Drive Manual

If you're a beginning driver or have only driven cars with automatic transmissions, the idea of driving a manual transmission may seem daunting at first. Luckily, learning the basic concepts of starting and shifting through the gears is a manageable process for just about anyone. To drive manual, you'll need to familiarize yourself with the clutch, become comfortable with the gear shift knob, and practice starting, stopping, and shifting gears at various driving speeds. The only way to truly learn to drive manual is to get plenty of experience, though, so be sure to put what you read into on-the-road action.


Starting the Car

  1. Start on level ground with the car off. Especially if this is your first time with a manual transmission, start slowly and methodically. Put your seat belt on once you get in. While learning, it's better to roll down the windows. This helps you better hear the engine sound and shift gears accordingly.[1]
    • The pedal on the far left is the clutch, the middle one is the brake, and the gas/accelerator is on the far right (remember it, from left to right, as C-B-A). This layout is the same for both left hand drive and right hand drive vehicles.
  2. Learn what the clutch does. Before you start pushing down on this unfamiliar pedal on the left, take a moment to figure out the basics of its function.[2]
    • The clutch disengages the engine from the wheels. When one or both are spinning, the clutch allows you to switch gears without grinding the teeth of each separate gear.
    • Before you switch gears (moving up or down), the clutch must be depressed.
  3. Adjust the seat position so you can access the clutch pedal’s full range of motion. Slide forward enough to allow you to press the clutch pedal (the left pedal, next to the brake pedal) fully to the floor with your left foot.[2]
  4. Press the clutch pedal and hold it to the floor. This would also be a good time to take note of how the travel of the clutch pedal differs from that of the brake and gas. It’s also a good opportunity to get used to slowly and steadily releasing the clutch pedal.[3]
    • If you’ve only driven an automatic, it may feel awkward to use your left foot to push in a pedal. With practice, you’ll get used to using both feet in concert.
  5. Move the gear shift knob to neutral. This is the middle position that feels free when moved from side to side. The vehicle is considered out of gear when:[2]
    • the gear shift is in the neutral position, and/or
    • the clutch pedal is fully depressed.
    • Don’t try to operate the gear shift without having the clutch pedal depressed.
  6. Start the engine with the key, making sure to keep the clutch pedal held to the floor. Make sure the gear shift is still in neutral. Put the parking brake on before starting the car for extra safety, especially if you are a novice.[2]
    • Some cars will start up in neutral without the clutch depressed, but most will not.
  7. Remove your foot from the clutch pedal with the car still in neutral. If you’re on level ground, you should remain stationary; you’ll start rolling if you’re on a hill. If you’re ready to move on to actually driving, make sure to release the parking brake (if it’s engaged).[3]

Moving Forward in First Gear

  1. Press the clutch to the floor and move the gear shift knob to first gear. It should be the upper left position, and there should be some kind of visual layout of the gear pattern on top of the gear shift knob.[4]
    • Gear patterns can vary, so take some time beforehand to study your car’s shifter layout. You may want to practice shifting through the various gears with the car shut off (and the clutch engaged).
  2. Slowly lift your foot up from the clutch pedal. Continue until you hear the engine speed begin to drop, then push it back in. Repeat this several times until you can instantly recognize the sound. This is the friction point.[4]
    • When you’re shifting gears to start or keep moving, this is the point at which you’ll want to have the gas pedal depressed enough to provide power.
  3. Let up on the clutch while pushing down on the accelerator. In order to get moving, lift your left foot up from the clutch pedal until the RPMs drop slightly. At the same instant, apply light pressure to the accelerator with your right foot. Balance the light downward pressure on the accelerator with slowly releasing pressure on the clutch pedal. You will probably have to do this several times to find the right combination of up and down pressure.[3]
    • Another way of doing it is to release the clutch until the point the engine revs down a little, and then applying pressure on the accelerator as the clutch engages. At this point the car will start to move. It is best to have the engine rev just enough to prevent stalling as the clutch pedal is let up. This process may be a little difficult at first because you are new to the three pedals in manual.
    • Release the clutch fully (that is, slowly remove your foot from the pedal) once you start moving forward under control in first gear.
  4. Expect to stall at least a few times when you’re starting out. If you release the clutch too quickly the car will stall. If the engine sounds like it is going to stall, hold the clutch where it is or push down a bit further. If you do stall, depress the clutch fully, apply the brake, put the car in neutral, turn the key to the off position, and restart the car as normal. Don’t panic.[3]
    • Revving the engine while the clutch is between fully up and fully depressed will wear out the clutch parts prematurely, resulting in slippage or smoking of the clutch parts at the transmission. This is called riding the clutch and should be avoided.

