Knowing how to drive a car before tackling the art of operating a manual transmission is recommended. Having to worry about shifting and what your left foot is doing is distracting enough, being uncomfortable behind the wheel no matter what transmission the car has makes it even worse. The area where you first practice should be flat, free of obstructions and obviously have no vehicular or pedestrian traffic.
When seated in the drivers seat, make sure you are sitting close enough to push the clutch (left pedal) all the way to the floor. The gear stick should also be within easy reach. It is handy to take time to familiarize yourself with the shift pattern (which is on the top of the gear stick) before you start driving and need to keep your eyes on the road. The typical car has four or five forward speeds arranged in an H pattern and one reverse gear. Neutral is in the middle when you can wiggle the gearshift left and right.
Once you are in a comfortable seating position and are familiar with the location of the clutch and gear patterns, double-check to make sure the hand brake is on and the car is in neutral by pushing down the clutch and putting the stick into neutral.
Push the clutch to the floor and start the car. Even though the engine will run in neutral, some modern cars (Renaults) have a lockout disabling the ability to start the car unless the clutch is fully depressed. Once the car is started, let the clutch up slowly, just to make sure the car really isn’t in gear.
The method that has been most successful here at Standardshift has been the no-gas method. Not using the gas pedal at all while engaging the clutch in first gear seems to help people clue in more quickly to the friction point of the clutch, sometimes called the “bite”, the all important point in which most of the engine power goes from idling freely to transferring through the gear box and then to the wheels. This varies from car to car. The friction point or bite can be felt with the car starts moving, and engine RPMs drop usually along with the noise of the engine. This is also the point that many beginners let the clutch out too quickly, resulting in the engine lugging and the car bucking. Don’t worry, at such a slow speed, no serious damage will occur to the car, just a nick to your pride.
Practice this a few times until you can smoothly get the car moving without the car lugging and without touching the gas pedal.
The next step is to add the gas pedal to the equation, allowing you to start from a stop at a normal rate of speed. Doing the same thing as you did before with your left foot on the clutch, when you start reaching the friction point, gently apply some gas will allow you to release the clutch more quickly until it is fully engaged. The faster you apply the gas, the faster you can release the clutch. To switch out of 1st into 2nd and to any higher gear, just hit the clutch and get smoothly on the gas as you release the clutch. You can let out the clutch very quickly in comparison to first gear, since the wheels are moving already. As for when to shift, most if not all car manuals give the recommended shift points. Most cars also have tachometers, revving within one thousand RPM to the redline and then quickly shifting into the next gear usually garners the best performance, while the best economy can be had by shifting at 3K RPM or 15 mph per gear. Best bet is to ask the individual helping you or asking others who drive the particular type of car in person or online as to what works best with your particular vehicle.
A habit that one needs to get used to is always make sure the handbrake is on when parking, especially on hills. Make sure apply the handbrake first and then take your foot off the brakes.
Moving down the gears without touching the brakes to stop is not recommended, the person behind you babbling on the phone might not notice you without your brake lights on, especially at night. You shouldn’t keep the gar in gear while waiting at a light. If a car hits you from behind, you foot will be off the clutch, which means your car would jump forward and possibly end up in the middle of a junction.
If there’s one thing other than stalling the car in the middle of traffic that scares a new learner, it’s starting from a stop on a hill. Make sure you are comfortable with flat terrain before attempting an incline, and it is best to start with a minimal slope that will allow the car to roll backwards slowly if in neutral. The key to learning how to start on a hill is the hand brake. It will allow you to remain in place and not roll backwards while you practice reaching the friction point quickly. And quickly is the key for starting on a hill to prevent rolling backwards. With the hand brake fully set, practice quickly releasing the clutch until the friction point or bite is reached and then back off. Następny, quickly reach the friction point and then partially release the hand brake as you put your food down on the accellerator slowly and release the clutch some more. The idea is to give the car just enough power to overcome the brake and gravity, which will allow you start smoothly without rolling back. As you get better, you will be able to reduce the amount and time that the hand brake is on.
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