How to Drive a Manual / Standard Shift Transmission




Hello and welcome to my new Instructable! By reading this I hope you gain the operational and technical knowledge you need to learn how to drive a standard shift car.

But first let's consider the following scenario...

You are a middle-aged paleobotanist on the island of JURASSIC PARK!! Even though things seem okay at first, some evil fat guy has shut down the power to the electric fences containing all the vicious man eating dinosaurs! You are somewhere near the T-Rex pen enjoying a cool glass of water when the ground starts shaking and the water ripples. You turn around to see a very hungry looking six meter tall Tyrannosaurus Rex coming at you at almost thirty kilometers per hour! Luckily, there's a jeep just a few meters away. After making a quick dash, you hop in the driver's seat and turn the key...but nothing happens! As your eyes turn toward the shifter to confirm that it's in 'park' you see the unfamiliar 'H' pattern of numbers on top of the shift knob. You realize that this jeep is equipped with a manual transmission...and since you don't know how to drive it you can't even get the engine started. It's too late to learn because the T-Rex has already flipped the jeep over and is proceeding to peel off the roof to gain access to it's next snack. Sadly, you realize that this is what you get for forcing your husband to trade in his '64 Corvette convertible for a minivan because you refused to learn.

Don't be caught in this situation! Read on to find out how you could have escaped from the T-Rex's mighty jaws!

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Step 1: Advantages of a Manual Over an Automatic Transmission

Most models of cars sold in north America come with the option of having a manual or automatic transmission. Even though the vast majority of cars in North America are automatics, the manual transmission comes with many advantages.

Initial Cost: Manual transmissions are a lot cheaper than automatics. Choosing to buy a manual over an automatic saves you an average of $1000, depending on the make and model of the car.

Higher Gas Mileage: Manual transmissions are lighter and normally have more gears than their automatic counterparts. Also, a manual transmission doesn't have a hydraulic pump, which puts a big load on your engine. This can save you between 5% and 15% at the pump, depending on the make, model, driving conditions and driving style.

Lower Maintenance / Repair Costs: Automatic transmissions need regular fluid changes and are vulnerable to fluid leaks which can be very destructive. Many manual transmissions do not require any regular maintenance whatsoever. Repairs are usually more costly on automatics.

Better Control: With a manual transmission, the driver decides what gear to use. The best gear can be selected for the conditions (eg. low gear for going up steep hills or towing). Under these conditions, automatics often shift too high and end up wasting the engine's power.

Performance: In general, manuals have better acceleration and quarter mile times than automatics.

Fun: Automatics are boring as hell to drive. Manuals are fun as hell to drive!

Just a side note. If you have a manual car and for some reason you battery goes dead and you can't start the engine...just get your buddy to give you a little push and you're good to go! Can't do that in an automatic!

Step 2: Familiarize Yourself With the Car and the Controls

I guess the first thing you should do when learning a manual transmission is to learn how to drive an automatic transmission. Before attempting to drive a manual, you should have lots of experience with all of the other operations of a car including steering, accelerating, braking, turn signals and windshield wipers. I guess it's not a necessity but it makes things a lot safer and easier. You should also be familiar with all of the road rules and be able to demonstrate good driving practices.

The most important things are to pay attention and be careful. A car can be a very deadly weapon if not used right and it's not fair if an innocent bystander/motorist has to die today because you were distracted or being reckless.

Three more things:
Never ever ever ever operate a vehicle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol and if you already do I hope the cops find you very soon and nail you to the wall.
Never ever operate a car that has obvious mechanical problems. Look and listen for signs of mechanical defects.
Never use a drive-thru! Get up off your lazy butt and go inside! This saves you lots of gas, lots of clean air and in most cases it saves you time.

Now it's time to take a tour of a standard shift car's driver's seat. I'm only going to make emphasis on the controls directly related to the car's movement. The rest greatly depends on the make and model of the car. Please see the pictures for locations of the controls.

Steering Wheel:Used to alter the direction of the car while in motion. Can be turned clockwise or counter-clockwise to make the car turn right or left, respectively (shouldn't be news).

