How to Drive a standard transmission or stick

Using a standard transmission

Growing up on a farm has some advantages. One was using a clutch on the old John Deere tractor. On a tractor, the clutch is on the left, the brakes are on the right and the transmission or gear shift is in the middle. Using a clutch isn't rocket science, but it can cause lots of anxiety when you are learning. Since most automobiles are automatic, it seems fair to ask why someone would want to learn stick. If your options include stick or nothing, I understand. You are motivated.

advanced manual techniques

stay calm

It helps to have someone with you who can calmly give advice. It helps to have a driving environment that allows for trial and error. Clutches vary in how hard they are to push down and how jumpy they are when you slowly lift your left foot. It is called getting the feel of it. I suppose it matters what you are wearing on your feet. Is it a pair of slippery sandals or boots with treads or are you barefoot? The mat on the driver's side can get in the way. Anyway you have a couple of levers on the floor on the driver's side, the clutch and the brake. To their right is the accelerator.

The shift knob has a bunch of numbers on it, and reverse, or R. Knowing how to start is as simple as shifting into first gear with your foot on the clutch and slowly removing your foot. As the clutch is released the car slowly moves forward. At the same time, the gas pedal is slowly pushed down a little, otherwise the car might stall, or the engine will die. The car needs a bit of gas for the power it takes to move the car forward.

On your display behind the steering wheel, a manual shift car usually has a tachometer. This is a way to look down and see how fast the car motor is turning, as in RPM or revolutions per minute. Usually this is an aid to tell when to shift to a higher gear. You can also hear the engine and it tells you when it would like to get shifted. For anyone who has driven a ten speed bicycle, you know you have lots of reasons for shifting higher or lower. It is difficult to start pedaling in a high gear, and easier to shift to a lower gear when climbing a hill.

Your car engine is the same. It appreciates the variety of choices the gears provide, and these gears will affect your mileage, control of the car and safety. As a retro moment, I will share I learned to drive a shift on a 1952 Chevrolet (I know this dates me), and the stick shift was actually on the steering column, in the form of a sideways H. Three forward gears and reverse. It is not something you will find easily now, but they are out there.

one gear at a time...

The other thing about stick is neutral. When the car is in no gear and the stick shift can move freely back and forth, the car has nothing to keep it from rolling down a hill or whatever. The emergency brake is a lever usually found between the seats. If you forget and try to drive with it on, the brakes will get hot and the car won't drive easily.

Brakes also have different touches. If you are low on brake fluid, they might feel spongy. Getting the feel of the clutch, brake and gas pedal is important as they vary with each car. It is the same with a riding lawn mower. Some are pretty jumpy when you release the clutch. A riding lawnmower might be a good place to learn to drive clutch, as it is off road and there is plenty of space hopefully to practice shifting. The difference is in the throttle, which is sometimes by the steering wheel, and you are going slower.

I know that mall parking lots offer space in cities, and back country gravel roads give you practice in smaller towns or rural areas. Knowing how to shift gears by knowing your tachometer will become second nature. Our Ford Focus has a little yellow light that comes on to tell you when to shift, which can be irritating, but also could be helpful. There is that sense of data overload when you do something new; trying to keep your eyes on the road and coordinating your eyes with your feet and hands. It is a habit worth learning. It is also confusing when you have two vehicles, one a clutch and the other automatic. You might forget which one you're driving in and there is a big difference.

Learning to drive in the slower gears with opportunity to stop and use the brake, shift into neutral, and try reverse are all ways to practice. Some cars have a little ring you need to pull up on your stick shift for reverse so you won't accidentally shift and ruin the gears.

How Clutches Work

in conclusion

Also, the car might not start if your clutch isn't fully pressed down. This is a safety thing, as you don't want the car to lurch forward in gear when you turn the key. Also you want to leave it in gear when you park. Leaving it in neutral is not so good when your car could roll somewhere, like a ditch.

If you live where there is ice and snow, I think stick offers control on the lower gears. One anxiety is when you are driving a stick up a hill in a city and come to a stop light or stop sign and the car behind you pulls up right behind you. With gravity, it doesn't take much for your car to go backwards when you have your foot on the clutch and you release the brake and slowly go forward in gear. Note to other drivers. Please leave space between you and the car ahead of you on a hill, as the driver might have a clutch and it is hard, especially on wet or icy roads to get the timing down on clutch, brake and gas pedal.

Save that trial for when you feel more confident. If you have speed control, or cruise control, it will work with stick in whatever gear you activate it. Otherwise learn when it is safe to use cruise control. Overdrive which is fifth or sixth gear is a mileage saving highest gear for the freeway which will keep your tachometer running lower and your gas bill lower also. There are times I would prefer driving in a lower gear for control, or because the four cylinder doesn't like long steep hills etc, but getting up to fifth is the way to go on those longer drives.

Downshifting is also important to learn, like how fast to slow down for an exit ramp. You might notice how your engine races if you do it wrong. Starting out in a higher gear might also kill your engine, although there might be a time to start in second. You have to try it and see if it works. I hope you have a teacher who will encourage you that you can learn this. It can be nerve wracking to get the hang of it, but it is a lifelong skill that comes back to you, like riding a bike.

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Benjimester profile image

Benjimester 7 years ago from San Diego, California

I heartily agree that it helps to have an environment that allows for trial and error. I've taught a bunch of people how to drive stick shift, and they always pick it up much quicker when they're in a safe environment like an empty parking lot. Most people in SoCal though probably won't ever have the option of learning to drive clutch while on a riding lawn mower :)

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