Stick shift + parallel parking + hills = a pain in the arse (tips?)

first off, this is embarrassing. really, really embarrassing. i know how to drive a stick shift but haven’t done so in years. until now. 2 weeks ago i purchased a manual transmission mini cooper and i’m getting reacquainted with driving a stick shift. i stalled twice in the first few days and have had several occasions where the car has bucked (like this morning just after shifting into second). i wasn’t nervous AT ALL about getting behind the wheel of a manual transmission again until i told my mother the news about my new car. she reminded me of how terrified i was as a teenager about driving a stick shift and that my younger sister had to drive me everywhere for the first year because i refused to learn. i had blocked that part of my childhood out and only remembered the part of really enjoying driving that car after i eventually learned.

my current dilemma involves parallel parking and hills. most of my driving is done in san francisco and there are only so many places to park on level surfaces in this town. i can go uphill from a stop fairly easily now using the parking brake trick, but have serious difficulties going in reverse up a hill from a stop. this makes parallel parking downright impossible. every time i’ve tried using the parking brake to hold the car while starting out in reverse up hill, the car jerks and bucks and i feel like melting of embarrassment at my inability to drive my own car.

any tips? help! i love driving this zippy little car, but i don’t love feeling like a dork who can’t park anymore.

The best advice I can give is practice. Acquaint yourself with the friction point so you don’t need the parking brake to help you start on hills. The same trick can be used for reversing, but it is a little trickier since you’re backing up. I have never had to re-learn to drive a manual since the longest I have gone without driving one is about a year, plus I have always been a car enthusiast, so it was practically second nature when I learned it at age 15. You’ve only had the car for two weeks. Give yourself some time to get used to it again, but be sure not to ride the clutch out of fear of stalling or bucking the car. The car couldn’t care less if you stall or buck it, but the clutch won’t forgive you if you ride it and smoke it.

Try to parallel park facing up the hill. It’s easier to let the car roll slowly downhill (with your foot on the brake) backing into the space. Uphill parking can be tricky, but practice and a good hand brake helps. Start on gentle hill and work your self up to those steep inclines.


You just need to keep practicing. You’ll get it.

You need to actually learn how to do a hill start.

The parking brake trick is a crutch (a clutch-crutch?)-- you shouldn’t ever really need to use it in a little car like this. You’ll probably stall it more often than not at first but eventually you’ll start stalling it only half the time and eventually hardly at all. You can still use the parking brake trick if some jerk is right on your bumper or if there’s a big line of cars behind you, but try to start using it less.

"The parking brake trick is a crutch (a clutch-crutch?)-- you shouldn’t ever really need to use it in a little car like this."
I have to disagree. We insisted our kids learn the technique for two reasons; safety and clutch wear. We never had to replace the clutch on a car with a manual and over 200K miles of learning to drive and teenage driven miles. Long live the PB start up…it should be SOP (standard operating procedure) recomended for all manuals on hills. It’s a safety procedure IMO.

Try to park on an uphill grade when possible. That way you can just drift backward in neutral.

I Have Driven Manual Transmisssion Cars For Years. I Automatically “Heel-And-Toe” When Driving. The Technique Is Perfect For Hilly Terrain.

You’ll need to practice in a safe area and get good at it before parking in a confined place, but starting on a hill and going straight should be pretty easy.

I see there are articles and videos all over the place. They seem to advise using it more for downshifting. That’s fun, too, but I use it for starting / parking on hills.


Here’s A Link That Has Starting Out In A Manual Transmission Car Techniques For Hills And Includes A Brief Intro To Heel-And-Toe 101.


I think that once you’ve learned how to do a proper non-assisted hill start, it’s not really a problem if you want to use the parking brake all the time, but if you ALWAYS use it and never really get the hang of a hill start, you’re really missing a pretty essential skill. Being able to quickly get the car into gear under a variety of conditions comes in handy in all sorts of other situaitions (such as parallel parking on a hill), and having the feel for how much gas vs. clutch to use just based on how the car feels as opposed to what you’d just learned on your car makes it a lot easier to go between different cars.

Full disclosure: I learned to drive stick on a pickup truck with a pedal operated parking brake, so I never really had the option. But I do have cars with handbrakes now and don’t particularly feel the need to use them.

Also, and I fully realize we’ll probably have to agree to disagree here, but I think that clutchwear is going to be WORSE for someone who’s learned to drive this way. The whole reason why the parking brake makes it easier to get into gear is that you can take your time and let the clutch out slower, but a quick smooth engagement produces the least clutch wear. Obviously if you over-rev it or let the car start rolling backwards that’s going to make it worse, a well-practiced driver should have no problems getting it quickly into gear before the car starts to roll backwards on all but the steepest hills.

A guy gets into a taxi, and says "how do you get to Carnegie Hall."
and the taxi driver says, "practice, practice, practice."
We were all new at this once too, so we feel for you, but millions of us have been through it, and you can manage too.

Is Your Car “hill Assist” Or “Hill Holder” Equipped ? I See Where Some (Many, All ?) Minis Have This Feature. Does It Address It In The Owner’s Manual?

thanks! backing up a hill is trickier than going forward and i hope to master this soon. without killing the clutch, of course. i am trying to be very aware of my clutch-use and always remove my foot from the clutch between shifting and try to smoothly and quickly release the clutch when shifting. learning the uphill parking brake maneuver was a little tricky at first, but i got the hang of it. it’s just this reverse uphill thing that’s got me pulling my hair out.

excellent suggestion :slight_smile:

i don’t think i had ever even heard of this maneuver before. i’ll certainly put it in my bag of tricks to try in the future, but i think for now i need to be more skilled with the one technique before trying something that seems a little more advanced than where i feel i am currently.

interesting. i don’t remember seeing anything about that in the owners’ manual, but i’ll give it another look. wouldn’t that be awesome :slight_smile:

There’s a reason many cars offer anti roll back cars. It’s safer and using the PB that way without is to. I suppose it’s macho to “be able” to drive without, but it certainly isn’t safer. Not only that, but you ensure habitual use of the PB which helps maintain it’s function in a non wear situation and gains confidence in it’s proper habitual use by driver. All bets are OFF with those foolish foot brake actuated ones. I haven’t owned a manual with one…and don’t know if the even exist; but junk them.

Ah, San Francisco parallel parking. This brought back fond memories.

  1. Ride the clutch. If it bucks and stalls, you’re simply releasing the clutch too soon. It’s parallel parking on a hill, and there’s no way around this clutch riding. You’re doing this for a few yards, not a few hundred miles.

  2. Keep your rev low. It is easy to do that when your engine isn’t reving freely. So clutch out to the friction point before giving it gas. And once it starts reving up, ease out the clutch to keep it low, no more than 1300 rpm.

  3. Practice parallel parking on flat ground. Practice driving in reverse. Practice parking in reverse. Speed is the key. The sooner you’re done parking, the sooner you’re done riding the clutch. You have a Mini Cooper. Parking should be easy.

BTW, congratulations on your purchase!

I think MT cars equipped with a foot operated PB should come standard w/ a baseball bat. Whether you use the bat to set the parking brake or club the engineers who design that is up to you.

thanks! i’m having fun with her :slight_smile:

i pride myself on being an excellent parallel parker and could fit my wrangler into just about any tiny parking spot. i hope to soon be able to say the same about my abilities to park the mini on a hill.