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Driving a manual transmission car in rain and snow can be dangerous. As it turns out, there are bad weather circumstances where there’s an advantage driving a stick shift. There’s also at least one weather-related situation where driving a manual car is more difficult.
With a stick shift it’s easy and natural to change gears. If you have to slow down on slick roads, gently shifting down one gear at a time is safer than stepping on the brakes. When you brake hard in those conditions, there’s a risk of locking up the wheels, losing your traction and ultimately losing control.
One thing to watch out for: avoid quick and jerky downshifts. The clutch suddenly cutting in or out can cause tire slippage too.
Sometimes it’s easier to move a manual vehicle out from a stop on a slippery road. With good clutch control, you can start with a low engine and tire speed and be less likely to spin. There’s one exception: it’s tricky to get started uphill on an icy road in a stick shift car.
There are a few blanket rules for all bad weather conditions for both a manual and an automatic vehicle. For example, leave plenty of room to the vehicle ahead. Slow down. Don’t use cruise control, but maintain your own speed control and make small adjustments as necessary.
How To Drive a Manual Transmission Vehicle in Rain and on Wet Roads
A lot of the tips for driving a manual transmission vehicle in the rain are the same as for an automatic transmission car: slow down, allow room to the car ahead, don’t use cruise control. Avoid rapid acceleration, quick braking and fast turns. Some of what’s required is easier with a gear shift. A manual transmission makes it more natural to pick the best gear to maximize traction and minimize braking.
With a stick shift, favor your lower gears. Be slower to shift higher when accelerating and quicker to downshift when slowing. Keep the clutch pedal released and the clutch engaged as much as you can. You don’t have to rush your shifts, particularly if you’re changing gear between, say, fourth gear and fifth gear at highway speeds. When you’re slowing into the lower gears, however, it’s best to complete your shift briskly and get your foot off the clutch pedal.
When you’re slowing down on a dry road, it’s okay to brake with the car in neutral or the clutch pedal pressed in, but on slick surfaces it’s better to keep the clutch engaged. When the engine is connected to the transmission and axle, you’ll have better traction and control and you’ll use the brakes less.
As with an automatic car, it’s important to scan ahead. If you’ll need to slow down, you want to know well in advance. Shifting down through the gears takes some time, and you can’t stop that way unless you begin early.
One more little tip: if you’re moving out from a stop and the road is unusually wet, consider starting in second gear rather than first gear. The wheels are less likely to spin.
What To Do If Your Manual Transmission Car Hydroplanes
The big danger in wet roads is hydroplaning. That’s when there’s too much water to escape through the channels in your tire treads. Your tires are no longer in contact with the road surface but are floating on a layer of water. It can happen because there’s a lot of water on the road or because you tires are too worn.
If you start to hydroplane, it’s important to keep your cool and not panic. That’s easier said than done, but think in terms of letting go rather than grabbing control. Take your right foot off the brake and accelerator and keep it off. However, keep the clutch pedal depressed. That keeps the engine from delivering power to the wheels.
If only the front wheels are hydroplaning, you may not even skid. In this case, just keep your right foot off the gas and brake until you regain traction.
If you do skid, most hydroplane skids last for just a second, then you can retake control. Point the steering wheel in the direction you want the car to go. If the rear wheels are sliding this means turning in the direction of the skid. Don’t crank the steering wheel. Overcorrecting your direction isn’t going to help anything, and it might give you a whole different direction of skid when the wheels bite.
How To Drive a Manual Transmission Car in Fog
Fog is more dangerous than most people realize. The number one piece of advice experts give for driving in fog is this: just don’t do it! If you don’t have to go out, don’t. If fog rolls in while you’re driving and you can’t see, stop. Get as far off the road as possible and turn on your hazard lights.
Still, there might be times when you just can’t help driving in fog. In that case, stick shift safety principles are similar to those for an automatic car. Keep a good distance from the car ahead and constantly be ready to stop. Use your low beams; high beams reflect in fog. Because you can’t see landmarks such as trees and telephone poles, your estimation of speed and distance may be off. Be aware of rear lights on the car ahead but don’t fixate on them. You don't want to narrow your focus and miss something. Think about turning the radio off and cracking a window. Sometimes your ears can make up for what your eyes can’t detect.
Remember that fog is made up of water droplets. The road surface is likely to be wet. As with any wet surface, your manual transmission gives you advantages. As in rainy driving, use lower gears and keep the clutch engaged as much as possible. When you do have to slow or stop, do it mostly by shifting down through the gears. Minimize use of the foot brake.
How To Drive a Manual Transmission Car in Snow and Ice
As with rainy roads, there are some general principles of winter driving that apply to both manual and automatic transmission cars. Drive slower. Leave plenty of room. Watch the road ahead for possible icy patches. If you need to slow or stop, start early and do it gradually. Use good winter tires.
And, as with driving in rain, some of the principles are easier to apply in a manual transmission vehicle. For example, you should minimize braking. You can do this by favoring lower gears and downshifting when you need to slow down. When you stop, start the process well in advance and downshift through the gears rather than brake with the clutch pedal pushed in or the gearshift in neutral gear.
Another principle of winter driving is to avoid sudden changes in speed, either speeding up or slowing. If you maintain momentum, you’re more likely to safely get over hills or through short slippery stretches. This is easier when you control what gear you’re in.
Keep the clutch engaged as much as possible. If you find yourself braking, shift to a lower gear. When the clutch is engaged, traction is better and sliding is less likely.
