How to learn to drive a manual transmission in 45 minutes

The patent-pending, I-will-sue-your-ass-if-you-use-it, guaranteed-not-to-fail-or-your-money-back!

If you follow these steps you will learn how to drive a stick shift in about 45 minutes. Driving a stick shift will let you:

  1. get more mpg (manuals have higher EPA ratings than automatics)
  2. reduce your car repair expenses. (Automatic transmissions have more moving parts and are more complex.)
  3. reduce your car maintenance expenses. (You can coast up to stoplights rather than having your food on the accelerator until the moment you are slamming on the brake.)

I learned to drive in Michigan and went to college in a town that had snow, ice, more snow, more ice and hills that is some cases were as bad as San Francisco’s (only with ice).

I have taught a bunch of people (~8) how to drive a stick shift this way and have had 0 failures and everyone of them could drive a stick after 45 minutes (assuming you already know how to drive).

The basics
Get a manual transmission car to a parking lot. This parking lot will have 4 features:

  1. empty
  2. speed bumps
  3. fairly long straight section
  4. flat

Generally a office building’s parking lot on weekends works best. Not-so-good: a mall’s parking lot during Christmas.

Lesson #1:

  1. Get the car so that you have the maximum empty straightaway ahead of you.
  2. Do NOT touch the gas.
  3. Press in clutch (and keep it in)
  4. Put car in first gear.
  5. Turn on car
  6. Do NOT touch the gas pedal (at all)
  7. Slowly ease the clutch out (very slowly)
  8. At some point you will feel the clutch start to engage and the car will start to inch forward.
  9. Do NOT touch the gas pedal (at all)
  10. Continue to slowly ease the clutch pedal out.
  11. LISTEN to the car engine. Watch the tachometer if the car has one.
  12. Don’t freak if the car stalls. Just remember what the tachometer reading was when it stalled and restart it.
  13. If the car starts to stall, push the clutch in – do NOT touch the gas
  14. Continue to slowly ease the gasclutch [Ed: thanks Yoj and Heather] pedal out, letting the car pick up speed.
  15. At some point, hopefully before you run out of parking lot, the clutch will be completely out and the car will be doing about ~7 mph.
  16. Without stopping, press in clutch (and keep it in)
  17. Put car in second gear.
  18. Do NOT touch the gas pedal (at all)
  19. Slowly (very slowly) ease the clutch out until once again you are not pressing in the clutch at all.
  20. Pay attention to the sound of the car engine and the tachometer reading. Try to get as close to the stall point without stalling
  21. Repeat for 3rd, 4th gears (if possible before crashing into bushes)
  22. Do NOT touch the gas pedal (at all)
  23. Turn car around.

Lesson #2:

  1. Repeat Lession #1 – each time trying to ease the clutch out faster and faster
  2. Do NOT touch the gas pedal (at all)
  3. Pay attention to the sound of the car engine and the tachometer reading. Try to get as close to the stall point without stalling

Lesson #3: Hills

  1. Drive car to first speed bump.
  2. Press in clutch (and keep it in)
  3. Put car in first gear.
  4. Do NOT touch the gas pedal (at all)
  5. Slowly ease the clutch out (very slowly) until the car begins to creep over the speed bump.
  6. Stop releasing clutch. Let the car’s engine be engaged just enough so that you don’t roll backward but not enough to actually go forward.
  7. Play with clutch to rock back and forth with the front tires slowly climbing/descending the speed bump.
  8. Repeat until you don’t roll off the speed bump either direction.

This is how you handle hills on a stick shift. Only with a real hill you will need to use a little bit of the gas pedal as well. But you will not use the brake. (For the most part).

[18 June 2012 Update]: In reply to Aaron, et. al. saying this lesson will “ruin the clutch”,

  1. Proof? Just because you think it should be true doesn’t make it so. (link to something on cartalk or some other mechanic’s site would be good)
  2. Riding the clutch continuously for miles may ruin a clutch. However, Lesson #3 is a controlled situation for a few seconds at most. Any clutch that fails under these circumstances was already close to the end of life.
  3. Lesson #3 is a lesson on the path to being comfortable with a manual transmission car. As a driver gets more comfortable with hills, the student will master the situation. Doing a brake to gas transition will be easier and less scary. For the manual transmission student, Lesson #3 provides an easier path to mastery. Once they have mastered this technique then they can work on the more advanced technique of brake directly to gas. New-to-manual transmission drivers have a hard time on FLAT ground doing the brake to gas transition.
  4. Some situations still require use of the partial clutch:
    • ice – brakes with locked wheels can result in backward sliding
    • very steep hills
    • lack of recent experience on hills
    • nervousness

Lesson #4: Jump Starting and confidence building

  1. Repeat Lesson #1 – quickly getting the car going.
  2. Press in clutch (and keep it in)
  3. Put car in first gear.
  4. Turn off car (while it is rolling about ~17 mph)
  5. Press in clutch (and keep it in)
  6. Put car in first gear.
  7. Turn key to ON position (but do not start the car)
  8. Release the clutch as fast as you can by letting your foot slid off the pedal. (“popping the clutch”)
  9. The car will jerk around and if you are going fast enough it will start up on its own….. and the car will be just fine.

