How to Drive a Manual Car?

Whether you recently purchased a new vehicle with a stick shift, or you just want to make sure that you are prepared in case of an emergency, it is a great idea to learn how to drive a manual car. When you know how to shift gears and use a clutch, then you will have a greater degree of freedom when it comes to renting a car, buying a new vehicle, or borrowing a friend’s car in the future. 

In many cases, manual transmissions are more fuel efficient, are better at towing, and are even more fun to drive than automatic transmissions. The following are handy printable instructions that can be printed out, a supportive friend, and a bit of patience will be all that is needed to learn this useful skill.

Before You Start Driving

I believe it is important to understand a few basic facts and terms related to manual transmissions before you get behind the wheel. Manual transmissions, on the other hand, require the driver to shift gears during the course of driving, unlike automatic transmissions. 

There are a few subtle and important differences between an interior of a car with a manual transmission and one with an automatic transmission, but for the most part, there is no real difference between the two interiors.


In the dashboard of most manual cars, there is a gauge that is known as the tachometer that displays the speed of the engine. The tachometer can be used to determine the current RPM of the engine by using the information on the display. As a general rule, higher RPMs are correlated with more power, but there are exceptions to this rule. 

There is a red area of the gauge, commonly called the “red line,” which indicates that your engine is operating at too high a speed for its engine. It is possible to maintain this level of RPM by shifting gears so that the RPMs do not reach this level.

Clutch Pedal

The driver’s left foot operates this pedal, which is located on the left side of the car, and it is operated using the left leg. By pressing down on the clutch pedal, you are able to disengage the current gear and change to a different gear by disengaging the current gear.

Gear Shifter

This knob can be found in the center console area of your car and it is used to change the gears. You can use this knob in order to change gears in a manual car, or to put the vehicle in neutral when you’re driving a manual car. There is a diagram on the top of the shifter that you will notice when you get closer to it. 

This is sometimes referred to as the “shift pattern” and it tells you where each gear is located on the transmission. It is important to note where each gear is located, including reverse or “R.”

Getting Started

As soon as you understand the basics of driving a manual car, it is time for you to learn how to drive it. You should find a location without a lot of obstacles, such as a flat, empty parking lot, or a back road that does not have any hills and does not have a lot of traffic.

Print the Guide

You can download this handy printable guide for yourself, which contains diagrams of foot positions, clear step-by-step instructions, as well as a variety of other important details. As you learn, you can print it out and keep it with you while you are learning. Here are some helpful tips if you are having trouble downloading the printable instructions.

Here is a free manual transmission guide that you can print out!

Get Familiar with the Car

In order to get the most out of your driving experience, it is always a good idea to familiarize yourself with your car before you even turn the key. When you are seated in the driver’s seat, make sure that the seat is adjusted so that you can easily push the clutch pedal all the way to the floor as soon as you start the car. 

You may want to try pushing the clutch pedal in a couple of times while keeping your right foot on the brake to make sure the car does not move while you are doing this. Check the shift pattern on the gear shifter knob and make sure that the shifter is in neutral before you start driving.

Start the Vehicle

It is now time to turn the ignition on and start the vehicle. Here are the steps you need to follow:

  1. Make sure that the clutch pedal is all the way down on the floor with your left foot.
  2. You will need to step on the brake with your right foot.
  3. Once again, make sure that the gear shifter is in its neutral position before releasing the emergency brake.
  4. You need to turn the ignition on by turning the key. If everything goes well, the car should start up.

Shift Into First Gear

You should keep your left foot on the clutch and your right foot on the brake at all times. By moving the gear shifter to the left and up, you will be able to shift into first gear. You can take your foot off the brake as soon as the car is in gear.