Tachometer: Provides a readout of the engine speed in revolutions per minute (RPM's). It basically tells you how fast your flywheel is spinning. Located within the center cluster.

Speedometer: Provides a readout of the forward speed of the car in kilometers per hour (KPH). It basically tells you how fast your tires are spinning. Located within the center cluster.

Handbrake: Engages the rear drum brakes without using the master cylinder or hydraulic pressure. Used in case the main brakes fail or to hold the car when parked. Engaged when pulled up or disengaged when pushed back down.

Gas Pedal: The pedal on the farthest right. When pressed in it causes the engine to spin faster and produce more power. Used to accelerate the car. Operated with the right foot.

Brake Pedal: The middle pedal. When pressed in it causes the brake pads/shoes to engage the brake rotors/drums to convert the car's kinetic energy into heat energy. Used to decelerate the car. Operated with the right foot.

Clutch Pedal: The pedal on the farthest left. When pressed in, the clutch disc disengages the flywheel and breaks the connection between the engine and the wheels. When released, the clutch disc re-engages the flywheel and the engine now powers the wheels. Used for short-duration stops and changing gears. Operated with the left foot.

Shift Knob: Used to select the appropriate gear. To select a gear, the knob is moved into the corresponding position of that gear marked on the top of the knob (must be done while the clutch pedal is pressed in). Neutral is selected when the knob is in the center position. The photo shows the shift pattern most commonly found in 5-speed manual transmissions.

By the way, the car shown here is my 2005 Toyota Echo hatchback, which is my absolute favorite car in the world apart from a 2002 Nissan Skyline GTR R-34.

Step 3: What's Going on Under There?

Having an understanding of what is going on inside the engine and transmission while you are using the controls is priceless when learning how to drive. We will look at all of the individual components of the car's powertrain starting with where the power is produced and ending with where it is utilized.

Engine: A device that converts the energy stored in gasoline into mechanical energy and heat. The mechanical energy is used to spin the flywheel and in Canada the heat energy is used to defrost your windshield.

Flywheel: A spinning disc on the outside of your engine that is used to deliver rotational energy to the clutch. It is the output of power from your engine.

Clutch: A disc that it attached on one side to the flywheel and on the other side by the transmission. The attachment of the clutch to the flywheel can be broken or made by pressing in on or releasing the clutch pedal, respectively.

Step 4: Starting Off

The best place to try this is in an empty parking lot with very flat and level ground and plenty of room around the car. You should have somebody who knows how to drive the car bring you to a location like this. When you first sit in the driver's seat the engine should be off with the shift knob in neutral and the handbrake engaged. It's now time....

With your left foot, press the clutch pedal in all the way. Turn the ignition key clockwise all the way to "start" and hold for about one second until the the engine turns over. Release the key. If the shift knob is still in neutral you may release the clutch pedal at this time.

Have a look at the tachometer and take note of the RPM readout. It should be holding steady at around 700 to 1000 RPM, depending on the car.

Use your right foot to press and hold the brake pedal. Grasp the handbrake and pull up slightly while pressing the button with your thumb. When the button goes in, push the handbrake all the way down. Release the brake pedal and check to see if the car rolls. If the car stays put you can leave the pedal alone. If the car rolls you should find another spot.

Use your left foot to press and hold the clutch pedal all the way in.

Use your right hand to move the shift knob from neutral to first gear.

Slowly start to release the clutch pedal. At a certain point you will feel a vibration in the pedal and will see the RPM decrease slightly. This is the friction point where the clutch disc and the flywheel make first contact. The car may also start to creep forward. When you come to this point, don't release the clutch pedal any more.

Press the clutch pedal all the way in again and press the brake pedal to stop the car if necessary. Practice the previous step until you can quickly release the clutch pedal up to the friction point and hold it there. If you stall the engine, you must press the clutch pedal in all the way and turn the key.

Now lets get down to business. It's time to get the car moving up to a significant speed. To get the car moving, you're going to have to give it a little shot of gas. You should aim for an engine speed of about 1500 RPM when you reach the friction point. That means you'll have to press down on the gas pedal while releasing the clutch pedal at the same time.

