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How to Succeed in Driving a Stick Shift

Updated on February 19, 2015

While automatic cars have taken over the car industry, some people still remain partial to manual gearboxes. Gear heads all agree that driving stick-shift is a work of art where paying attention to details is extremely important. People have to pay more attention to the road and outside surroundings on the road. Driving stick shift is actually a very important skill to have, since you never know when you have to step up and take command of a vehicle with manual transmission. Driving stick shift makes you more concentrated on the third pedal and the constant shifting actually forces you to not be so easily distracted, making the road much safer for everyone. Don't be scared of learning how to drive stick shift! This is a general guide to give you the overall gist of manual driving so that you can safely practice by yourself at an empty parking lot. Practice makes perfect, especially when it comes to shifting gears and stepping on the clutch.

What is the clutch?

The pedal on the left is the clutch, where you have to engage it every time you want to change gears and brake. If you fail to utilize the clutch, you will cause the engine to stall which is quite the embarrassment in the middle of a stop light and quite dangerous. First of all, you need to press the clutch before you even start the car. This is so the gearbox is disconnected from the engine, making sure that when you turn on the ignition, you won't hit the trashcan in front of you. Or worse, someone else's vehicle.

What about the gears?

Every car is different and based on the make and model of the car, the number of gears will be different. The numbers will be etched into the gear knob so you can take a look to reaffirm your thoughts. Shift the car into first gear when you first start by moving the stick into the first gear and press the acceleration pedal all the while depressing the clutch. Sound complicated? It might be for beginners, but once you get the hang of it, it's a piece of cake and will come second nature.

Don't fear the catch point

The "catch point" is what gets beginners into a flurry every time and it's where the engine connects to the gear box and in turn, gets the car moving. The "catch point" is different on every car, but don't let that discourage you from attempting to drive stick shift. If you can get the car into first gear without stalling, you're doing a great job. A trick is to release the clutch quickly and get to that catch point where you can then go a bit slower until you completely depress the clutch. Of course this goes without saying that you should still be pressing the gas entire time.

Pay attention to the rev counter

Look at the rev counter so you know when you start shifting up or down a gear so you won't overwork the engine. Don't let the revs go low because you risk the danger and embarrassment of having the car stall at exactly the wrong moment. Also don't spend too much time in first gear because the engine works the hardest and the car moves the slowest, making it pretty terrible for the engine as well as the mileage.

What are some things I need to watch out for?

Downshifting may prove to be a challenge for some new stick shift beginner drivers, as a beginner might accidentally shift to third gear instead of first gear by mistake. This causes the car to jerk rather violently, but it's a common mistake that can be fixed and improved on as time goes on. Because of the damage that all of these mistakes might do to your car, it's best to learn how to drive manual on an older car that can take a beating instead of a brand new sports car. You can also try to learn on some isolated back roads that not many vehicles go through instead of a busy metropolitan area for very obvious reasons. This will increase your safety as well as the safety of all the other motorists on the road. After you have succeeded in learning stick shift on some isolated roads, you can proceed to busy intersections with practice.

Uphill starts may also be an issue because if you release the clutch too much, you might go backwards and hit the car behind you. You may even create a pileup, which can be devastating. In cases like this, the emergency brake is your best friend.

Final stick shift ideas:

If you are patient and willing to learn, driving stick shift will just come as a second nature. It may require some concentration, but that only means that it will improve on your life skills and you can totally apply this concentration and willingness to learn onto other projects. Who knows, maybe you will come to love driving stick shift on your new manual car so much that you will start investing in it. Perhaps you will also dabble in the world of car modification and get a new body kit or some new LED lights for your manual car to show the world because driving stick shift has become like a second skin for you.

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