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Learning to Drive Stick

We've shared our suggestions, but we know there are many other great hints and tips out there. Not unlike making the perfect cappuccino. Or turning a simple brake repair into a $2,000 transmission rebuild. You get the point.

What are your tips for teaching a manual transmission novice how to drive stick? Share them right here-- and thanks!

Tom and Ray Magliozzi

Click and Clack the Tappet Brothers


  • edited November 2009
    I will be doing that task with my daughter soon.

    All your points are good, and for the large flat place I plan on a limited access parking lot.

    The other part of my plan is using a 93 f250 truck with a first gear so low I see failure to grasp the concept smoothly improbable, passing test starting in second as I usually due as it tops out in first gear at 10 mph max,(best guess as I only use first for plowing, I don't know about that shortening clutch life but it has held so far for 16 years and 36,000 miles).

    After that practice practice practice and I expect a few engine kills due to failure to engage the clutch at stops.

    Perhaps I need to be taught better as I rarely downshift and will not stress that so much.

    I consider the whole exercise as a necessary teaching just in case sometime in life it is needed, not really expecting she will like a stick shift or ever buy a car that has one, but I have been surprised before, could see her loving an MG.
  • edited November 2009
    My father had the right idea. He took me to the garage at the phone company where he worked on a Sunday. Guess he figured if I was going to kill a clutch, it should be on a company vehicle! We picked the cleanest Fairmont wagon with a stick and spent the afternoon lurching around the parking lot. The thing he impressed on me is once you can get it into first, you were golden. So my tips for learning how to drive a stick are:

    1. Don't use your car the first time
    2. Practice getting into first gear until you get it right
  • edited November 2009
    I like to focus on the concept of "motion point". This is the point where as you lift up on the clutch petal the car just barely starts to move. I like to see the student get used to lifting the clutch petal feel the car start to move and then depress the clutch and either coast to a stop or apply the brake to stop.

    Once we've done the motion point exercise a few times then the next step is to find the motion point and hold the clutch at that point and let the car reach a gentle rolling speed, then depress the clutch and stop. The rolling speed of 5 mph is good to start then you allow the student to increase the speed a bit each time they repeat the exercise. At some point the car will be going about 15 mph and you can tell the student to release the clutch fully and voila you are moving along in 1st gear.

    Once the student understands and masters the "motion point" of the clutch the rest of the learning process go pretty smoothly.
  • edited November 2009
    Perfect your automatic equipped driving first as you can more safely devote resources after some actions become "ingrained".
  • edited November 2009
    Here's my suggestion,

    Watch the way 90% of people do it, and don't do what they do.

    Most people give the car way too much power when starting in first, if on a hill it's one thing, but if the surface is level, you shouldn't hear the engine racing at all, it should sound like an automatic starting out.

    If you stall the engine occasionally, it makes you look like a fool, but in fact it means you're doing it right; you aren't over-compensating with the throttle.

    You should be able to start the car out on a level surface, and get it rolling by slowly releasing the clutch pedal, there is no need to give it any power at all.

    I think being able to master the 1st start is the main foundation of learning this.
  • edited November 2009
    Give it some gas and let the clutch out slowly. A-JERKA-JERKA-CHUG-DIED. OK. Put the clutch in and start her up. Now give it a little more gas and let the clutch out a little slower. After they get the hang of that, find a little incline and you drive and show them the rolling backward problem. Tell them to watch your feet as you avoid it. Then let them do it. MOST IMPORTANT: Bite your tongue big time and give them the joy of figuring things out for themselves. Your "perfect cappuccino" is a perfect pain in the butt for the teens that have to listen to you. What's with this "I'll tell you the right way to do everything" stuff these days? Bet you the Dad, uncles and old boys
    that raised Tom and Ray told them only enough so they didn't kill themselves and
    then walked away. Bet you.
  • edited November 2009
    :: Give it some gas and let the clutch out slowly ::

    Nope, wrong. It's the other way around. Let the clutch out slowly and if the engine starts to really lug, give it enough gas to keep it running.

    After the car starts to move on its own, smoothly and quickly release the clutch and then "give it some gas" to accelerate and be on your merry way.
  • edited November 2009
    Not wrong. When doing it the first few times they need the cushion of extra gas (lug avoidance) until they get the clutch thing. When they get the clutch thing a funny thing happens - they ease off on the gas. If a very slow moving car is at the lug point, its either going to die anyway OR its going to lug-lug-lug-lug until the who-knows-how-much-gas-pedal-they-gave-it catches. Then it takes off like green light at a drag strip and everyone starts screaming.
  • edited November 2009
    My favorite "learning to drive a stick" story was posted here a few years ago.

    Someone asked if he should teach his 16 year old daughter how to drive a stick, or should her boyfriend do it. The replies quickly turned to the benefits of manual-vs-automatics, and then someone replied with this:

    Teach her yourself. On a quiet Sunday morning, drive to a big parking lot by some circuitous route where you're showing her the basics of shifting. Then let her try. When she lets the clutch out for the first time, the car will stall. She will immediately look at you for help using the same smile she used when she was 6 and you knew everything in the universe. Remember that precious moment because it may be the last time you'll experience it.

    Our daughter is now 22. I taught her how to drive a stick when she was 16. The above scenario hit home for me when I read it.
  • edited November 2009
    Ninety percent of learning how to drive an 18-wheeler is learning how to back up.

    Ninety percent of learning how to fly an airplane is learning how to land.

    And, ninety percent of learning how to drive a manual is learning how to use the clutch.
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