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Ever notice that a lot of teachers are quick to tell you what you’re doing wrong and slower to recognize what you’re doing right? It can be the same way with a “dos and don’ts” list. For example, “do shift at the right time” and “don’t shift at the wrong time” are the same piece of advice, but they sound different, don’t they?
In the interest in encouraging your growing competence as a stick shift driving, here’s a list with more “dos” than “don’ts.” Follow the advice on the “do” side, and watch your confidence increase. Take a look at the “don’t” side, too. As you’ll see, even some of the classic “don’ts” have exceptions.
Do These 14 Things While Driving a Manual Transmission Car
1. Do Set Up the Driver’s Seat Properly
With a stick shift vehicle, proper seat position is even more important than in an automatic transmission car. Not only do you have to reach the gas pedal and brake pedal; you also need to comfortably shift and work the clutch. Make sure you can reach the farthest stick shift gear without stretching and that you can easily press the clutch pedal all the way to the floorboard.
2. Do Familiarize Yourself with the Manual Car You’re Driving
Every manual transmission car is a little different. Most gear boxes have about the same set-up, but there are variations. For example, in some cars you have to push the gear shifter down to find reverse. If it’s your first time in this particular car, shift through all the gears. When you’re driving, you should be able find the gears on the manual gearbox are without looking down.
It’s also good to find out how “heavy” the clutch is: how hard you have to press the pedal and where the bite point is. It’s worth taking a few seconds. In first gear, after you’ve started the car but before you apply throttle, raise your left foot until you feel the bite point. The engine sound will change and the front end may lift slightly.
3. Do Shift Smoothly
There’s a line between shifting briskly and rushing the process by jerking or jamming the gear shift. Put the emphasis on smooth, and with experience your shifts will be both quick and smooth. When you’re routinely shifting gear, your passenger should barely notice that you’ve changed gears.
4. Do Press the Clutch Pedal All the Way to the Floor
When you change gears, completely disengage the clutch by pressing the pedal all the way down. When you stop even an inch short of the floorboard, you leave the clutch discs partially engaged and the engine is still transferring some power to the wheels. This causes unnecessary wear on the clutch and transmission.
5. Do Shift at the Right Time
This is something that will improve with experience. As you accelerate, shifting up through the gears, it’s generally best to shift to the next higher gear when it’s available and not let the tachometer get close to the redline. About 2500-3000 RPM is a good shifting range. If the engine seems to struggle you may have shifted too soon, and if it whines loudly you’ve probably waited too long.
As a rough rule (remember every manual transmission is different), shift to second gear at 10-15 MPH, to third gear at 15-20, to fourth gear around 30 and to fifth gear about 40. If you have a sixth gear, shift to it around 55-60 and only if you expect to be at that speed for a while.
There are times when you need to get to speed quickly and it’s necessary to “wind out” a little in the lower gear. This should be an exception, not a general practice.
The same guideline works for slowing down. If you downshift too soon, it will be obvious from the loud protest your engine makes. You may have to go back up a gear. If you wait too long to downshift the engine will struggle and may hesitate or even stall.
6. Do Take Advantage of Engine Braking
Engine braking takes place when you ease up on the throttle and the retarding forces within the engine slow the vehicle. It can be used instead of or in conjunction with the brake pedal and the hydraulic brakes.
You increase engine braking when you shift to a lower gear and raise the engine RPM. With a manual vehicle it’s easier to downshift and maximize engine braking than with an automatic car. Engine braking not only saves wear on the brakes but also gives you more control, especially if you’re slowing or stopping through a turn or on a slick surface.
When engine braking, keep your foot all the way off the clutch pedal so that the clutch is completely engaged.
7. Do Favor Lower Gears on Hills
Engine braking in lower gears is particularly useful on downhills. It slows the car, gives you more control and keeps the hydraulic brakes from working too hard. This is especially important on long downhills such as mountain descents, where repeated braking can actually overheat the brakes and risk brake failure.
On uphills, a lower gear improves traction and control and helps maintain a steady speed up the slope. If your gear is too high, the engine may struggle and force you into a rushed, awkward shift to a lower gear.
