Learning to Drive Stick Shift

THE ABCS OF LEARNING STICK

So, how do you actually drive a stick shift car?

We’re about to give a brief explanation. But, before we do, here’s our best advice: Find a good teacher who can explain it to you. You can read all you want about shifting but in our humble opinion, the finer points can really only be taught in person.

Okay. Here’s how the magic happens. With the car running, put one foot on the brake and the other on a clutch. (In fact, most manual transmission cars require you to put your foot on the clutch in order to start the car. That’s a good idea, since it assures that you won’t accidentally lurch forward into, say, a bassinet.)

Now, move the shift stick into first gear. Take your foot off the brake and just use the clutch. Release the clutch very slowly, until you find a point where something begins to happen. This is the engagement point of the clutch.

Clutch rebuilders association

Now you’re ready for our foolproof, trademarked Click and Clack technique for learning to drive standard...without having to spend $2,000 on a new clutch. (This technique is not recommended by the Clutch Rebuilders Association, by the way. They hate it!)

Here it is: Without giving the vehicle any gas, continue to release the clutch very slowly, and see if you can get the car creeping along. Your goal is to do this without stalling the car.

It might take hours to learn to engage the clutch this way, but there’s a hidden upside: you won’t destroy the clutch on the car. And you’ll make your local clutch rebuilder very, very sad.

Learning how your car reacts to the interplay between the clutch pedal and the gas pedal can be tricky. If you shift up a gear at too slow a speed, or without enough gas, you’ll "lug" the engine. When you lug the engine, you make the engine work harder than it's supposed to. Think of lugging as riding your bicycle up a steep hill in 21st gear ... as opposed to first gear. Your car will curse you...and the engine will probably stall.

On the other hand, if you engage the clutch too slowly, and give the car lots of gas, you’ll hear the RPMs of the engine roar, and you’ll be putting excessive wear on the clutch. How bad is this? It can be pretty serious. (We actually have a friend who did exactly this, and destroyed a clutch in as little as 20 miles. No kidding!)

You may think that shifting into first gear is the easiest to get the hang of, and second, third, fourth and fifth get progressively harder. But, in fact, the opposite is true. Here’s why. Once the car is moving, shifting through the rest of the gears is actually a piece of cake. (Remember our example earlier of how hard it is to get a car or bike moving?) So, if you're getting close to being able to reliably move the car in first gear from a dead stop, you're actually 90 percent of the way to learning to drive a stick shift. No kidding.

Once you feel comfortable starting from a full stop, shifting up and down through all the gears, and starting and stopping on an incline, you’re ready for the open road...with your instructor in the passenger seat, and a barf bucket on his lap. Here are a few tips for that first drive:

*Pick a time when there’s not much traffic on the road. We suggest Sunday morning. Why? Because drivers tend to feel a bit guiltier about honking at you and giving you the finger when they're on their way to church.

*Pick a route with the fewest number of steep hills. San Francisco’s Lombard Street, for example, would be a bad choice. At all costs, avoid a route with a stop light at the top of a steep hill for your first trip on the open road.

*Buy a box of Depends. Put one on. Give one to each passenger.

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