The Manual on Driving Manual

The Manual on Driving Manual

You know how in Japan, Japanese food is just food? Well, every but North America, driving stick shift, or driving manual, is just called driving. This is the information I would have found really helpful when learning to drive manual. Most instructions online just tell you to do this, then do this, do this, which left me wanting for a little bit more of the why. Then I searched various whys, but they were too technical. There was just a lot of information I had to put together. There’s a lot that’s “obvious” that’s not really obvious. Anyways, as one non-technical, non-car person to another, here we go!

Why drive manual?

Yeah, yeah, even sports cars come with automatic transmissions now that are faster than manual. Yeah, yeah, yeah automatic fuel economy is just as good if not marginally better than manuals, blah blah blah. There are lots of reasons to not drive manual. Whatever. Live your life however you want to. However, let me put it this way: Driving automatic is to driving manual, what Kraft Singles is to cheese. Sure, if you’ve only had Kraft Singles your whole life, you might be content with your idea of “cheese”, but you HAVEN’T LIVED. THERE’S BETTER CHEESE OUT THERE.

Why I drive manual

It was so cold in London, Ontario school was canceled for the day. This stuff doesn’t happen. It was REALLY freaking cold. Anyways, my roommate and I thought it’d be good to go out and do some errands, well the car battery was dead because it was basically as cold as the dark side of the moon, and duh, there was a reason school was canceled. So here I am outside, in a parking lot, waving my cables around, trying to flag down a stranger to help us jump the battery. My roommate, the owner of the car was inside because I can’t drive manual. I was OUTSIDE. Freezing my literally everything off. After this incident, I was like,” that’s it!  I’m learning how to drive this thing tomorrow (or as soon as it’s not -40ºC).” Also, if you’re a traveler like me, it is a mega-handy skill for driving literally anywhere else in the world.

Why I bought a manual car

Cars should either be completely manual or completely autonomous. Automatic cars put you in zombie-driver mode and you’re just not as engaged. It’s a completely different mindset. Driving manual is also just more enjoyable. I love my zippy little hatchback, or as I like to call it, the Bloomobile. 😎

Introductions to the things

Why the gears

Same, same… The most accessible way to understand why you need to do all the shifting is by comparing it to riding a bike (with multiple gears). If you’ve never ridden a bike with gears before, hopefully you will still benefit from this post.   Say you and your friend were racing your bikes. You are only allowed to ride on gear number 1 and your friend is only allowed to ride on gear number 6. On a flat surface, you’d be cycling like a maniac trying to beat your friend, and your friend would effortlessly beat you. Your pedal’s revolutions per minute (RPMs) are going to be a lot higher than your friend’s, because you have to pedal many more times to cover the same distance and even to match the same speed. Additionally, you’d be working a lot harder and panting by the end of it (producing “engine noise” :p). Going up hill, you’d be climbing that hill no problemo. Sure you’re going a little slow, but it’s not so hard because you’re on your biggest year. You, the “engine” of your bike, doesn’t have to work so hard. Meanwhile, your friend, who was covering more distance per pedal (per revolution), is now struggling to cover any distance at all. Their legs don’t have enough strength to push the pedals. A technical way to explain this would be like gear ratios blah blah blah, torque blah blah blah, but I’m not here for that. It all comes down to: Bigger gear = lower number = easy but slow Smaller gear = higher number = fast but hard …But different, different. Every single car, no matter the transmission has to move up the gears one by one, starting from 1. It has to go from 1 to 2 to 3 to 4 to 5. (Although technically in a manual you can skip… but we’ll pretend that’s not a thing right now…We’ll get to rev matching later.)  

How the gears

Getting the car started

  1. Make sure the car is in neutral (if the gear shift wiggles around side-to-side, it’s in neutral)
  2. Depress the clutch all the way
  3. Start engine

🌟 Pro-tip: But like, not a pro-tip because this is a safety thing…Anyways, it’s a VERY good idea to also put your foot on the brake when you start the car so you don’t roll away when you release the hand brake. To start an automatic car your foot needs to be on the brake in the first place, so this isn’t something you’d think about. 🌟

Moving forward

Something you need to know is that in order to select a gear your clutch needs to be pushed in ALL THE WAY. Do not half ass this, eet iz v. bad 4 car. The only point the clutch should ever really stay at is ALL the way in or ALL the way out. The other REALLY IMPORTANT thing to remember is that the clutch and gas should always be heading in opposite directions. One goes in, the other comes out.

  1. Make sure your hand brake is off
  2. Depress the clutch and put the car into first.
  3. Gently add some gas and try and get the RPM thingy to stay at around 2000 RPM
  4. Slowly release the clutch (it’s slower than you think)
  5. Somewhere in the clutch’s journey you will hit the “bite point”. This is when the car will start to move, continue to slowly release the clutch until it is all the way off.
  6. When the clutch is all the way off, congrats you’re driving!!!! (Hopefully! …you could also be stalled…)

If you have mastered the above steps, you can drive a manual. This is basically the hardest part. It’s finding that beautiful balance between clutch and gas. 🎵 Trouble shooting: This whole process should sound like a beautiful orchestra. All the little parts in the engine are working together in harmony. However, sometimes the conductor is a little out of tune and you get some ugly sounds. 🎵 If the car starts shuddering, try adding a little bit more gas. Once you experience this, you’ll know what I mean by shuddering, the engine is convulsing and makes the car shake. 🎵 If the car gives one giant hiccup, you probably dumped the clutch (released too quickly). Don’t do that. Try going a little slower.   🌟 Pro-tip: But like, not a pro-tip…Anyways, if you’re trying this out for the first time do this in a flat, open area like a parking lot with no cars. Very important. Don’t go out on the road before you’re ready!!! 🌟

Switching gears

  1. Take foot off gas
  2. Punch in clutch
  3. Select gear
  4. Take off clutch and add gas (do the opposites thingy)
  5. Taaaaa Daaaaa!


