Introduction: How to Drive Stick Shift

Picture of How to Drive Stick Shift

I will explain how to drive a manual car.

-Dont get frustrated, keep practicing and youll get it.
-Get a feel for the pedals, mainly the clutch before you start driving.
-Begin practicing in a big empty parking lot where you can get comfortable and used to driving a
manual car before going on the road.
-Always engage your emergency brake before you let off the brakes when parking your car, it is not an automatic and it will begin to roll on almost about any road regardless of the incline.
-Whenever shifting gears make sure to fully engage the clutch by pushing it all the way in, or you will grind and destroy your cars gears.

Step 1:

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Turn on the car by completely engaging the clutch (the leftmost pedal) and turning the ignition. Keep the clutch engaged while applying your brakes in order to safely release the emergency brake (avoid the car from rolling).

Step 2:

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Make sure you are in 1st gear, by moving the shifter all the way to the left and up, while keeping the clutch engaged. Make sure not to go into reverse which is all the way on left and up as well, in European cars, but you must push down while moving over to the reverse spot in order to lock in that gear. The pattern layout is differs only for where reverse lies. I am showing/explaining it for a European car. American cars have the reverse all the way to the right and down. Just make sure you know where your gears are according to your car and be familiar with the feeling of the "throw" into each one.

Step 3:

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Take your right foot off the brake pedal and as you slowly give the car gas ease off of the clutch with the same amount. You want to give the same amount of gas as the amount of clutch your releasing. If you feel like your going to stall, push the clutch all the way back in and let off the gas, brake, and you can avoid it. As the clutch is engaged, right foot on the gas, give the engine just a little gas and slowly let out some of the clutch. As you feel that catch point, the RPMs will start to drop and the car will start to move forward a bit. Slowly give it more gas to keep the RPM's constant as you let the clutch out. The key is to give it enough gas to keep the RPM's constant until the clutch pedal is all the way out. If the RPMs are dropping apply more gas.

Step 4:

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Once you are completely off of the clutch and up to around 3,000 RPMs shift into 2nd gear by letting off of the gas, completely engaging the clutch, and then pulling the shifter down from 1st into 2nd gear. After it is in gear put your foot back onto the gas quickly before you loose any speed. This process will be slow in the start, but you will learn to do it quickly.

Step 5:

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Once you have up-shifted, let off the clutch and slowly start applying the gas as doing so for a smooth transmission between gears. Repeat this to get up to speed.

Step 6:

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To slow down/reduce your speed you may need to downshift. First brake a little and then engage the clutch, shift to the lower gear and before you left off the clutch start easing onto the gas to match the RPM of the lower gear. You do not need to downshift if your only slowing down a little bit which is relatively depending on what gear you are in, but you will loose your ability to accelerate as quickly if you are going slow in a gear that is too high for the speed.

Step 7:

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In order to stop the car completely, shift into neutral and apply the brakes until you come to a stop. You can tell when you are in neutral when you can move the shifter side to side. Make sure to engage the clutch and put the car back into first gear if you are not parking in the car. This is what you want to do if you are going to be at a decently long stoplight or for any reason of being stopped for along time. If it's a brief stop just go ahead and engage the clutch and apply the brakes. Make sure not to let the clutch out while in gear or you will stall.