Whether you’re driving stick shift or automatic, avoid braking and turning on icy stretches. Slow down before you get to the ice. If there is ice on a turn, try to manage your turn so your wheels are as straight as possible when you cross the icy patch.
On dry pavement, it’s best to start accelerating about halfway through the turn. In snow and ice, wait until you’re through the turn and straightened out before you add throttle.
When starting out from a stop, release the clutch pedal and engage the throttle gently and gradually to avoid spinning the tires. Sometimes it’s easier to move out in second gear.
If you have a stick shift vehicle that you’ve never driven in snow, it’s a good idea to work with it on a quiet street and learn how it responds.
Even on a dry road, you should set the emergency brake and put the car in gear when you park. It’s extra important in snow and ice.
What To Do If You Skid on Ice in a Manual Transmission Car
It’s a scary thing to lose control on ice, even for a second, so you may find it challenging that the first rule is, “Don’t panic.” However, don’t panic. Take your right foot off the brake or accelerator pedal and keep it off. Press the clutch pedal to the floor to cut power from the engine to the wheels.
Often the skid only lasts a second and you can retake control. If not, point the steering wheel in the direction you want to car to go. If it’s the rear wheels that are sliding, that will be in the direction of the skid. Don’t jerk the wheel or overcorrect with it.
This is similar to what you should do if you slide or hydroplane on an unfrozen wet road surface.
What To Do When You’re Stuck in Snow in a Manual Transmission
Nobody sets out to get stuck in snow, but it happens. Whatever you do, don’t gun the throttle and try to blast out. Most of the time that just spins the tires and digs you in deeper.
To get out, you want the tires to roll on top of the snow rather than to dig in. Using second gear helps because you’ll have a lower tire speed. Also, turn off traction control, which in most cars is done via a button with some wavy lines. When you’ve raised the clutch pedal to the bite point, continue to release it as gradually as you can. Likewise, depress the gas pedal as gently as possible.
You can also try moving the car a short distance in reverse gear, just as gradually and gently. Sometimes it will get you to a new spot on the snow where you can get enough traction to go forward.
There are the usual remedies that apply to all cars, such as shoveling under the tires, putting sand, kitty litter or cardboard under the tires to gain some traction or enlisting several strong friends to push.
Some people rock the car going rapidly back a forth between reverse and a forward gear. Sometimes this does the trick. However, it can also overload your transmission. If it doesn’t work right away, it’s best to stop trying.
It’s not the end of the world if you have to call for a tow. The cost is much less than a new transmission.
How To Drive on Snowy or Icy Downhills in a Manual Transmission Car
Driving any car down a snowy or icy hill requires caution. One key rule is to slow down before you reach the hill in order to avoid or minimize braking on the actual downhill. Another principle is to maintain a slow and steady speed as you descend. This is where your manual transmission can help you.
Shift into a low gear before you get to the top of the hill. It should be one you can maintain all the way down. On an especially steep incline you can actually use 1st gear. Keep your left foot off the clutch pedal to get as much engine braking and traction as you can. If you have to use the brake pedal, do so lightly and sparingly.
How To Drive on Snowy or Icy Uphills in a Manual Transmission Car
There aren’t many situations where a manual transmission puts you at a disadvantage, but driving up an icy hill is one. If there’s a particularly icy and steep uphill on your chosen route, especially if it’s one that’s likely to have traffic, think about going a different way.
If you can maintain a steady speed all the way uphill without stopping, a manual is as easy as an automatic. However, that’s not always under your control. You can do everything right, but if the driver in front of you stops, you’ll have to stop too. It’s getting started again that presents one of the biggest challenges for a manual transmission driver.
As you approach the hill, smoothly increase your speed if conditions, traffic and the speed limit allow it. You want to avoid losing momentum as you climb. You don’t want to get into a situation where you have to add throttle, because that could cause the tires to spin.
As soon as the engine begins to struggle to maintain its speed, shift to the next lower gear. Make a brisk but not jerky shift and try to maintain the same speed. Avoid braking and avoid “goosing” the gas pedal. If you feel the tires start to spin, back off the gas a little and they may regrip.
If you drive a lot in a hilly, wintry area, there will be times when you have to stop on an uphill. The techniques to get started again are the same as on a dry hill, but they’re harder to apply.
As with a dry hill, you can use the emergency brake to assist you. Set the hand brake, push the clutch pedal down, put the shifter in first gear and have your right foot ready for the gas. Raise the clutch pedal to the bite point, give the car a little gentle throttle and release the parking brake. This will require a lot of feel and subtle working of the clutch and gas pedal to get you creeping forward.
This can be done without the parking brake by starting with your right foot on the brake pedal and quickly shifting it to the accelerator when you reach the clutch bite point.
If you have “brake hold” on your car, boost your chances by using that instead of the parking brake.
There’s no getting around it; this is hard to do. The car tends to roll downhill in dry conditions, and slipperiness makes it worse. Even after you’ve driven stick shift for years, you might want to avoid this situation. Even the best drivers may have to roll to the side of the road and call for help.
How To Become an All-Weather Manual Transmission Driver
Driving a stick shift in all weather presents many of the same challenges as driving an automatic car, but a manual transmission offers better tools to meet those challenges. It’s easier to pick your gear, maintain good traction and avoid excess braking. There is one situation – uphill in icy weather – where a stick shift brings extra difficulties.
All in all, when you master manual transmission techniques, you will be a safer and more effective bad weather driver than most people driving automatic cars.