Drive Forward

It’s game time! You’re all set! As an example of how to drive forward, here is what you need to do:

  1. It is important that you move your right foot so that it is hovering over the gas pedal.
  2. While pressing down on the gas pedal with your right foot, slowly begin to lift your left foot off the clutch as you lift your left foot off the clutch. There is a process that is called “slipping the clutch,” and it can take a bit of practice to master. When you put more gas into the car, you will notice that the tachometer will read higher and higher. Make sure that the car is not given too much gas; the tachometer should not read more than 2,000 revolutions per minute. It is ideal that this movement will be gradual, smooth, and it will result in the car making a gentle roll forward as a result of this movement. It is likely that you will have to stall the car a few times before you master this step or lurch forward suddenly while you are learning it. It only takes a little practice to get the hang of it. To restart the car if it stalls, return to the “Start the Vehicle” screen and select “Restart the Vehicle”.
  3. After removing your left foot from the clutch, continue driving until the tachometer indicates that it is time to shift up to second gear, and then remove your left foot from the clutch.

Going Faster

It is time to shift gears when the tachometer indicates that the engine is running at approximately 3,000 RPM, which means it is time to shift gears. There is a possibility that your vehicle is geared to shift at a lower or higher RPM depending on the engine, but if you are just getting started, 3,000 should be a good starting point. 

Make sure you listen to what the engine is saying. When you are getting closer to the point at which you will need to shift, you will hear it roar louder and louder. In order to shift up, follow these steps:

  1. It is time for you to take your right foot off the gas pedal.
  2. As soon as you have reached the floor, press the clutch pedal with your left foot all the way down.
  3. You can select the next gear by using the gear shifter on the steering wheel. If you are currently in the first gear, then you will need to select the second gear if you are currently in the first gear. In order to change the position of the shifter, you need to move it from its current position to the next one.
  4. As you depress the gas pedal with your right foot, slowly lift your left foot off the clutch as you slowly lift your left foot off the clutch. When the car is moving smoothly forward, you should completely let go of the clutch and take your foot completely off it.
  5. You will need to repeat this process for each gear in your system.

Slowing Down

In the event that you need to slow down, it’s important to remember that you will also need to shift down if you need to do so. This will prevent the car from stalling if you don’t do it. In order to downshift, follow these steps:

  1. You will need to step on the brake with your right foot until the tachometer reaches approximately 2,000 revolutions per minute.
  2. While your right foot is still on the brake, use your left foot to push the clutch pedal all the way to the floor, while keeping your right foot on the brake.
  3. The gear shifter should be moved from the gear it is currently in to the gear it will be in in the next gear.
  4. You should take your right foot off the brake and move it over to the gas pedal. The gas pedal should be pressed down slowly while letting up on the clutch at the same time. There will be a slowdown in the car.
  5. It is important to keep shifting down in order to continue slowing the car gradually.

Stopping the Car

It is a little bit more difficult to stop a manual car than it is a car with an automatic transmission. To avoid the car from stalling, you will need to depress the clutch pedal as you would when you were slowing down. It is possible to stop your car without stalling if you follow these steps:

  1. Put your right foot on the gas pedal and remove it from the pedal.
  2. With your left foot, press the clutch all the way to the floor in order to engage it.
  3. Depress the brake pedal with your right foot. It’s important to have the clutch all the way to the floor before you step on the brake.
  4. Move the gear shifter into neutral and take your foot off the clutch. Wait for the car to stop.


If you need to go backwards, you’ll have to shift the car into reverse:

  1. From a stop, press the clutch all the way to the floor with your left foot.
  2. Move the shifter into reverse. This gear is located all the way to the right and to the back of the gear shifter.
  3. Place your right foot over the gas pedal. Slowly depress the gas pedal as you let out the clutch. The car will begin to move backwards.

Parking the Car

When you’re ready to park the car, make sure the vehicle is in neutral. Engage the parking or emergency brake, and remove your foot from the brake pedal. Turn off the ignition.

It’s important to note that if you’re parking the car on a hill, you should leave the transmission in first gear. This will ensure that the car does not roll away if the parking brake fails for some reason.

Troubleshooting Common Problems

Some new drivers liken shifting a five-speed to trying pat your head while rubbing your stomach. There are a lot of things to think about at once, and it’s perfectly normal to run into a few problems. These challenges are easy to fix with practice.

