There are advantages and disadvantages of driving uphill in a manual transmission car as compared to an automatic transmission vehicle. On one hand, driving uphill often calls for a lower gear, and it’s easier and more natural to downshift a manual transmission. Unlike an automatic car, your vehicle won’t surprise you by downshifting when it thinks it should as opposed to when you think it should.
On the other hand, there’s more to think about with a stick shift if you have to start and stop on an uphill. An automatic vehicle won’t roll backward, but you’ll have to develop some uphill driving skills to ensure that your manual transmission vehicle doesn’t roll back on you.
Here’s a look at the different situations you’ll encounter when driving uphill in a stick shift car.
How To Drive a Manual Transmission Car on a No-Stop Uphill
Most of the time you’re going to be moving when you approach a hill, and you’ll be able to drive all the way to the top without stopping. In this case, you should generally pick up your speed a bit as you approach, assuming it’s safe and legal. Ideally, you’d like to get partway up the hill before you have to downshift. If you can make it all the way to the top and crest the hill in your higher gear, better still.
When you find that the car is struggling to maintain its engine speed, it’s time to downshift. It’s best to shift at a little higher speed than you would when downshifting through the gears on a flat road. As a rough guideline, shift to 4th gear around 40-50 MPH, to 3rd gear at 30-40, to 2nd gear at 20-30. Don’t shift into 1st gear unless you’re down to around 10-15 MPH.
Try to avoid any rapid drops in speed. If your speed drops too low for the gear, you may find yourself slowing down so much during the shift that it aggravates the drivers behind you. It’s even possible you could stall.
When shifting, depress the clutch pedal, lift your foot from the gas pedal and move the shifter to a lower gear. If you’ve experienced a large, sudden drop in speed, you may have to drop two gears. Once you’ve shifted, take your left foot off the clutch pedal and press the accelerator. You may have to continue to apply more throttle to maintain or regain your speed.
Here are a few other tips about driving your manual transmission up a hill:
- On a very steep hill, you may need to downshift before you reach the foot. In this case you’ll be slowing rather than speeding up as you approach the hill, slow enough to shift into second gear or first gear. Don’t shift into first unless your speed is down to about 10-15 MPH.
- The rules of maintaining a safe following distance still apply. This is especially the case when there’s a truck or heavy vehicle ahead, one that might surprise you by slowing more than you expected.
- If it’s a two-lane road, be extra cautious about passing. Make sure you can see at least 500 feet ahead. If you’re within 500 feet of the crest, don’t pass at all.
- If the hill flattens or you’re reaching the crest, take a little bit off the gas pedal to avoid gaining too much speed. Also, there could be a hidden hazard such as a stopped vehicle just over the crest.
How To Move a Manual Transmission Car Forward from a Complete Stop on an Uphill
Uphills can include stop signs, stoplights and stop and go traffic. You may have to pull out from a parking spot. Getting started on a hill, especially a steep one, can be intimidating for the novice stick shift driver. What if you start rolling backward? What if you can’t get the car to move forward? Here are some step by step tips for successfully moving uphill.
How To Use the Emergency Brake To Start Uphill in a Manual Transmission Car
If you’re holding the car in place with only the foot brake, you have to smoothly move your right foot to the gas pedal in the split second before you start rolling backward. For the novice manual transmission driver, it can be easier to use the emergency brake.
A lot of newer cars have a “brake hold” feature, where you push a button that keeps the brakes engaged whenever you’re completely stopped. It disengages when you press the accelerator pedal. If you have this feature, it’s much easier to start out on an uphill.
Here are the steps for moving a stick shift car uphill using the emergency brake.
- With the emergency brake engaged, depress the clutch pedal and have your right foot ready for the accelerator pedal.
- Shift into first gear.
- You may give the car just a little throttle, enough to raise the tachometer to about 1500 RPM, but it’s not mandatory.
- Let the clutch pedal rise until you feel the bite point. You worked on recognizing this when you practiced clutch control on the flats. The hood of the car will dip, the engine sound will change and the car will strain against the emergency brake.
- Release the hand brake and press down gradually on the accelerator pedal. The steeper the hill, the more throttle you’ll need.
- Completely release the clutch pedal.
