Today: Maya gets a few tips for learning how to drive stick.

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Aug 01, 2007

Dear Tom and Ray:

My mom is teaching me how to drive her 2001 Honda Accord. It has a standard transmission. Actually, all the cars in our family have standard transmissions, so I am pretty much doomed to learn how to drive (I'm nearly 16) on a stick shift. My mom has taken me to an abandoned supermarket parking lot a few times to practice. I have yet to get out of first gear, though I'm pleased to say that I stalled the car only once during our last session. How am I ever going to get on the road, when I can hardly get the car rolling? Do you have any advice for me or my parents about how to help someone learn this very complicated skill? They keep telling me that I will get the feel eventually, but I'm beginning to have serious doubts. Help! -- Maya

TOM: You might be further along than you think, Maya. You say you've never gotten beyond first gear. I get the impression from your letter that you think first gear is the easiest, and second, third, fourth and fifth get progressively harder. But the opposite is true.

RAY: Right. First is absolutely the hardest. Once the car is moving, the rest of the gears are cake. So if you're getting close to being able to reliably start the car in first gear from a dead stop, you're actually 90 percent of the way to learning to drive a stick shift. Don't you feel better now?

TOM: In terms of tips, one thing you can do is practice starting off without giving the car ANY gas. That's a lot harder. But it forces you to learn how to control the car using only the clutch pedal.

RAY: Once you can do that, adding the gas pedal back into the mix will only make starting easier. So, on a flat surface, push in the clutch, put the car in first and try to get the car going using only the clutch. There's a "feel" involved, like riding a bicycle. It seems impossible to do at first, and then all of a sudden it clicks and you can't do it wrong if you try.

TOM: Once you feel comfortable starting off in first gear and getting into second a few times in the parking lot, then you need to get out on the streets. Do it early on a Sunday morning, when there are fewer cars on the street. Plus, people tend to feel a little more guilty about honking at you and flipping you the bird when they're on their way to church, so it cuts down on the intimidation factor.

RAY: I agree with your parents. In time -- and not much time -- you'll develop a feel for the clutch and never look back. Write back and let us know how you're doing, Maya!

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