Your Guide to Driving Stick Shift

When it comes to driving, a car with an automatic transmission is much more popular these days than driving stick. According to CarMax, a low of 2.5% of shoppers actually want a manual transmission car to drive. That doesn’t mean that knowing how to drive a stick shift won’t come in handy or isn’t a useful skill. If you rent a car abroad or need to drive a friend’s car in an emergency or simply want more freedom when you drive, knowing how to drive a stick shift will open up opportunities for you. But how do you get started with driving stick? Read on to learn the steps to take to get started.

How to Drive a Stick Shift Step by Step | Metromile

What is stick shift?

You might have heard the term “stick shift” but what is stick shift, exactly? A stick shift is the term often used to refer to a vehicle with manual or standard transmission. The stick shift in the vehicle allows drivers to manually change gears in order to accelerate the car. The stick shift is located in the middle of the car and is hooked up to the transmission. 

Each gear on a stick shift is designed to withstand certain speeds and as you accelerate, you’ll need to transition to the next gear. Here are the driving stick gears and their respective speeds. 

  • 1st gear = 0 to 10 miles per hour
  • 2nd gear = 3 to 25 miles per hour
  • 3rd gear = 15 to 45 miles per hour
  • 4th gear = 30 to 65 miles per hour
  • 5th gear = 45 miles per hour or over

Stick shift vs. automatic transmission

Driving stick is different than driving a car with an automatic transmission and requires some more active participation by the driver. Using an automatic transmission, the car shifts gears on its own automatically (hence the name automatic). 

A car with manual transmission has a notable addition when compared to automatic transmission vehicles — the clutch. Aside from the gas and brake pedal, manual transmission vehicles have a clutch pedal, which is located next to the brake pedal on the left hand side. When you use the clutch pedal, you can shift gears. 

Instead of gears shifting automatically, driving stick requires you to change gears manually (hence the name manual). This can be the tough part of learning how to drive a stick shift because it forces you to engage the clutch and seamlessly transition gears. If you end up using the clutch pedal too quickly, your car stalls out. On the other hand, if you aren’t fast enough with the clutch it can cause wear and tear on the car.

How to drive a stick shift step by step?

The best way to learn how to drive a stick shift is by learning from an experienced stick shift driver in a safe space such as an empty parking lot. But you also want to have a clear idea of the steps and what you need to do beforehand. Here’s how to drive a stick shift.

Step 1: Get in the car and review the pedals and shifter

For starters, you want to be familiar with what you’re working with. When you get in a manual transmission car, before driving stick get acquainted with the pedals and shifter. Look at the shift pattern that shows the gears as well as the pedals. 

On the left you’ll see the clutch pedal, which is the key for stick shift driving. The center will include the brake and the right side has the gas pedal, also known as the accelerator.

Step 2: Make sure your car is in neutral and push down the clutch pedal

Before you begin, make sure your shifter is in the neutral position and with your left foot push down the clutch pedal.

Step 3: Press your right foot on the brake

Take your right foot and press down on the brake. In your vehicle that is in the center between your gas pedal on the right and clutch on the left.

Step 4: Put the key into the ignition and turn to start

This part should feel familiar! Place your key into the ignition and turn. Remember, you need to be in neutral and your left foot should be on the clutch and right foot on the brake. If there are issues, make sure the parking brake isn’t activated.

Step 5: Move the gearshift to the first gear

Using your left foot, push down on the clutch and move the gearshift to first gear, which is typically located in the upper left.

Step 6: Lift your right foot off the brake pedal

To get started, lift your right foot off the brake. You’ll likely start moving so ease into the next step carefully.

Step 7: Ease off the clutch

Carefully and slowly ease off the clutch by not putting so much pressure with your left foot on the clutch.

Step 8: Transition to accelerating by putting right foot on the gas pedal

As you ease off the clutch slowly, begin to transition to accelerating forward by placing your right foot down on the gas pedal. Be careful with this maneuver as it can be a delicate transition. Start gently with the gas.

Step 9: OMG, you’re driving stick!

Having your left foot off the clutch and your right foot on the gas pedal, you’re now driving stick while in first gear. Congrats!

Step 10: Add speed and transition to second gear

As you add speed, you’ll want to transition into second gear by removing your right foot from the gas pedal and placing your left foot on the clutch. Put the gearshift into second gear, release your left foot from the clutch, while putting your right foot back onto the accelerator.

Step 11: Repeat and continue

To continue to drive, you’ll repeat this process and continue.  As you increase your speed (but not too much, too fast!), you’ll need to go to the next gear by having the clutch down, moving the gear to the next shift, and ease off the clutch and press on the gas pedal.

Step 12: Shift to neutral and brake to stop

In order to stop driving stick, you need to place your left foot on the clutch and move the gearshift into the neutral position. As you do that, lift your foot from the clutch and then brake to stop the moving vehicle. To park, you need to activate the emergency brake system as manual transmissions don’t have an official “park” option.

The bottom line

If you’re wondering how to drive a stick shift, hopefully you have a better idea now. Obviously, getting real-life practice with an experienced driver is best but this is good research to get started. Driving stick can be scary at first, but as you get used to it your muscle memory will take over and it’ll get easier over time. 

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Melanie Lockert is a freelance writer, podcast host of the Mental Health and Wealth show, and author of Dear Debt. She’s a cat mom to two jazzy cats, Miles and Thelonious, an amateur boxer, music lover, and needs coffee to function