flesty (author)2012-05-23

I have seen a lot of B.S. written here and some good advice.
I'm from Romania (Europe) and here we learn to drive only manual cars.
Let me give you some advice:
-it is recommended that you keep your car in gear at all times (except when your standing at a stop light or when you are stationary) and that you change down before turning but COASTING IS OK!!! If you need, you can always stick it in gear and drive away.
-NEVER keep the clutch pedal pressed when you are stationary. It is a common mistake even among stick shift drivers. IT WILL destroy your clutch solar spring in time.
-when you park your car ALWAYS leave it in 1st gear. Do not depend completely on the hand brake because it being a stationary brake it tends to stop working over time.
-Remember that you control the car's speed with the gas pedal ONLY. Use the clutch only when starting from a standstill and changing gears, otherwise LEAVE IT ALONE!!! don't even touch the pedal!!!(even when you rest your foot on the clutch you are slowly burning it)
-when you start your engine keep the clutch pedal and the brake pedal pressed all the way in (if the car is in neutral when you start the engine the clutch is optional but recommended)
-Rule of thumb: when going down a hill use the same gear that you'll use when going up that hill, and use the engine brake!!! if you keep using the brakes when going down a hill your brakes will overheat and fade.
-if you have a turbo charged car (especially if it's a turbo diesel) try to keep it over 2500 rpm. If you "under rev" the engine the turbo doesn't spin and you will end up changing the turbo (and that costs a lot of money)
-another advice for turbo diesel owners: if you drive mostly in urban areas, at the end of the week try to take your car for a "spin" out of the city and keep your revs high (you will see some black smoke coming out of the exhaust; that's the mix of oil, smoke particles, and other nasty stuff that has built up in the turbo system)
-when you start the car with high revs, let the clutch pedal go faster so you don't burn the clutch (it will probably make your wheels spin :-) )
There's a lot more to learn about manual cars. If you have any questions please ask.

OsamuyiO (author)flesty2016-12-24

thanks for the tips was very useful

KevinP248 (author)flesty2016-11-10

Hey flesty I have a question. When I release my clutch shifting into 2nd gear I notice my car tends to slow down a little. I try so hard to release as slow as possible but it just doesn't want to release easy. Should I be giving it a little bit of gas or is that bad for the clutch and should only be done in 1st gear?

vuesablan (author)flesty2016-01-18

I really like how you go into detail there. You really should consider starting a driving school or just your own blog about driving and let me know. Thanks!

Yozora00 (author)flesty2015-09-02

Thank you for the tips!

kentS17 (author)2016-02-29

i would pay you $2,769.00 per hour! for 20 lessons

srobertson16 (author)2015-09-11

Here is a great tip I have not seen anyone mention that helped me figure this whole "not stalling out" thingy (pardon me but I am new to driving stick). I was forced to drive manual for my job. The only vehicles we had to do my job were ALL MANUALS! It was either learn, or walk in 110+ degree weather with no shade.

First practice on releasing the clutch to pick up the muscle memory for the "sweet spot". Disengage the hand/emergency brake. Have the clutch & brake both fully pressed. Shift into 1st gear. Foot off the foot brake. Slowly release the clutch millimeter-by-millimeter (until you become comfortable with a faster release to find the "sweet spot"). You will know the "sweet spot" because the engine will start to rev a little & move forward a bit (if you are doing it slow enough, if not it will be more like a jerking lunge). The car will move forward whether you are on a hill with a decline or incline. You DO NOT NECESSARILY NEED to give ANY gas at all! (This is where I stalled out the most when I first learned.) Eventually, you will start automatically doing it together because it is going to feel more natural (releasing the clutch & gassing simultaneously) but to learn the basics for us newbies, practice releasing the clutch and then pressing the gas. You can literally coast in first gear without even having to touch the gas pedal (not so sure about this part on an incline though).

If you are on an incline, you can do the exact same thing as with any road plane. The only difference is that you will roll back, but as soon as you catch the "sweet spot" on the clutch the vehicle will move forward then you can gas it.

Hope this helps anyone was scratching their heads from all the nagging in the comments. XD

vuesablan (author)srobertson162016-01-18

This was the greatest explanation I've ever read. You should totally start a school. You would be a very good teacher, plus there's not enough of these schools around. But first, please explain more, when you are switching from 1st gear to second, does the clutch go down completely or just to the "sweet spot"? Also, does your foot need to be still on the gas during this? Thank you.

tmak11 (author)vuesablan2016-02-06

When changing gears. Let off the gas all the way, then fully engage the clutch. Now switch gears. After that let off the clutch. Once its fully out begin applying gas

windowlicka (author)vuesablan2016-01-18

Clutch has to be completely down, foot off the gas. Shift to 2nd. When releasing the clutch (after shifting to 2nd gear or higher) you don't have to find the sweet spot. Just take your foot off the clutch, then start giving it some gas. Eventually, you'll start to do both (clutch release & gas) simultaneously because it will fill more natural.

