How to Drive Stick
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How to Drive Stick

By Autolist Editorial | April 20, 2021

Being able to drive a stick shift car is a great skill to have, even though only about thirty-five new car models still offer a manual transmission option in the United States. That is a tiny percentage of the market, and it is only declining. The majority of these models are economy cars, several different sports cars, and a few SUVs and pickup trucks.

The reason for the decline in manual transmissions is multi-faceted. Manual cars used to be more fuel-efficient. The advancement of transmission technology has allowed just about every automatic transmission to surpass the manual's efficiency. Manual transmission cars are still cheaper overall, one reason they are still offered in economy cars, but automatics, especially continuously variable transmissions (CVT), have far surpassed manual transmissions' efficiency.

Another reason is they are faster. Although some sports cars are still available with a stick shift, many like the Chevrolet Corvette, Acura NSX, and Nissan GT-R have traded in the clutch pedal for additional seconds off their acceleration times.

But the main reason for the decline in manual transmissions is that automatics are just easier to drive. Almost anybody with a license can hop into a vehicle with automatic transmission and go. Manual transmissions take time to learn and can be uncomfortable to operate in certain situations. Many people do not see their benefits outweighing their drawbacks.

Despite their decline, used cars with manual transmissions can still be found, and driving a vehicle with a manual transmission is an experience that an automatic vehicle cannot match. It provides unrivaled engagement and a pure driving experience even if they are not as fast off the line as the newest automatic transmissions.

Here are instructions on learning how to drive a manual

The Preparation:

It is essential to know some basic manual transmission terminology and concepts. The first thing to know is that there is a third pedal on the floor to the left of the brake pedal. This pedal, called the clutch pedal, enables the gear shift lever — the "stick shift" — to be moved to engage the gears.

The gear knob on the top of the gear shift lever usually has a gear pattern picture with several numbers and lines connecting them. Numbers represent the number of gears a car has, and the lines show how the shifter has to move to put the vehicle into each of those gears. Fully push in the clutch first, and then move the lever into the direction based on the diagram.

Older vehicles could have as few as three forward gears, but six-speed manual transmissions are pretty standard now. Some sports cars, like the Porsche 911, offer seven-speed manuals.

The highest gear is usually called overdrive and is primarily for long-term highway driving consistent speeds above 40 or 50 mph.

Starting the Car:

Before starting any car, make sure the driver's seat is adjusted so that you can fully depress the pedals. It's essential in a vehicle with a manual transmission because the clutch pedal must be fully depressed to engage.

To start the car, you must have the clutch pedal depressed. It is also critical to have the emergency brake on so the car does not drift forward or backward when pushing the clutch pedal.

Once the clutch pedal is pushed, start the car. With the engine running, put the gear shift in neutral if it isn't already, represented by the horizontal line between each gear on the shift knob pattern diagram. When the car is in neutral, follow the gear diagram to determine where all of them are.

After this is complete, put your right foot on the brake pedal, release the parking brake, and remove your left foot from the clutch pedal. You can remove your foot from the clutch pedal any time after you confirm the gear shift lever is in the neutral position and the parking brake is engaged.

Getting the Car to Move:

Getting the car to move after starting the engine is the hardest part of learning to drive a stick, but once you get it down, it becomes second nature. Here's the break down of how to get going:

  • Shift into First Gear:

Push the clutch pedal down again and move the gear shifter into first gear. Once in gear, do not let the clutch pedal out, or the car will stall.

  • Let Go of the Brake:

Let go of the brake with the clutch pedal still depressed and the car in first gear. That is why a flat surface is beneficial for learning. There may be very slight movement forward or backward, but do not panic. If the car rolls too much, press the brake again and reset or move to a flatter lot.

  • Give It Enough Gas:

When your right foot is off the brake, move it to the throttle and press gently. Both the tachometer and your ears will tell you how high you are revving the engine. It is important not to over-rev the engine while also giving the car enough gas not to bog down the engine. If the vehicle is equipped with a tachometer, watch the gauge rise slowly above the idle speed. It should be gentle and fluid.

  • Slowly and Smoothly Release the Clutch Pedal:

As you hold the gas pedal down steadily and slowly, bring your left foot off the clutch pedal. As you bring your left foot up, there will be a point within the pedal travel where you will start to feel some resistance, and the engine will begin to drop in revs.

  • Wait for the "bite":

This point is the clutch engagement point, and it is often referred to as clutch bite or friction point. It is also the point at which many new stick drivers panic, let the clutch all the way out, and stall the car. When the clutch bites, don't panic. Continue to slowly bring your left foot off the clutch while maintaining your right foot's throttle position.

