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Life Skills: Learn How to Drive a Manual Car

Driving a manual car is a life skill that everyone should know. Although automatic cars are the norm these days, you may find yourself needing to drive a manual car every once in a while. Also, they are just more fun!

This article will teach you the basics of how to drive a manual car so that you won’t be stuck driving only automatic vehicles. But please make sure to use other resources such as people who know how to drive a manual car while learning. This article is just a starting point.

Knowing how to drive a manual car can teach you a lot about how cars work. You have much more control over your car when you control when it shifts. But it doesn’t always come easily. It takes practice and patience when learning to drive a stick shift car.

How to Drive a Manual Car

How to Drive a Manual Car

1. Find somewhere to practice. The first thing to do before you start learning to drive a manual car is to find a safe place you can learn. A large empty flat parking lot is ideal. You will probably find yourself stalling often. And you do not want to have the risk of running into anything or have the added pressure of holding up traffic.

2. Learn the pedals and gear shifter. The next thing to do is to learn the different parts of the car that might differ from your automatic car.

  • The clutch: The clutch is one of the key differences between an automatic and a manual vehicle. The clutch is the third pedal on your manual car, the one on the far left. You’ll need to depress the clutch to start your car. You’ll also need to push in the clutch and then let it out slowly as you press down on the gas pedal to engage a gear and make the vehicle move under its own power.
  • The gear shifter: The gear shifter probably lives in the middle of the car between the passenger and driver’s seats. It should show you where your first, second, third, fourth, fifth, and reverse gears live (the shift pattern is usually shown in a diagram on the top of the shift knob). You will move the stick shift around based on which gear you want to be in. If it is in the middle, the gearbox is in neutral.
  • The brake and gas pedals: The brake and gas pedals should be in the same location as you would find on an automatic vehicle.

brake gas clutch pedals on a manual transmission car

3. Turn on the car. Depress the clutch fully with your left foot while depressing the brake pedal with your right foot. Then turn the key in the ignition, or press the Start/Stop button on many modern cars, to turn on the vehicle.

4. Put the car in first. Continue holding down the clutch with your left foot. Put the car in first gear by moving the gear shifter to the “1” position, or into first gear.

It also can be helpful while you holding down the clutch to move the gear shifter to all of the gears to feel where they all are. Eventually, you will know where each gear is by feel. But, don’t worry if it is a bit challenging to figure out at first.

5. Start to go. Press on the gas pedal very gently until you hear the car rev a bit. Let out the clutch very slowly while you continue to press in the gas slowly. This is the trickiest part of driving a manual car, so it might take some practice to find the sweet spot.

Wait until you feel the car begin to vibrate a bit, and then press down on the gas more as you finish letting your foot off the clutch. Don’t let the clutch out too fast or you will stall. You may also stall the vehicle if you don’t give the car enough gas as you let out the clutch.

6. Change gears. Once you get the car going, you will need to shift gears in order to go faster. First gear on most cars is only meant for speeds up to about 15 mph. You will hear the engine getting louder as the engine revs increase — this is a signal that you will need to shift up a gear.

To shift gears, lift your foot off the gas. Then, you will once again press in the clutch fully. While the clutch is pressed in, move the gear shifter to the “2” position, or second gear. Then, let out on the clutch while you press in the gas, just as you did to engage first gear.

This process continues as you speed up, through all of the gears.

Coming to a Stop

As important, maybe more so, as getting the car going is bringing it to a stop. In order to keep the car running, and not stall, when coming to a stop be sure to depress the clutch pedal completely as you’re breaking and about to stop. When the clutch pedal is fully depressed the gearbox is disengaged, and you are in neutral.

If you need to rest your left foot, as it can be tiring to keep the clutch pedal depressed at a long stoplight or similar lengthy stop with the car running, you can put the stick shift into the neutral position between the gears and then let off the clutch pedal. Just remember to keep the brake depressed, so you don’t roll into anything around you.

Downshifting 

If you need to downshift, the process is the same, but in the opposite direction. Push in the clutch, shift to the desired lower gear, release the clutch, and possibly ease back on the gas, although many times you don’t need to give the car any more gas. Make sure you have slowed enough when you downshift that when you ease off the clutch your engine does not overrev.

Reversing

From a complete stop, put your car in reverse by depressing the clutch fully with your left foot while at a complete stop. Move the stick shifter into the “R” position, or reverse gear. Slowly let out on the clutch until you feel the gears engage, and then fully let out on the clutch pedal smoothly. When putting your car in reverse you will need to use little to no gas, and can use your right foot on the brake to control the car from going backward too quickly.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you start a manual car on a hill?

Starting from a stop on a hill with a manual car can be challenging. A hill can cause you to roll backwards when you take your foot off the brake.

The best way to start on a steep hill is to use the hand brake to keep your car from rolling backward as you press on the accelerator and take your foot off the clutch. You will need to give the car more gas than normal to get enough momentum to go up the hill.

Don’t use your clutch to hold your car in position on a hill. This can put a lot of wear on your clutch!

What should you NOT do while driving a manual car?

  • Rest your hand on the gear shift — this can wear out your clutch.
  • Accelerate too quickly when your car’s engine revs are low; instead, downshift or accelerate slowly.
  • Rest your foot on the clutch pedal—this can also wear out the clutch

Do you have to press the clutch and brake at the same time?

This depends on whether you are slowing down or coming to a complete stop. If you are not coming to a complete stop, but just slowing down a little bit, you do not need press in the clutch. If you are coming to a complete stop, you will need to press in the clutch to prevent your car from stalling.

You can also shift into neutral, which basically accomplishes the same thing as if you had the clutch pressed in, but even shifting into neutral with the stick shift will require you to use the clutch pedal. This will allow you to stop your car without stalling, and you won’t have to keep the clutch in while stopped.

How do you damage your clutch?

Your clutch can get a lot of wear and tear if you are not careful. Learning to drive a manual car can put a lot of stress on your clutch, but there are a few things you can do to decrease this wear as you are learning.

Don’t spend long periods of time with the clutch pedal partially depressed. Ninety-nine plus percent of the time you’re driving the clutch pedal should be fully let out with your foot not touching it. When stopped or changing gears it needs to be fully depressed, and then relatively quickly let out to engage a gear.

Also, resting your foot on the clutch or “riding the clutch” when you don’t need it can also wear out your clutch. Rest your foot to the left of the clutch unless you are using it!

 

How long does it take to learn how to drive a manual car?

This depends, like most things, on how much you practice. It could take anywhere from thirty minutes to a few hours to get the basics down. From there, you just need time behind the wheel to learn how to not stall and how to be smooth with the clutch pedal, something you’ll have to get used to on every manual vehicle, as each has a different feel.

If you drive every day, it shouldn’t take more than a week or two to feel completely confident in your new skills driving a stick shift vehicle.

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