It's amazing that you say I should have a school or teacher because that is my passion, teaching. I've dreamt of being a teacher since I was 3 or 4! Now, I only have 1 1/2 years remaining for my bachelors degree in teaching chemistry. Thank you for the compliment.

vuesablan (author)2016-01-18

I don't know why I thought the comments were the instructions. But if you go and read the real instructions first, they are very well put together and will not confuse you. Great Idea!

Prometheus (author)2009-04-15

I don't think that this project should be considered a manual for learning to drive a stick-shift, mostly due to the comments for it that are uninformative, or simply provide inaccurate information. This covers the elementary basics, but not much more. Only a skilled driver of a manual transmission can really teach you how to drive a manual yourself by proper coaching. It's not as hard as it seems, but good habits with a manual come with the coaching of years of experience....I'd come and teach you, but I don't know where you are lol... If you are driving an automatic, you are not really driving, and have no classifiable driving skill...It's never too late to learn how to drive the real thing! Start today!

Yozora00 (author)Prometheus2015-09-02

Lol! Woe is me, because I really wish I had someone to coah me as I learn to operate a manual transmission. *sigh Let us hope I don't break my brothers car (he is not interested in teaching me, but he gave me consent to use it while he is gone). Anywho, this comment was delightfully funny. :) thank you

Yozora00 (author)Yozora002015-09-02


dpsilver (author)Prometheus2011-07-24

good now i feel bad lol im stuck with an auto and i' dieing i miss the feel of the gears sliding into one another and the clutch engaging and disengaging but there is a web page that shows some pretty good tips and i agree with the auto thing

ericw2 (author)2014-08-01

Depressing the clutch pedal DISENGAGES the clutch. A clutch is engaged when it is pressed against the flywheel, transferring engine power to the transmission.

AdamA21 (author)ericw22015-06-22

I know it seems counterintuitive, but "depress" actually means the same as press, not the opposite.

sixsmith (author)2015-05-18

Thank you! I am buying my first stick shift car tomorrow, and it's been a couple of years since I've driven one, and I've only got about 2 hours of driving time over about 10 years, so this was a great help in making sure I remember what to do, which I did :D

By the way, this instructable is the number one result in google for "how to drive a stick shift" just fyi

SamOzzO (author)2015-04-25

To all the Europeans out there wondering why there is an instructable on this topic:

Many Americans don't go to driving school. We learn how to drive from family and friends. In some states, the requirements include simply passing a written test for a learner's permit, which allows the holder to drive while a licensed driver is in the vehicle, and then a driving test. The driving test can be conducted in any type of car, automatic or manual, and the license is good for any type of car (sometimes excluding motorcycles and semi trailer trucks, depending on the state). So if we Americans learned on an automatic and got our license on an automatic, but then wanted to get a manual car, we would first look up online how to drive a manual, and then, get a friend or family member to instruct us one afternoon. After that, we are good to go. My only manual transmission lesson included going to an abandoned hill with a family member. The lesson ended when I consistently didn't roll back when going uphill from a complete stop. I drove that manual for a year afterward without a problem, accident or burned out clutch. This isn't rocket science. Now, after many years of driving an automatic, I just bought a manual and am refreshing myself on how to drive it. Time for some fun!

MergPeJos (author)2012-07-10

I am trying SOOO hard to abide by the "be nice" comment policy, so here goes nothing:

First, shouldn't you be learning this stuff at driving school? It is (or should be) common sense. People who need this kind of an instructable shouldn't have manual gear transmission cars in the first place.

