How to Drive a Car with a Manual Transmission

Learning How to Drive a Car with a Manual Transmission

If all you’ve ever driven is a vehicle with an automatic transmission, you need to learn how to drive a car with a manual transmission. Driving a stick shift is something you might need to do for a job sometime, or essential in a crisis. Learning on the fly how to work a gearshift is not advisable.

That being said, working the gears of a manual transmission car is easy, once you get the hang of us. With a little bit of instruction and some practice, driving a manual-geared auto becomes second nature. Many people prefer the sense of control and handling that driving a car with a gear stick gives them.

What’s a Manual Transmission?

A manual transmission is a gear shift apparatus the driver has to manipulate manually. This requires pushing in the clutch, then shifting the transmission from a low gear to a higher gear, as you increase the speed of the car. To get good at driving a manual transmission car, you need to get good at working the clutch, while finding the proper gear.

How to Drive a Car with a Manual TransmissionIf you don’t put the car into the proper gear for the RPMs you’re driving out, this causes unnecessary wear and tear on the motor, as the engine have to rev higher and higher to achieve the speed you want it to run at. If you have a tendency to “slip the clutch”, your vehicle is going to lurch forward, and might even stop the engine altogether. But if you “ride the clutch” when it’s not needed to put the car out of gear, you’ll end up burning up the clutch and needing a replacement.

That might sound complicated, but if you keep those three factors in mind and can learn how to shift gears properly, you’ll master how to drive a car with a manual transmission in no time. So let’s get started.

Learn the Driving Pedals

Start by learning the three driving pedals in your manual transmission car. Unlike the two pedals in an automatic transmission car, you’ll have three to memorize. That’s because the manual transmission automobiles have a clutch added.

The clutch is on the far left of the three, as you look down from the drivers seat. You’ll manipulate this pedal with your left foot, and your left foot is going to be devoted entirely to pushing the clutch (though your left foot is going to rest on the floorboard most of the time).

The middle pedal is the brake, used anytime you’re trying to get the car to stop. The right pedal is the gas pedal, used to make the car move forward and accelerate. Your right foot is going to work both the gas and the break pedal. You want the same foot devoted to both tasks, to avoid the unfortunate circumstance of stomping on the gas and break pedals at the same time.

Learn the Gear Shift

These days, just about all manual transmission cars locate the gear shift between the drivers side and passengers side seat. In days past, some gearshifts were on the steering column – the old “three-speed on the tree”, as they called it. You’ll likely be driving a 5-speed transmission, which is only to say that the transmission has five gears for forward movement: the easy-to-remember 1st gear, 2nd gear, 3rd gear, 4th gear and 5th gear.

You’re likely to find a gear shift with six slots in it, which includes the five forward gears and one reverse. Imagine the gearshift configuration to have an up and down, and three slots should be up and three should be down. Most all gear shifts have the same configuration, so learn this by heart.

First gear is the lowest gear, and the gear that you’ll begin to apply speed in. 1st Gear is in the upper left hand corner of your gear configuration. 2nd Gear is directly below it, in the lower left hand corner. The gear shift is meant to allow a seamless transmission from 1st to 2nd gear, so all you do is push in the clutch and pull straight down (that is, back) on the gearshift.

3rd gear is in the upper middle of the configuration. Third gear is engaged when you start to pick up real speed, moving out of the two lowest gears. 4th gear is when you start to reach the speed limit, and is directly below 3rd gear on the gearshift (middle lower). Once again, the stick shift is designed for it to be easy to go from 3rd to 4th gear, since you pull directly back on the stick.

Shifting into 5th Gear

5th gear is in the upper right hand corner of the transmission. Fifth gear is what you shift into when you reach top speed, often in and around the posted speed limits. If you want to go really fast, you’ll have the car in fifth gear.

As you can see from the configuration, to go from 4th gear to 5th gear, you’ll have to push forward, then to the side (right), then forward again. This is a similar movement as when you shift from the 2nd-to-3rd gear, and is a little trickier than the other shifts.

Reverse and Neutral

To put the car in reverse, simply put the shift stick in the reverse slot, which is the lower right hand corner of the configuration. Making sure the car is in neutral and not moving, then move the gear shift to your far right and down. Back slowly and carefully, looking in your rear view mirrors to see where you’re going.

“Neutral” is when your car isn’t in any of the five forward gears or the reverse gear. On the gear shift configuration, notice the long line in the middle that all the gears branch off from. This is neutral. If you want to put the car in neutral, simply pull down a short ways for 1st, 3rd and 5th gears, or push up on 2nd and 4th gear and Reverse.

You’ll notice that the shifter should move easily from side to side, if you’re in neutral. You should have the car in neutral, when you have the car idling or parked.

Driving the Car

When you start to drive a car with a manual transmission, start in Neutral. Gently push in the clutch, then move the shifter from neutral to 1st gear. Once you do, slowly let out the clutch, while simultaneously pushing the gas pedal to give the car gas.

You’ll be moving slowly when you’re in 1st gear, and you’ll probably want to shift into 2nd gear pretty quickly – about in the 15 M.P.H. range.

As your speed increases, shift the car from one gear to the next. You should be able to tell when to do so, as you’re car’s engine begins to rev up to a loud state. Notice how the revving lowers as soon as you shift into a new gear.

Though all cars are different, a general guide is to shift gears when the car starts to push into that 2000 to 2500 RPMs. “RPM” stands for “revolutions per minute”, and refers to the amount of rotations your crankshaft makes around a fixed axis. Going above 3000 RPMs for extended periods is inadvisable.

Stopping the Car

When you want to stop the car when driving a manual transmission, push in the brake and the clutch pedals at the same time.

Driving a Car with a Manual Transmission

Practice how to drive a car with a manual transmission, before you get into traffic. While driving a stick shift isn’t hard, it takes a little getting used to. While driving a manual transmission vehicle gives you more control and handling, there’s no arguing that driving an automatic transmission auto takes one step out of the process, and probably helps new drivers.

Most of us of a certain age learned how to drive using a manual transmission, though, so don’t let that intimidate you. You might pop the clutch a couple or times and get a few laughs, so I’d recommend practicing in private, when you’re starting to learn how to drive a car with a manual transmission.

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