Learning to drive a stick shift is like learning anything else in life for the first time. It takes a lot of practice and lots of trial and error.
The most important thing you have to remember is that you’re not going to be perfect at it the first time!
Once you know the fundamentals, the best way for you to really learn to work a gear shift is to actually get behind the wheel and try it. To start you off, here are the top five tips for learning how to drive a stick:
Pretend you are a racecar driver. Ok, never mind about the racecar driver part but pretending you are really driving a stick is a good place to start. Start to familiarize yourself with the process by sitting in the driver’s seat with the car off and in park and make sure the emergency brake is on. Then, push down the clutch with your left foot and shift the gears fluidly from first, to second, third, fourth and fifth (if your car has it). Do this over and over so your brain starts to learn the pattern you would follow if your car was accelerating.
Get to know your foot pedals. Now it’s time to practice coordinating the use your left foot to press down on the clutch and your right foot to press on the gas, while you are shifting gears with your right hand. Start by pressing down on the clutch and shifting the gear into the “first” position. Then, slowly let up on the clutch and gently press the gas pedal at the same time. This is the process used for shifting through every gear. Press the clutch down again before shifting to second and again, slowly let up on the clutch while you slowly press the gas pedal down. Repeat this for the third through fifth gears.
Learn to downshift. Now that you have practiced accelerating through the gears, it’s time to learn how to slow down and stop. Start by tapping the brake, pressing in the clutch, and shifting to the next lowest gear. If you need to go slower or stop, tap the brakes again, press the clutch in, and then shift down. Repeat the process for each lower gear you shift to. When you are driving for real, you will either fully stop with the clutch depressed while shifting to first gear, or if you need to continue driving you will shift to the gear that reflects the appropriate speed you are going. In order to preserve gas and ultimately the environment, do not shift too soon so that you do not rev the engine too hard.
Let’s ride! Once you feel comfortable with the shifting process, it’s time to test your skills for real. Start by having a parent (or friend if you already have your license) drive your car to a parking lot or area that is open and doesn’t have many other cars around. Take over the driver’s seat and with the car running, press down the clutch while your right foot is on the brake and then slowly let up on the clutch while you move your right foot to the accelerator and start to depress it. The motion of letting up on the clutch and pressing down the accelerator should happen at the same time. Don’t be afraid to let up on the clutch a little before you start to push the accelerator. You’ll know when you haven’t quite coordinated the two because the car might jerk or even stall. Be prepared for this to happen numerous times until you really get the hang of it.
Practice. Practice. Practice. Think of every driving scenario you could possibly be in and then practice. Try starting out from first gear on a steep hill if you can. Hills can be challenging but if you give the car a little more gas and let the clutch out slower, you can ace that challenge. Practice putting the car in reverse. Practice stopping and starting out again. As you practice, your brain is remembering the successful combinations of movements you are making in order to operate the vehicle. Once you feel confident enough, try it out on the open road. Driving a stick shift can provide a great feeling of control and excitement—if you’re into that sort of thing. Most of all, enjoy your new-found skill!