Shifting in Motion and Stopping

  1. Recognize when it’s time to shift to a higher gear. When your RPM reaches about 2500 to 3000 while the car is in motion, it is time to shift to the next gear — for instance, second gear if you are currently in first. The actual RPMs at which shifting is required will vary by the car you are driving, however. Your engine will begin to race and speed up, and you must learn to recognize this noise.[1]
    • Depress the clutch pedal until it disengages and guide the gear shift knob straight down from first gear into the bottom left position (which is second gear in most configurations).
    • Some cars have a "Shift Light" or indications on the tachometer that will tell you when you need to shift, so you don't rev the engine too fast.
  2. Push down on the gas very slightly and slowly release the clutch pedal. Shifting gears in motion is the same as shifting into first from a stationary position. It’s all about listening, looking, and feeling for the engine’s cues and getting the up-and-down timing of your feet on the pedals correct. Keep practicing and you’ll get the hang of it.[4]
    • Once in gear and on the gas you should completely remove your foot from the clutch pedal. Resting your foot on the clutch pedal is a bad habit, as it applies pressure to the clutch mechanism — and the increased pressure will cause the clutch to wear prematurely.
  3. Shift down into a lower gear as you slow down. If you are going too slow for the current gear you’re in, your car will shudder as if it’s about to stall. To reduce gears while in motion, follow the same process of depressing the clutch and releasing the accelerator, shifting gears (say, from third to second), and letting off the clutch while depressing the accelerator.[4]
  4. Come to a complete stop. To come to a stop in a fully controlled manner, shift down in reverse order until you reach first gear. When it’s time to stop fully, move your right foot from the accelerator to the brake pedal and press down as much as is required. As you slow to about {{safesubst:#invoke:convert|convert}}, the car will be on the verge of shaking and vibrating. Press the clutch pedal fully down and move the gear shift to neutral to prevent stalling. Use the brake pedal to stop completely.[2]
    • You can also stop while in any gear by depressing the clutch fully and using the brake while shifting into neutral. This should only be done when you need to stop quickly, though, as it puts you in less control of your vehicle.

Practicing and Troubleshooting

  1. Practice on an easy course with an experienced manual driver. While you can legally practice alone on any public road with a valid driver’s license, you will pick up the nuances of driving a stick-shift faster if you have an experienced co-pilot. Start off in a flat, isolated area like a large (and empty) parking lot, then move on to quiet neighborhood streets. Make the same circuit repeatedly until you start to master the various skills involved.[4]
  2. Avoid stopping and starting on steep hills at first. When you’re new to driving manual, plan routes that avoid traffic lights at the top of steep hills. Your timing and coordination in working the shifter, clutch, brake, and accelerator needs to be fairly sharp in order to avoid drifting backwards when you shift into first gear.[5]
    • You need to be able to quickly (but smoothly) move your right foot from releasing the brake to depressing the accelerator, while at the same time letting out the clutch. You can use the parking brake to limit backward drifting if necessary, but always remember to disengage it as you start moving forward.
  3. Learn parking procedures, especially on hills. Unlike automatics, manual transmission cars don’t have a “park” gear. But, simply putting the car in neutral opens the possibility of your car rolling freely, especially if parked on an incline or decline. Always use the parking brake, but don’t rely on it alone to keep your car in place while parked.[5]
    • If you are parked facing uphill, shut the car off in neutral, then shift into first gear and apply the parking brake. If facing downhill, do the same but shift into reverse. This will prevent the wheels from rolling in the direction of the slope.
    • On extreme inclines, or simply to be extra cautious, you can also place chocks (angled blocks) behind your wheels to prevent movement.
  4. Stop completely before changing from forward to reverse (and vice versa). Making a complete stop when changing directions is an easy way to reduce your likelihood of causing expensive damage to your transmission.[4]
    • It is strongly recommended to stop completely before going from reverse to a forward gear. However, it is possible on most manual transmissions to shift into first or possibly second when the car is moving backwards at a slow speed, but it is not recommended as this can cause excessive wear on the clutch.
    • In some cars, reverse gear has a lock out mechanism to prevent you for engaging it accidentally. Before using reverse, make sure you know about this locking mechanism and how to disengage it before selecting reverse.



  • Practice so that you can shift gears without looking at the stick. That way you can keep your eyes on the road.
  • Learn to recognize the sounds of your engine; you should eventually be able to tell when to change gears without relying on the tachometer.
  • When you want to go on a bump,you hold down your clutch and press your brake slightly to slow down and later release the clutch gradually and apply the accelerator gradually to move.
  • If you are having difficulty starting the car from a stop, make sure that you are slowly letting off the clutch. Pause at the friction point (the part where the engine starts to move the car) and continue slowly pulling the clutch out.
  • During sub freezing temperatures, it is not advisable to leave a car for a long time with the handbrake (parking brake) engaged. Moisture will freeze and the handbrake might not disengage.
  • If there is no gear position posted on the shifter, make sure to ask someone who is familiar with the vehicle how the gears are arranged. The last thing you want is to back into something (or someone) when you think you've shifted into first gear.
  • If your car seems like it is going to stall, or the engine is sputtering, then push in the clutch again, wait for the engine to return to idle, and repeat the steps to starting off.
  • Two other descriptions mean the same thing as "manual transmission"--"stick shift" and "standard."
  • If you are having trouble mastering clutch control, press down on the clutch, engage 1st gear (with the hand brake engaged), slowly release the clutch and apply the accelerator. You will feel the car moving a bit, then let down the hand brake and the car will move.


  • Stop completely before shifting into reverse no matter which direction the car is rolling. Shifting into reverse while the car is in motion will damage most manual transmissions.
  • Keep an eye on the tachometer until you are comfortable with a manual. A manual transmission requires more experience than an automatic. Over rev the engine, and severe damage to the engine may result.
  • When you have stalled and restarted the engine many times over, try to give the starter and battery a break of 5 to 10 minutes. This can help to avoid overheating and damage to the starter and discharging the battery completely.
  • Try to watch if you are on a hill or a steep area. You can roll back and hit the person or object behind you if you are not holding in the brake and the clutch.

Sources and Citations