If you learned to drive in a car with automatic transmission, or if you’re just learning now, the thought of working with a manual transmission could very well be terrifying. The stick shift car takes a lot more work to drive than the automatic one, where you basically throw it in ‘drive’ and head on down the highway. Manual transmission vehicles require more of an understanding of how a car actually works, as well. But once you get down the basics, all it takes is consistent practice and the right approach. Here are five tips for learning to drive a manual transmission car.
Before you ever attempt it yourself, spend a few sessions as the passenger. Ask your favorite stick shift driver to take you out on a couple of drives. Watch how they operate the car, so you can get a feel for the timing without the pressure of the driver’s seat. Ask them questions as they come to mind, and think about when and why the driver shifts. Check out the process, especially when starting and stopping, dealing with traffic and inclines. This should help give you a foundation for when you take your turn behind the wheel.
When you are ready to switch seats, start off in a stress free situation. Head over to a rarely used parking lot, the emptier the better. You won’t have to worry about slowdowns or stalls on the road, and there won’t be anyone around to watch you during your first period of trial and error. Focus in on the basics, until you are confident driving at lower speeds on local roads.
One of the skills you’ll need to get down is figuring out when to shift up through the gears. If your car has a tachometer, you’ve got an easy reference to help you along. In general, you’ll want to shift one gear higher when you notice the RPMs of the engine revving up between 2,000 and 3,000. After a while you’ll be able to feel it and hear it without having to reference the tachometer at all. If you don’t have a tachometer to keep an eye on, try to standardize your approach. If you don’t know if you should shift, just shift up. You’ll never damage the engine this way, and you’ll notice pretty quickly if you’re a gear too high.
After some time you’ll want to build up a feel for the transmission of your vehicle. That’s when you’ll be the most comfortable driving a stick shift. It’s actually all about understanding the car at a different level than automatic transmission drivers ever do. With repetition you’ll begin to feel for the position of each gear in the shifter, so you won’t have to look down. Stop at a light, push in the clutch, throw your vehicle into first gear and start giving it gas. Did you feel the clutch catching? You should be able to sense that balance point at each gear shift after some time.
Finally, give yourself plenty of low stress opportunities to practice on hills. Those are the moments that cause the most panic for new stick shift drivers, as you can’t help but picture rolling backwards into a tree or a parked car and ending up with a long appointment at the transmission repair shop. Seek out roads inside of quiet parks, or even a fairly open parking garage with mild inclines. The goal is to get comfortable with the footwork and the timing before you find yourself in start and stop traffic on a steep hill.