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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

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.

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

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.

Perfect your automatic equipped driving first as you can more safely devote resources after some actions become “ingrained”.

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.

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.

:: 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.

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.

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.

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.

I like the idea of learning (on an empty, level area) to get the car rolling without pressing the throttle. I tried this with my niece after my sister tried for months to teach her and she was driving a stick within a couple days.

Even after 20+ years of driving, I am still a manual transmission fan. I live in the topographically challenging city of Pittsburgh, and I’ve found that a good tranny can make much more effective use of an engine’s power. This is much more apparent if your car does not have an excessively large motor. I used to have a 5-speed Saturn SL-2 and a friend had the same model with the 4-speed automatic. The difference in uphill acceleration between the two cars was striking! The 5-speed took uphill grades much more gracefully. If the clutch is well-mastered, driving a stick in a hilly area isn’t really that big a deal.

I taught myself to drive stick when I was in my late 30’s. I knew I was too stubborn to learn from my husband. So I pulled out the instruction manual and first practiced in our large church parking lot. Then I drove up and down the flat road by our house. Finally, I drove over to a nearby college that had some good inclines and practiced there. The next day i drove on I-95 to Philadelphia!!

I learned to drive stick when working part-time at a pharmacy while I was in college. One day the guy that drove the delivery car didn’t show up, and the boss told me it was my job that day. When I told him that I didn’t know how to drive a stick shift, he told me, “It’s not that hard.” I had quite an adventure that day – I didn’t hit anything or stall out much, but I did try to avoid stopping at all costs, which made the whole delivery process rather tricky.

I taught both of my children how to drive a manual. My only suggestions are to spend a bit of time explaining how the clutch works and it’s purpose. Emphasize that its purpose is NOT to use to match the speed of the flywheel to the input shaft of the tranny (speed of the engine to speed of the tranny)…that should be done with the gas pedal. It’s purpose is solely to allow the driver to engage and disengage the two with the speeds being as consistant as possible. Except when starting out, and then slippage should be as little as practicable.

The take them for hours of hands-on in all sorts of conditions…bring along a whole heaping truckful of patience.

Honestly, I doubt if either of my kids remembers the “matching speeds” part, but I think it helped them visualize what they were doing until they got the feel. At least that’s what I tell myself.

You’re the winner in my book!. I call it the “Friction Point” but the process is the same. I taught the motorcycle training course for 12 years and this was a major training point. Once the students can consistently find the friction point, the rest is easy. I would recommend spending at least an hour or two just on the friction point. Yes, using someone else’s car is always preferred!

TIP: Don’t begin on a flat surface–begin on a slight DECLINE. I have found that novices learn easiest when they start on a surface with a slight downward slope. Once they let their foot off the brake, the car begins to roll forward slowly. This makes letting out the clutch (whether they do it fast or slow) a less-jerky and less-damaging affair. It also lessens the importance of how much gas to apply. Often no gas is necessary meaning they only have to think about one foot. When they get the hang of that, graduate them to a flat surface. The final exam is starting on a steep incline without stalling.

I have taught my grandson recently and the only difference was with a 92 dakota 5 speed I had him start off practising the clutch routine in 3rd gear. It made for a lot easier transition from full stop to moving and the “touch” needed to not stall makes them more concious of how sensitive the clutch can be while not rattling the teeth of the instructor. The speed with which they catch on this way, I believe negates any clutch wear from the slow release. A week after I taught my grandson he showed my nephew and nobody got killed and it was a quick transition for both.

The motorcycle safety foundation calls this point the “friction zone” of the clutch.

I read an old Ann Lander’s column back in the 80s that said a cemetary is the best place to learn to drive because you have more realistic driving simulations with intersections, roads, turns, and just a little bit of traffic to deal with. You also have a reminder all around you what happens if you get careless.

The thing I do with my students is that I simply explain to them how a car shifts by comparing it to the gears on a mountain bike. 2nd, I tell them, “Listen to the engine, it talks to you.” I’ll demonstrate poor/improper take-offs and then good ones. 3rd, I really stress to the students that there is absolutely no shame in starting over, ie if you have a bad take-off in a stick-shift vehicle, go ahead and start over and correct what you didn’t do right. Even the most seasoned driving veterans will not try to save a bad start and take a do-over. They do it so quick, you never know. When the students aren’t ashamed to start over and listen to the engine, that sets up an immediately feedback loop that they need to learn the rest themselves. I have them driving on the roads, totally comfortable in an hour and it works every time.

I use a different method to teach kids how to ride bikes but without training wheels, I teach kids how to ride on their own in an hour or less. The smile on their face is worth it all. :slight_smile:

Erin in Nebraska