How to Drive a Stick Shift

Stick or manual…no matter what you call it, many people don’t know how to drive one. It might not matter to you, but it can be a handy skill to have in your back pocket. And, just like riding a bike, once you learn how, you won’t forget it. Let’s go through the process step-by-step!

Familiarize Yourself With the Pedals

On a manual car, there will be three pedals at your feet. The pedal furthest to the left is called the clutch. The middle pedal is the break, and the right is the accelerator. Your left foot controls the clutch, and your right foot controls the brake and accelerator. When you step on the clutch, you disengage the assembly, which means you aren’t going anywhere. When you gently lift your foot off the pedal, the friction causes your vehicle to move.

Get a Good Look at the Gears

Before you start your car, look at the gear shift. First gear is located at the top left corner, and the rest of the gears go from top to bottom.

Ready, Set, Start

Press the clutch all the way to the floorboard with your left foot, ensure that the gear shifter is in neutral, right foot on the brake, then turn the ignition with the key. Then gently ease your foot off of the clutch.

Prepare to Drive

Next, press the clutch with your left foot and the brake with your right foot.

First Gear First

Position your gear shift in first gear. As a reminder, this is typically the position farthest to the left and at the top.

Ditch the Break

Remove your right foot from the brake, and your vehicle should start to move.

Ahh, Push It

Gently take your foot off of the clutch. As you do this, press the accelerator with your right foot. This should be done very delicately because first gear isn’t designed for speeds above 15 mph.

Ch-ch-ch Changes

Once you’ve let go of the clutch, you will only have your right foot on the accelerator. Congratulations! You’re officially driving in first gear. As you build up speed, you’ll use either the sound of your motor, RPM gauge, or current speed to determine when it’s time to change gears.

Second Gear and Beyond

Take your right foot off the accelerator while simultaneously activating the clutch with your left foot. Your car will stay in motion as you move the gear shifter into second gear. Release the clutch as you start to tap the accelerator again. Repeat this process as you continue to build up speed.

Ready, Set, Stop

Stopping is simple, but it is a two-step process. Take your foot off the clutch, move the gearshift to neutral, and ease onto the clutch again. Now you’re coasting. Step on the brake to slow down and come to a complete stop.

Three Tips for Learning to Drive a Stick

  • If you aren’t feeling comfortable, don’t hesitate to ask for help from a friend or family member familiar with driving a stick.
  • Expect to stall out. Everybody does it; it’s how you master the art.
  • Practice driving somewhere comfortable, preferably uncrowded and safe, like an empty parking lot!
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