  • Fully Release the Clutch Pedal:

If you do it slowly enough, the engine will bog a little as the clutch engages. But you will find that your left foot has reached the top end of the pedal travel, and your car will be moving forward. A smooth clutch engagement takes a little time to learn. Most new drivers will find that the vehicle will lurch the first couple of times when learning. That is a sign that you have lifted your left foot too quickly off the clutch pedal when trying to get the car to move.

To mitigate lurching, press the clutch pedal down again if you feel like the car is going to stall or if it starts to lurch back and forth too much. Even experienced drivers can experience this from time to time, but it becomes much easier and smoother with practice.

  • Stopping the Car:

It does not do any good to get the vehicle moving if you cannot stop it. It's imperative to remember that the brakes don't function differently in a car with a manual transmission vehicle than a car with an automatic. In an emergency, use the brakes to stop.

To stop the car under normal driving circumstances, depress the brake pedal normally. As the vehicle slows, the tachometer will indicate the engine revs (RPM) dropping, and the vehicle may start to shudder. When this starts to happen, depress the clutch pedal as you are braking to bring the car to a complete stop without stalling the engine or continuing to allow the car to shudder and lurch as the engine revs drop.

With practice and a better understanding of your particular vehicle, you should be more in tune with when the clutch pedal needs to be depressed before the engine revs drop low enough to cause your vehicle to shutter. For some, it takes just as much practice to stop a vehicle smoothly as it does to start one with a manual transmission smoothly.

  • Driving the Car:

Once the car is in motion, it is much easier to utilize the clutch pedal and shift gears. Anytime you need to upshift or downshift, you must press the clutch pedal, take your foot off the throttle, move the gear lever into the desired gear, and then slowly rerelease the clutch pedal once you have shifted.

Lifting off the clutch pedal too quickly after shifting gears or not fully shifting into gear will result in lurching and gear grinding.

  • Upshifting:

Upshifting occurs when you change from a lower gear into a higher gear. Shifting from first gear to second gear, second to third, and so on are all considered upshifting.

It's required because each gear has a limited range of reasonable operating speed. First gear is usually only operational up to about fifteen or twenty miles per hour before engine over-revving occurs. Additionally, upshifting to the next gear before over-revving occurs increases fuel efficiency since more fuel is required to make the engine run faster. Most owner's manuals have suggested shifting speeds to achieve better fuel efficiency.

  • Downshifting:

Downshifting is the opposite of upshifting, but sequential downshifting from fourth to third or second to first is usually only required when more power is needed to keep the vehicle moving at normal speeds. Going up a hill often requires one or more downshifts, depending on the vehicle's power.

Coming to a complete stop at a traffic light or stop sign often requires a "reset" to first gear for when the vehicle needs to start moving again. In other words, if you are driving down a highway at forty-five miles per hour, and you see a red traffic light up ahead, you will most likely push the clutch pedal in as the car slows sufficiently and move the shift lever from top gear to first again in preparation for the green light.

  • Conclusion:

Each of these steps that it takes to accomplish often overlooked facets of driving taken care of automatically by vehicles with an automatic transmission may seem individually daunting. Still, when they are put together and practiced, the experience turns into a natural activity. Even though each vehicle is different, these steps translate to any car with a manual transmission; it just might take some time to get used to the feel of everything.

It is a good idea to practice all of these things together in a large, flat empty parking lot. Each of these steps should be incremental as well so as not to become overwhelmed and frustrated. Start slow, familiarize yourself with everything, get the car going, then try upshifting and downshifting after you get moving.

After you have a grasp of everything, you will need to practice hill starts. These are harder because a manual vehicle starts to drift on a hill as soon as its brakes are off. As a result, even more throttle and quick left foot movement are required to quickly and precisely bring the clutch pedal to the friction point. The handbrake can be used in a pinch to prevent the vehicle from drifting, but using it too often can wear it out.

Things to Remember When Learning to Drive Stick

When driving a stick shift car, the most important thing to remember is that it is not significantly different from driving a car with an automatic transmission. You can see how an automatic shifts gears, how high it revs before shifting, and how it behaves when it slows down by watching the tachometer. Mimicking this behavior can be beneficial.

The second most important thing to remember is not to panic. Jerky motions, quick movements, and trying to force the gear lever into place will worsen your first-time driving experience. It can be stressful to learn how to drive a stick shift, but relaxing as much as possible will prevent overstressing yourself or breaking the car.

The last thing to remember is that every vehicle is a little different. While it is true that the concept of using a manual transmission is the same for each vehicle, it is also true that a Toyota Tacoma's manual transmission is very different from a Ford Mustang's manual transmission. The feel, bite point position, and clutch engagement duration could be vastly different.