- Particularly on steep hills, you may find it necessary to “ride the clutch,” that is, to keep the clutch partially engaged while you’re pressing the accelerator pedal. If you’re alone on a hill where you can practice, try different positions of the clutch pedal and the gas pedal to feel how the car reacts, that is, when it moves forward, when it maintains position and when it wants to roll backward. With practice, you can let it roll back just a touch and still maintain control. It’s true that this kind of clutch play is hard on the clutch and transmission. However, it’s a good enough learning tool to justify some wear. As you develop the skill of clutch control on an uphill, you should stop doing this.
- If you’re practicing clutch control on the flats, you can get the feel without using the throttle. The car will move forward without the gas pedal. That won’t work on an uphill. Without some gas, the car will roll backward.
- If the car stalls or starts to roll backward, push the brake pedal and the clutch pedal to the floor, set the emergency brake and try again. Don’t feel bad. This takes practice.
How To Start Uphill in a Manual Transmission Car without the Emergency Brake
As you gain skill and confidence, try this without the hand brake. Here are the steps:
- Depress the clutch pedal and brake pedal.
- Shift the car into first gear.
- Let the clutch pedal rise until it reaches the bit point.
- Quickly but smoothly move your right foot to the accelerator pedal and give the car a little gas.
- Release the clutch pedal while you increase pressure on the gas pedal.
- As with the handbrake-assisted start, you may ride the clutch a little, at least when you’re new at this, working the accelerator and clutch together to feel how the car responds.
How To Stop at Uphill Stop Signs and Stoplights in a Manual Transmission Car
Any time you come to a complete stop, you have the choice of putting the car in neutral or leaving it in gear with the clutch pedal depressed. You also have the choice of whether to engage the emergency brake.
At a stop sign on an uphill, leave the car in first gear and hold the clutch pedal down. The exception to this is the situation where you don’t expect to move soon, for example, if you’re turning onto a major thoroughfare and you’re waiting for a break in a line of cars. Even then, you might prefer to wait in gear. In any case, move the shifter into gear when you see a break in traffic coming. As to the emergency brake, engage it if you plan to use it when you move forward.
At a stoplight, your action will depend on how soon you expect the light to change. If you expect a quick change, treat it like a stop sign. If it’s going to be a while, you have a choice.
Many experts recommend waiting out a light in neutral with your foot off the clutch pedal. There may be less wear on the transmission, although some counter that that’s not a big issue today. In any case, you get to rest your left leg!
The best argument in favor of first gear is that you’re more ready, physically and mentally, to attack the challenge of starting out uphill. If you do this, be sure to keep that clutch pedal all the way to the floor. Being even an inch off the floorboard causes wear you don’t need.
It’s not mandatory to engage the parking brake at an uphill stoplight, but it provides an extra measure of security. Definitely engage it if you plan to use it when you start off again.
How To Drive a Manual Transmission Car Uphill in Stop and Go Traffic
If you’re driving uphill in stop and go traffic, you’re going to be in first gear most if not all the time. You’re going to have to start from a stop, or at least from very slow driving, multiple times. You’re going to exercise a tremendous amount of clutch control, and this is nearly impossible to do without riding the clutch.
It’s possible to treat this situation as though it’s a series of very frequent stop signs. That is, you can use one of the above techniques for starting out, either using the emergency brake or not, every time you have to stop. This is most likely to work when the length of each stop is somewhat predictable, for example, when you’re in a line of cars waiting at a stop sign.
If the stops are brief and unpredictable in frequency and length, you may be better off using the gas pedal and the clutch pedal, without the brake pedal, to maintain your position on the hill with clutch control. This is hard on the clutch and transmission, but, fortunately, you don’t often run into situations where it’s necessary to do this.
To make it easier on yourself, maintain distance between you and the car ahead. It will give you more time to think about what you’re doing and to actually do it.
And, of course, if your manual vehicle has the “park hold” option, use it.
How To Park a Manual Transmission Car on an Uphill
Every time you park, put the gear shift into first gear and set the emergency brake before you leave the car. On an uphill, follow the rules for turning the front wheels, which are the same as for an automatic car. If there’s a curb, turn the wheels toward the street so the curb will block the car from rolling. If there's no curb, turn the wheels toward the curb so that, if the call rolls, it will roll off the roadway.
