How to Drive a Stick Shift Car
More than 90 percent of new cars are sold with an automatic transmission, according to Car Talk, so driving a car with a manual transmission — a stick shift car — may not be something you’ve ever learned. Once you understand the basics of a manual transmission, though, driving stick can be a lot of fun. You may feel like you have more control over the car and, as Consumer Reports notes, potentially get better gas mileage. From shifting gears to using the parking brake, here’s what you need to know about driving stick shift.
Components of a Car With a Manual Transmission
The main difference in driving a manual transmission is using a clutch pedal and gearshift to switch gears, while an automatic transmission does all of that on its own, says Digital Trends. Before you can start driving stick, you’ll need to familiarize yourself with these basic components of a manual transmission car:
Clutch Pedal — This is the pedal located to the left of the brake pedal, Digital Trends says. The clutch is the connection between the engine and transmission, and it allows you to switch gears, change speeds or brake, Car Talk says.
Gearshift (Stick Shift) — The gearshift is in the center console between the front seats or adjacent to the steering wheel, says Digital Trends. Typically, the top of the shifter knob features a diagram of the shift patterns. It will show where the gearshift should be for first, second, third, fourth and fifth gears and reverse. Neutral, which is usually not shown, is the middle position between the other gears.
Parking Brake — The parking brake (also called the emergency brake or hand brake) is typically located between the front seats, according to Digital Trends, and is used to keep the car from rolling when parked or on a hill.
Tips to Know Before You Start Driving Stick Shift
Now that you know the basic components of a manual car, there are a few things you need to keep in mind about driving a stick shift. As you get behind the wheel, remember these five important tips:
- You must use the clutch when changing gears and braking. The clutch is necessary because the car can’t switch from one gear to another while they’re both turning, Primer Magazine states, so the clutch disengages power from the engine to the transmission. Changing gears without the clutch harms the car, Car Talk warns.
- Use your palm to shift. Grabbing, forcing or squeezing the gearshift may result in selecting the wrong gear and could cause damage to your car engine, according to Popular Mechanics. Edmunds suggests using your palm to move the gearshift.
- Utilize the hand brake when starting uphill. Starting on a hill, or stopping briefly and restarting, can be one of the trickiest situations in a manual car, according to Digital Trends. After stopping, engage the hand brake to keep from rolling backward, and then release it at the same time you shift gears to get moving again.
- Know what to do if you stall out. You could stall the engine if you shift up without applying enough gas, Popular Mechanics says. If that happens, just put the car in neutral, start the engine and try again, Digital Trends suggests
- Don’t forget the parking brake. To prevent the vehicle from rolling, apply the parking brake every time you park the car.
Practice Working the Gears While Parked
It’s important to familiarize yourself with each gear’s location by studying the diagram on the gearshift. You can then practice shifting through all the gears with the engine off and the parking brake engaged, and Digital Trends suggests the following steps to shift gears:
- Press the clutch pedal down with your left foot.
- Change gears — in numeric order — by moving the stick shift with your right hand.
- Slowly press down the gas pedal with your right foot while simultaneously taking your left foot off the clutch.
The general rule is to shift to higher gears when accelerating and lower gears when decelerating, Digital Trends says. Also, Car Talk states that, if your vehicle has a tachometer — a dial displaying your engine’s revolutions per minute (RPMs) — and it’s showing the engine RPMs between 2,000 and 3,000, you should shift to the next highest gear. Car Talk also adds that you’ll want to stay in a lower gear if you’re on a steep hill or have a heavy load in the car.
Put It All Together — Start Driving the Car
Once you feel comfortable taking your practice on the road, remember to start driving in an area with light traffic and few obstacles, such as an empty parking lot or a wide residential street, the California Department of Motor Vehicles recommends. When you’re road ready, the California DMV suggests:
- Start the engine with the gearshift in neutral, the clutch pressed down with your left foot and the brake pressed down with your right foot.
- Release the parking brake and shift to first gear.
- Release the brake pedal and start slowly releasing the clutch pedal until you feel the engine engage and pull the car forward.
- Move your right foot to the gas pedal and press down slowly to continue momentum. Continue to slowly release the clutch pedal until it’s up all the way — now you’re driving!
- To stop: Press down on the clutch and the brake pedal and shift into neutral.
- To reverse: Follow the same steps for first gear, but shift into reverse.
Keep in mind that it takes time to learn to drive stick shift well, says The Humble Mechanic. Be patient and keep practicing.
Learning the increasingly unique skill of driving a manual transmission car not only enables you to drive a wider variety of cars, but it may give you a deeper knowledge of how cars work and pique an interest in the history of motor vehicles.