A manual transmission car has three pedals, but you have only two feet. Therefore, you might assume it’s not possible to operate all three pedals at the same time. As it turns out, it can be done. There’s a method called the heel and toe technique, and it uses the right foot to manipulate the gas pedal and the brake pedal simultaneously.
You can drive a manual car for a lifetime without ever using heel and toe technique, and that’s just fine. However, there are two situations where the method has some usefulness. One is in heel toe downshifting at speed while turning, and it’s used mostly on the track by racers. The other is for a scenario that’s far removed from the world of racing. The heel and toe technique is useful when starting out a stick shift car uphill from a stop sign or stoplight.
What Is the Heel and Toe Technique?
The heel toe technique is operating the brake and accelerator pedal simultaneously with your right foot by pressing the brake with the toe and the gas pedal with the heel. It’s a bit of a misnomer since you don't quite use the heel and the toe. In actuality, you use the ball of your foot on the brake and the edge of your heel on the gas.
It minimizes clutch time on a downshift through a fast turn and makes the turn smoother. Most of us seldom have a reason to maintain our speed through a turn, but anyone who drives in a hilly locale can benefit from the other use of heel toe, namely, getting started on an uphill.
One disadvantage of heel and toes is that it won’t work in all cars. Before you try it out, take a look at the location and height of your accelerator and foot brake. Set the ball of your foot on the brake pedal and see if you can readily touch the accelerator with your heel at the same time. On some stick shift cars, the two pedals are positioned in such a way that heel and toe is difficult or impossible.
How To Use the Heel and Toe Technique Starting on an Uphill
One of the biggest challenges for new stick shift drivers is to get moving again from a stop on an uphill. It’s difficult to keep the car from rolling backward while you're trying to give it enough throttle to move forward.
One way to solve this problem is to use the emergency brake. You set the parking brake, shift into first gear and keep the clutch pedal depressed. You (optionally) give the car a little throttle, then raise the clutch pedal to the bite point, then depress the gas pedal and continue to release the clutch pedal as you release the parking brake. This allows you to concurrently work the gas, the brake pedal and the clutch using two feet and a hand.
Alternately, you can use “brake hold,” if you have it, to keep the car from rolling back while you work the clutch and throttle. Or, as you get more skilled, you can skip the parking brake and start with your right foot on the brake pedal, then quickly move it from the brake to the gas as you release the clutch pedal.
There’s another way, and it involves using the heel and toe technique. It allows you to give the car throttle to move it forward while still using the brake to keep it from rolling. Here’s how to get a manual transmission car started uphill with the heel and toe technique:
- Start in first gear with the clutch and brake pedals fully depressed.
- Maintain brake pressure with the ball of your right foot. The exact position of foot on pedal depends on where that pedal is relative to the gas pedal. Usually the ball of your foot will be on the middle right of the brake pedal.
- Keeping the brake pedal down, angle your right foot so the heel can press the accelerator pedal near the place where it meets the floorboard. Now you’re all set to keep the vehicle stationary as you start giving it some gas.
- Slowly press the gas pedal with the edge of your heel as you let the clutch pedal rise. The ball of your foot still has the brake pedal down so that the car won’t move backward as you work the other pedals. The steeper the hill, the more throttle you’ll need at this point.
- When the clutch reaches the bite point, swivel your right foot completely to the gas pedal.
- Continue to apply throttle and finish releasing the clutch pedal as the car starts to move uphill.
How To Use the Heel and Toe Technique for Fast Turns
You can use the heel and toe technique to keep your speed up on turns. This is especially the case on sharp turns where you want to come out of the turn briskly. You might wonder why you’d need to do that. Well, you don’t really need to, but you might want to.
What are the benefits? It does save a little wear on the transmission. If you can manage it without being distracted, it helps you maintain better control. Also, it’s a little smoother. Unless you’re racing, though, the biggest benefit is that it’s fun and it makes you feel good about yourself when you do it.
Consider the normal downshift through a turn. As you’re braking coming into a turn, you press the clutch pedal and downshift. Partway through, you switch to the gas pedal and go to pick up your speed. On a steep turn with a significant slowdown, however, your engine has slowed considerably and is almost idling by the time you’re ready to push the gas pedal and get back up to road speed. The RPM is close to zero. When you accelerate, the engine has to instantly come back up to the wheel speed. It’s likely to jerk a bit as it quickly increases RPM. That’s a little wear and a little lack of smoothness.
You can resolve this somewhat by “blipping” the gas pedal before you release the clutch pedal. This means pressing the accelerator maybe a quarter of the way to the floor to bring up the engine revs. This still isn’t quite as smooth as the heel toe downshift. And for racers, it means an extra fraction of a second with the clutch disengaged, which slows the car just a smidgen.
If you’re an aspiring racer, or if you just want to maximize your stick shifting skills, here’s how you smooth out the turn with heel and toe.
- As you approach the turn, start to brake. Do it with the ball of your right foot toward the right side of the brake pedal.
- Push in the clutch pedal.
- With your right foot still pressing the brake pedal, angle your foot down so the edge of the heel touches the gas pedal.
- (If you want to squeeze every possible advantage of your heel toe shifting, this is where you can double clutch during your gear change. When you double clutch, you press the clutch pedal once to shift to neutral, and release and press it again when you shift from neutral into the lower gear. The benefit is that you can “blip” the engine and bring up the RPM while the car is in neutral.)
- With the clutch pedal engaged, shift into the lower gear, or into neutral gear if you’re going to double clutch.
- If you’re double clutching and are in neutral, release the clutch pedal, and “blip” the gas pedal by pressing it about a quarter of the way down with the edge of your heel. Essentially, you’re reaching over with your heel to give the gas pedal a little goose.
- If you’re not double clutching, do the throttle blip as you change gear to the lower gear.
- If you’re double clutching, press the clutch pedal once more and complete the shift to the lower gear.
- Now that you’ve “blipped up” your engine RPM, take your left foot completely off the clutch pedal and move your right foot completely onto the brake pedal.
- When it’s time to accelerate, it will be much smoother as you move your right foot from the brake to the gas pedal and come back up to road speed out of the turn.
How To Be a More Complete Stick Shift Driver with the Heel and Toe Technique
Heel and toe technique takes some practice. You can get the feel of the method by simply going through the motions in your driveway or a parking lot with the engine off.
It’s a useful skill to have in your stick shift tool kit, especially if you drive in an area with a lot of hills.
As for the heel toe shift technique for turns, there’s never going to be a time when you’re required to use it. It’s no problem to let engine speed drop close to idle when you slow way down for a turn, and it doesn’t hurt anything to pick your speed up slowly as you come out. The main reason to master heel and toe for turns has more to do with personal satisfaction. You can make fast turns without breaking the speed limit, and any additional stick shift skill you develop will make you more proficient in your everyday driving.