Lesson #5: Go practice on the streets.

In summary:

  1. Don’t press the gas pedal. People who don’t know how to drive stick shifts leap on the gas pedal like it is the last raft off the Titanic.
  2. If the car is going to stall, press the clutch not the gas pedal. Pressing the gas pedal will send you leaping into traffic. Pressing the clutch is much safer.
  3. Don’t freak if you stall – it ain’t a big deal. And flip off the asshole behind you with the horn.
  4. Really feel your car and it’s stall point.
  5. Relax.

That’s it .. and be sure to send your check. o.k.?

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46 Responses to How to learn to drive a manual transmission in 45 minutes

  1. Pingback: Just wondering…. » Blog Archive » How to drive a manual transmission

  2. Anonymous says:

    I wish I had a stick shift to practice in … /sigh

  3. Kevyn says:

    I used this method starting 15 years ago to teach my 5 kids to drive a stick shift only for hill starts we moved from the parking lot to a quite subdivision with real hills. At first they didn’t think it was possible to start out going up a hill with only the clutch, no gas. It’s all about feel. Two recommendations, there is nothing wrong with using a hand brake when starting on a hill and when jump starting a car I would recommend 2 gear not first.

  4. LC says:

    Thank you for posting this. I thought I drove a stick well, but your method makes it clear that I get on the gas too much. Next time I get a stick, I’ll use your method to hone my skills.

  5. PETER says:

    NOT TOO SURE IF YOU ARE ENDORSING CLUTCH SLIPPING AS A MEANS OF HOLDING YOURSELF ON HILL IN REAL WORLD CONDITIONS. YOUR SPEED BUMP METHOD IS GOOD FOR GETTING THE FEEL BUT NOT SOMETHING YOU WOULD DO FOR ANY LENGTH OF TIME. PERHAPS AN ABBREVIATED EXPLAINATION OF FLYWHEEL AND FRICTION PLATE WOULD MAKE PEOPLE MORE AWARE OF WHAT IS HAPPENING WHEN YOU FEATHER THE CLUTCH.

    • Learnedonastick says:

      I think it’s ridiculous that he says you should slip the clutch and not need the brake on hills. Thats all wrong if you want to avoid ruining the clutch. Premature failure is never fun!

    • Aaron says:

      Agreed. Lesson #3 will ruin you clutch. The clutch is a friction plate (kind of like your brakes), so you’re basically wearing your clutch down if you use it to stay stationary on an incline. Use your brakes and learn how to get the car moving without it rolling back. Just takes a little practice.

    • patrick says:

      Brief response: If you are learning to drive a clutch, the important thing is the confidence building. Using clutch slipping constantly is “bad”, but so is rolling down the hill or panicking.

  6. Jim says:

    This [Ed: "this" referring to what exactly?] is a great way to destroy your clutch.

  7. anon says:

    It is much easier on the clutch to just put the car in neutral and brake when trying to stay stationary on a hill.

  8. will says:

    thanks ill try it out :)

  9. Eric says:

    I liked this article. I wish i had a car to learn how to drive though :/

  10. Tom says:

    Good article! I just can’t wait to run my auto Ford Escort into the grave and buy a dang manual car! Thinking a del sol…lol

  11. Rapid Roy says:

    I likes to drive fast. :)

  12. Gary says:

    Awesome write up. Trying to get the 2012 Mustang 5.0L now. Its going to be my first manual car. Wish me luck lol

  13. lina says:

    Omg thank you so much. I learned more from reading this than my uncle and dad trying to teach me. I feel more comfortable driving my new car.

  14. Yoj says:

    Lesson #1:
    These steps a bit confusing. Please review back the two steps.
    14.Continue to slowly ease the gas pedal out letting the car pick up speed.
    19.Slowly ease the clutch out (very slowly) until once again you are not pressing in the clutch at all.

  15. Heather says:

    I don’t know if you (or anyone) will actually see this, but I have a question about step #14 in Lesson #1… did you mean to say “ease the clutch pedal out?” I was under the impression that we weren’t supposed to touch the gas pedal at all during Lesson #1. Thanks! Excited to try this!

  16. Li'lg says:

    I’ve been trying to teach my 16 year old without much success. Took her to a parking lot and your lesson 1 with no gas got her to feel when the clutch engages. When we went back onto the street, she stalled once instead of fifty times. Last week she was so bad that she made the “check engine” light come on. Thanks to you, she now feels that she will master this!

