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Most people learn how to drive a manual transmission vehicle in town or on lightly traveled roads. That's as it should be. The more your driving consists of braking, accelerating and frequent gear changes, the faster you learn. Once you gain some proficiency, however, the real joy of stick shift driving is to be found on the open road. Whether it's an interstate, a two-lane country road or something in between, there's something inside us that feels the call of the highway.
In general, driving a manual car on the highway requires less application of your stick shift skills than driving in town. That doesn't mean, however, that you can just forget about the fact that there's a gear shifter under your right hand. In fact, if you use your manual vehicle wisely, you'll have some advantages on the roadways that folks driving automatic transmission cars don't enjoy.
Not every rural road is straight and flat. Not every day is free of bad weather. Most of the time, yours won't be the only car on the highway. It's important to understand the principles of manual transmission driving for every highway situation.
How To Drive a Manual Transmission Car on Country Roads
Country roads don't have a lot of intersections and they may have light traffic, but that doesn't mean they'refree of challenges. They do have variety. Most are 2-lane, some are 4-lane and many have hills and curves.
For drivers of all transmission types, a key piece of advice is, be prepared to brake. There are obstacles you won't find in town or on the freeway. There can be horses, bicycles, people walking dogs, farm equipment and even livestock. Stick shift drivers must be prepared not only to brake but also to downshift.
Having multiple gears to choose from is an advantage and even a pleasure in this kind of driving. There are likely to be curves and hills. Stretches where you can drive fast and others where you'll need to drop down a gear and proceed cautiously. Sudden changes in speed limit are common.
Much of the advice for manual cars is the same as for automatic cars. Don't get impatient. Remember that it's easy to go too fast without realizing it on an empty road. Watch for hidden driveways and vehicles from side roads. Be especially cautious about passing; make sure you can see well ahead.
When you're constantly scanning ahead and paying attention to what gear you're in, you're a better driver. Make your gear changes smooth, keep your foot off the clutch pedal unless you're changing gears and follow the best practices for negotiating curves and hills.
How To Drive a Manual Transmission Car on the Freeway
Most of the time, once you get up tofreeway speed, your manual shift is in its highest gear and you can leave it there. If, due to traffic or general slowdown, you have to reduce speed, you're at an advantage driving stick shift. It's easier and more natural to shift to a low gear than with an automatic.
Pay attention to the road ahead of you to anticipate slowdowns. That way you can shift gears unhurriedly into a lower gear without hitting the brakes or jamming the gear lever.
If traffic is heavy and slow, and you have to drive considerably below the speed limit, you may find yourself a gear or two below your highest gear. Try to keep the tachometer between 1,000 and 3,000 RPM; if it reaches those limits, it's time to think about shifting gears.
Avoid the temptation to frequently downshift and accelerate and make repeated lane changes to "beat" the other traffic. A stick shift will support driving that way, but it's dangerous and hurts your fuel economy.
Most rules for driving a manual car on the freeway are the same as for an automatic car. Leave plenty of room, look well ahead, signal before you change lanes, be aware of other drivers' blind spots and avoid them.
How to Enter a Freeway with a Manual Transmission Car
If traffic is light and there's an open spot and the right lane, you're in luck. Shift up through the gears the way you normally would and make a smooth transition into traffic. Sometimes, however, the on-ramp is short, or traffic is heavy and you have to speed up quickly to match the speed of the vehicles that are already in the lane you want. In these cases you may have to "wind it out" a little bit, taking the tachometer higher than usual. That's okay, but just don't go past the redline.
While it's nice for drivers in the right lane to move over and let you in, they're under no obligation to do so. Assume they won't unless they give some indication that they will.
Here's another hint. Sometimes a car in front of you on the ramp will be driving too slow to merge easily. It's a good idea to back off and give them some room, in hopes that they'll be out of your way when your turn to merge comes.
How To Exit a Freeway with a Manual Transmission Car
The number onerule of exiting is the same for both manual and automatic transmission cars. Don't slow down before you move into the exit lane. You may downshift and brake as soon as you move into the exit lane, but don't touch the brake pedal until you've made the lane change.
How To Pass on the Highway with a Manual Transmission Car
When you're ready to pass the car ahead of you, you're probably in your high gear. Often, especially on a multi-lane highway, you can pass without accelerating rapidly. In that case, just stay in high gear and gradually increase throttle.
On a two-lane road, it's more likely you'll need to accelerate quickly to get around the other car. In those situations, downshifting will increase your engine RPM for brisk acceleration. If your RPM is around 2,000, or less, be more inclined to shift. Also, downshifting will be the right call in a 6-speed vehicle more often than in a 5-speed.
Move your gear shift to the lower gear just before you pull out to pass or as your pull out. When you reach the point where your acceleration slows, shift back to the higher gear.
