Today, the population of people who can drive cars with standard transmissions is small. Most cars (some 96% being sold) have automatic transmissions. That doesn’t mean, however, that there is a low probability that you will ever have to drive a “stick shift.” If you travel a lot, many foreign countries primarily have cars with standard transmissions. And, our friends at Kim’s No Bull of Laurel, a local Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, Ram dealer in Laurel, MS note that if a sports car is in your future, well, most of them have standard transmissions too. So, driving a standard may very well be in your future. To help you out, we have put together a short guide to how driving a car with a stick shift is done.
A new pedal
If your present car is an automatic, you have just two pedals: brake and gas. In a car with a standard transmission, there is an additional pedal that engages the car’s clutch. This is the pedal you press when you shift gears up or down. It’s called, well, the clutch pedal.
One of the things that throws people off when driving a stick shift for the first time is the addition of that clutch pedal because you now have to use BOTH feet when driving — not just your right foot. You’ll be using your right foot to press the brake and gas pedal, and left foot to press the clutch.
Your first time
We highly recommend that you practice learning a stick shift with the car turned off and the parking brake engaged. It gives you a chance to get a feel for how the gears shift and how strong the clutch pedal is.
Practice in an empty parking lot because you are going to stall the car, everyone learning does, so practice where there isn’t any traffic. It’s also a good idea to have somebody in the passenger seat who knows how to drive a manual so they can give you assistance.
Let’s get rolling
Press in the clutch and brake pedal, and start the car. While you don’t need to have your foot on the brake to start the car it’s a good habit to have. With the clutch pedal pushed down with your left foot, and your right foot pressed on the brake, turn the car on.
Make sure your foot is still pressing the clutch pedal all the way down and then shift into 1st gear. Keep the clutch pedal and brake pushed down. Don’t take your left foot off the clutch yet or else you’ll stall out. Keep the brake depressed as well.
Take a deep breath and move your right foot off the brake and onto the gas pedal. At the same time, start to release the clutch with your left foot. This is the tricky part when you’re first learning. Take your right foot off the brake, move it onto the gas pedal while at the same time slowly letting up on the clutch pedal with your left foot. The car will start to move. Yeah! You’ve done it.
Once you can get the car moving from a standstill and into 1st gear, you’ve pretty much mastered 90% of stick shift driving. Upshifting into other gears is a piece of cake. When you’re ready to upshift, follow this pattern: Take your right foot off the gas pedal and press the clutch all the way down with left foot and move gear shifter fully to next gear in one, synchronized motion. Release clutch pedal while simultaneously slightly pressing down on the gas pedal with right foot. You’ve got it. The rest of the gears are the process.
Coming to a Stop
You can stop a manual car two ways. The first method to learn is to push in the clutch and then push on the brake. The engine will settle down to an idle and you will come to a stop. The second method you can use after a few weeks of getting used to driving a stick shift: You slow the car down by downshifting until you get to second gear and then apply your brakes.
When you park a manual transmission car, always put on the emergency brake. For added safety, leave the car in first gear too.
Well that covers the basics. You’ll learn most of what remains from experience. After a while, shifting gears will feel natural and you won’t have to “think about it” when driving. Good luck!