How To Drive a Manual Transmission Car Uphill in Rain or on Wet Roads
You know that lower gears are recommended for both wet surfaces and uphills. So favor lower gears, both for the power boost and the extra traction.
On a dry road you might add a little speed before the foot of the hill. You can do that on a wet hill if – and it’s a big if – you can do so without driving too fast for conditions. Often that won’t be possible.
Manual car or automatic car, you should keep your speed steady and your speed changes gradual. Avoid accelerating suddenly. There’s a good chance you won’t even be able to, but you’ll slip instead. Make your downshifts as smooth as possible. When you re-engage the throttle out of your shift, increase pressure on the accelerator pedal gradually and smoothly.
If the rain is heavy or the road is extremely wet, it can be best to slow and downshift before you reach the base of the hill and to go all the way up in the same gear.
Hydroplaning, which is a significant danger on a flat, wet road, is unlikely on an uphill because the surface water is being quickly carried away. If you do happen to skid, don’t add gas, don’t apply any brake pressure and push down the clutch pedal to stop engine force to the wheels.
How To Drive a Manual Transmission Car Uphill on Snowy or Icy Roads
The best advice about driving a manual transmission car uphill in snow and ice is the same as for an automatic car: just don’t do it. Find another route or stay home. After all, getting to the top depends not only on you also on the drivers in front of you. They might not have good tires, or they may have never learned the skills you’re learning. You might get stuck halfway such that the best manual transmission driver in the world couldn’t make it the rest of the way.
However, there may be situations where you just can’t avoid that hill. If you live in an area where this is likely, have good winter tires, carry something heavy in the rear of your vehicle and consider using chains if they’re legal where you are.
Here are some tips if you have no choice but to attempt that slippery climb.
- Before you get to the bottom, shift into a gear you think you can maintain all the way up.
- Allow a large gap to the car in front so that if they slow down you may not have to.
- Accelerate gradually before you reach the foot of the hill. You need momentum to have a chance.
- Try to maintain the same speed all the way up. Keep accelerator pressure steady. If the tires start to spin back off the gas just a little.
- Keep the clutch engaged. Avoid a situation where you have to press the clutch pedal. Of course, you’ll have to disengage the clutch if you’re forced to stop.
- Don’t try to power the hill by pressing hard on the gas. You’ll only spin the tires.
- Don’t stop. This is where you’re at the mercy of your fellow drivers. If you have to stop, try all the techniques you’ve learned to get started again. However, they may not do you any good.
One piece of good news: if you do skid or slide off the road, you’re not likely to get hurt at the speed you’ll be doing.
How To Drive a Manual Transmission Car Up a Mountain
There are few driving experiences more fun than zipping up a mountain in a manual transmission car. Try it a few times, and you’ll agree that mountains and stick shifts were made for each other.
When you get onto a big climb, at some point you’ll feel the engine start to lose power. The RPM will drop. That’s when it’s time to shift it into a lower gear and keep your speed up where you want it. It’s true that you can shift an automatic transmission gear into a lower gear, but it’s just not the same. For one thing, an automatic may decide on its own when it’s going to be changing gear, and it won’t necessarily be when you want it to.
There’s a lot of freedom in stick shift mountain driving. That is to say, there are a lot of times when you choose what kind of gearing and acceleration you want. On a long gradual climb you might cruise up in a higher gear. If the terrain shifts you can choose to boost yourself to the summit in a lower one. If the road becomes particularly steep, you can shift down a couple of gears.
Mountains roads have curves. You can use your lower gear not only to boost your climbing power but also for extra traction as you power through those curves.
Mountains have summits, and many of them also have downhill dips on the way up. Let your speed drop as you crest the summit or an intermediate hill. Don’t be too quick to upshift, though. You may need a low gear for a descent.
A Wide Variety of Climbing Experiences in a Manual Transmission Car
Putting up your local steep incline and cruising in the Rockies may not seem to have much in common, but there are principles that apply to all uphill stick shift driving.
Use lower gears for extra power and traction. Allow distance to the car in front of you. Use downshifting to maintain speed as you climb. Practice clutch control for smooth transitions.
If you can drive your manual transmission car uphill in traffic, you can drive it anywhere. It’s a skill worth perfecting.