8. Do Favor Lower Gears in Bad Weather
When there’s rain, snow or ice, it’s best to keep your speed steady and avoid sudden braking. You also need to increase traction and control by keeping the clutch engaged as much as possible. You can do this by driving in a lower gear. Avoid not only abrupt braking but also the situation where you’re moving too slow for your gear and have to downshift hastily.
9. Do Put Your Manual Car in Gear and Set the Emergency Brake When You Park
Under certain conditions a stick shift car sitting in neutral gear can roll. Shift into first gear before you exit the car. If you’re facing downhill, it’s OK to use reverse gear instead.
Set the parking brake. An automatic transmission vehicle in Park is pretty safe, but there’s no equivalent setting on your manual gear knob to provide that level of security.
10. Do Know How to Use the Emergency Brake to Start on an Uphill
Moving out from a stop on an uphill is one of the biggest challenges in stick shift driving. If you have the “brake hold” feature it’s easier, but using the parking brake is an excellent assist for this job.
With the emergency brake set, put the car in first, depress the clutch pedal and have your right foot ready for the gas. Optionally, give the car a blip of throttle. Raise the clutch pedal to the bite point. Release the hand brake and press the accelerator. If the car stalls or rolls backward, hit the brake and try again.
11. Do Practice Your Manual Transmission Driving Skills
Don’t wait until you’re in a pressure situation to start out on an uphill or parallel park. Find a quiet place to practice the more challenging stick shift skills.
12. Do Look Up
With the shifter and the clutch pedal and even the tachometer, it’s easy to become engrossed on all that’s going on inside the manual transmission cabin. Your focus needs to be on the traffic and the road on the other side of your windows.
You’re going to have to glance down some of the time, for example, to check the speedometer. Make it just a glance.
13. Do Expect To Stall
If you’re like most new stick shift drivers, it will happen frequently at first and less frequently as your skills improve. When it does happen, don’t berate yourself. Even experienced manual transmission drivers occasionally do it.
Don’t hang your head. Just restart the car and go about your business.
14. Do Have Fun Driving Stick Shift
People will give you all kinds of reasons for preferring a manual transmission, but one of the biggest is that it’s simply more fun than driving an automatic. You’re more engaged with the car than when an automatic transmission chooses the gears for you. It’s satisfying to work your way up through the gears or to smoothly downshift into a curve or up a hill. The gearshift knob feels good in your hand, as does the clutch pedal under your foot.
Nobody’s going to call you out for enjoying a little pleasure in impressing your friends. You can take pride in the mastery of what’s becoming a lost art in America. There’s a small burst of joy when a rental car agent asks, “Is a stick shift OK?” and you can causally answer, “Sure, that’s fine.”
Don’t Do These 9 Things While Driving a Manual Transmission Car
1. Don’t Rest Your Foot on the Clutch Pedal
In general, the clutch should be either engaged or disengaged. You should press the pedal all the way to the floor or not touch it at all. There are exceptions, such as slipping the clutch to get started in first gear, but don’t leave your foot touching the clutch when you’re driving along in a gear.
Even the light pressure of a foot simply touching the clutch pedal can cause partial clutch disengagement. It’s not as bad as riding the clutch, but it’s still pointless wear and tear.
After you release the clutch pedal, move your left foot and rest it on the floorboard.
2. Don’t Rest Your Hand on the Gearshift Knob
When you’re changing gears, there’s a selector fork that engages with the collar and allows the gear level to slide. That’s fine when you’re shifting. It’s using the equipment the way it needs to be used.
However, resting your hand on the shift lever, even lightly, causes some level of wear. Don’t do it when you’re not shifting. Hover your hand above the gear lever between shifts or put it back on the steering wheel.
3. Don’t Ride the Clutch
As just noted, the clutch, with few exceptions, should be either engaged or disengaged. The clutch pedal should be either pressed all the way down or untouched. When you ride the clutch by pressing it partway, only part of the engine’s power is transmitted to the axle and wheels. The rest adds pressure and wear to the clutch and transmission. You don’t want to replace either any sooner than you have to.
