Manual Transmission – How To Drive Stick Shift


Scared about learning to drive manual? Just got a new car with manual and are having a hard time learning how to drive it? This guide will get you started.

First rule of driving manual transmissions: When you are unsure what to do, PUSH THE CLUTCH IN. Nothing bad will happen as long as the clutch is pressed in. If the car seems like it is going to stall (lots of shaking, bucking), push the clutch in. Also, push the clutch in when coming to a stop. Engrave this rule into you mind, and you will never stall when in doubt of what to do.

Now here is the best way to learn from scratch.

1. Go to a large, empty, deserted area like a parking lot or a side street with no traffic.

2. Put the car in neutral (shifter in the middle of the shift pattern). Push in the clutch all the way. Now, slowly press on the gas pedal, and bring the RPMs up to 2000, and try to hold it there (EXACTLY at 2000, not in between 1800 and 2200) for 20 seconds. Then bring it down to 1500 and keep it there for a few seconds. Go in between the two and get a feel for how responsive the car is and how much gas you need for a certain RPM. Keep the clutch in while doing this to get used to keeping it pressed.

4. Put it in neutral and rest your left leg for a bit, you’ll need it in a sec.

5. Next, with the car in first (top left gear in the shift pattern) and the clutch in, start to let the clutch out as SLOWLY as you possibly can. Veeery slowly. Don’t touch the gas for now. At some point, you will begin to feel the clutch engaging the engine. This is the engagement point. Try and remember it as it will help you later. Now continue to let the clutch out sloooooowly. Don’t freak out, the car will begin to move. Keep letting out the clutch until it is all the way out. You will now be moving about 5 mph. Repeat this exercise a few times.

6. Put it in first gear with the clutch pressed. Hold the RPMs at 2000 again. Your goal during this exercise is to keep the RPMs at 2000 no matter what, regardless of the clutch/gas positions. This means you will be moving both simultaneously. Start letting the clutch out again. When you see the RPMs start to go down at the engagement point, give it a tiny bit of gas to bring it back up to 2000. Keep letting the clutch out and giving it a bit more gas to stay at 2000 until the clutch is all the way out. Practice this until you can do it fluidly and evenly.

7. After you mastered taking off, and are moving along in 1st, rev the engine to 3000 RPMs and push the clutch in. Put the shifter in 2nd (bottom left in the shift pattern). Now, keep the engine at about 1500 RPMs and let out the clutch slowly as you did in the previous exercise, only now keeping the RPMs at 1500. After letting the clutch out, you’ll be in second. Now you can practice getting into 3rd gear and so on. With practice, you can also shift at higher RPMs once you’re more confident.

8. Now the hardest part of manual: Starting on an incline. Hold the RPMs at 2000 and begin to release the clutch. You should be able to find the right combination of gas and clutch to hold the car still on the incline, not moving forward or backwards. This is very difficult and takes practice; you will probably stall a couple times but it will become natural. Once you can hold yourself, more gas/less clutch will let you move up the hill. If you encounter a situation where you are unsure you can do this (like when someone is stopped right behind you on a hill), there is a trick that will keep you from rolling back: Engage the handbrake until you start to move, then disengage it.

Remember, it just takes practice. Good luck!

Kevin Nicholson

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Carmen Cohoe

Carmen became a driving instructor in beautiful North Vancouver at the age of 22 due to some crazy people who agreed to hire her. After that, there was never a dull moment teaching many different folks from many different places how to drive using automatic and standard vehicles and a minivan.

2 thoughts on “Manual Transmission – How To Drive Stick Shift

  • Jose

    I just failed my road test after driving for 7 years in a foreign country. My mistake was that I brought a manual car for the test. I got marked on shifting and steering several times. She said that I should not change gears while I am turning and I should not coast with clutch in. Examiners here in BC don’t know that you cannot change gears without a clutch in for a few seconds and you cannot put your hands on the steering wheel for the whole time as you have to change the gears. I admit that I have a bad habit of steering with one hand, but for the test I did my best to put my both hands on the wheel. It’s very unfair for the people, who take the test in a standard transmmision that the examiners are so picky about steering and changing gears. I know a lot of people, who passed the test with an automatic transmission that they don’t have the basic driving skills and the funny thing is that they can also drive a manual car with that permit, although they’ve taken the exam in an automatic car.

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