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How to Drive a Manual in Traffic

by Mason Howard

If you end up frequently stuck in traffic, you might be questioning your choice to buy a car with a manual transmission. Although overworking or riding the clutch can be hard on the car, don't forget the advantages and control that a manual gives you. Proper technique of handling a manual in traffic will help preserve your clutch and give you assurance that the value of having a manual is not being undermined by the inconsistent flow of stop-and-go traffic.

Keep the car in first gear when the traffic is steadily moving at speeds up to about 10 mph. Keep at least one car length between you and the car in front of you.

Depress the clutch, shift the car into neutral and release the clutch at times when the traffic stops or gets so slow that the car feels as if it is going to stall while in first gear. Let the car roll in neutral and use the breaks to gradually slow or come to a complete stop. Do not "ride" the clutch by keeping it held part way down. Doing this will cause the clutch to wear out prematurely.

Depress the clutch, shift the car into first gear, release the clutch slowly while slightly depressing the gas pedal when traffic picks up again.

Shift the car into second gear when the traffic gets up to around 10 or 15 mph. The car can be kept in second gear from speeds between 10 to around 30 mph. At this point, start to allow the distance of two car lengths between you and the car ahead of you.

Shift the car into third gear and higher as needed if the traffic speeds up.

Shift back down through the successive gears when the traffic slows or starts to come to a stop again. Do not put your car into neutral and simply coast while using your breaks to slow down from a higher gear. It is best to downshift while using the breaks to slow down.


  • Watch the tachometer gauge to help you determine when to upshift or downshift.

About the Author

Mason Howard is an artist and writer in Minneapolis. Howard's work has been published in the "Creative Quarterly Journal of Art & Design" and "New American Paintings." He has also written for art exhibition catalogs and publications. Howard's recent writing includes covering popular culture, home improvement, cooking, health and fitness. He received his Master of Fine Arts from the University of Minnesota.

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Photo Credits

  • five speed manual gear stick image by Sakala from