When our customers express anxiety about taking a stick shift driving lesson, they're usually envisioning awful things happening that, well, don't ever really happen. Because they've never done it before, they don't know what the worst thing is that could happen. After helping over 1000 people to learn how to drive a manual transmission car, we've seen "the worst" and it ain't nearly as bad as you might expect. My best advice for learning stick shift actually has more to do with emotions than it has to do with your feet and hands. Whether you learn with us, a friend, or an instructor at a driving school, here are some tips to help you learn to drive a stick shift on the right foot.
You can imagine that we get a lot of skepticism about why we’d come up with a business for trying to help keep the manuals alive. People are always asking us why we’re doing this and why anyone would want to learn to drive stick shift. For some, they’re learning for work reasons (valets, longshoremen, UPS drivers, etc…). But for many others, they’re learning because they want to drive a stick shift. It’s not about need. It’s about something much bigger than need. So, in no particular order, these are the most common reasons why people say they prefer to drive a stick shift
1) Emotional Connection - Feeling More Engaged
First and foremost, driving a stick shift is a completely different feeling and one that I would argue is better. Driving a stick shift makes you feel way more connected to the car and the environment around you. Because of that direct connection, you have a much better sense of what the car is going to do when you make a change, which enables you to make better choices for the environment. That engagement also makes you much more focussed on the task at hand than, say, the infotainment system, your phone, or something else. You simply do not have the mental bandwidth to focus on anything else. While that may not seem like fun, consider how distracted drivers are more likely to get into accidents than non-distracted drivers. Distracted driving — including texting while driving — is the cause of more than 58% of crashes involving teen drivers and that nearly 4000 people per year are killed in accidents that were caused by distracted driving. Being more connected is also just more fun. I do all sorts of things simply for the enjoyment of it. I go for long bike rides fairly frequently, snowboard, swim, cook somewhat complicated meals, and do all sorts of things simply for the enjoyment of the task. Sure, I could find more efficient or easier ways of getting things done. But why would I? Driving stick shift turns what otherwise would be a boring drive to the store into an opportunity to have fun.
Pssttt… Want a cheat code for saving about 50% off of renting a car when you travel? In most parts of the world, if you rent a stick shift car you can save a ton of money.
Now, in America, the most common response to this blog post might be “wait, where can you rent a stick shift car?” It’s near to impossible to find a stick shift rental in the states. But go overseas and stick shift cars (both rented and owned) are the norm because stick shift cars tend to be both more fuel efficient (hey European gas prices), cheaper to buy (automatic transmissions cost more to manufacture), and are both cheaper to maintain and last longer because of their simplicity (fewer moving pieces = fewer things can break). Thus, just about everyone who learns to drive outside of the US learns to drive on a stick shift.
Rental car companies know all of this and they use it to their advantage. Here’s how I imagine the strategy meeting going at Big Rental Inc: “American wants to rent an automatic overseas because they don’t know how to drive a stick? Awesome, let’s charge them twice as much money.” And most Americans pay because, well, they don’t have any other choice. Nothing will remind you of home in America more than a corporation raking you over the coals to extract more money from your pocket.
So what kind of savings are we talking about if you rent a stick shift? Here are some examples.
One of my first jobs out of college was working for a pet supply wholesale company about 25 miles from home. Every day felt like a scene from Office Space. The office was a temple of beige. Beige carpet, beige cubicles, beige counters. I swear they would have purchased beige toilet paper if they could have found it.
The only thing less inspiring than the office itself was the commute. I can’t recall how many times I’d arrive at work or at home and say “wait, how did I get here?” I would have absolutely no memory of my drive up or back.
It was and would have been the perfect commute for being shuttled by an autonomous vehicle. Just enough time to answer some emails and get prepared for the day, but not so long that my legs would go numb.
Now, you might read that and say “Ok, so that sounds exactly like the kind of commute that would kill the stick shift”.
It would. But here’s the thing. Commuting to the temple of beige is not why someone buys a stick shift car.
Stick shift cars are for people who enjoy driving. They’re for people who want to focus, pay attention, and be engaged in the driving experience. People who drive a stick shift don’t want to answer emails while driving. They want to hear the engine rev, push the pedal to accelerate into corners, and pop the clutch and fly off when the light turns green.
Stick shift cars are for drivers who want to drive. This sentiment was echoed by Masahiro Moro in an interview with Bloomberg in April. Quoting Moro, “We believe driving pleasure should never die. And we’re selling our products to a core customer who loves driving...Mazda’s vision of autonomous driving is not bringing you from A to B while you are reading. That’s not Mazda’s way."
While I sometimes wear mismatching socks and occasionally put ice cubes and seltzer in my white wine (leave me alone, it’s delicious and refreshing on a hot summer day), I’m not completely crazy. I know that stick shifts aren’t “coming back”. Stick shifts will always be reserved for automotive enthusiasts. For the 98% of people who just want to go from point A to point B, an autonomous vehicle will be totally fine. Daily sojourns to temples of beige will forever be the sovereign territory of beige econobox drivers (hey Toyota). Those people were never going to buy a stick shift anyway. For the stick shift lovers who endure the endless 10-foot advances during their commutes so that they can rule the road once traffic clears up, well, an autonomous vehicle will just never do. They'll always prefer a stick shift. They don't want to just go from point A to point B. They want to be engaged in the process. They want to be present. They want to be excited. And there's no way that an autonomous vehicle will ever provide a exciting or engaging driving experience.
If you'd like to learn how to drive a stick shift, give us a ring. We'd be happy to give you a stick shift driving lesson.