How To Drive A Stick Shift: The Basics

You might think driving a car with a manual transmission, also known as a stick shift, is difficult. Really, it's not, despite the nervousness and fear it inspires in learning drivers (and even experienced drivers who have never had to learn).

Driving a manual transmission car involves a simple series of motions that, once learned, become so ingrained as to become automatic. As an added bonus, learning advanced techniques with a manual transmission can greatly increase your control of your car and your confidence on the road.

But we'll stick to the basics for now.

Start with your car parked on a flat surface, preferably one without any obstacles you might hit--a vacant parking lot is perfect. The parking brake should be engaged, the transmission in neutral, your right foot should be on the brake, and the engine off. This is where we'll begin the process.

1. Press down on the clutch pedal until it reaches the floor or its stopping point.

2. With the clutch pedal still pressed, start the car.

3.  Release the parking brake.

4. Still keeping the clutch pressed in, move the shift lever from neutral into first gear.

5. Smoothly release the clutch pedal while slowly pressing your right foot on the accelerator. The goal isn't to get your right foot flat to the floor--just a little bit will do.

6. As you release pressure on the clutch with your left foot, you should feel a "bite," a place in the pedal's stroke where the clutch begins to engage. The car may start to creep forward at this point. Remember where this point is.

7. Slowly feed in more throttle as you continue to release the clutch pedal until the car is moving forward. Congratulations! You've successfully done the hardest part of driving a stick shift: starting from a stop.

8. Now that you're moving, changing gears is easier. Just press in the clutch pedal, move the shift lever to the next gear, and release the clutch pedal. Depending on the car, your rate of acceleration, and the nature of the transmission, you may have to add a little throttle as you release the clutch--spend some time making your shifts as smooth as possible.

9. To come to a stop, leave the car in its current gear and press the brake pedal gently with your right foot. As the car slows, the engine will slow with it. To avoid killing the engine, you'll want to press your left foot down on the clutch and move the shift lever to neutral--generally somewhere between 5-10 mph. Release the clutch.

10. Once the car is stopped, leave the shift lever in neutral and keep your right foot on the brake until you're ready to start off again (in which case, repeat the process from step 4 above). If parking the car, press in the clutch, shift into first gear, and shut off the car--but don't forget to set the parking brake.

And that's it, in 10 easy steps, you've taken your first drive in a manual transmission car. Learning to drive a stick shift well involves practice, practice, practice. Once you've mastered the basics, there are many more advanced techniques you can learn, including hill starts, rev-matched downshifts ("heel-and-toe"), and more.
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