How To Drive a Manual Transmission Car through Curves on the Highway
Curves are challenging because your tires have to hold their own against two forces. There's the forward inertia of the moving car, and there's centrifugal force pushing the vehicle toward the outside of the curve. If the speed's too high and the forces are too great, the tires can lose their grip and skid.
You need to slow down before you reach the curve. Once you're in the turn, braking is as likely to prevent you from holding the road as to help. When you get about halfway through the turn, begin to accelerate back into the straightaway.
Your gear shifter can help you through the turn. Shift to the next lower gear as you approach. You can do this in conjunction with gentle braking. The more you use the engine braking vs the brake pedal, the more traction your tires will have, and the more control you'll have. You'll also be in better shape to pick up your acceleration as you complete the curve. Shift back into the higher gear as you move into the straightaway.
You can use lane positioning to soften the turn. If the curve is to the left, position your car toward the right side of the lane as you approach. Move toward the left side as you go through the curve, and come out toward the right on the straightaway. Do the opposite for a right-hand curve. Be careful to stay in your lane and not cross the lines.
How To Drive a Manual Transmission Car in Hills and Mountains
It's fun to drive a stick shift car on curvy, hilly roads. You can better control the vehicle, and you feel a rapport with the roadway that just isn't available in an automatic transmission vehicle.
How To Drive Uphill on the Highway in a Manual Transmission Car
When you shift to a lower gear, you deliver more power to the wheels and you control your speed. All in all, it's easier to get comfortably to the top of a hill in a lower gear. If you stay in a higher gear, the RPM will drop, the car will struggle and the engine may even stall.
With a manual transmission car, it's natural to downshift on a climb. An automatic car will usually downshift for you if your speed drops enough, but it often doesn't do so until the car has slowed more than you want.
Approach the hill with your gear stick in a cruising gear. If it's safe and doesn't violate the limits, increase speed a little. Maintain the same gear and steady accelerator pressure as you start to climb. When you feel you're losing power, drop a gear. On a long or steep hill you may have to downshift more than once. Don't go all the way to second gear unless you're down to around 20-25 MPH. On the open highway you should never go to 1st gear unless you have to come to a complete stop for some reason.
How To Drive Downhill on the Highway in a Manual Transmission Car
Downhills, particularly long downhills such as mountain descents, are hard on brakes. Use engine braking in addition to the foot brake. On the flats you get some engine braking just by backing off on the gas pedal. On a downhill you may have your right foot on the brake already, so the only way to engine brake is to downshift.
When you downshift on a downhill, the engine revs high. This is a part of your engine braking, and it's OK as long as the tachometer doesn't redline. As you drive more and more downhills, you'll recognize the noise difference between a high but acceptable engine speed and an engine overrevving.
Whatever you do, don't coast in neutral. It may reduce fuel consumption just a little, but it compromises control. It negates engine braking and makes you entirely reliant on the brake pedal to slow down. Also, it's illegal in some states. For the same reasons, keep your foot off the clutch pedal other than to change gears.
Don't use cruise control. You need to control the speed yourself.
If you're approaching a steep downhill, downshift before you go "over the top."
On moderate hills, you may get enough engine braking merely by backing off the accelerator pedal.
On a long descent, if you find yourself repeatedly tapping the brake, it's time to drop down a gear.
Remember that long descents, particularly mountain descents, also have curves. Use the normal techniques for negotiating curves, with one possible exception: on a steep downhill with a sharp curve, you may not be able to accelerate coming out.
One last thing. If it feels or smells as if your brakes are weakening, pull off the road and stop.
How To Drive a Manual Transmission Car on the Highway in Bad Weather
It can be dangerous to drive stick shift in foul weather, but it's also dangerous to drive an automatic in bad conditions. You actually have some advantages driving a manual transmission car.
As with curves and hills, the advantage is that it's easier and more natural to downshift. When roads are slick or icy, it's often safer to drop a gear than to press the brake pedal, and certainly safer than braking hard. When you hit the brakes hard, you risk locking the wheels, losing traction and skidding.
There are, of course, the general rules that apply no matter what kind of transmission you have. Slow down, avoid cruise control, allow plenty of room to the vehicle ahead.
With a stick shift, favor your lower gears. Be slower to shift up when accelerating and quicker to downshift when slowing. Make your shift smooth and avoid jerky transitions. Keep your left foot off the clutch pedal except when shifting. Remember, you're not engine braking when the clutch is disengaged.
If you have to slow or stop on a dry surface, it's okay to do so in neutral or with the clutch pedal depressed. On a wet road, it's better to downshift through the gears, keeping the clutch engaged and using the braking power of the engine.
Driving a Manual Transmission Car on Every Kind of Highway
It's fun and satisfying to drive a manual transmission vehicle on the highway, responding to changes in the road and the weather conditions. On the nation's roadways you'll encounter hills, curves, traffic and every kind of weather imaginable, but with the right attitude and the proper techniques you'll be prepared for whatever the open road has in store.