How To Drive a Stick Shift Car

Cars with manual transmissions offer more power and control. They're every guy's dream! But for anyone who learned how to drive on an automatic transmission, stick shift cars can be intimidating. Before you resolve to a life of strictly automatic transmissions, consider learning how to drive a stick shift car. You can pick up the basics in an afternoon and with a little practice, you'll know why stick shifts car are still so popular. Here are the basics of driving a stick shift car.

Step 1

Learn the pedals and the shifter. A stick shift car has two obvious differences from a car with an automatic transmission: a clutch and a shifter. The clutch, which is operated solely by your left foot, is on the far left of your floor board. The shifter, operated solely by your right hand, generally has 5 gears plus reverse and neutral. The gears are arranged in a 3-legged ‘H' pattern, with first, third and fifth gear on the top and second, fourth and reverse on the bottom. Neutral is the crossbar of the ‘H'.

Step 2

Start the car. To start your stick shift car, understand that the car will likely be in gear and have the parking brake engaged from when it was parked and turned off. Start the car by holding down the clutch and shifting into neutral. With the clutch pedal still down, turn the key in the ignition. Move the shifter into first gear, and use your right foot to apply the brake. (Yes, the clutch should still be down). With your left foot on the clutch and your right foot on the brake, release the parking brake. Now the car is ready to drive.

Step 3

Accelerate. When you're ready to start moving, release your foot from the brake. The engine will start to slow down. At this moment, simultaneously (and slowly) release the clutch as you press the gas pedal. The car will start to move forward. Continue to press the gas pedal until your RPM reaches 3000. Then take your foot off the gas, press your clutch and shift downward from first to second gear (making sure that you pull the shifter as far down as it will go). Speed up again by simultaneously releasing the clutch as you press the gas. Continue to do this, increasing by just one gear every time, until you have reached an appropriate speed. (You'll know when you're in the right gear because the car will move smoothly and the engine will sound okay. If the engine is sputtering, you probably over-shifted into the wrong gear.) You'll know when you need to shift into a higher gear because anything past 3000 RPM will cause your engine pitch to be too high.

Step 4

Slow down. You can downshift a stick shift car by pressing down the clutch, and then moving the gear shifter to the next lower gear. You will hear the pitch of the car's engine lower a bit. Each time you go to a lower gear, release the clutch and apply the brake. Then press the clutch to go to a lower gear, and repeat the process. Downshift no lower than second gear.

Step 5

Stop the car. Stop a stick shift car completely by downshifting to second gear and braking. Just before the car comes to a complete stop, apply the clutch.

Step 6

Reverse. If you need to back up in a stick shift car, follow the same steps you would for starting in first gear: press the clutch, shift to reverse, and let off the clutch as you press the gas. The car will reverse quickly, so be prepared.

Step 7

Turn off the car. The last step in driving a stick shift car (or a manual transmission car) is turning it off. Ensure that the car has been downshifted to second gear and completely stopped. (Your foot will be on the clutch and the brake). Turn off the key. Let your foot off the clutch and pull op the parking brake. Since stick shift cars don't have a gear for ‘park', you must use your emergency brake every time you park your stick shift car. This will stop it from rolling when it is turned off.

Here are a few other pointers for driving a stick shift car.  Avoid riding the clutch (or holding it down when not necessary). It will ruin your clutch. Plus, you'll be treated to an awful smell from your burning clutch.  And remember, any time you want to use the shifter, the clutch needs to be pressed first. A veteran shift stick car driver with a lot of patience is your ideal teacher when it comes to learning how to drive a manual transmission. Spend an afternoon cruising the back roads and you'll be surprised at how fast you master the stick shift car.


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