Driving a manual transmission is fun, until you have to come to a stop! But coming to a stop in a manual isn't as easy as it is in an automatic, simply because there are plenty of different situations in which you'll have to brake.
Here we explain how to properly stop a manual transmission car in multiple different circumstances.
How To Stop a Manual Transmission Car at Stoplights and Stop Signs
No matter which manual transmission braking technique you use to stop your vehicle, you come to a complete stop at a stoplight or stop sign in one of two ways. The car is in gear with the clutch pedal depressed, or the gear lever is in neutral with your foot off the clutch. In either case, the driver has the clutch disengaged so the car won't stall.
As you're in your lane at the traffic signal or waiting for your turn at the stop sign, you have a decision to make. Should you as the vehicle driver wait at the intersection in first gear with the clutch depressed, or should you be in neutral with your foot off the clutch? The choice largely depends on how soon you'll be driving again.
At a stop sign, you almost always should be in first gear, ready to press the gas pedal and go. If you used the technique where you brake without downshifting and the clutch pedal pushed in, shift into first as soon as you stop. If there's a line of cars at your traffic sign and you have to move at low speed one car length at a time, stay in first gear. There's only one situation where a driver might wait in neutral at a stop sign. It's when you're on a side street waiting to cross or turn onto a main road, and a long stream of cars continues to move past at highway speed in front of you. If you do sit through this in neutral, shift to first as soon as you recognize you're about to get your turn.
If you're driving up to a red traffic light and you can see it's about to change, then treat it like a stop sign: stay in or shift into first gear. If the light's going to be red for a while, it's possible to wait in either neutral or first.
Many manual transmission experts recommend sitting through the traffic light in neutral, the main reason being that keeping the clutch pedal depressed causes unnecessary wear on the transmission. Clutch pedals are designed to disengage the clutch only long enough to change gears. However, there are others who argue that with modern clutches wear is less of an issue.
If you do keep the manual car in gear, be sure to keep the clutch pedal pushed all the way to the floor so that the clutch is completely disengaged. If you're as little as an inch off the floorboard, the clutch disc is not completely released and wear is possible. Here's another argument in favor of waiting in neutral – you get to rest your left leg! If you're city driving with frequent stops, you'll welcome this bit of comfort.
Another reason to stay in neutral at the intersection: if you become distracted or if somebody taps your rear bumper, your foot may slip from the clutch pedal, and the engine may leap the car forward into traffic.
The main argument in favor of waiting with your manual transmission in first is that you'll be more ready, physically and mentally, to move your foot from the brake pedal to the accelerator pedal and react to a green light. This is a particular advantage when you're at an intersection facing uphill or on an icy road
How To Stop a Manual Transmission Car from Different Speeds
The general principles for stopping a manual transmission vehicle remain the same regardless of road speed, but there are different considerations depending on how fast you're driving.
Highway Speeds / High Speeds
If you're driving on the highway, you should normally be in high gear, for example, fifth gear in a 5-speed manual transmission vehicle. If you downshift the shift lever at cruising speed, you're going to hear that horrible noise that tells you the engine speed is too high for the gear. In that case it's best to move the gear shifter from the low gear back to the higher gear. Then slow down. Back off the gas pedal or brake pedal, and wait until the RPMs have lowered. Then downshift.
Even if you use one of the techniques where you brake without downshifting -- shifting the gear lever to neutral or depressing the clutch pedal while at a high speed and in a higher gear -- it's best to slow down first. That way you retain the extra traction that comes from being in gear with the clutch engaged. You can wait until your speed is lower to disengage the clutch.
These are the speeds you might be driving on back roads or through streets in town. Any of the braking methods will be satisfactory here. For example, one technique would be downshifting and changing gear once and then coasting to a stop with the clutch disengaged. Neither wear on the brakes nor the control from engine braking is a big factor in this situation.
Stopping from a low speed is not a problem; just disengage the clutch and ease to a stop. You're already in a lower gear and there's no advantage to engine braking. It becomes more of a challenge when you're in stop and go traffic and you have to brake repeatedly
How To Drive a Manual Transmission Car in Stop and Go Traffic
In stop and go traffic, you're going to be driving your manual transmission vehicle in 1st gear or second gear. If you can drive with your stick shift in third gear, it's hard to consider it a stop and go traffic situation. One of the key success factors is the same for a manual transmission as for automatic transmission: maintain some distance between you and the car in front, and look several cars ahead to see what's developing.