And second, about the "european" car's shifter gear placement statement: that has nothing to do with the fact that it an european car (being on the left side). My bet is that this model is a Volkswagen, but being 7-geared, the reverse gear goes automaticaly onto the left side of the stick (just my experience with cars, nothing I've read about).
Audi for example, on 5-gears forward transmission has the reverse on bottom right, so... please.... stop dividing things between "european" and "american", it's bad for ya'.

a happy "european".

logoman45 (author)MergPeJos2014-09-15

well, actually, this ISN'T common sense in america, in fact, manual transmission vehicles in america are quite rare, so to learn a stick shift at most driving schools isn't even an option (and for those where it is, it's usually a bit more expensive then usual)

katybeesh (author)2012-07-29

when i first learned to drive a manual car i slowly released the clutch until i started moving forward, then gave it some gas and released the clutch the rest of the way. i agree with flesty, clutch points are different in every car. - and when you were talking about where reverse is on European cars, i drive an audi 5-speed and my reverse is where your 6th is.

flesty (author)2012-05-23

"Take your right foot off the brake pedal and as you slowly give the car gas ease off of the clutch with the same amount. You want to give the same amount of gas as the amount of clutch your releasing"
I have to correct you here. Almost every clutch engages at different point.
So I feel that the best technique is that you keep the clutch fully pressed, then rev the engine between 1400-2000 RPM, and slowly release the clutch pedal (of course this RPM range is relative, you can start even with 7000 RPM if you can but for newbies this range is good because the engine develops enough torque to start and there's less chance to burn the clutch)

Kiteman (author)2009-04-13

Step 1:
Make sure the car is in neutral before starting the engine.

Step 2;
You ought to point out that a gearbox with reverse at top-left only engages reverse when a switch under the knob is the gearstick is lifted, or when the stick is pushed down, which is why it's OK to slide the stick to top-left to engage first.
To engage 1st, press the clutch and then move the stick.

Step 3:
It is easier to pull away when the revs are higher than usual and to "slip" the clutch. Lifting the clutch all the way too quickly will cause the car to lurch or stall.

Step 4:
For smooth urban driving, and to save fuel, you should change up at around 2000 revs, allowing a small drop in the revs during the gear-change, otherwise you get a lurch which can make your passengers nervous.

Step 5:
Do not re-apply the revs too slowly, or the car and engine will lose momentum and you will have to change back down a gear. This applies to all changes up a gear.

Step 6:
When changing down, you do not reduce revs until you are in the lower gear, otherwise the change is again uncomfortable for your passengers. Changing down gears without applying any throttle is a useful way of slowing a car when the brakes are unreliable, the the driving surface is very loose or you are heading downhill.

Step 7:
When stopping, you never put the car in neutral until the car is at a full standstill. To do so is dangerous. When you reach a full stop, pushing in the clutch as you slow, pull on the hand-brake and then put the car into neutral.

It's mistakes like these that make it illegal to drive a manual car if you have only learned to drive in an automatic.

Nobody who has learned to drive in an automatic, or who has not learned to drive yet, should attempt to drive a manual car without at least a minimum of hands-on tuition.

(I once spent time chatting to a mechanic who had had to fix the gearbox in a car rented by an American tourist - she had picked the car up at the airport, then driven to Cornwall in first gear. She brought the car in because it had started to smell strange - it was the gears melting.)

hack124x768 (author)Kiteman2009-06-25

The clutch isn't *always* the leftmost pedal. Old trucks have 4 pedals, and the leftmost is the parking brake.

Also, step 3 is a good way to require a new clutch. You don't "slip" the clutch (My friends and I call it roasting the clutch, as you can smell it pretty quickly if you do it a lot, such as when teaching a newbie to drive stick :p), you modulate it. You want the clutch to be completely engaged as soon as possible so you don't cause unnecessary clutch friction, or waste engine power. It's all about balance. Your foot should be off the pedal if you are over 1000 rpm in most cars. Quit teaching people to drive stick like a woman! (I would know, my mother taught me to do this exactly, and EVERYONE I know can tell a woman taught me. I've been trying to brake the habit for years. Better advice came from dad "Don't use the clutch to control your speed!". Not being sexist, but it is an observable trend here and thus is fair to note.)