Press the gas pedal in a TINY BIT while releasing the clutch to the friction point at the same time. This time the car will start moving forward when the friction point is reached. Hold the gas pedal where it is while you slowly release the clutch pedal out all the way.

Once the clutch pedal is out all the way and the car is moving you have just made a mockery of the hardest part of driving a standard shift... Starting off from a dead stop.

Now feel free to drive the car around a little bit. Accelerate a bit until the engine starts to make a lot of noise. As long as your speed stays between 10 and 30 KPH it should be just like driving an automatic (by that I mean you do not have to operate the clutch or change gears).

To come to a complete stop, use the brake pedal to slow down until your speed reaches zero. Before the car stops, you must press and hold the clutch pedal all the way. Repeat the previous two steps until you can confidently start off from a complete stop.

To park the car, move the shift knob into the neutral position and engage the handbrake by pulling it up all the way.

I actually lied a bit about the hardest part about driving a standard. The hardest part is to start off from a dead stop while rolling backwards down a hill. You have to find the friction point quickly because the whole time you're looking for it you'll be rolling backwards...possibly into the car behind you. Also, a bigger shot of gas is needed while you are releasing the clutch pedal past the friction point. Practice makes should probably try this in a safe spot before you attempt it in traffic.

Step 5: Accelerating and Moving Up Through the Gears

If you've mastered the previous step "Starting Off" you would probably have a good chance at escaping from the T-Rex at Jurassic Park (assuming it has a top speed of about 30 KPH which is what most paleontologists say it is). Although if you remained in first gear over the entire pursuit you could run out of fuel long before you're safe. And it's possible that you'd end up blowing the engine. So not knowing how to shift up from first gear is very very bad. So let's see how it's done...

Again it's best to try this in an open, flat area such as an empty parking lot. We'll start the procedure from when the car is parked. The first little bit wont be in any great detail since it's covered in the previous step "Starting Off".

Fasten your seatbelt.

Press in the clutch pedal all the way to the floor and hold.

Turn the key to start the engine.

Press in and hold the brake pedal. Disengage the handbrake.

Move the shift knob from "neutral" to "1"

Move right foot from brake pedal to gas pedal. Press gas pedal a TINY BIT while quickly moving the clutch pedal to the friction point. Slowly release clutch the rest of the way while holding the gas pedal down a TINY BIT.

Once the car gets going, apply more force to the gas pedal to get the car to accelerate.

As the car accelerates, the engine speed (the RPM's on the tachometer) will keep increasing until the engine becomes very loud. This is when you should shift up. The precise time you shift depends on your driving. For good fuel economy you should shift up at about 3000 RPM. For racing you'd wait until the tachometer almost touches the redline before shifting.

When you decide it's time to shift up:

Release the gas pedal.

Press the clutch all the way to the floor and hold.

Move the shift knob from "1" to "2".

Quickly release the clutch to the friction point and slowly release it the rest of the way.

Apply force to the gas pedal to get the car to accelerate.

You may notice that shifting to second caused the engine speed to go down. Now the car can accelerate to even higher speeds without revving the engine too much. When the engine does start to roar however, you follow the same procedure as shifting from first to second. The only difference is you shift from second to third or from third to fourth and so on.

Here are some good "rule of thumb" shift points if you want to get good fuel economy and maximize the life of your car. Again, the exact shift points that are best depend on the make and model of the car.

1st to 2nd - 15 KPH
2nd to 3rd - 30 KPH
3rd to 4th - 50 KPH
4th to 5th - 60 KPH to 100 KPH

The reason the last shift point has a high range is because the fifth gear is what we use as the "holding gear". Whatever our final speed is, we use fourth gear to reach it and then we shift into fifth once we are there. We remain in fifth gear the whole time we cruise at that speed.

Step 6: Decelerating and Moving Down Through the Gears

Now that you are able to obtain high speeds in your standard shift vehicle, you must know how to properly slow it down and stop it. I guess it doesn't make much sense to use a car if all you can do is speed past your destination without actually stopping there.