Change your pressure on the accelerator pedal slowly. Don't speed up the engine quickly, and if you maintain distance you won't have to yank your right foot from the gas pedal. If you're driving this way in first gear, it will minimize your use of the brake pedal and the clutch pedal. Often you may find you are driving for some distance without using the brake or changing gears. It's good to avoid using the brake pedal any more than necessary, because your brake lights can set off a reaction of braking behind you.
You can create a smooth ride by "riding the clutch," that is, by keeping the accelerator pedal depressed and moderating your speed with the clutch pedal. This kind of clutch control can feel comfortable, however, there's unnecessary wear on the clutch and transmission any time the clutch is partially engaged this way.
The clutch gets enough wear from normal clutch pedal use. Even repeatedly using the clutch to move the gear shift between first gear and second gear or to come to a full stop is significant, even though that's normal wear and tear. A manual car frequently driven in stop and go traffic is likely to need a clutch replacement sooner than one that isn't. You can reduce this risk by using your gas pedal more and your clutch pedal less when you're driving stick.
With a little stick shift practice, you’ll become comfortable using the gear shifter and driving smoothly in stop and go traffic with a manual transmission car. It can even be easier than driving the same way in an automatic car.
How To Stop a Manual Transmission Car in the Rain or on Wet Roads
A lot of wet weather principles are the same as for an automatic: drive slower, allow more stopping distance, scan the wet road ahead for possible problems. Make sure your windshield wipers are working. Don't use cruise control in heavy rain. Turn on your headlights.
Be prepared for rain and wet weather with tires that are in good shape. That means that each tire is inflated to proper tire pressure, and tire tread is adequate. A tread depth of less than 4/32 inch means you should consider replacing the vehicle's tires with new tires, especially if you expect to be driving in rainy conditions. A worn tire is trouble in any wet road condition.
Once you're out and driving in rainy weather, you have an advantage over automatic transmission with your stick shift. It's easier and more natural to downshift to give yourself more traction. When it's raining, try to identify the need to brake well in advance. That way you can shift to the gear that gives you the best traction. It's not a bad idea to be driving in a lower gear than you'd use on a dry road.
Because of traction and control, the braking technique of downshifting through the gears offers some advantages over braking to your stop in your higher gear.
One of the most serious dangers of wet conditions is hydroplaning. That's when the tires lose contact with the road surface. If the front end loses its grip, back off the gas pedal and drive on through. If the rear tires slide and you skid, turn the steering wheel in the direction of the skid, even though there's a temptation to steer the other way. Don't add gas and don't hit the brakes, but push in the clutch pedal to halt engine force to the wheels.
How To Stop a Manual Transmission Car in Snow and Ice
As with driving and stopping in rain, many stopping principles are the same for a manual transmission as for an automatic transmission. Effective emergency stops on an icy road are no more likely in a manual car than in an automatic car, so slow down and leave lots of stopping distance. Brake early. Don't pump your antilock brakes; let them do the work for you.
Good tires are critical for winter driving. A manual transmission gives you an opportunity for extra traction control in your driving technique, but it's all for naught if you have a tire that's bald or worn.
When approaching an intersection, keep your foot off the clutch pedal as much as possible so that the clutch remains engaged. It allows more control than braking with the gearbox in neutral or with the clutch pedal depressed. Don't disengage the clutch until you're close to a full stop. The brakes might not be as effective on icy roads, but engine braking will work as well as ever. If you're slowing and not stopping, downshifting to a lower gear is likely to be safer and more effective than hitting the brake. This is especially true if you're rounding a curve as you come to your stop.
If you're stopped for a red light, leave the car in gear rather than switching to neutral, and keep your foot on the brake pedal. In dry road conditions there are wear-and-tear advantages to waiting out the light in neutral, but in these slippery conditions the improved traction of an engaged clutch is more important.
The rules for a skid on ice are the same as for hydroplaning: ease off the accelerator pedal, don't brake, push in the clutch pedal and steer in the direction of the skid. Anytime you're having trouble controlling your car, look to the spot where you want to go and not to that big tree at the edge of the road. You tend to travel in the direction where your eyes are pointing.
How To Stop a Manual Transmission Car in Fog
Fog is more dangerous than you think. It's a top driving hazard. When it comes to braking, remember that fogging happens when the air is saturated, and the roadway is likely to be wet. After all, fog is made of water droplets.