Sometimes improper clutching is caused by poor seating position. You should be able to comfortably push the clutch pedal all the way and also easily rest left your foot when it’s off that pedal.
This isn’t to say that the clutch should never be partially engaged. You’ll have to do it to slip the clutch in first gear. It may be necessary to move the car slow, short distances when you park. However, you should never have the pedal partway down in a normal driving situation such as shifting up through the gears as you come to speed.
4. Don’t Use the Bite Point To Hold on a Hill
If you have to stop on an uphill, it can be tricky to get started out again without slipping backward or stalling. There’s a temptation to avoid this challenge by not using the brake at all but by holding the car in place on the hill with the gas and clutch pedals. It’s actually kind of fun. As you get the hang of it, you can play around and let the car slip downhill just slightly and then ease it back into position.
Admittedly, a lot of experienced stick shift drivers do it. And it does give you a feel for the throttle and clutch. However, it’s kind of like smoking or biting your fingernails. Once you start, it’s a hard habit to break. And it wears your clutch. Best not to start. There are better ways to practice clutch control.
5. Don’t Shift without Disengaging the Clutch
As you learn to drive a stick shift, there may be an occasion when you forget to press the clutch pedal before you move the gear shifter. You may discover that you can successfully change gears anyway.
Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. This is rough on the transmission and can cause premature transmission repair. Always press the clutch pedal when shifting, and always put it all the way to the floor.
6. Don’t Coast Downhill
If you put the gear shift in neutral (or press the clutch pedal) and take your foot off the accelerator on a long downhill, you’re saving gas, right? For a while your fuel efficiency is astronomical.
It’s dangerous. Don’t do it. You’re giving away your ability to engine brake and maintain your control over the car. It compromises your ability to react in an emergency. Besides, it’s illegal in many states.
7. Don’t Wind It Out Unnecessarily
It’s fun to pretend you’re a race car driver and take your RPM as high as possible in a low gear before shifting to the next higher one. However, it puts a strain on your gearbox and it wastes fuel. It encourages rapid, jerky shifting. If you crank the RPM beyond the redline it can damage your engine.
There are times, such as merging onto a freeway, where you may have to accelerate quickly and take the RPM a little higher in each gear than you normally would. You can do this without winding all the way to the redline.
8. Don’t Pop the Clutch from a Standstill
You may have seen this in a movie. In first gear, the driver revs the accelerator and jerks their foot from the clutch. The tires squeal and the car goes tearing off.
That’s how it works in the movies, but in real life the car may or may not go anywhere. You’re going to feel awfully silly if you have to call for a tow.
There's an acceptable way to pop the clutch to get the engine started on a moving manual transmission car, but that’s a different matter.
9. Don’t Leave the Manual Transmission Vehicle in Gear at a Red Light (Usually)
At a stoplight, you can either leave the car in first gear with the clutch pedal to the floor, or you can shift into neutral. If the light’s about the change, the former is fine. Leaving the car in gear makes you more ready to proceed when the light turns green.
A lot of experts insist that you must shift to neutral at a longer red light. And it’s true that there’s some transmission wear from keeping the clutch pedal down. After all, you should generally press the clutch pedal only to change gears. With most modern cars, however, this clutch wear may be less of an issue.
Another argument in favor of neutral is that you get to rest your left leg. If you’re encountering a lot of red lights, that can be a big help.
If you do choose to remain in gear, make sure the clutch pedal is all the way to the floor. Having it even an inch off the floorboard can cause extra wear.
Do Take the Time To Master These Skills
Are these 23 items a lot to remember? If you try to adhere to all of them, all of the time, you’re going to drive yourself a little nuts.
So here’s a suggestion: think about one or two every time you go out to drive.
During one session, concentrate on good all-the-way-to-the-floor clutching. On another trip focus on your timing when you change gears. Before long you’ll find yourself with a package of good manual transmission driving habits that will keep your travels safe and enjoyable miles into the future.