Positive acceleration (Up shifting)

When you hear a lot of noise, you’re using a lot of power (high RPMs, the little munchkins are pedaling your engine real fast) but you can only reach so much speed, you should probs upshift. It’s more economical to cruise at a lower RPM so you’re not burning through gas (aka munchkin fuel). That is, unless you’re trying to use that power to accelerate, in which case, in order to accelerate you should use that extra power (and maybe even drop down a gear to make it easier for the munchkins to cycle REALLY fast). For example below you’ll see what it looks like if you’re just maintaining the same speed in 3rd gear. You’re not adding any gas. However, if you want to accelerate onto the highway and you want to accelerate quickly, when you add gas your RPM thingy will go a lot harder. Once you decide that you want to continue cruising at 80 km/h you should shift up to 4th gear.

Negative acceleration (Down shifting, Stopping, Rev Matching)

There’s a kind of ugly noise too that means you need to downshift. Your engine doesn’t have enough power and you need to go to an “easier” gear – only you can help make the furiously pedaling munchkins’ lives easier. There’s also a danger here that if your RPMs are too low, you’re going to stall. In general, if you are doing any kind of rapid deceleration you should brake with the clutch depressed. That is because if you slow down significantly enough your current gear won’t be the appropriate one for your new speed. You run the danger of stalling your car. A safe way to experience this is going around an empty space in 1st gear and slowing down, as if you were driving an automatic, your engine will start shuddering and stall. If you trying to go *very* slowly, you should be controlling your speed with your clutch and not the brake – see the last section on feathering. If you slowing down a little bit (like within 5km/h for city driving) you can just brake normally, without touching the clutch. Alrighty, we’re going to cover a couple of topics here. Here in this situation we are cruising on the highway and about to slow down for the longest off ramp of life. This is what things would look like in 5th gear, going at 100 km/h. At this point we kind of want to slow down a little bit, using a little braking, but also a little momentum, we want to slow down and keep going at around 80km/h for the ramp. We want to switch to a lower gear because we don’t want to lug the engine (gear is too high for the speed). Once you put in the clutch, your RPM will fall down, but your speed is still up at 100km/h ish. Okay, so because now we’re still going pretty fast, so if we were cruising at say, 80km/h in 4th gear, intuitively we now know that our munchkins are pedalling really fast to keep at that high speed. This means our RPMs (the munchkin pedalling meter) would be high. Because the clutch is in, the RPM has dropped to below one. Instead of making the car lurch forward to try and match the engine speed, you can help make the transition smoother with something people call “rev matching”. This just means you are making the revs what they should be in the gear you are about to select for the speed you are currently going at. You just need to give the gas a little boop to get the revs up. It is when the revs are “matched” that you can put the car into 4th and release the clutch. And here we are cruising in 4th at 70km/h. It’s still a little high in the RPM section, but you can use your brakes a little bit to slow down at this point. And of course, if your RPMs drop too low, you can repeat everything all over and shift down into 3rd.

Personally, I don’t go through all the gears when slowing for an off ramp. I also don’t do a lot of engine braking (that is, braking by gearing down instead of using brakes). In a rapid deceleration situation, I’d be cruising in neutral, with my foot on the clutch and hand on gear shift (so that can quickly put the car back into gear), and slowing the car down using brakes. If I get to the traffic light and it’s green, I’ll just put the car into a gear that is appropriate for my speed. Like if I’m down to around 40km/h I’ll just put my car into 3rd as I go through the traffic light.

Going really slowly (feathering)

Feathering is not great for the clutch because it is about controlling speed with the inbetweeny section of the clutch (the positions that are not completely on nor off). It is a very important skill for doing things like, not going in reverse full speed, or just going very slowly without stalling your car. Say, you were approaching a parking spot in an automatic car. You would obviously not be doing this at any kind of significant speed. You’d be going at a speed where if you hit a person, they’d just give you the finger and walk away, as opposed to roll over your windshield and die. In any situation where in an automatic car you’re just toeing the gas pedal, or just toeing the brake pedal, you’re going to need to feather your clutch in a manual car. So in order to feather you want to keep gas constant and control speed with the clutch. Your brake pedal isn’t involved.

  1. Keep gas constant
  2. To get the car moving, get the car just to the “bite point”
  3. To get the car to stop moving, depress the clutch
  4. Keep going back and forth with the clutch just like this

This isn’t the best explanation, but it’s the best I can do to explain this. This whole concept was not explained to me at all. I was just told to FEATHER! FEATHER! JUST FEATHER! Also, I may or may not have spent months panicking about going backwards because I could only really go full speed… It’s okay, no one was hurt. I just stalled a lot because to stop I’d hit the brakes.   Anyways, if you have any more questions, please comment below! Otherwise I hope you find this useful!   x. kl  

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