The best way to stop in fog is to stop before you even get into your car. That is, just don't drive in fog at all. Stay where you are until it lifts.
However, that's not always practical, and there'll be times when you have to stop your manual transmission car in foggy conditions. While it's challenging in any vehicle, there are some advantages to slowing and stopping when you have a clutch and a clutch pedal. You can use your lower gears for engine braking to maintain traction and keep a better grip on the road.
When you're driving in dense fog, be constantly prepared to stop your car. Most important, drive slowly and keep a good distance from the vehicle ahead. Remember that you may not be able to accurately judge speed and distance through foggy windows: you won't see trees and telephone poles passing by to help you gauge these things. Keep an eye out for a brake light ahead but don't fixate on a tail light ahead of you. It narrows your focus and increases the chance you may miss something. Keep the headlight on low beam and not high, and don't use cruise control. Your ears can make up for what you can't see if you turn the radio off and crack car windows.
Whether you're driving manual transmission or automatic, begin your braking as early as possible and do it gradually. It's best if you can tap the brake pedal once to let the driver behind you know you're about to brake. Stay in your lane and avoid sudden movements. There are some safe driving advantages to shifting down through the gears while you're braking in foggy conditions, as opposed to using one of the techniques where you don’t downshift. You retain traction and have better control and a better chance of responding in case something unexpected appears out of the fog.
How To Stop a Manual Transmission Car Going Uphill or at the Top
While driving uphill with automatic transmission presents few issues, you have to be on top of things when driving up a steep hill in a manual transmission car. You're going to have to downshift, and your timing needs to be right. Too soon and your overrevved engine will make a loud, unhappy noise. Too late and you may stall, not something you want to deal with on a hill with an angry road user or three behind you.
If traffic is forced to stop somewhere along that uphill, it's an even trickier problem. That stop could be a red light or a stop sign. The most delicate situation is when there's a line of cars at a stop sign and you have to stop and start several times.
Because you've probably already downshifted to a lower gear since the bottom of that steep hill climb, it makes sense to continue downshifting all the way to first gear as your manual vehicle comes to the stop. Making the stop is not too difficult. What requires some thought is putting yourself in a position to start up again.
Most late-model cars have a "stop hold" feature that will, in effect, step on the foot brake and keep the car's brakes stepped on. This happens when your speed reaches zero. As soon as you give it a little gas with the accelerator pedal, the brake disengages. If you have this wonderful feature, use it. It will make life much easier when it's time to go.
If you don't have brake hold, you can accomplish the same thing with the handbrake. At the stop, engage the parking brake and take your foot off the brake pedal. As you start, release the parking brake as you work the gas pedal and clutch pedal.
If you're in a stop and go situation on an uphill, it may help to "ride the clutch" a little, that is, to keep the clutch pedal part way down as you press the gas pedal far enough to move your manual transmission vehicle ahead. It's true that riding the clutch causes wear and is normally not recommended. However, you shouldn't find yourself in this situation on a regular basis, and some wear on the manual transmission might be better than stalling on a steep incline.
How to Stop a Manual Transmission Car at the Bottom of a Hill
In a manual transmission car, as with an automatic transmission car, by the time you actually get to the stoplight or stop sign, it's too late to slow and stop safely and conveniently. You need to begin thinking about stopping your manual car while you're still on the steep hill, well before the intersection.
It's possible to stop without downshifting if you start with your foot brake early enough. Either leave the car in gear and depress the clutch pedal or shift the car into neutral as you gradually apply the brakes. You want your stopping to be smooth so you don't hit the brake pedal hard at any point.
There are some advantages, however, to downshifting as you descend the hill. You can do this, of course, with an automatic car, but changing gear is more natural with a stick shift, especially now that you're becoming skilled in manual transmission vehicle driving!
When you shift from a higher gear to a lower gear the engine helps brake the vehicle. While you are "engine braking" in this low gear, gradually apply the brake pedal, taking advantage of both the engine and the hydraulic brakes to slow your car.
No matter what technique you use to stop your manual vehicle, make it a goal to use steady brake pressure to come to a gentle and gradual stop. If you stop on a level stretch of roadway and you're going to have to wait through a stoplight, you may choose to do so with the gear selector in neutral and your foot off the clutch pedal.
However, if you're "pointing downhill" with your front wheels lower than your rear wheels, you improve your grip on the pavement by waiting in 1st gear. This is even more the case if the road is slippery or wet. In either first gear or neutral gear, it's OK to use the parking brake as an additional tool while you wait. Just remember to release it when the time comes!
