A Guide to Manual Transmission Cars for People Who Have Never Driven One
Back when I was learning to drive, my family happened to have only manual transmission cars, so after I got through normal driver’s ed at school, I had to learn how to drive all over again. My one alternative was to take my driver’s test in the conversion van we’d used for a cross-country camping trip, which was like trying to dock a space shuttle every time I pulled into a parking lot. I chose to learn to drive stick. Anyway, I suffered for this knowledge and came out of the entire experience with entirely too many opinions about cars, so here is my gift to you:
A Stick-Shift Car Primer for People Who Have Never Driven One
In which I cover:
- The clutch.
- The gearshift and gears
- Some basic considerations for fic(tion) writers.
The clutch. The clutch is an extra pedal on the floor that you work with your left foot. It is in approximately the same place that the step-on parking brake is in many automatic cars. You need to depress the clutch pretty much any time you want the car to do something different: shift gears, come to a complete stop, etc. Working the clutch is basically the most different part about driving a manual vs. an automatic.
- Stalling: This results from releasing the clutch too quickly before giving the car enough gas in first gear (ie, attempting to start again from a complete stop). The car cuts off and you must turn the key again to restart everything.
- Revving the engine: This results from not letting the clutch out far enough before giving the car more gas than necessary. Can be done on purpose or by accident. Doesn’t really do anything to the car, although if you do it by accident and are continuing to let the clutch out, it can result in a jerky start.
- The clutch point: The perfect point where you will neither stall nor rev and can change gears smoothly. This point can be identified in a controlled setting by very slowly letting the clutch out until you feel the car start to shake a little. A car with a “sport” transmission package will usually have a shorter clutch distance than a regular car. Knowing your clutch point is extremely important when having to start from a stop on an incline, because you risk rolling backward if you let the clutch out too far before you give the car enough gas. Learning to “feather the gas,” where you can basically hold the car right at the clutch point and then smoothly give it gas, is a rite of passage for the new manual driver.