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Best Practices for Safely Driving a Stick Shift

Learning to drive a vehicle does come with practice but choosing to drive a manual transmission can bring even more steps to be aware of. It's best to start by riding with an experienced stick shift driver. You will get a much better feel for what the ride should look like. Notice how both feet are forward and press the gas, clutch and brake pedals as needed. After getting a proper instructor, learn a few more tips before hitting the road.

Woman driving while her one hand is on the steering wheel and the other hand is on stick shift.

Find a Place to Practice

Large parking lots are a great place to practice as the car could stall as you learn to shift at the right time and to the right gear. Eventually, you will start to notice the engine's sound and realize your cue for shifting gears.

Know the Steps

Manual transmission driving might not feel very natural so here are some steps that can help get down the steps to driving stick:

  1. Press the clutch all the way down to the floor with your left foot.

  2. Start the car with the key turning in the ignition.

  3. Press the brake (center pedal) with your right foot.

  4. Use the stick to shift into first gear.

  5. Take your foot off the brake (it may move a little bit)

  6. Start to lift from the clutch as you gently start to accelerate with the right foot.

  7. Make sure you release the clutch completely as you drive in first gear.

  8. Switch almost immediately to 2nd gear as you accelerate.

  9. When you reach around 15-20 mph, you will want to change to 3rd gear.

  10. Continue to repeat this process, upshifting to fourth at about 30mph and 5th at about 45mph+.

  11. To slow down, use the same process to shift down into lower gears for lower speeds.

To park: put the car in 1st gear (or reverse if you are on a hill) and engage the emergency brake.

To reverse: You probably won't need to push the gas pedal, just put the vehicle into the reverse gear and slowly let out the clutch with your foot resting on the brake to control your speed.

Practice Safety

Once you have the basics down, it's time to practice on the road. Start on a slow, flat road. You won't want to feel rushed or in danger if you stall. Hills can be one of the trickiest parts of driving a stick, so find a hill where you can practice starting and stopping on a hill, accelerating up a hill and parking on a hill.

Don't leave the car in gear at stoplights.

To avoid wearing out the clutch and transmission, you don't want to rock back and forth by disengaging the clutch and engaging the gear off and on. You also don't want to leave it in first gear while stopped. So, always keep your car in neutral at a light or longer stop and just keep the brake pedal engaged.

Don't use neutral when parking.

Leaving the car in neutral with the emergency brake engaged could mean the car rolls away if the brake fails. Put the car in first gear with the emergency brake for most parking jobs. If you are parked facing downhill, put the car in reverse before engaging the emergency brake.

Don't stay on the clutch.

Avoid keeping the clutch partially pressed down while you drive. You might not even notice that your foot is keeping the clutch slightly engaged as you accelerate or while you stop. Only use the clutch when you are changing gears.

Move your hand from the stick.

You've probably seen movies where the hand stays on the gear stick the whole time. It may make you feel prepared to change gears in the blink of an eye, but, believe it or not, a relaxed hand will put enough weight on it to cause damage over time.

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