Manual Stick Shift Car Driving Tutorial

by Meg Campbell
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five speed manual gear stick image by Sakala from

While most drivers first learn how to drive a car with an automatic transmission, learning how to drive a manual transmission can be useful and even fun. Going through the motions of operating a stick shift and clutch in unison is simple in theory, but it takes practice to master--especially starting from a dead uphill stop. Practicing in flat, empty parking lots or less-traveled back roads will help give you the confidence you need to drive a manual car in any situation.

Step 1

Go to a large empty parking lot during the day. Go with a friend or family member who can drive the car to the location and help you practice.

Step 2

Begin with the car turned off. Get a feel for the pedals. Your right foot operates the gas and brake pedals, as in an automatic. Your left foot operates the clutch. Take a look at the shifter to see how the gears are configured. First gear is usually forward and on the left, second straight back from first, third is forward and in the middle, fourth is straight back from third, and fifth is forward and all the way to the right. Reverse typically requires you to push the shifter down and all the way to the right or left.

Step 3

Engage the foot brake and depress the clutch all the way into the floor with the car still off. Hold the pedals in position as you take the shifter through its gears, from first to fifth and back down again. Engage reverse. Put the car in neutral--or out of gear--where the stick is unengaged and wobbles a little when you touch it. Keep your foot on the brake and practice letting the clutch pedal come out slowly. Press it back to the floor quickly, and let it out slowly and evenly. Work the clutch until you feel you can easily control the rate at which you push it in and let it out.

Step 4

Practice basic braking while the engine is still off. Press the clutch all the way to the floor with your left foot and brake normally with your right foot.

Step 5

Press the clutch and the brake all the way in. Make sure the shifter is in the neutral position. Release the parking brake. Start the car.

Step 6

Keep your feet in position and put the car into first gear. Take your foot off the brake. Start to release the clutch while at the same time pressing the gas pedal. Give the car more gas and feel the RPMs increasing. Release the clutch further until the car begins to move forward. Give it more gas as you release the clutch fully. The two pedals should be engaged smoothly and evenly. There's a "sweet spot" or "catch point" between the two where the clutch releases and the gas engages. Drive a short distance in first, engage the clutch, brake to a stop, and begin again. Practice starting from a stop until you can take the car from stopped to rolling in first with the clutch all the way out in two seconds.

Step 7

Practice shifting into other gears. Get going in first gear. At about 10 to 15 mph, press the clutch in, let up on the gas slightly, and move the shifter straight into second gear. Once there, reengage the gas as you let the clutch out, just as you did in first gear. Practice until the process is smooth. Go from second to third in the same way. Generally, shift out of first gear at about 15 mph; shift into third at about 25 mph, and shift into fifth anytime after about 45 mph.

Step 8

Practice downshifting if you feel confident in your ability to transition between gears smoothly. This entails going from high to low gears, one by one or by skipping a gear. For example, you can slow the car by going from fourth to third to second, or you can go from fourth to second with good pedal control and slow the car more quickly. Downshifting can be more challenging, so keep in mind you can always brake by pushing the clutch in and using the brake.

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