
Always use the handbrake
It is a key factor when you want to reverse a car on a hill. The proper thing to do when parking a car on a hill is to activate the handbrake. Leaving the car in reverse gear or first gear is sometimes not enough and the car is at risk of moving.
Use it as a lever. Make sure you can release and pull the handbrake at a moment’s notice with no hesitation. Of course see that the handbrake always functions properly, hillside or not.
The next tip will show you why this is important.
You have to have very good command coordination (a combination of the clutch, gas pedal, and handbrake)
It will seem like a bit of an acrobatic act at first but it is necessary when learning how to reverse a car on a hill.
You have to make a near-perfect combination of pressing the gas pedal, slowly releasing the clutch, and releasing the handbrake. Above that, you have to be prepared to pull the handbrake again in a second if the engine stalls or you don’t manage all the movements correctly.
All of this, in practice, must be one, fluent, and well-sensed move.
If you do it properly, the car won’t fall back a centimeter.
Keep the revs up
Unlike reversing a car on a flat road, a hill reverse puts much more strain on the engine. Gravity pulls the car down and the engine has to compensate for that.
Don’t be shy: everything up to 3000 RPMs is OK.
The main point here: better let the engine scream a bit then bog down or God forbid cut out in the middle of the whole procedure! Better some extra revs then losing control over the car.
Find the sweet spot and then start releasing the brake.
The sweet spot being the moment you start releasing the clutch, pressing the gas pedal and you sense the car is starting to move.
Right at this moment, the handbrake should be slowly released. The best way to sense the sweet spot is when the car wants to move but is still held a bit by the handbrake.
More simply put, the sweet spot is the moment when the engine power replaces the power of the handbrake.
In practice the whole procedure goes something like this once the car is started :
Put the car in reverse and press the gas pedal. Again, don’t let the engine bog down or cut off.
Slowly release the clutch while pressing the gas pedal. At the same time start releasing the handbrake slowly. The main point of all this is to prevent the car from moving downhill. Success means that the car will move forward without backing a single centimeter
When you sense the car is starting to move forwards, release the handbrake completely.
Once again, you’ll know that you’ve mastered how to reverse a car on a hill when the car doesn’t move a centimeter back, even on the steepest of hills.
In the end: practice till perfection and apply caution always.
Let’s face it: driving in reverse is liking walking in reverse. It can be done but it isn’t natural. Anything that isn’t natural demands extra effort.
If you’re inexperienced, practice the whole procedure until you’re sure that you can reverse a ca without harming or damaging anyone or anything.
Best don’t go into traffic until you do so.
For more experienced stick-shift drivers, never let your guard down. Caution is the mother of safety.
Never be ashamed to ask people for help when reversing. This goes double for things like parallel parking, classical parking in reverse, or getting out of tight parking space for instance. It might mean the difference between safe driving and an accident.
I must also mention that a lot of modern cars have camera systems for driving in reverse. If you have the possibility, buy a car with this option as it is one of the technological marvels which is becoming a necessity, not a luxury.
There is even the possibility of installing an aftermarket system.
Without a good knowledge of how to reverse a car you just can’t be a good stick-shift driver.
Written by: Sibin Spasojevic
Former car technician, life-long car and DIY enthusiast, author for Despairrepair.com