Why you should learn to drive a stick shift
We would not be true to our human nature if we didn’t ask “why.” Why aren’t things cheaper? Why are sugary foods so delicious? Why should I know how to drive a stick shift?
Although I can go pretty deep into all these questions, let’s stick with the last one (pun intended). Even if you are a fan of automatic transmissions, it won’t hurt to know a bit more, right? And I have plenty of good reasons for you to learn manual, so let’s get going.
You will earn driver cred
This can mean a lot or very little to you. Nevertheless, it may be hard to earn the respect of fellow gear-heads if you aren’t familiar with manual transmissions. You may not like to drive one, you may not own one, but if you love cars, you should at least know how to use one.
It’s also worth mentioning that there is something intrinsically satisfying about knowing how to drive manual. Maybe because most people can’t? Or because it feels like a challenge you’ve beaten? Whatever the case is, it just feels good.
You will get to know your car better
Feeling a connection with your ride may sound strange to many. It’s hard to describe it. You are in control. You know what the car wants and does. You learn when the perfect time to switch gears is. And when you can even skip one!
Driving automatics often detaches us from the experience. It’s no wonder that most people can’t catch problems with their vehicles until it’s too late. But the manual requires you to understand your engine and gearbox. How it sounds, how it moves. Because of this, you can often notice if something is wrong with it easily. And hopefully, you can get it fixed in time.
It can be really fun
I am already hearing some of you say “It’s not fun if you are stuck in traffic!” Well, yes it is not. But at any other time, it is super fun! It takes your driving experience to a different level.
So, if you don’t want to doze off while driving, and you want the experience to be more involving and exciting, the answer is simple. Just. Try. Stick.
Emergencies are a thing
True, this may be an unlikely scenario, but let’s not take chances. At some point, you may need to use a stick shift to save a life. So a few hours spent learning can make a huge difference one day. It could mean saving a life.
You will have a much broader choice
Although most models are available with automatic transmission, some aren’t. If you want to drive a true beast of a car, you better know how to use a stick.
But even if we go beyond sports and muscle cars, a wider choice is never a bad thing. The used car market offers a huge variety, and it would be sad for a manual transmission to be the deal-breaker. Not to mention the ever-growing, in variety and importance, classic car market!
Bonus Reason: If you ever move to Europe, knowing how to drive a stick will be invaluable. Many vehicles there simply aren’t manufactured with automatic transmissions. Most Europeans know how to drive a manual car, and you don’t want to feel left out.
How to drive a stick shift
Now that you are convinced such knowledge is worth it, we can move on. So let’s start with the basics.
Understand How The Clutch Works
Do I hear the question “why” again? I see. You don’t know why you need such information.
For starters, most of the fear of driving stick has a lot to do with the clutch. And do you know what beats fear? Understanding.
In basic terms, the clutch serves as a connection between your car’s engine and the wheels. If they are not connected, the engine may run, but your car wouldn’t budge.
The entire connection is based on friction between two disks. When they are engaged, the power from the engine is transmitted to the wheels, i.e. the car moves. When disengaged, the wheels won’t receive power and they will eventually lose momentum.
Enter the clutch pedal. This is what controls that engagement. When pushed down, the disks are not connected, and you are free to shift gears. Otherwise, there is a connection, and shifting gears then is a huge no-no!
There are many reasons why a clutch is necessary, but we won’t go that deep. All you need to know is that you can break the transmission if you try shifting gears, without pressing the clutch pedal.
You have to know that the engine can stop if there is too big a difference between the momentum of the two spinning disks. That’s a safety measure to prevent damage, so don’t be afraid if this happens.
It’s easier than you think
Perhaps everything seems way too complicated now. After all, another moving part that you can break is not good news. But things are not as bad as they sound.
As with every new skill you have to learn, this will take time to master. However, you can become pretty good after a few tries. When I was learning manual, it only took me about an hour to get the grip of it.
Sure, your car may stall quite a few times in the beginning, but that’s nothing to worry about. It happens to the best of us, even after years of driving stick.
The only reason it’s more common with people who are new to the manual is experience. They are just not used to operating the clutch. Stalls usually happen when you release the pedal too quickly and the transmission of power is not done gradually. Alternatively, you can also be too slow to release, so the momentum of the wheels is lost and the engine stops.
Go someplace safe
The best thing to do before you start learning is to go somewhere free of cars and people. Thus, you won’t be afraid of your car stalling.
However, in order to do that, you need to find a friend who can drive a manual or an instructor. If you are especially less confident, a professional may be of more help. But before you do that, read on so you can at least understand the process.
It’s all in the pedals
It may be called “driving a stick”, but that’s not at all where the magic happens. You need to focus on the pedals.
Start by making sure your parking brake is on. It doesn’t always have to be, but since you are a beginner, it will be easier if it is.
If you put your car in neutral (i.e. the stick is in the center and can be moved freely), you can start the engine without holding the clutch. Power won’t be transmitted to the wheels, so the car won’t stall. From then on you can hold the clutch down (use your left foot) and shift to first gear. DO NOT RELEASE YET!
Finding the sweet spot
So you should be in gear by now, with your foot on the clutch. Slowly start releasing the clutch while pressing the gas pedal at the same time. This is the thing you need to focus on. It’s what driving manual is all about.
There is a point between releasing the clutch and accelerating, where the car starts moving slowly. I call it “the sweet spot”. But know that every car has its own sweet spot, and it comes at a different point.
Let’s see what can go wrong with finding the sweet spot. One possibility is to be too quick with releasing the clutch. Then the car will stop, as we discussed it.
Another is if you are too quick with depressing the accelerator. Then the car will shoot forward too fast when the sweet spot is hit. It can be really dangerous. More so, when this happens people panic; they release the clutch and gas completely, and the car stalls again. So take your time to get decent with taking off.
Some vehicles have that spot between second and third gear as well. However, since you are new to the manual, you probably won’t notice it, until you get good at shifting at lower gears. And remember – always make sure to push the clutch to the ground before shifting.
Further gear shifting
If you get good with the lower gears, you pretty know how to handle a manual transmission. Well, not exactly. What about “when” should you switch gears?
- The easiest way is to look at the RPM. If it goes above 2000-2200 it’s a good time to switch. However, this usually applies when shifting above second gear.
- You should shift from first to second immediately after takeoff. As soon as you fully release the clutch and your car is accelerating, just press it again and switch.
- You can even get away with shifting straight into second gear with some diesel engines. But don’t try that in the beginning.
- Know that with enough experience, you will forget about the RPM meter. The engine sound and the smoothness of the ride will indicate when it’s best to shift.
Turning the car off
So you already know how to drive a manual. Feeling good, aren’t you? Smug maybe? Well, there is one final thing you have to know: how to stop a manual car.
The problem is that depending on who you ask, there are different things to do. But here is a general way to do it. Stop in place by holding the clutch down and slowly pressing the brake. Activate the parking brake, put the car in neutral, turn the vehicle off, then release the clutch.
Some say that you should leave your car in first gear (or second, or reverse). This essentially acts as another parking brake. It really is up to you.
So now you know how to properly handle a manual transmission. If you are feeling adventurous, you can go get a new car now! But perhaps try it out first. In any case, drive safe and responsibly! Thank you for riding along!