Starting on Hills with Manual Transmission: using E-brake or clutch/gas only?

I’m a novice at manual driving, and I learned to drive in San Francisco. On hills, I know it’s bad to hold your car in place by letting out the clutch half way…I was taught to use the parking brake to keep the car in place while accelerating the car. However, many of my friends say they can start on steep hills without the E-brake and without rolling back. My question is: what is better for your car? If you become very adept at starting using clutch and gas only, are you still wearing your clutch out because of the sudden load on the vehicle due to gravity, and should the E-brake be used only as a learning tool? We’re not talking easy rolling hills, we’re talking serious incline…like hills in SF with a 30% grade.

Plus if you use the e-brake method, are you just wearing out the e-brake system?

What is the optimal method to use?

I’m inclined to suggest becoming proficient with the gas/clutch “dance”, but I have to confess to never having lived in this type of terrain. My guess is that most of us haven’t, so while you’ll get lots of well meaning thoughts those who’ve actually lived there are the best reference.


I’ve always been very good at the gas/clutch dance, but for steeper hills my own preference has always been for using the parking brake in order to reduce clutch abuse. (Brakes are a lot cheaper).

If you are new to the clutch it is also probably safer since you are more likely to avoid roll back and less likely to stall it out.

Use the e-brake. It’s so much easier and surer. Don’t worry about wearing out brake parts; usually the e-brake shoes last forever… and they are easier and cheaper to replace than a clutch. As for the clutch itsllf, a San Francisco clutch will always wear out faster than a Kansas clutch no matter how you handle the hills. It can’t be helped. The e-brake method will extend the clutch’s life.

Use the e-brake as a tool as long as you need it to feel comfortable. Eventually you will not need it to pull away smoothly with a minimum amount of clutch slipping.

Thanks guys for the help. I like the parking-brake method for the really steep inclines, but I was worried that I was somehow “cheating” and being a lazy driver, since all of my friends called it the “cheating” trick. I’m glad to know none of this is true, and that I was right in thinking that it’s bad for the clutch on steep hills :slight_smile:

I bet they were guys. Seriously, I’ve driven a stick shift car in San Francisco, and I have enough experience (like 35+ years) with a stick shift that I can manage without the e-brake, but if the hill is that steep why bother? Use the brake and ignore the “cheating” comments from the testosterone addled peanut gallery. It’s safer if your foot slips and you are less likely to stall the car.

It isn’t cheating, it’s technique!

If John Force came up with a trick that was totally legal and made his cars take off a bit faster, would anyone say he was cheating? Heck no!
Well, actually, yeah, they probably would, but do you think he’d care?

No you wont prematurely ware out the e brake system - your not moving at any speed that would damage or ware anything. I’d keep using the gas and clutch method only. It doesn’t hurt the clutch assembly any because the clutch was designed and improved over the years to withstand that type of use. You should know by now the point at where your clutch starts to engage, so roll back isn’t a worry either. The only worrying you should have with your clutch is when you “Pop the clutch” or release it suddenly (Trying to burn out). Think of your clutch as the brake system. It is basically the same, in a general way.

I have a lifetime of driving a standard shift and I believe I do an excellent job of it. Sometimes I will pay strict attention to starting on an extremely steep hill, and I can make a smooth start without the brake. However, I still occasionally find a situation so difficult, like the really steep hill and a jerk who stopped on my bumper, that I rely on the insurance of the brake. Using it to help get started also insures no rollong backward, and if you aren’t both proficient and experienced, stalling. I live in upstaate NY and seldom need to use the brake, but I am certain I would resort to the brake for assistance if I lived in San Francisco. Don’t the the guys make you feel inadequate–ask them if they can even drive a standard! I have run into new car salesman and mechanics who can’t. I just turned 64 and decided it was wise to get an automatic, finally. I got an '09 Matrix automatic and I like it, but it will never be as much fun, or put me in touch with the performance of a car like a stick shift.

The parking brake (never “emergency brake”) method is highly preferable. I suppose it could be difficult with a foot-actuated parking brake, but it’s a piece of cake with a hand-operated p-brake. When you slip the clutch to keep from rolling backwards, you are abusing it; no ifs, ans, or buts. It will last a lot longer if you don’t abuse it. Yes, your friends can start on a hill without the parking brake, but you can laugh at them when they bitch about their clutches going in 30,000 miles.

A lot of it would depend on the gear ratio of the vehicle.

My Dodge diesel and previous Ford f250 Diesel both had 6 speed trannys in them and 1st gear is a granny gear, particularly in the Dodge. The Dodge is low enough like the older trucks where you can put it in gear, jump out climb in the bed, throw hay out the back, jump off, catch the truck and climb back in. I’ve done it many times in the past. If I needed lower than that, I could always turn it to 4 wd Low range.

The long and short is, my first gear is low enough to let the clutch out with my foot on the brake and powerful enough that it isn’t a problem. One of the 6 cylinder trucks I had along the way had an airplane gear in it 2.73 ratio and it would have had a tough time, but I never did use the parking brake to get it started.


While it is true that replacing brakes is much cheaper than replacing the clutch, I would have to say for you to do what you need to in each situation. Riding the clutch a little bit and the extra ware that it recieves is still much cheaper than rolling back into another car and having to pay for their front end and your rear end damage.

Anybody remember the Toyotas with the hill helper on them? That was a pretty neat idea. I kind of wonder what happened to that?


I thought Subie was the one with that feature…

It absolutely was/is a Subaru feature. Before Subaru, I think Dodge had hill holders in th '50s. I don’t know if Toyota ever used them, but it’s not a single brand solution, so maybe.

Buy an automatic and save yourself the trouble.

Toyota had them on pickups I know in the early 80’s.


Xebadiah says, "Buy an automatic and save yourself the trouble."
But I say, “An automatic is simply POINTING the vehicle, while a manual transmission is DRIVING.”

Having driven a manual all my life, and visited SF as a tourist in an automatic rental, you have my sympathies. Those are real hills, sometimes 45 degrees or more, running many blocks, with insidious STOP lights every block. And as others have said, you may be fine holding your car in place with the foot brake and the car in neutral, until someone rolls up too close to your rear, and then when the light turns gree you’ll have to make like a wheel spinning, nitro burning, tire smoking dragster to get off the line without rolling back into his/her grill. And probably it will be your clutch that is smoking and not your tires.

Instead, save your clutch, pull the Parking brake, and follow the advice of those who encourage you to ease the clutch out, and pull uphill while releasing the PB when moving after the light changes.

To my mind, steep hills w/ stop lights and bumper-to-bumper, slow crawling traffic tie-ups are the two main drawbacks to a manual transmission. It’s still a few more years until I’m old enough to drive around with my left blinker perpetually on as I meander from lane to lane, and until then, I hope both legs and knees remain healthy so I can continue enjoying driving…with a manual.