When driving at a given speed in a given gear, slowing down causes the engine to slow down also. If you slow down too much, the engine speed will eventually drop so low that it will lug and eventually stall out. At this point, you need to increase the engine speed by shifting down into a lower gear.

Here are some general "rule of thumb" shift points when decelerating. Again, the exact shift points that are best depend on the make and model of your car.

5th to 4th - 70 KPH
4th to 3rd - 50 KPH
3rd to 2nd - 30 KPH
A downshift from 2nd to 1st gear is not necessary. You may use 2nd gear to slow all the way to a stop, just remember to shift into 1st before starting off again.

The correct procedure for downshifting:

Press the brake pedal to decelerate to your downshift point.

Press in and hold the clutch pedal all the way to the floor.

Move the shift knob from the current gear to the one below it.

Quickly release the clutch pedal to the friction point and slowly release it the rest of the way.

Continue braking if necessary.

Step 7: Good Driving Practices

Using common sense, being careful and taking the time to check over your car on a regular basis can save you many things such as money, gas, wear and tear, frustration and even lives.

Standard transmission-specific good driving practices:

Don't use the clutch pedal to hold the car on a hill.

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    50 Discussions


    2 years ago

    I have owned a few motorbikes and driven many different types of tractors and off-road vehicles, however I've only had 2 or 3 manual vehicles on the road for maybe not more than 100 trips on the road( I'm far from an expert- ex is a has been a spert is something that ran down your daddies leg) I would be interested in reading someone talk about how using the brake is important for the vehicles driving behind you and by keeping the vehicle in the appropriate gear you should be able to brake the vehicle without stalling it in any situation. Also I believe most new vehicles since about 1995 or so have some sort of signal telling you what gear to be in and will override your bad shifting and keep the vehicle running. I would also add that no more than one out of 10000 drivers know how to properly drive a manual trans in winter stop and go traffic or on dark highway speed roads so the people behind you know what you are doing. You down shift so that you are driving in a safe manner NOT to slow down the vehicle, that's what the break is for. One more thing a 20 year old trained race car driver might be able to take off faster than an auto at a light . But your average fat old driver..... Forget about it no matter what your driving. Cheers.

    vimbiso ingridM

    3 years ago

    hey guys i need help , got my license 5mnths ago bt since then havnt driven a car , Im nw finding t difficult to upshift from 2 to 3 and 80% of the time i end up putting it in gear 5 and the car makes an uncomfortable noise.

    1 reply
    GrandieCvimbiso ingridM

    Reply 3 years ago

    Don't try to force it from 2 to 3. The knob will generally find its way to the center when you shift from 2. Then you can simply just shift forward to 3.


    3 years ago

    If the engine is off, the car is supposed to be parked in gear (any gear will do, but preferably 1st or reverse since they have the most resistance) with the handbrake up. You can't always trust just the handbrake.


    3 years ago

    Love the opening paragraph , lol.

    But i disagree with the point that one should know how to drive an automatic transmission car before manual transmission car .

    I personally trained myself on a manual transmission car and then i moved to automatic transmission and i felt it very easy to learn automated transmission car driving.
    Vehicle Driver -

    7 years ago on Introduction

    "I guess the first thing you should do when learning a manual transmission is to learn how to drive an automatic transmission. "


    In the UK, if you learn on an automatic, you are not allowed to drive a manual until you have taken another test.

    Learning on a manual gives you a much better feel for the way a car responds in different conditions. Learning an automatic first creates a whole set of reflexes and responses that simply do not work in a manual car. Even things as simple as braking a manual car with automatic-car reflexes are far harder.

    (British breakdown companies around airports are constantly having to deal with US visitors who have hired a manual car and and simply cannot cope because there are too many controls to think about at once - burned-out clutches and gear-boxes, over-heated engines, the works.)

