One of the most common problems when driving a stick shift is finding the reverse gear.
Unlike automatic transmissions, where everything is pretty obvious, stick shift cars need a bit more attention and experience.
But as you’ll see it’s not complicated and it all boils down to a few combinations. Once you learn them, you’ll be able to find the reverse gear on any stick shift car.
If you don’t have time for reading, you can watch a video on this topic on our YouTube channel or at the end of this article.
Also, if you’re a stranger to driving stick shift altogether you can click here for a separate article on that topic or watch a video tutorial.
Before we start with the procedure it would be good to read about stick shift gear layouts lower in the article.
So, first, find out where the reverse gear actually is on the car and then start shifting.
1. FIND THE REVERSE GEAR WHILE THE CAR IS TURNED OFF
It’s best to search for the reverse gear while the car is parked and the engine is turned off.
This is mandatory if you’re using the car for the first time and you have no idea where the reverse gear might be.
Otherwise, if you do it while the engine is running, you’re at risk of shifting into the wrong gear and moving the car in the wrong direction (which is the most common mistake).
Combine this with an obstacle in front of the car and you can cause some damage.
Also, this way you’ll spare the gearbox from the extra strain.
2. PULL THE HANDBRAKE
This will ensure that the car won’t move anywhere if you miss the reverse gear. It will also stop the car from moving anywhere once you put the gear shifter in neutral.
3. PUT THE CAR IN NEUTRAL
This is the proper and only way to find the reverse gear. Neutral is the starting point.
4. FIND THE PATTERN ON THE GEAR SHIFTER KNOB
Almost all cars have a pattern imprinted on the gear knob. Sort of a small map for gear directions.
This is every car manufacturer’s efficient and simple way of preventing a driver from making a mistake or wandering.
Search for the letter ˝R˝ on the gear shifter knob. This is a standard so you’ll find it on almost every car out there worldwide.
Exceptions from this rule are replaced or custom-made gear knobs. With these, you’ll just have to search for the original gear layout. You can search on the internet, ask someone with the same or similar car, or just work your way around it. You can also check the car manual.
Every car has a different reverse gear layout but more on that lower in the article.
5. KEEP THE CLUTCH PRESSED WHILE SEARCHING FOR REVERSE GEAR
Keeping the clutch pressed will enable the gear shifter to slide and slip in to reverse gear much easier.
You see, although the engine is turned off, the gearbox is still connected to the engine through the clutch making shifting a bit more tough and stiff. This will make finding the reverse gear less complicated.
6. APPLY THE ¨GIMMICK˝ FOR SHIFTING IN TO REVERSE GEAR
Calling it a gimmick perhaps sounds childish but nevertheless is an accurate term.
You see, car manufactures had to come up with a system to prevent the driver from accidentally shifting the car in reverse. Seems like a nuisance, but to an inexperienced driver, the gear shifter is just a stick that moves in all directions and doesn’t make much sense.
Having this in mind, without a safety measure, accidentally shifting into reverse gear is only a matter of time. That would then lead to heavy damage or even an accident.
The safety measure comes in form of a limiter (stopper) mounted somewhere on the gear shifter system. In order to engage or overcome it, you must apply a specific procedure (the gimmick).
Most common ways of doing this :
Pushing the gear shifter down
Raising the gear shifter up
Pushing the gear shifter to the left or right side and using slightly more force to overcome the limiter (stopper)
Raising a safety ring or pushing a switch located under or on the gear knob.
There may be other systems, but these are used the most by car manufacturers and are considered more or less as standard.
7. SHIFT IN TO REVERSE GEAR
Once you’ve overcome the safety system gimmick, slide the gear shifter in reverse.
You’ll hear a recognizable ˝click˝sound coming from the engine bay if everything is OK. This is the reverse gear falling into place inside the gearbox.
The shift has to be smooth, without any resistance or the shifter getting stuck.
When you return the gear shifter to neutral, you may hear a slight popping-like sound. That’s the safety system engaging again and the shifter returning in to place for shifting forward gears.
8. TURN ON THE CAR AND SEE IF YOU’VE SUCCEEDED
Make sure that you have no obstacles in front or behind you, just in case you’ve missed it. Return the gear shifter back to neutral if you haven’t done so.
Press the clutch, start, the car, release the handbrake, put the gear shifter in reverse, and slowly release the clutch and see that the car is moving backward.
Of course, if it does, this means that you’ve successfully learned how to find the reverse gear on a stick shift car.
STICK SHIFT GEAR LAYOUTS-GEAR PATTERNS
In the picture below you can see the most common gear patterns with the reverse gear.
Almost all of today’s stick shift cars have either five or six-speed gearboxes so there’s a good chance you’ll encounter one of these patterns.
The pattern with the horizontal line under the ˝R˝ symbolizes the security ring under the gear knob or in some cases a switch mounted on the knob. There are variations in this sign but this is the usual one. Also, in that case, there may be a sixth gear included.
The next gear patterns are rarer as they are for four-speed gear-boxes. These are mostly present in older car models and old-timers.
As you’ve seen, not a complicated procedure at all and takes only a few minutes (in most cases) to figure out.
I must mention a few more important things:
Car manufacturers have a sort of trademark for the reverse safety measure (gimmick) that usually applies to all models. So, if you’ve driven two separate cars from the same manufacturer there’s a good chance that both of them will have the same reverse pattern.
Higher mileage cars or ones that have been poorly maintained (read beaten up cars) may have a damaged reverse safety system.
This means although you know the reverse gimmick, the car won’t reverse easily. The most common reason for this is that the limiter (stopper) wears out over time and prevents the car from shifting in to reverse.
In this case, you have to be a bit more persistent and work the gear shifter around. After some time you should be able to succeed.
The opposite problem is more dangerous: when the gear shifter can slide in to reverse without limitation. Again, a damaged limiter is the main reason. This is considered a safety risk and the car shouldn’t be driven.
If the situation is such that you have to (like in an emergency), extra care and caution are needed to avoid accidentally shifting the car in to reverse.
In the end: don’t drive in traffic until you’re 100% certain that you know how to find the reverse gear.
Might sound harsh, but instead of spending a couple of minutes practicing, you might end up stuck in a parking lot or causing damage.
Written by: Sibin Spasojevic
Former car technician, life-long car and DIY enthusiast, author for Despairrepair.com
HOW TO FIND REVERSE GEAR VIDEO