How To Slow a Manual Transmission Car Going Downhill
You may not have to stop your manual transmission car until you get to the bottom of the hill, but you may have to use the brake pedal and the clutch pedal to slow it while you're still on the hill. This is especially true on long downhills such as mountain descents. Signs on these roads advise truckers to use low gear, and that's advice you can follow as well.
If you "ride the brakes" all the way down a steep hill, the car's brakes can overheat and lose their stopping power. You can spare them by using your manual transmission to downshift. When you're changing gear from a higher gear to a lower gear, you're taking advantage of engine braking to give your hydraulic brake system an assist. Of course downshifting is possible with an automatic transmission, but it's not a natural, integrated part of your driving the way it is with a manual transmission vehicle.
Long descents, particularly in the hills, often have curves. It's a good practice to downshift your manual vehicle before you actually reach the curve. Back off the gas pedal as you're making the gear change, and increase throttle as you release the clutch to lock into the engine braking power of the new, lower gear. Now you can smoothly push the foot brake to slow your manual car before you go into the curve.
How To Stop or Slow a Manual Transmission Car Through a Curve
The basic technique for slowing through a curve is the same for a manual transmission as an automatic car, but your gear shifter and clutch can give you an advantage in safe cornering technique. With a manual car as well as an automatic, you need to brake before you reach the curve and gently accelerate through.
Here are 7 steps for slowing a manual transmission vehicle through a curve.
- Anticipate the curve and start the process well in advance.
- Release the gas pedal, depress the clutch pedal and move the gearbox down to the next lower gear. While you can downshift an automatic transmission, few people think to do so. As you become an experienced stick shift driver, however, the maneuver becomes quite natural.
- If it's an especially sharp turn, repeat the process of changing gear. Whether you downshift one gear or two, you've taken advantage of engine braking and moved your road speed towards a low speed even before using the foot brake.
- Now use the brake pedal before you get to the turn, while the car is still moving straight.
- Throttle gently as you move into the turn.
- About halfway through, increase the pressure on the accelerator pedal and straighten the steering wheel.
- As you resume speed, release the gas pedal, press the clutch pedal, shift back to your higher gear, release the clutch and regain acceleration.
If you're going to have to stop at the end of the curve, follow the same basic instructions of downshifting and braking before the curve. Use little or no throttle going into the curve. As you come out of the curve, resume your braking rather than accelerate, and complete your stop as you would at any stop sign or stoplight: continue downshifting to 2nd gear or 1st gear, or disengage the clutch by pressing the clutch pedal or shifting the gear lever into neutral.
How To Make an Emergency Stop in a Manual Transmission Car
With a manual transmission vehicle, as with an automatic car, the correct technique for emergency braking depends on what's happening on the road and why you need to stop. Are you going to stop in your lane in a straight line? Is the road wet or icy? Will you have to make evasive maneuvers? All of these dictate what you have to do to brake a manual car successfully.
A Straight-Line Emergency Stop in a Manual Transmission Car
If you have an anti-lock braking system (ABS), which all late-model cars do, just stomp the brake as hard as you can. With a pre-ABS car, your pressure on the brake pedal needs to be more gradual. There are several options about what to do with the clutch pedal.
- Push in the clutch pedal simultaneously with the brake pedal. It's simple and it works.
- Push in the clutch pedal just before the car stalls. This is ideal if you have the presence of mind to do it and it doesn't distract you from what's happening on the road. It takes advantage of engine braking. Also, this method works best if you have to take evasive action, for example, if a deer jumps out or you come around a turn and see an accident. You retain the control you need to move the shifter from a higher gear to a lower gear or to drive off the roadway if necessary.
- Just keep the brake pedal pushed and forget about the clutch. The engine will help with braking, but the car will stall. However, a stalled car is better than hitting something. Even if it turns out you can't stop short of the obstacle or turn to avoid it, hitting something at low speed is better than slamming into it.
The important thing is to hit the foot brake hard and stop. What you do with the clutch pedal is secondary.
Stopping a Stick Shift Car When Skidding
Since most cars today have ABS brakes, skidding is less of a problem, but it still can happen. You might skid on a patch of ice. If there's excess water on the road surface, you might skid because the wheels lose contact with the road surface, which is called hydroplaning. If you skid, resist the temptation to brake hard. There are two techniques that can help you recover from a skid and continue driving.
