Driving a manual car is so easy practically the rest of the world does it. In America, manual transmissions aren’t too common, but in regions like the UK, nearly everyone knows how to drive a stick shift. Something that’s geared toward a mass populous can never be that difficult because everyone needs to be able to do it.
When driving a manual, just think: clutch + gear change + release clutch and return to gas. This article will cover all the details on how to drive a manual car, plus a few bonus tip to better understand how a manual transmission works.
To learn more about why you should drive a stick, check out our article: 20 Reasons We Should All Drive Manual Transmission Cars.
If you want to learn how to drive a manual but don’t have one around, check out the article: Rental Car Companies That Rent Manual Cars.
How to Start
Here’s the first step in how to drive a manual transmission car. First, make sure the emergency brake is engaged. The emergency brake should always be engaged while the car is parked (unless it’s left in gear and not on a steep hill). You can find this usually to the left or right of the center console or, on very rare occasions, the emergency brake will be a small pedal located near the clutch, brake and gas pedals. You need to make sure the emergency brake is engaged because the next step requires you to take the car out of gear if it is in gear. If the emergency brake is near the center console, up means it’s engaged. If the emergency brake is near the pedals, down means it’s engaged. If the brake isn’t on, the car could roll.
Now, make sure the car is out to gear. To do so, move the shifter from left to right. If it moves freely, it’s out of gear. If it doesn’t, pull the shifter forward or backward until the shifter wiggles freely from left to right. It’ll be obvious; don’t think about it too much. Then, depress the clutch fully to the floor (make sure you have your seat positioned so you can depress the clutch fully while sitting comfortably). Then start the engine just like you would on an automatic. (Depressing the clutch fully releases a safety switch that keeps you from starting the car while in gear.)
Release the clutch, relax for a second, and then get ready to depart.
How to Begin Driving
Release the emergency brake while pressing the brake pedal with your right foot. The car will now be held in place via the foot brake instead of the emergency brake. Now, fully depress the clutch with your left foot while keeping your right foot on the brake pedal. Put the shifter into first gear (the shift pattern is listed on the top of the knob). Slowly let your foot off the clutch. While doing so, remove your right foot from the brake pedal and begin pressing down lightly on the accelerator pedal. Just ease off the clutch as you ease on the accelerator. You will feel the car’s “bite point” as you slowly release the clutch — that’s the point when the clutch begins releasing the engine’s power to the wheels. The clutch will feel slightly heavier at that point. Once you hit that point, press the accelerator a little more. If you’re afraid of stalling, really give the car a lot of gas. It’s nearly impossible to stall when doing that. And you’re off!
Note: You don’t need to worry about accidentally putting the car into reverse while driving. All manual transmissions have a lockout which prevents the car from ever going into reverse while it is moving forward.
How to Shift Gears
The hardest part is over. Now that you’re moving in a manual transmission car, it’s really very simple. Basically, just shift into the next highest gear when your engine gets loud. There’s no need to watch the tachometer like a hawk. Your owner’s manual will tell you the optimum shift points but don’t worry about being perfect right now. To shift into the next gear and thus increase your speed, let off the accelerator pedal, depress the clutch fully to the floor, place the shifter into the next highest gear, release the clutch, and get back on the gas pedal. Repeat this process when moving through the other gears. Putting a manual through its gears is really as easy as clutch + gear change + release clutch and return to gas.
How to Slow Down
Let off the accelerator, and downshift using the same technique used when upshifting: clutch, gear, release clutch. Only when you shift down, do so when the engine gets too quiet. Use the brake pedal as necessary. Remember, the brake pedal can easily stop the car on its own. You really don’t need to downshift at all when you’re first learning to drive a stick. If you get flustered during this step, you can always pull the shifter into neutral and just brake like in an automatic car. But avoid doing this too often — technically, it’s illegal in most states to have your car moving while it’s in neutral. But it takes time to learn how to downshift well, so if you feel anxious, just place the transmission into neutral, use the foot brake, and compose yourself.
How to Stop
When you’ve decelerated to the point where you’ll need to stop the car soon, this is what you do: Depress the clutch fully and place the shifter into neutral. Apply the brake pedal until you reach a complete stop. Once you’ve stopped moving, hold the car steady with the brake pedal, just like in an automatic car. If you really want to stop fast, downshift while using the brake pedal. The emergency brake should only be used when parking.
Before Leaving Your Manual Car
Most people just pull the emergency brake handle and leave the car. But if you want to be 1,000% sure the car won’t roll away, you can leave the car in gear as well. Place it in reverse when you’re parking with the front of the car facing downhill. Leave the car in first gear when it’s facing uphill. As another precaution, you can also point your tires toward the curb when the car is facing downhill and away from the curb when the car is facing uphill. This keeps your car from rolling out into the street if for some strange reason it would want to move somewhere (like if the emergency brake failed or someone ran into your car). Most of this is unnecessary (unless you live in San Francisco), but having your car roll away would be pretty terrible.
There are lots of little tips for driving manual. Manual transmission tips are handy so you have the best learning experience possible.
- First, practice in an open parking lot, if one is available. The fewer distractions, the better.
- Next, if you ever panic and need to stop quickly, pull the car out of gear (use the clutch) and brake as you would in an automatic car.
- Third, if you smell something strange, it’s probably your clutch burning. Never “ride” the clutch. Riding the clutch means you’re resting your foot on the clutch. Make sure you are only touching the clutch pedal when starting, shifting, and stopping.
- Learn more about the inner workings of a manual transmission by reading this Wikipedia article. Knowing how a manual transmission works can give a lot more tips for driving manual.
- Also, this really awesome video shows you five things to never do when driving a manual car:
Congrats! Now you know how to drive a manual transmission car! The benefits of manual transmissions and endless. And most people get the hang of driving a manual in less than a day. Remember, years ago in America, everyone drove manuals. And even today many countries drive mostly manual transmission cars. So it is something you can easily learn.
In case you really enjoy driving, we wrote an article about how to apply to be a UPS delivery driver (knowing stick is required).