Monday, September 2, 2013

How To Learn To Drive A Stick

Today, I'm going to teach you how to learn to drive stick.

Now, don't get too excited—notice I said how to learn, not how to. You might be wondering, though—why bother? I mean, isn't that the point of automatic transmissions, that they automatically shift through the gears? If that's what you're thinking, here are a few things to consider:

1. Manual transmission cars are significantly cheaper than automatic, so if you're looking to save money, learning to drive stick is a good investment of your time.

2. There may come a time when knowing how to drive manual will save your butt. Maybe you have to get an emergency rental car and all they have are manuals. Maybe a friend or coworker will have some sort of situation, or be too drunk to drive their manual transmission car. It's not terribly fun to grind and hitch through gears with a pukey drunk in the car.

3. Major cool points, especially if you're female.

Now that you have the reasons, let's move on to the technique. I consider myself something of an expert on this; not driving stick, but learning to drive stick. When my car in college died, the only one I could afford was a manual. I had to learn in about twenty-four hours to be proficient enough to drive myself 40 miles to college and work by myself. Here's how I did it:

Step One: Read the directions. I went to and searched on "how to drive a manual transmission," and found several great step-by-step entries. This was before YouTube, but I'd imagine there's probably a lot of great video tutorials on the subject as well. Basically, your goal is to learn the theory and the physical mechanics of shifting gears.

Step Two: Practice at home. Once I'd gotten the basic concept, I drew out the gear positions on a large piece of paper.


Then, I sat down on the floor, with the piece of paper under my right hand, and...practiced. Practiced coordinating left foot with right foot with right hand, shifting first through fifth and back down, over and over and over. This might sound unnecessary, but believe me, this is the step that counted the most. The coordination of feet and hands, the positions of the gears—being comfortable with that before I got in the car made a huge difference.

Step Three: Choose a teacher. If you don't know anyone who drives stick, you may have to go to a driving school. If you do know people, though, make sure you're selective about the person you choose. Example: my first attempt at learning to drive stick not only failed miserably, but gave me a near-phobia of trying again. That's because my ex-boyfriend taught me, and my ex-boyfriend was an asshole. However, when my then-fiance/now-husband taught me, he was patient and calm and kind. Don't pick a screamer, basically, is what I'm trying to say.

Step Four: Cut yourself some slack. You're going to grind gears in a parking lot right next to a restaurant's packed patio dining area, and everyone will stare. You will stall out in traffic and cause a gridlock. You will stall out at a traffic light on a hill, with some jerk pulled right up to your rear bumper, attempt the very complicated handbrake start in order to not roll backward into him, and stall again, just as the light turns red.

Relax. Try again. This is not something you're going to master in a day, or a week, or even a month. It's not a talent, it's a skill. Skills are learned through practice, and as long as you keep practicing you'll master it in no time.


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