  17. Sheila says:

    thank you so much, I learned more from reading this

  18. Zak says:

    Thanks for this article. I’ve been driving for years but just got my first stick shift. Your method got me on the road, stopped the stalling, and gave me the confidence to enjoy driving a manual (which is every bit as much fun as people said). Not a bad way to spend 45 minutes!

  19. Mike says:

    Whether or not there is any damage to the clutch or driveline the lessons and producing a better driver are far more worthwhile. Peter, Learnedonastick, Aaron and ESPECIALLY Jim who all bad mouthed your method are all idiots. The small amount of wear and tear are nothing to worry about.
    I have over 50 years of driving in competition, seven world records at Bonneville, Elmirage and Muroc, have built hundreds of race cars. Your simple method is the best.
    Mike

    Oh, and Peter, why would ya say that Mustangs are a waste? Sounds so childish, like fords versus chevys…. quit flappin your lips so you can listen and learn instead.

  20. cheruiyot evans says:

    Wow! thats perfect, i have tried And it really works!

  21. Ann says:

    Thanks!! I drive a stick OK. But have a terrible fear of rolling back into some idiot 2 inches from my bumper at a stop light on a hill. My husband is having foot problems right now & I have to drive his Honda S2000 to have it serviced tomorrow. I think your advice will help me out! Also for reference my Mustang convertible is a great car!

    • patrick says:

      @Ann –

      The hardest thing about driving a stick is that rolling-all-the-way-down-the-hill fear.

      I am sure you can overcome it and I am glad this post could help.

  22. Thess says:

    Are you responsible for the clutch repairs in lesson 3?
    You ask for checks, but will you cover damage that your advice is
    going to cause.

    • patrick says:

      Funny. This post teaches how to drive a manual transmission. The clutch will be ruined by inexperienced drivers. This post gets them to the experienced stage so that clutch will never be ruined. As a point of fact, I have never had to replace a clutch in any manual transmission car I drive. And I keep them for years.

  23. George says:

    I purchased my 1999 Miata specifically for its 5-speed stick, and (even more importantly) because my wife refuses to drive anything except an automatic. If I always want to know where my beloved “roller skate” is located, I will now have to put this web site on her “banned list”. Are the dire consequences of such foul manipulation somehow less stressful than watching her learn how to drive my precious toy? Silly question. Of course!

  24. swamy says:

    Awesome write up! Waiting for my 328i manual & been tracking it like crazy! Have driven c0mfortably on flat surfaces with a Suzuki long ago but a bit anxious now about hill starts, esp reversing.

  25. Adeola Susan says:

    Bravo, Breakthru. Thanks for d writeup.

  26. JK says:

    Thanks. It helped a lot

  27. Nat says:

    I started driving a five speed about a month ago and even I know thats a GREAT way to ruin your Clutch, some of this is great! but coming from a new five speed driver ignore most of it. It will ruin your car faster then you can learn how to drive it.

  28. steve bougui says:

    i just wanna to learn in perfect way manual transmission car on ice and snow weather condition. Driving manual transmission car on slippery road specifictly.

  29. steve bougui says:

    Is someone can tell me which gear RPM speed that i should stay most of time on ice and snow road weather condition from driving a stick shift car.

    • Richard says:

      Sorry, dude- if every manual car was the same in terms of what RPM to stay at, learning stick would be a piece of pie. I’m pretty sure it’s the same, just try to maintain a lower overall speed. Never driven on ice, but have driven on some *very* slick conditions on rainy days. Maybe its different on ice….

    • patrick says:

      As Richard says, each car is very individual. (Even if 2 cars from the same model/year). You have to learn each car. As the car ages there are also subtle changes as well.

      With experience figuring out the stall point isn’t that hard, the car will start stalling and you as the driver will learn.

      The important thing is to use the clutch to avoid the stall.

  30. apata olajide says:

    I will like to try it but I don’t tink I can find a good road to try it anywhere close to me

  31. Amanda says:

    Thank you for this. When I first learned to drive my mom tried to teach me to drive a manual because that was the only car we had at the time and I was so terrified of the clutch I couldn’t do it, that was 10 years ago and I’ve only driven automatics since. I was about to buy a car last weekend when I came across this and decided to buy a manual instead 10 years after failing to learn to drive one. I had my sister drive me to a deserted parking lot and followed these steps. It didn’t have speed bumps but it did have a stop sign on a steep hill. After feeling the clutch and taking off from that stop sign a couple of times I drove the car all the way home. I can’t say thank you enough!

  32. Jo says:

    I have five daughters and have been trying to teach three of them how to drive a manual. I learned when I was a teen, but what came natural to me is going right over their heads. Definitely trying this. Thanks.

  33. Jay says:

    Stumbled across this post after two failed attempts to teach my daughter to drive a stick. Personally, I had never heard of, or tried, to start out of first without using the gas pedal. We were trying again tonight, with the same herky jerky problems, when I randomly mentioned what I read here. She tried it once AND IT WORKED! In less than 45 minutes, she drove the car all the way home. Thank you!

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