Car Won’t Start

If you’re trying to start the car with no success, check to make sure you have the clutch pedal pressed to the floor. Most modern automobiles will not start unless the clutch is in.

Engine Is Roaring

Is the engine making a roaring noise? If the engine sounds loud and the tachometer is reading a high number, chances are good you are revving the engine. This means you’re giving the car too much gas without fully engaging the gears. To fix the situation, don’t press down as hard on the gas pedal and let off on the clutch a little bit.

Car Keeps Stalling

If you find that the car keeps stalling out when you try to drive forward, it’s likely because you aren’t giving it enough gas. Press down a bit more on the gas pedal as you let out the clutch. Remember that this part takes a lot of practice, and it’s perfectly normal to stall the car a lot when you’re first learning.

Car Lurches Forward

Uneven or sudden acceleration is also a common problem for many drivers. Usually this means that you’re letting out the clutch too suddenly. Try to lift your foot off the pedal gradually, and you’ll probably get a smoother ride.

There’s a Horrible Grinding Noise

When you shift gears, you’re making a series of teeth engage in a series of holes. If they don’t match up quite right, you’ll hear a terrible grinding noise. The key here is to relax and try again. It takes a little practice to know where the gears are and to make sure the car is fully in gear.

Car Rolls Backward on a Hill

As a result of having to stop at a light or a stop sign and having to start on a hill, you may find that the car is rolling backward when you stop. If you are in traffic at the time, this could be a really scary situation, so it is very important that you practice this situation as much as you can before heading out on the town. 

When you are starting your car from a hill, the balance between the gas and clutch is a little different, so it is important to take this into consideration. To counteract the effects of gravity on your car, you may want to give it a bit more gas than you normally would. In the event that you find yourself in this situation and there is another car right behind you, pull up on the emergency brake immediately as you shift into first gear, should you find yourself in this situation. As soon as you start moving, make sure you release the emergency brake right away so that your car does not suffer any damage.

Driving a Manual Transmission in Traffic

Practicing in a parking lot or on a back road is one thing, but the real world is another. When you’re ready to head out on the streets with your new skills, keep these tips in mind.

Keep Your Distance

Keep some space between you and the car in front of you. It’s not uncommon for the car to lurch forward when you stall, and you don’t want to accidentally rear-end another vehicle.

Don’t Multi-Task

It’s tempting to multi-task when driving, but you can’t really do that with a stick shift. You need both your hands for shifting and steering and both your feet for the pedals. That means no sipping on coffee or eating a snack, and it definitely means no texting or talking on a handheld phone.

In an Emergency, Use Your Parking Brake to Start on Hills

It’s bad for your car to drive with the parking brake on, but you can use it to help you start on the top of a large hill if you’re having trouble. Sometimes, other cars will be very close to your rear bumper, and you’ll be worried you’ll roll backwards into them as you try to slip the clutch. 

You can temporarily engage the parking brake to hold the car while you get the RPMs where they need to be. Disengage the parking brake just before you slip the clutch.

Remember You Can Depress the Clutch With the Brake

Keeping your clutch in is bad for the car, but if you need to stop suddenly, just push the clutch and brake pedals at the same time. Ideally, you will shift to neutral and let go of the clutch, but the most important thing is stopping when you need to. You can refine your technique as you get more practice.

Don’t Ride the Clutch

If you find yourself in stop-and-go traffic, it’s tempting just to leave the clutch in a little bit as you switch between driving and braking. This is bad for your car and will cause the clutch to wear out prematurely. Instead, make sure you are letting the clutch out all the way.

Stay Calm

When you’re first learning, driving a stick shift in real traffic can be stressful. You may stall the car, and people might even honk at you. Just remember to breathe and work through the steps to get going again. This happens to everyone, and in time, you won’t worry about stalling anymore.

On the Road in No Time

Driving a car with a manual transmission doesn’t have to be scary. In fact, many people enjoy the increased feel of being in control of the vehicle that comes with driving a standard. With a little practice and a good sense of humor, you’ll be on the road in no time.

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