How To Drive A Manual Transmission

Gear ShiftI am a firm believer that everyone should know how to drive a manual transmission.  I know it is starting to become a lost art, but I think that it gives you certain knowledge and feel about a car that you don’t get while driving an automatic.  Don’t get me wrong, if you choose to drive an automatic I have no problem with that, and there are a whole bunch of cars out there that I would drive that don’t come with a manual option, but knowing how to drive a manual should be mandatory for everyone.  In my opinion, you should have to take your driver’s test in a car with a manual transmission.  I think it makes you a better driver; it forces you to pay more attention to what is going on around you and gives you a feel for what your vehicle is doing.

Manual Transmission PedalsManual Transmission PedalsManual Transmission PedalsManual Transmission PedalsManual Transmission PedalsSo here it goes, let’s try and explain how to do this in writing.  You should attempt to find a very isolated stretch of road or possibly an empty parking lot to learn how to operate the vehicle.  The first thing I have to say is that the gas pedal and the brake pedal work exactly the same in a manual transmission car as they do in an automatic.  I know that may be a “common sense” statement but I have attempted to teach people how to drive a stick who seem to get very confused about the third pedal.  The picture displayed shows the clutch pedal (white), brake pedal (red), and the gas pedal (green).  This is the setup in all manual transmission cars.  I know that the brake pedal is smaller in a stick, but it serves the same purpose and functions the same way as the large pedal in an automatic.

Once you get in the car you will need to make sure that the emergency brake is activated.  Then you will have to push the clutch all the way in and shift the car into neutral, you should be able to shake the gear shift back and forth without a lot of resistance.  The next step, while you have the clutch pushed in, will be to start the car.  At this point you should be sitting in the car with it running and the gear shifter in neutral.  Now you can get ready to actually make the car move.  Below is a video of a typical rowing sequence for a manual transmission.

At times I find it helpful to explain how the clutch works before going any further.  The clutch pedal is connected to the clutch fork, located inside the transmission, either by a direct cable or by a hydraulic line.  When you push in the clutch pedal, the clutch fork is moved which pushes a bearing and diaphragm that releases the actual clutch disk from the flywheel.  This allows the engine to continue to idle without the transmission spinning.  So in reality, when you press the clutch pedal in you are disengaging the clutch, the clutch is engaged when the pedal is out.

What you want to do now is to release the emergency brake, press the clutch pedal in and shift the car into 1st gear.  This is typically achieved by pushing the gear shifter to the left and all the way up.  There normally is a diagram that shows you where all the proper gears are, but I’ve yet to drive a car where 1st isn’t at the top left.  This is the hardest part of driving a manual transmission car and I’ll do my best to explain the procedure.  Most people will tell you to give it gas and let out the clutch slowly until the car starts to move.  This will typically work but will result in a lot of bucking and shaking until you get it right.  This is where the “art” of driving a manual is!  What I’m going to tell you is to let the clutch pedal out super slowly until you see the RPM gauge start to drop.  As soon as it starts to drop, push the clutch back in.  If the car is still running, you did great!  If not, start it back up and try again.  I would do that a couple of times and once you can get the clutch pedal back in without stalling out the car, you know where the clutch is going to “grab”.

Now you should attempt to get the car to move. What you’re going to do is let the clutch out slowly, just as described above, and as the clutch starts to grab apply throttle as if you were in an automatic and just starting to go.  As the car starts to move forward, continue to let the clutch out the rest of the way.  Hopefully the car is moving forward at this point.  However, this is not over, you will need to go through the gears as you accelerate up to speed.  Different cars have different shift points, but I’ll say for the beginner you should shift to the next gear between 3k and 4k RPM’s just so you don’t over rev the motor and you get used to rowing through all the gears.  To shift into the next gear you will need to let off the gas, press the clutch pedal, move the gear shifter into the next gear, release the clutch pedal, and apply throttle again.  I know it sounds like a lot, but it happens quickly in the car.  The below video shows what it is like when you are getting the car to move.  Watch my left leg and you will see me pushing the clutch in when I am shifting the car.


I need to let you know a few words about stopping.  The easiest way for you to come to a stop is to push in the clutch, shift into neutral, and step on the brake.  This is fine when coming to a stop light or stop sign but you will need to be aware of your speed and what gear you are in at all times.  After awhile it becomes second nature, but at first it will be a challenge.  You will need to be aware of speeds as you row through the gears, I like to keep my car around 2k RPM’s when just driving normally around town.  This will give you a general idea of what gear you are supposed to be in and when.  I just mention this because you don’t want to be driving down the highway in top gear, have to slow down, you push in the clutch and go to neutral, then at around 40mph shift into first gear and pop the clutch.  This will undoubtedly result in a screaming engine and quite possibly an over rev.  Of course as you advance you will realize that revving out your engine and using the power band completely under your control can be an absolute blast!


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