So yeah, done being snooty. Carry on driving a proper vehicle!

Kiteman (author)hack124x7682009-06-25

I did not mean "drive along with the clutch partially engaged", I meant "slip it in, rather than jerk it in", as indicated by the second sentence you didn't seem to notice.

Not being sexist, but... absolutely, excuses everything, that, doesn't it? Not.

The driving I describe is not "driving like a woman", it is "driving so that you don't smash your own face on the dash". You clearly did not bother to read my other comments, or you know that I actually drive like a rally-driver.

sokamiwohali (author)Kiteman2012-02-16

not to be too critical, but not all vehicals have the knob that you pull up to shift left into reverse. alot of them (if it ends up being a 6 speed x-mission) requires the vehical to be at a complete stop, and in neutral, then shift to the left. it will take a little steady force to shift further left, but you will feel the gear shift "pop" left and from there you shift up/down to the respective position to shift into reverse.

Kiteman (author)sokamiwohali2012-02-16

Please, read what I actually typed way back in 2009...

sokamiwohali (author)Kiteman2012-02-16

if ur referring to the "neutral" comment i made, i was just adding on to what you were saying. you dont HAVE to put it in neutral...just keep your foot on the clutch pedal.

sokamiwohali (author)Kiteman2012-02-16

and for a new standard x-mission driver, you should always teach to put the tranny in neutral...but they should always know that if they start in 1st gear, they must remember to shift neutral b4 letting their foot off the clutch pedal.

NachoMahma (author)Kiteman2009-04-16

> never put the car in neutral until the car is at a full standstill. To do so is dangerous. . What is so dangerous about it? I frequently shift into neutral when coasting. Less wear and tear on the throwout bearing.

mikemmcmeans (author)NachoMahma2009-06-17

seconded. when i'm approaching a long stop light i just pull it out of gear (no clutch needed) and use the brake only. when the light is green i shift back to 1st (or second) and go

FoolFoolMe (author)mikemmcmeans2010-04-06

I'm from Italy and the stick shift here rulez :P Just a quick thing about why you shouldn't put in neutral while goin: brake consumption, both discs and tampons (?). There's a thing we call "engine brake" (sorry but I don't know how to translate some technical terms :P ) and it's the fact that if you shift down while decelerating the car slows down, unlike automatic cars. That's why usually, when approaching a stop sign (or whatever) you stop accelerating some time before and shift down, RPM goes up (hey, be careful not to kick in a too-low gear, engine doesn't have to "yell" but just to raise a bit) and goes back down, while smoothly braking the car. If you put it in neutral all the weight of the car will be on the brakes, if you brake with a low gear on the deceleration will be way smoother + brakes will last twice longer :) Peace ^^

dpsilver (author)FoolFoolMe2011-07-24

dude you've never seen me drive lol i only know manual and semi manual(automatic) but i drive them both similarly and automatics do have engine brakes you shift the selector into 2 while slowing and then L but i dont recommend doing that at very high speeds

Kiteman (author)NachoMahma2009-04-16

If the car is in neutral, you can't accelerate out of sudden danger.

NachoMahma (author)Kiteman2009-04-16

. OK. Doesn't take long to pop it back into gear, but I see your point.

Kiteman (author)NachoMahma2009-04-16

On a more selfish note, you get penalised if you're caught coasting - the police consider a car out of gear to be "not under full control".

