Manual Transmissions and How to Drive Stick Shift

Most cars include automatic transmissions, with the gears shifting systematically. Other vehicles have a manual transmission, requiring drivers to control the shift points with a clutch, a stick shift, and the accelerator pedal. A manual transmission provides drivers with a more engaged driving adventure, something you can learn as you follow our streamlined tips for driving with a stick.

Ford Mustang -- stick shift.

The Ford Mustang offers an available manual transmission.

Drive Stick Shift Tips

Familiarize yourself with the interior arrangement. The first of our drive stick tips will have you getting acquainted with the interior of a car outfitted with a manual transmission, especially by taking note of a few important distinctions. Instead of just two pedals — a brake and an accelerator (gas pedal) — a vehicle with a manual transmission has a third pedal, the clutch, located to the left of the brake.

You will also find a stick shift between the front row seats. On top of the stick is a knob displaying a treelike shifting pattern comprised of numbers and an “R” symbol for reverse. Most cars built today have five or six forward gears. Neutral is defined by the horizontal line between the gears.

With the car turned off, practice shifting between the gears. Here, you will push the clutch in each time you shift. Take note of the simplicity in shifting — most modern transmissions shift quickly between the forward gears.

Start the Car

clutch, brake and a gas pedalNow that you are acquainted with the pedal and shifter arrangement, you can move on to the next of our drive stick tips — starting the car. Place the stick shift in neutral, hold down the clutch with your left foot and press down on the brake with your right foot. Once the car starts, then remove your foot from the clutch.

To move the car you will depress the clutch and either put it in first gear or move the stick shift into reverse gear. Moving to the reverse gear typically means pulling up on the stick and moving it to the reverse position as you depress the clutch. Once engaged, begin to slowly move out of your parking space, applying slight pressure to the gas pedal to put the car in motion. Slowly take your foot off the clutch as you begin to move. Keep in mind that whenever you brake you must depress the clutch or the car will stall.

On the Road

The next step in our drive stick shift tips will have you taking to the road. Here, you will begin your journey in first gear and start shifting to second gear when your speed reaches 15 mph. Switching gears to correspond to every 12 to 15 mph increase in speed is a good rule to follow. Thus, if you are approaching 30 mph, you would shift from second to third gear. Conversely, downshift to the next lowest gear as you reduce your speed.

Jaguar F-Type with a stick shift.If your car has a tachometer you might shift gears as the meter approaches 3,000 RPM instead. When learning how to drive with a stick shift, practice where traffic is light and with few red lights to slow your momentum.

When approaching a stop sign or a traffic light, begin to brake, then depress the clutch as your speed drops below 10 mph. You can move the stick into neutral as you come to a stop, taking your foot off the clutch. Only shift into first gear when you are ready to move forward, continuing your upshifts as you pick up speed.

Drive Stick Shift Summation

Learning how to operate a car with a manual transmission takes time. The car will buck and even stall as you learn the ropes, but do not give up. Concentrate on clutch activation and shifting, and gas pedal management will follow naturally.

You might also enlist the support of a patient family member or friend to ride with you. The operative word here is “patient” as the individual riding in the front passenger seat should offer much encouragement as you learn how to drive with a manual transmission.

See Also5 Tips for Driving at Night

Author: Matthew Keegan
Matt Keegan has maintained his love for cars ever since his father taught him kicking tires can be one way to uncover a problem with a vehicle’s suspension system. He since moved on to learn a few things about coefficient of drag, G-forces, toe-heel shifting, and how to work the crazy infotainment system in some random weekly driver. Matt is a member of the Washington Automotive Press Association and is a contributor to various print and online media sources.

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