How to Drive a Stick Shift or Standard Car
My first car was a VW Variant; a powerful fellow equipped with two carburettors, and which needed repairs ever so often. It was the cause of much headache because I sold it to the delivery man for the company I worked. He moonlighted as a shopkeeper, and could not afford to pay me, so I had to take some groceries to offset the money. It was pitiful.
It was a large blue Station Wagon type vehicle of the old school shape. Powerful beast which I drove into the hills of central Jamaica to visit my parents, rain or sun. It was useful for my sales job in the city since I could also deliver some of the office supplies and stationery to my customers.
The air-cooled engines of the old VWs were prone to repeated maintenance; plus the twin carb beast guzzled a little too much petrol for the times.
I can visualise it now, with its ancient lines. Such memories of the young struggling days, and yes it was a stick shift. Except in my country then and now we don’t say gear shift we simply say ‘standard’ or 'manual'. And we used different terms like ‘first speed’ to mean first gear. And we don’t say gear lever but ‘gear stick’.
You drive a standard car by starting it in neutral and gently press on gas pedal. You depress the clutch and shift the stick (gear lever) to first gear and slowly depress the gas pedal with the right foot. As you do so you gently release the clutch. The car will move forward (if you are in a forward gear). This comes with practice and different vehicles will respond in their own way. You want to wait until you feel the engine tugging at the vehicle to release the clutch, especially uphill or the vehicle will roll back. As soon as you move off you try to gear up because this means less burden on the engine. But again you do so with a rhyme and reason, listening to the engine and making provision for vehicle load, road conditions, and angle of incline of driving surface.
You depress the clutch pedal to change gears and to stop the vehicle. When you are slowing down the motor vehicle you gear down as in 5-4-3-2; the opposite of driving off. At high speeds you ought to be in fourth or fifth gear so when you are about to slow down or stop you engage the clutch and gear down in sequence 5-4-3-2. You press both brakes and clutch to come to a dead stop. You can stop the vehicle in any gear once both brakes and clutch are depressed, but you must move the lever to first gear in order to move off from a dead stop.
Technically you only need first gear for two reasons: vehicle has stopped and you are ready to drive off again, and when you are in need of pulling power like over a steep hill.
Driving instruction books might very well recommend that you park in neutral and engage the emergency brake. But after you have been driving for a while you learn to park in a gear in you vehicle which the vehicle will not jump out from. Yes there are times that the vehicle will just jump out of a gear and roll away if emergency has failed. Some of us would park in reverse or second.
Now that automatic transmission technology has become popular it is kosher for every one to drive them, but in the early days a real macho man would not be caught dead driving one, automatic cars were for ladies. There was something singularly masculine to handle a vehicle, especially a truck with the loud changing of gears and blowing of horns. As society has become more urban, and silence more precious, the easy ride of a little automatic car is no longer a taboo for the macho. Now it’s the brand name and colour for that type of motorist. And the ladies in particular don’t miss the extra legwork from clutching and changing gears, for with the automatic they can relax their feet.
And you could not get your licence unless you could do the dreaded hill start. This is where you drive off uphill from a stationary position. The purpose is to balance clutch and gas pedals so that the car does not roll back. You release the clutch too early the vehicle rolls back, or stalls. The trick is to listen to engine tugging at the car and to release the clutch at just the right moment. Comes with patience and experience. And learning to listen to your engine.
Stick shift has one definite advantage over automatic transmission, push starting as opposed to jump starting. We all miss the good old days of standard vehicles whenever our batteries go dead and there is no jumper cable nearby. Driving a stick shift back in the days as a struggling young man meant having old and weak batteries so many, many times the cars we owned would require push starting. Who owned a jumper cable anyway? Once there is any life at all in the battery to give ignition you simply get a friend or two to push with the gear in neutral. I remember even pushing too and waiting for the car to pick up speed , jumping in, depress clutch and shift to second gear; wait for the vehicle to gather momentum, then quickly release clutch while pressing gas pedal. The internal combustion engine would be rolling over so weak spark from the battery has some help from the strokes that you have forced. I wonder if my physics is right? But if after you have tried this about four or five times you still haven’t started then its more than just weak battery. And back then you had better know the basics of your engine; including the electrical parts like coil, plugs, points, and condenser. But that’s another story.
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