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How To Drive A Manual Transmission

Updated on April 10, 2013
Manual Transmission Shifter
Manual Transmission Shifter

The Basics

Once you learn how to drive a manual car most likely you'll never have as much fun driving an automatic car. Changing gears and learning how to control both your feet along with your rev counter is an absolute joy and you will never be able to feel a closer connection to your car. You can not only get better gas mileage out of a stick shift car but you can learn how to make your brakes last longer through downshifting and be able to speed up much faster than most automatic cars through downshifting. The very first thing you need to know about a manual transmission are the terms. The Shifter, pretty self explanatory is what is in the middle of the car with all the numbers written on top that you use for changing gears. Clutch, its that third foot pedal all the way to the left that you push down before changing gears. Stall, its what happens when your engine shuts off because your were not revving high enough or you let go of the clutch too fast. Popping the Clutch,the term for when you lift off of the clutch very quickly. Blowing the Engine, what will happen if you rev the engine too high for too long and it overheats and blows up (very hard to do most of the time but you DEFINITELY don't want to do it). Burnout, what happens when your revs are too high and your wheels spin so quickly that you lose traction. Lastly Neutral, when your shifter is in the middle of all the gears and can easily be pushed from left to right.

Look at the number, that's where the gears are positioned, in line 1st-5th and then reverse
Look at the number, that's where the gears are positioned, in line 1st-5th and then reverse

Turning the Car On and Getting Into First Gear

The very first thing your going to want to do when you get in to a manual car, sit down, and buckle up, is to start the car. In order to start a car with a manual transmission your going to push your foot down on the clutch all the way and keep it pushed down, then turn the key and start it like any other car. Easy enough, next make sure you are not already in first or second gear before letting go of the clutch or you will stall (most experienced drivers leave the car in first or second gear when they turn the car off so that it wont be able to roll away). If the car is not in neutral put it in neutral and let go of the clutch completely, then push down and release the clutch a few times to get a feel for how stiff it is and how deep down it goes. Once you are ready to start going push the clutch all the way down and put the shifter into first gear. First gear is the trickiest gear to get into you are going to want to rev the car ever so lightly with the gas pedal while very slowly releasing the clutch. If the car starts to shake give it more gas, if the car starts violently moving back and forth then push the clutch in all the way and release the gas all the way. The best method I have found for getting into first gear for the first time is to release the clutch very VERY slowly without touching the gas until you start to feel a little shake in the car. When you find that shake remember where your foot is and how much you released the clutch, that is where the clutch "catches". Once you know where the clutch catches, repeat the first step but start pressing your other foot on the gas once you reach the catch point of the clutch. Only press the gas in as much as you are releasing the clutch. Consider it to be a sort of equilibrium you are searching for. You want to have your right foot touch the floor at the same point that your left foot lifts completely off of the clutch.

Life After First Gear

Once you have mastered first gear (which you should do unless you want to go through the embarrassment of stalling out in traffic) then you need to know how to upshift, accelerate in a hurry, and brake. Don't worry though, these are a piece of cake compared to first gear. After you have gotten into first gear and you have been moving increasingly faster your going to need to shift into the next gear. All you need to do is take your right foot off the gas and put your left foot back on the clutch all the way and with your hand move the shifter down into second, then slowly lift off the clutch and push back on the gas much like you did when getting into first gear. If anything you will most likely just make it jerky your first time but in time you'll find that sweet spot. This continues with all the other gears all the way up into the very last gear. Now lets say you find yourself in third gear and your approaching a red light simply push the clutch all the way down and put the shifter in neutral, then brake normally like you would in an automatic car. Once you think you have got the hang of driving stick you can start trying to downshift by pushing the clutch in, (your right foot completely off the gas and resting on the brake) moving the shifter with your hand into a lower gear, and then slowly taking off the clutch, letting your transmission slow your car down a little bit. Once you master downshifting it will take a bunch of pressure off of your brakes making the lifespan of your brakes much longer. Enough slowing down though, lets say you want to go fast! When in a high gear and you find yourself in need of a little bit more speed all you need to do is push the clutch in, throw the shifter into a lower gear, and then floor it while releasing the clutch very quickly. One word of advice however, don't ever let that little rev needle get past the red line or your just asking to blow your engine, once you get to the needle its about that time you should change into a higher gear.


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