NachoMahma (author)Kiteman2009-04-16

. Doesn't make much sense to me, but then a lot of laws don't make much sense to me. I suppose it might be a problem when driving in traffic, but I don't get into much heavy traffic. I've also had defensive driving training (I highly recommend it to all drivers), so I tend not to get into "sudden danger." ;) . I drive an automatic with one foot for the brake and the other for the accelerator. I've been told that that is dangerous, also.

allenmt (author)NachoMahma2009-12-30

 some laws r dumb

abadfart (author)Kiteman2009-06-01

not in the the US i do it all the time and they don't bother me

Prometheus (author)Kiteman2009-04-15

"Step 7: When stopping, you never put the car in neutral until the car is at a full standstill. To do so is dangerous. When you reach a full stop, pushing in the clutch as you slow, pull on the hand-brake and then put the car into neutral." Erm.....where do you get this from? You sounded pretty credible until I hit this step of yours......When I see I have to stop ahead, I will put it in neutral and coast to the stop. Do you really know how to drive a manual? I have driven a stickshift for more than 20 years, and have driven them at speeds that the LAPD has never seen, much less would dare drive at. Where does the hand-brake enter into a common traffic stop, and how is putting the transmission in neutral dangerous at all? Are you sure you are giving advice with the actual experience and knowledgeability of driving a manual transmission? I first question every part of your reply here by your suggestions, and I further have suspicion of your alleged talent with your sub-scripted commentary at the bottom. It';s not the gears melting, it is called "clutch-fade" that generates that smell. If a mechanic said this, he was either being facetious, or completely incompetent to work on an automobile...

Kiteman (author)Prometheus2009-04-16

Ah, a simple misunderstanding - you looked at the stop sign, didn't actually read the bit where he said "In order to stop the car completely, shift into neutral and apply the brakes until you come to a stop".

No motor vehicle is fully safe coasting in neutral, and such an action in the UK would earn you a fine, points on your license and even a driving ban; depending on the exact circumstances, the offence is either "driving without due care and attention" or "careless driving".

In any case, your response was way over the top. Many years of driving do not automatically make you safe, or even any good - it just means you have been getting away with it for a long time (why else do you think many insurers place the over-45 age-group in a higher insurance bracket than the under 25?). I too have driven manual for decades, and at speeds far in excess of the limits (having been taught to drive by an ex-rally driver), and our speed limits are higher than the US anyway.

Tux0r (author)Kiteman2011-05-04

Okay, Okay, Ladies, In the USA it is legal to coast a vehicle. Where on the other hand, in the UK it is not legal for the fact that they believe it is not safe. I will say this once, a vehicle being driven by a competent driver ( who has been driving for a measurable amount of time ) is never fully safe but is under full control when coasting out-of-gear, sure you may not be able to accelerate out of something as fast, but you will be under full control. The fact being that you had control of the steering wheel the whole time and if I remember right, I was told " Slower speeds are always safer. " numerous times by many different sources. So thus, I have believe in the theory that coasting is safe.

Do any of you catch my drift?

abadfart (author)Prometheus2009-06-01

i use it when muding (drifting in a dirt field)

abadfart (author)Kiteman2009-06-17

i start mine in 1st or reverse

abadfart (author)Kiteman2009-06-01

my first car was a manual but its clutch was bad when i got it so it only lasted 7 months

anyonenot (author)2010-08-26

Most cars have the reverse on the right (Japan,Korea,American), and to get to reverse you have to move the shifter complety to the left then right into reverse

sokamiwohali (author)anyonenot2012-02-16

that depends on the vehical make and a new honda civic, the reverse is on the is on a dodge ram pickup (new)

porcupinemamma (author)2011-08-04

Wellllllllllll ...I had to learn on a standard. It's not a problem to switch to an automatic if need be. We had a medical emergency when I was very young, and the neighbour who came to help could not get my brother to the hospital, because she did not know how to drive my mother's standard, and my mom wasn't around. There was no question in my mind, that when I was old enough,I would not learn to drive a standard.

werewolf23 (author)2009-10-28

You won't shift at 3000 RPM if you are driving this car (the Audi S5) :-) Trust me!

But here something more constructive:
I think the most important thing - when you change from automatic to manual transmission - is (as it was said already) that you practice much. In the beginning it helps if you give gas to about 2000RPM (hold it there) and then concentrate on the clutch. That way you won't stall the engine, but you also (probably) won't make a burnout. It's important not to release the clutch too quickly as there are many differences between clutches of different cars (or even cars of the same type!). Some are loose, some are firm, ...

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