Learning to drive a car with a manual transmission has been on your to-do list since you started driving, right? But have you actually gotten around to checking that one off the list? Yeah... didn't think so. Most people aren't inclined to buy a stick shift without first knowing how to drive it -- but that's exactly what I did, so I'm letting you in on the top tips that helped me become a better manual driver.
Understand How the Gears Work
Before you can shift around, you have to know what each gear does. You'll notice right away that there is no "park" gear. Depending on your terrain (flat or hilly), a parked manual car will either be in first gear or neutral -- a matter of personal preference -- and the emergency brake will be on. You'll see reverse, gears 1-5 for a five-speed, or 1-6 for a six-speed, and neutral. Neutral may not be marked, but it's when your shifter is idle in the middle. As silly as it sounds -- memorize your gear shifting pattern.
You shouldn't have to look down to see what gear you're putting your car into each time you need to shift. Keep your eyes on the road!
You'll also notice that you have an extra pedal, all the way to the left. That's your clutch, which you press when starting the car, and when switching between gears. The #1 piece of advice I received when learning how to drive a stick was, "Treat your clutch like a sponge instead of a light switch." No fast, abrupt movements. Press and release it slowly until you learn the release point.
Roll Your Windows Down!
Just like understanding how to shift, you need to learn how your new transmission sounds
. You can hear the gears shifting in an automatic, so you should know what it sounds like when your car is ready to go to the next highest gear. When learning, cruise around with your windows down so you can really hear your engine and get accustomed to the sound your engine is making when it's ready for the next gear. Also keep an eye on your RPM's -- this will help you realize when you need to gear up or down.
Since you may not have anyone teaching you how to drive a manual, take to YouTube to watch other drivers and get a feel for what manual transmission driving looks like, and not the racecar drivers either -- I'm talking regular people in Hondas and Pontiacs. A simple search for "How to Drive a Stick Shift
" brings back thousands of videos, and seeing exactly how it's done was a huge help for me.
Of course, these videos can't replace actually getting behind the wheel of a stick shift, but they're great visuals if you've never seen stick-driving in action.
This one should go without saying, but it bears repeating. You're going to stall out, you're going to hold up traffic, and you're going to take a while to get the hang of it, and there's nothing wrong with that! Take a breath, start your car back up, and try again. And if anyone gives you grief for stalling out, just remember that they're probably in an automatic and their driving skills are no match for yours!
Image sources: sodahead.com, fanpop.com, thelatterdays.blogspot.com, ehow.com