    14 replies

    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    Thank you for your comment but I have to strongly disagree. Regardless of the rules in the UK, you are much better off learning how to drive a manual when you're already framiliar with driving in general. Being able to change your "automatic habits" while in a standard is just part of learning. All cars are different anyways and the ability to get used to changes is required of all drivers.
    Can you imagine not being able to cope with all of the controls at once while at the same time driving through a large busy intersection for the first time and not knowing where to go or whether to take or to yield? It's an accident waiting to happen whereas a person who is already framiliar with driving in an automatic can at least navigate the intersection safely; the burned out clutch is another story.


    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    I agree with Kiteman, why start learning on an automatic first, and then forget what you learned to learn everything again on a manual? Managing the gearbox is by far the most complicated thing when learning. Adding a steering wheel and two pedals won't change much. So dont lose time learning on an automatic, start immediatly with a manual. Almost everything has to be done differently on a manual, being perfectly comfortable with the gearbox while being able to manage all the other commands, and the trafic, takes lot's of practice.
    Of course the learning curve is not the same, and you must avoid trafic at the beginning.
    In France (and probably in whole Europe), everybody learns on a manual, and everybody manage to get its driving licence at age 18, so its feasable :-)


    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    I don't see what there is to forget about when you go from automatic to manual. I own two cars, one automatic and one manual and both of them I drive on a daily basis. I have no problems driving either. It's more or less the same thing but you're adding a new task of operating the transmission while driving. It's almost as if by going from automatic to manual you're learning to walk before you run. I'm not saying it's beyond human ability to learn how to drive on a manual first but I think an automatic first makes learning a manual easier because you only have to focus on one new skill at a time, first how to navigate busy streets and intersections and second, how to operate the transmission. Here in North America, the vast majority of cars are automatics, so most young drivers who have to learn on their parent's cars have no choice but to drive an automatic first anyways. Finally, an ideal driver would know how to drive both an automatic and manual, but using your logic it would also be wrong to learn on a manual first and then on an automatic second. Thanks for your comment.


    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    Yakeru says:
    What you say makes sense. But I'm afraid that somebody who is used to an automatic car, in case of emergency, will press on the brakes as hard as he can, and simply forget to shift the gears down or press on the clutch ... and wont stop at all...
    When you are used to something and learning something new, it takes lots of time to change your habits. Moreover, old reflexes often comes back when facing unusual circmstances.
    If ou are used to a manual car and you are loocking for the clutch pedal, during one second before you realize that ther is no pedal, while braking, it is not really dangerous.
    But when you are used to an automatic, and you forget to change gear while breaking on a manual car, that can be dramatic...
    Nothing that you learned on a manual could be dangerous on an automatic, the contrary is not necessarily true...
    Thats why I believe that begining with a manual car, to acquire the more complex reflexes immediatly, is ideal, when you have the choice :-)


    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    When you slam on the brakes in a manual without pressing the clutch pedal or changing gears the engine will stall out but the car will come to a stop just as fast as when you remember press the clutch. It has to be that way; the one and only control needed to stop a car is the brake pedal or else the car wouldn't be legal on the road. Having to restarting motor is another story.
    I'm sorry but I just can't see the danger caused by these automatic "habits" that you can "carry over" to a manual. Maybe it's because nether I nor anybody I know that can drive a manual has ever experienced them.
    The difference between an automatic and a manual is really small, I mean it really is. It's the same thing as borrowing your friends car and the brakes or the gas pedal might be a bit more touchy or a bit more soft than yours. Or maybe it handles a bit differently... but you get used to it. And no matter what the car is like, the gas pedal makes you go, the brakes make you stop and the steering wheel makes you turn. Your driving instincts will do the rest.
    Thanks for commenting.


    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    Mashing on just the brake pedal in a manual car gives you a stopping distance FAR longer than brake+clutch.

    British garages around airports are full of cars trashed by American tourists who cannot cope with that extra pedal and the peculiar stick thing poking up through the floor.

    (I don't know anybody who died in a plane wreck - does that mean it never happens?)


    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    "Mashing on just the brake pedal in a manual car gives you a stopping distance FAR longer than brake+clutch."

    Not true and contradicts the UK's own DSA advice on the matter. In an emergency brake as hard as you can and only clutch at the end to prevent stalling unless your cars manufacturer specifically advises otherwise because of a poor ABS algorythm.

