How To Drive a Stick Shift

Last Updated: July 25, 2022 |
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Many years ago, you would have had no choice but to learn how to drive a stick shift. A stick shift is also referred to as a manual transmission or standard. It used to be the only type of transmission found on cars.

While it might not seem like you need to learn how to drive a stick shift, it can be an important skill. Whether you end up needing to drive someone else’s car in an emergency or it comes in handy for a job, driving a stick shift might become necessary.

Semi-trucks and most heavy machinery are stick shift vehicles. If you already know how to drive a stick shift, learning to operate these types of vehicles becomes easier. Let’s look at how to drive a stick shift.

Understanding the Basics of a Stick Shift Vehicle

Before you learn the steps to drive a stick shift vehicle, you should understand the basics of this type of vehicle. A stick shift car will have three pedals instead of just two. The extra pedal is the clutch, which is vital to operate this type of vehicle.

You will also notice the gear shifter has numbers on it and an “R” for reverse. In an automatic transmission vehicle, you may have letters and only two numbers for first and second gear. A manual transmission car will likely have numbers from one to five, sometimes up to six or lower than five, and an R for reverse.

These are the different gears and you will need to manually shift the vehicle into each gear. This is done automatically in most modern cars, but not in a stick shift vehicle.

Learning How to Drive a Stick Shift in 8 Steps

1. Press the clutch to the floor

A stick shift vehicle will have three pedals: gas, brake, and clutch. The clutch will be the pedal you operate with your left foot. Press it all the way to the floor before you do anything else. Many stick shift vehicles don’t even allow you to start the car without pressing the clutch to the floor.

2. Turn the Key to Start the Car

You want to make sure the car is in neutral and turn the key to start the car. Once it’s started, as long as you’re in neutral, you can let your foot off the clutch. Just make sure you have the parking or emergency brake on or the car will roll if it’s on an incline.

3. Press the Brake Pedal

Now, you want to have your foot on the brake pedal, which is the center pedal. This should be your right foot.

4. Press the Clutch and Position the Gear Shifter

As long as your right foot is on the brake, you want to press the clutch with your left foot. Once the clutch is all the way to the floor, you can position the gear shifter into first gear or reverse.

5. Remove your Right Foot from the Brake

Now, you want to remove your right foot from the brake pedal. Notice, the vehicle will move slightly if you’re on a flat surface.

6. Start Letting Pressure Off the Clutch, while Gently Pressing the Gas Pedal

Use your right food to start gently pressing the gas pedal, while letting off the clutch slowly. If you do this too quickly, the vehicle will stall.

As long as you let off the clutch at the same time as giving the vehicle some gas, it will go into first gear and you will start moving. You are now driving a stick shift vehicle in first gear.

7. Switch to Second Gear and So On

In most cases, you will only use first gear to get going, and you will quickly switch to second gear. This is done by letting off the gas pedal while pressing the clutch back to the floor and moving the shifter to second gear.

Once you’re in second gear, you can let off the clutch and give the vehicle some gas again. This can be done faster than when going into first gear.

From second gear, you will simply repeat the process to get into third gear, and so on.

8. Using Reverse

If you need to reverse your stick shift vehicle, you will need to press the clutch to the floor with your foot on the brake. Move the shifter to reverse, then start to let off the clutch slowly. You will likely need to give it a little gas, but some manual transmission vehicles will start moving in reverse without any gas.

Frequently Asked Questions About Driving a Stick Shift

When do I shift gears?

With practice, you will get the feel for it, but with a five-gear vehicle, you will use each gear for the following range of speeds:

You will be able to feel the top side of any gear as the vehicle will not go any faster. However, you will likely want to shift to the next gear before you reach this point.

Do I need to learn how to downshift?

Yes. In a stick shift vehicle, you can downshift to decrease your speed and slow down the vehicle. This can help you to slow the vehicle without putting pressure on the brakes. It comes in handy with many larger vehicles.

What do I need to do when parking?

You won’t put the vehicle into park like you will with an automatic transmission vehicle. Instead, you will need to engage the emergency brake whenever you park. It’s also a good idea to leave the car in gear when you park, as it will keep the car from rolling or moving.

Do stick shift vehicles provide any benefits?

Yes. There are many benefits to owning a stick shift vehicle. They usually cost less than an automatic transmission vehicle and they offer some gas-saving benefits if you drive the vehicle properly. With a manual transmission, you can also use engine braking to slow down your car.

This type of vehicle will also keep you active while driving. You will be forced to pay closer attention during any driving you do, which can keep you from becoming distracted on the road.

In addition, it’s possible a manual transmission will require less maintenance over time. You can also gain more control over the vehicle since you can move between gears.

Are stick shift vehicles very popular?

Outside of heavy equipment and large semi-trucks, most vehicles sold today are automatic transmission vehicles. However, race cars and many sports cars are sold with manual transmissions.

According to theΒ Los Angeles Times, about 3% of vehicles sold in the United States are stick shift vehicles. This article was written in 2016, so the number could be even lower today.

Even though you might not own a manual transmission vehicle, it’s an important skill to acquire. In an emergency situation or for specific jobs, knowing how to drive a stick shift can provide excellent benefits. It can also help you save several thousand dollars if you purchase a new vehicle.

No matter the reason you want to learn how to drive a stick shift, the steps above are helpful. It takes time and practice to learn. Starting in an empty parking lot is a great way to get the hang of getting into first gear and switching to second gear.