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How to Drive a Stick Shift

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Published on May 7, 2008

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More power and better gas mileage are just two of the reasons you might want to learn how to drive a stick shift.

Step 1: Locate the clutch
With the car off, locate the clutch, which is on the floor in front of the driver to the left of the brake pedal. The clutch must be pressed down when shifting gears. Using your left foot, practice depressing and releasing the clutch pedal.

Step 2: Study the gears
Study the gears. Manual cars can have up to six gears; a guide is usually on the head of the stick shift, which is the lever to your right. They are often in an 'H' pattern, with neutral in the middle.

Step 3: Locate reverse
Learn how to put your car in reverse. This usually involves pressing down on the stick shift and moving it to the far left or right and then up or down. Consult the pattern on your stick.

Step 4: Practice shifting
With the car still off, press and hold the clutch down as you practice shifting through the gears of the car. Practice both shifting (or speeding up) and downshifting--lowering gears to slow down.

Step 5: Test drive
Find a flat and open area, such as an empty parking lot. With the car in neutral, depress the clutch and foot break. Turn on the car.

Step 6: Put it in gear
Put the car in first gear. Now you’re ready to go.

Step 7: Start moving
Release the foot break and slowly press down the gas pedal as you simultaneously release the clutch -- the car will move forward.

Tip
Easing down the gas while releasing the clutch is a delicate maneuver that takes practice. In the beginning, you’ll probably 'pop the clutch,' meaning the car will lunge forward and stall.

Step 8: Increase speed and gears
Continue pressing the gas to make the car go faster. Once you hear the engine begin to rev higher -- or see the tachometer hit around 2,500 rpm -- depress the clutch and shift into second, then slowly release the clutch while giving it gas.

Tip
Don’t keep your foot on the clutch -- called 'riding the clutch' -- when you’re not using it. You could wear it down.

Step 9: Keep shifting
As you go faster, repeat the shifting process for higher gears.

Tip
The following is a general range for the different gears:First: 0 to 10 mphSecond: 3 to 25 mphThird: 15 to 45 mphFourth: 30 to 65 mphFifth: 45 mph and up

Step 10: Slow down
To decrease speed, go through the gears in reverse order. To stop at a light, either release the clutch and put the car in neutral or keep the clutch engaged with the car in first gear.

Tip
If you will be stopped for any length of time, it’s better to have the car in neutral.

Step 11: Try hills
Once you’re thoroughly comfortable starting, stopping, and shifting gears on flat land, practice on hilly areas. Keep on trucking!

Did You Know?
The first cars used levers, not wheels, to steer.

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