    De-clutching means the loss of engine braking, delayed response time, potential destability from the differential disengaging and prevents engine inertia (different force to engine braking) assisting in preventing rear lockup and further destability. 

    Lack of experience on any form of machinery is of course dangerous, whether ramping up a skill set via less complicated machines is a safer approach than being trained from the outset on the more complicated device is open to debate, the greater issue is more the practice of UK hire companies agreeing to lease manual cars to people who don't hold manual licenses.

    Regardless of that, whilst the internet is a great place for expanding theories, when it comes to something like emergency braking procedures in an instructable aimed at learner drivers, I'd suggest presenting unproven personal opinions on the matter as opinions not facts.


    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    My UK built manual car (MG ZS180) has an Engine Control Unit (ECU) that does its best to prevent stalling. So if you brake without declutching it will turn up the power (regardless of your accelerator position) as it gets down to low rpm. This will undoubtedly increase your braking distance (for a given brake pressure) if you don't declutch fairly early.

    The idea that declutching somehow disables the differential is sheer nonsense. And the idea that engine braking is a desirable thing in a quick stop is ridiculous - the brake balance between front and rear is carefully optimised, and adding a variable extra element to the driven wheels just upsets that balance and risks a lock up, losing direction control as well.

    One final point - it may be useful to drive away immediately after the emergency stop, to clear the lane, or drive round an obstruction before being hit from behind. A stalled engine is not at all helpful.


    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    Unproven, except by over a quarter of a century of driving experience, taught to drive by a rally driver, no "proper" accident since my first year driving.


    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    I'm sure the DSA will be very glad to hear from you then. Those multimillion dollar studies they're currently using to prove the best methods are an uneccessary burden on their budget if they could just use 25 years of general driving experience and a rally course as the basis for their emergency driving publications.

    I've pointed out that your contradicting official govenment safety advice from your area and described four effects that have been internationally proven and documented, but even better than me repeating myself, seeing as you've been on a rally course what did the instructor say about clutching whilst at threshold grip? If it went anything along the lines of what I used to teach my students (I was a circuit instructor not rally, but there's quite a lot of crossover) it would have gone something like unless your deliberately trying to destabilise your car... dont. That is also the reason why you dont see the BTCC and F1 drivers holding the clutch in whilst downshifting in their braking zone, believe me if just riding the clutch through the braking zone was faster and safer we'd do it.

    I'm not interested in turning this into yet another debate on the internet, and I believe I've written enough and provided enough reputable sources for someone reading these comments to make an informed decision or investigate further for themselves, so I'm gonna finish up by saying as a widely respected employee and contributor of Instructables, commenting on emergency braking techniques in an instructable aimed at learner drivers, to an audience the majority of whom will be at some point in charge of a car on a public motorway, think very very hard about whether the information your presenting should be worded as your personal opinion or as a proven fact coming from an employee of this website.


    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    I'm not an employee, and that "official advice" does not appear to have reached the people who administer the driving test - if you do not hit the clutch before the brake during the emergency stop test, you can fail your test.

    (Are you aware that much of your advice only counts for rear-wheel drive cars? And that most manual cars are front-wheel drive? I didn't think so.)


    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    One more thing is, you don't know the real reason why those cars crashed because you weren't there, you can only speculate. Just because you assume that they couldn't handle the transmission doesen't make it true. I would guess that some bad local drivers and the sudden change to driving on the "wrong" side of the road and "wrong" side of the car had something to do with at least some of the crashes.


    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    I didn't say crashed, I said trashed, and I do know because I've spoken to the men who make their living fixing the mess - cars driven for a full day in first gear, burning out the gear-box and over-heating the engine are typical.


    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    Alright I apoligize I misunderstood you. However, what you're speaking of is a matter of learning on an automatic and then attempting to drive a standard without ever learning on one in the first place.
    It's a different situation when you learn on an automatic first and then learn on a manual second eventually becoming skilled at operating both types of cars. If every American did that before coming to the UK you would never see another burned out clutch from one of them again.
    I'm a Canadian by the way, just in case you thought I was American.