For the first half of the 20th century, if you drove a car in the United States, it was with a manual transmission, where you manually changed the gears of a car with a stick shift. The first creations of modern manual transmission car came from France in the late 18th century. Manual transmission cars were the default until 1938, when U.S. carmaker General Motors introduced the Hydramatic transmission in their Oldsmobile and Cadillac cars, making the first manufactured automatic transmission. This transmission was used in other vehicles as well, including Bentley and Rolls-Royce. A decade later, GM introduced the Dynaflow transmission in their Buicks.
Gearheads have always enjoyed manual transmissions, because they give more control of the car's acceleration and can be (mis)used to make the car burn rubber and pull other unwise stunts.
Over time, manual transmission cars grew less popular, so much so that by the mid-1980s, just over 20 percent of cars sold in America had manual transmissions. Now, it's less than 5 percent of cars sold. But overseas in Europe, manual transmission cars are still favored. So are you one of the few who knows how to drive stick? Then let's see what you've got on this quiz! Good luck and we hope you don't stall out!
If you've never driven with a clutch before, the extra pedal may take some getting used to. The clutch is the farthest pedal to the left, left of the brake.
The gear shifter is centrally located between the two front seats, to the right of the driver. It's the same location for most automatic cars and their shifters.
Neutral is not a gear, per se. It's a position which means that car is not in gear and you can shift the shifter left to right (which you can't do if you're in gear). You can press on the accelerator and see that you'll get nowhere fast.
Finding reverse with a manual transmission usually just involves looking for where the R is on the shift knob, and usually it's below the highest gear on the right. In some cars, you have to push down on the knob while shifting, while in other cars, there's a collar or ring you need to pull up as you shift into reverse.
Before the car is in gear, the clutch pedal needs to be depressed. You can't shift into gear without the clutch being pushed because the clutch pedal allows you to move the gear shift.
After you shift your car into gear, while you're easing off the clutch, you hit the gas pedal at the same time – but not too much! Mastering this skill is essential to driving a stick shift.
If you've ever ridden a bicycle with gears, it's the same concept. Lower gears help you to climb hills and higher gears help you go faster downhill and on flat roads.
You want to start in neutral to make sure that the car doesn't stall. So after you've pushed the clutch all the way down, shift into first and then put your right foot on the gas as you're taking your left off the clutch.
When driving a car with a manual transmission, the tachometer will be your best friend – especially if you're just starting out. You'll be able to see if you're revving the engine too high and when to switch gears.
If you've driven an automatic, you've most likely not paid attention to your tachometer. Staying under 3000 RPM (a range of 2500 to 3000 is recommended) when changing gears, especially lower gears, helps to keep your engine from revving too high.
If you've noticed in an automatic car, when you take your foot off the brake and put it in park, it rolls or moves a tiny bit. But with a manual car, that rolling could go farther. So while having your foot on the brake, putting on the emergency brake (also known as the parking brake) prevents the car from rolling.
Also known as the parking brake, the emergency brake is something you'll use a lot more than you would in an automatic car. It helps to keep the car from rolling after it's stopped and has been parked.
Although it can be embarrassing, stalling happens to the best of drivers. Knowing when to let off the clutch and give the car more gas is the basis of driving a manual.
Downshifting, meaning shifting down to a lower gear, is the preferred method for slowing down a manual car. It also puts the car in the correct gear for the correct speed.
Typically, a manual car will have four or five gears, along with reverse. But it can go as high as seven gears, and you'll see this in high-end sports cars. For automatic transmission cars, it can go as high as ten gears!
Typically, you shouldn't down shift more than one gear at a time. It can cause clutch wear and affect the balance of the car otherwise.
When you're using reverse with a manual car, you'll find that you won't have to hit the accelerator much at all. You'll want to focus on using your clutch along with your brakes if needed.
It can be a little scary when you're learning how to start on a hill, because you can feel the car start to roll back after releasing the clutch. After you shift into first gear, you can either use the emergency brake to assist you as you engage the gears of the car, or quickly move from brake to accelerator while releasing the clutch.
Many modern cars have a mechanism called a hill hold control (HHC) or hill hold assist (also known as a Hill-Holder), which has been around for decades. If you're not that experienced with starting from the hill, the HHC can help as you release the clutch without needing to use an emergency brake.
Usually, using the emergency brake is enough for parking a manual car. But if you want an extra layer of safety, leave the car in first gear when you park. Just remember to put the car in neutral when you start the car again.
Learning how to accelerate a car with a manual transmission is important, but so is learning how to decelerate. Downshifting can be very helpful when you're in bad weather instead of suddenly braking your car.
Again, the tachometer is your friend when it comes to when to shift up or down a gear. When the RPM has lowered, it's probably time to downshift, which will increase the RPM.
Engine braking with a manual car sometimes has some controversy around it because it's thought to be bad for your car. But it can actually help your car be more fuel efficient (since you're not using as much gas when you slow down) and can extend the life of your brakes.
Downshifting to first gear should happen when you're at a complete stop. You'll want to engine brake into slowing down, then depress the clutch and brake to come to a stop, put the car in neutral, and then, when you're ready to move, shift into first gear and go.
If you're using the gear shifter as a handrest, you're applying pressure to the transaxle shift fork which is rubbing up against the rotating collar. That collar is pressed into the gear that you want. It's also just a good idea to have both hands on the wheel.
Rev matching involves stepping on the gas (revving) to match a higher revolution speed. So if you wanted to downshift from fourth gear to second gear, you need to make sure the RPM would match what it's like to be in second gear. You can do the same for upshifting.
Having your car in neutral at a stop also helps your clutch because depressing the clutch for a long time while stopped is not good for your car (it can wear out throw out bearings). Instead, you should only have the clutch down for a few seconds when you're ready to go into first gear. The car should be in neutral beforehand.
Most modern cars have mechanisms called synchronizers, which synchronize the engine, the gears, and the output together when downshifting. But if you have worn out synchronizers or if you have an older car, you can double clutch.
Launching a car is more of an advanced skill mainly for drag or street racing. You see this done during speed tests where cars go from 0 to 60 MPH in the shortest time possible. Make sure you have a car that can handle this maneuver!
Usually, when you shift gears, you let your foot up from the accelerator because you don't need as much power. But power shifting involves keeping your foot on the accelerator without any modulation, which can be bad for your car, mainly because it causes your clutch to slip and thus wear down.
So if you're driving like this, you're probably at a closed track or you're racing. But for a manual car, to shift gears and receive the fastest acceleration, you need to take it to the red zone of the tachometer.
You want to put your car in the gear in the direction it will most likely roll if it was nudged or hit. It's better for your engine this way. And, of course, put on your emergency brake.
This would apply to being on top of a hill or on a flat surface. If your car is facing downward on a hill, you'll want the car to be in first gear as well.
This is a bad habit that if you have a manual, it can be easy to do, to rest your left foot on the clutch (and we're sure you're not resting it on the brake or accelerator). If you do this, it leaves the clutch slightly engaged, wearing out the clutch and throw out bearing prematurely.
The full name of this maneuver is heel & toe downshift, and this is useful if you need to slow down while turning into a corner or curve. While you're braking, you hit the clutch as you quickly hit the accelerator, shift gears, and then release the clutch. You should have a smooth downshift that doesn't wear out your clutch.