- Cadence braking. Release the brake for a second, reapply it for a second, release it for a second, and continue. Often this will bring the car under control.
- Turn the steering wheel in the direction of the skid. Usually the car will snap out into the proper direction.
In both cases, keep your foot off the accelerator pedal and press in the clutch to eliminate engine force to the axle.
What To Do In a Manual Transmission Car If Your Brakes Fail
Brake failure is a rarity in a modern car, whether it's a manual transmission vehicle or automatic transmission. However, it can happen. Brake failure doesn't mean that a crash is inevitable. If you keep your head and take the right actions you've got a good chance of coming out OK.
Here are 7 steps to take if the brakes fail in your standard transmission car:
- Try the car's brakes again. In today's vehicles there's a separate brake system for front and rear brakes. It's unlikely both have failed. You may be experiencing diminished braking power rather than no brakes at all
- Downshift. Push in the clutch pedal, move the shifter from a higher gear to a lower gear, and release the clutch, but stay off the accelerator pedal. Continue down through the gears as the car slows.
- Use the emergency brake. If you have the type of handbrake where you can engage it slowly, do so. In some late-model cars, the parking brake is either on or off, and you'll have to set it all at once.
- Leave the clutch engaged. Except for changing gear, don't use the clutch pedal. Use engine braking as much as possible.
- Try the brake pedal again.
- Maneuver the manual car off the road. Get out of harm's way.
- Don't turn off the engine until you come to a stop.
What Are Problems and Bad Habits in Stopping a Manual Transmission Car?
Here are 8 problems and bad driving habits you should avoid as you learn to master stopping in a manual transmission vehicle.
A car stalls when the speed gets too low for the gear or when the clutch is still engaged when it stops.
What should you do if you stall while braking? If you're close to the intersection, disengage the clutch by pressing the pedal or shifting to neutral, roll to a stop and restart when you get there. If you're farther away, turn on your flashers, shift to neutral and find a place to pull off the road.
It's possible to shift the car into neutral and restart while you're rolling, but it's a difficult maneuver for beginners. You'll also have to figure out the right gear to shift back into to continue driving.
How to prevent stalling? Practice, repetition, experience. And don't get too upset with yourself. Everyone has done it.
Downshifting Too Soon
There's no mistaking when you've done this. The engine roars in protest; it's a distressing sound. It's the opposite of the stalling problem; it happens when the engine is running too fast for the gear you're in. Shift into neutral then back to your previous, higher gear.
As with stalling, the prevention is in practice and repetition.
Riding the Clutch
The clutch should be either engaged or disengaged. The clutch pedal should be either all the way in or not depressed at all. "Riding the clutch" is when you have the pedal pushed partway. When the clutch is partially engaged, only some of the engine's power goes to the wheels and some of the rest puts unnecessary wear on your car's clutch and transmission. Clutches are difficult and expensive to replace, and riding the clutch can make that happen before it needs to.
Sometimes poor seating position can make you ride the clutch. Make sure you can comfortably push the clutch pedal all the way and also rest your foot when it's off the pedal.
Resting the Foot on the Clutch
Even light pressure can partially disengage the clutch and cause wear. It's not as severe as riding the clutch, but it still does your clutch no good. Rest your foot on the floor between clutching.
Braking Too Late
This can happen in an automatic transmission, of course, but it can also happen with a stick shift when you misjudge when to start downshifting or otherwise begin the braking process. Whatever the cause, keep your foot on the brake pedal and put the car in gear to make use of engine braking.
Changing Gear Without Clutching
In some older vehicles this wasn't physically possible, but with most of today's manual transmissions you can force the gear stick into a higher gear or lower gear without using the clutch pedal. Don't go for this bad driving habit. It wears both the clutch and the transmission. Don't be fooled by the fact that you can usually get away with it in the short run.
Putting Pressure on the Shifter
Pushing the shifter puts wear on the clutch and transmission. This is necessary wear and tear when you're shifting but unnecessary wear if you're not. Even resting your hand on the gearshift produces pressure. Hover your hand over the shifter or put it back on the wheel when you're done with your shift.
Exiting the Car in Neutral
When you get where you're going, put your stick shift in gear before you shut off the engine and leave the car. Under the wrong conditions a car in neutral can roll.
Practice Makes Perfect
When it comes to stopping a manual transmission car, practice makes perfect. Downshifting is an art, so make sure to take your time learning and mastering it for the best results. Soon, you'll be stopping like it is second nature to you.