So you’ve just finished reading Part 1 of “Working Your Stick” and now you’re all pumped up with excitement. Your first instinct was to hit up YouTube and spend countless hours watching videos of people talking/teaching about how to actually drive a stick shift. Before you move further by breaking that piggy bank and rushing out to get a manual transmission car, let us give you some additional insights and food for thought.
If you’ve done your research then you know the two most recognizable differences between the automatic and manual cars are 1) the number of pedals and 2) the gear shifter. In a traditional automatic vehicle, the driver controls the deceleration and acceleration of the car via the “brake” and “gas” pedals located on the left and right, respectively. To help streamline the overall movement of the stop and go pedals, automatic cars are fitted with an equally simple gear layout. A typical spread of automatic gears consists of Park (P), Reverse (R), Neutral (N), Drive (D), Second (S), and Low (L), each with its own unique functions.
Unlike its automatic brother, a manual transmission vehicle has a completely different driver setup. For starters, ALL manual cars come equipped with 3 pedals: Clutch (far left), Break (center), and Gas (far right). The clutch, simply put, is the intermediary that disengages (depressing the pedal) and engages (lifting the pedal) the engine (power) to the crankshaft (movement). The counterpart to a clutch is the manual gearbox. Instead of the usual alphabet letters found on automatic vehicles, a typical manual gearbox is comprised of numeric quantities ranging from 1 – 7 depending on the number of gears. Each of the given numbers coincides with a specific gear ratio. In addition to moving forward, there’s also a reverse and neutral gears.
Step 1 – Familiarize yourself with the car
Before you eagerly insert the key into the ignition, we ask that you STOP and before anything familiarize yourself with the vehicle. In addition to adjusting the seats, mirrors and various other driving essentials, you need to get a feel for both the clutch and the gearbox. Situate yourself in the optimal driving position and then extend both your legs so that the right foot has easy access between both gas and brake (as you normally do in an automatic) while the left foot is resting against the clutch. With the car off, proceed to slowly depress the clutch with your left foot. Once you feel that the clutch has been pressed all the way in, slowly lift up your left foot and guide the clutch pedal back to its original position. Give the clutch pedal couple presses so you can be familiar with how the pedal “feels”.
Once you’ve gotten used to operating the clutch pedal with your left foot, now let’s move to the gearbox. In the manual car, the standard gearbox is shaped in the form of an elongated “H” with an additional vertical line coming down the middle. The center of the gearbox is where you will find the Neutral gear. You can tell that the car is in neutral when you can freely move the shifter nob left and right along the horizontal line of the elongated “H”. With the clutch fully depressed, familiarize yourself with the various gears by moving the shifter into each gear.
Note: Manual vehicles do not have a gear for Park (P), instead you have to leave it in Neutral and pull the “Parking” Brake when parking the car.
Step 2 – Start your engine
Now that you’ve familiarized yourself with the two basic aspects of the manual car, let us bring it to life! To do so, follow these instructions:
1. Right Foot – Pressed against the break
2. Left Foot – Fully depressing the clutch
3. Important – Make sure the car is in Neutral (move the shifting nob left and right to check)
4. Insert the key into the ignition and crank it to life
5. Slowly release left foot from clutch
If you’ve followed the above instructions correctly, you should hear and feel the engine coming to life.
Step 3 – Taking off
Now here is where things get a bit tricky. The hardest part about learning to drive a manual is the initial process in getting the car to move forward smoothly. To do so, we now need to put the car in gear (1st). There are varying opinions on ways to do go about this; some say to give it extra gas to ensure the car doesn’t stall, while others suggest the simultaneous movement between clutch and gas.
Each vehicle is different and each clutch feels and operates differently. To help ensure you have a successful takeoff, you much first find the “catch point”. The catch point is the precise point in which your car is about to stall. With your left foot fully depressed on the clutch and the right foot on the brake, put the shifter into 1st gear. With both feet still in the original place, slowly lift up your left foot from the clutch. Take your time, as you gradually inch your left foot back you’ll begin to notice the following: 1) the engine noise will change from normal to sounding as if it’s out of breath, and 2) various electronics (dash lights and headlights) will begin to start dim (especially if you have an older car). Depending on your vehicle, somewhere between the halfway to two-thirds mark, you’ll feel the car start to shake and sounding as if the engine is about to turnover and die, that my friends is the catch point. It is during that precise moment that you proceed to move the right foot from brake to gas and lightly press the accelerator to give it gas. Once you feel the car coming back to life and inches forward, further lift up your left foot from the clutch (until completely off the clutch) while giving the car a bit more gas. If done correctly, you should now be in 1st gear and have just performed a successful takeoff!
Note: DO NOT leave your foot on the clutch or have it partially pressed in when your car is fully in motion or when it’s accelerating. The purpose of the clutch is for you to help transfer the power from the engine to the appropriate gear to move the car. If you were to “ride the clutch” while the car is in motion you risk burning out your clutch and worst, damaging your transmission. So, DON’T DO IT!
Like all things in life, we encourage you to keep on practicing and keep familiarizing yourself with your car. Drive safe and have fun with it!....
SAID MY GIRLFRIEND…. This quarter life crisis is too darn real!!!