How-To: Drive Stick Shift - A 12 step program

chuyler1

goes to eleven
Moderator
:
2013 CX-9
I first truly learned to drive stick-shift 4 years ago when I bought my Protege5. I had a few friends that took me out once or twice but the whole gas/clutch thing never really set in. When I took delivery of my new car, the sales rep took me out back and gave me some pointers so I could be on my way. He said one thing, which I didnt understand right away: "Feather it". After a few days it clicked and I knew exactly what he meant.

For the past week, I have been teaching my wife how to drive stick-shift and I have said "feather it" numerous times to her and described in many words what I meant but it wasn't clicking. Then I just let her go on her own. After a day of practice she called me up on the phone and simply said "I know what you mean by feathering the clutch now!" Perhaps it is the approach I was taking with her or perhaps it is the fact that when people get into the car the first thing they want to do is drive. Fundamentals go out the door and then they come back crying that they cant figure out why they are stalling. So I have written up an extended tutorial on driving stick. At the moment it is un-proven but I would like feed back from stick-shift drivers and hopefully this technique will help some beginners.

Contrary to many teaching techniques I believe the first task of learning stick is NOT learning how to use the clutch, it is learning how to use the gas pedal. Old habits die hard but the sooner you forget about mashing the gas pedal to the floor the better position you will be in for driving stick-shift. It is all about finesse and it starts with learning to set a desired RPM with your right foot. Read on to find out how learning to use the gas pedal can simplify stick-shift driving and how "feathering" can making parking and rush-hour driving a breeze.

Step 1 -- The gas pedal

Put the car in neutral and practice putting your foot on the gas and immediately getting it to a steady RPM above idle without over revving the engine. I will use 1500 RPM as an example but it may be more depending on the car you are driving. Do this over and over again until you are comfortable with it. Now try it first starting with your foot on the brake and moving to the gas pedal. Brake, gas to 1500 RPM, brake, ... Continue this practice for at least 5 minutes or until you can quickly set the gas at 1500 RPM without exceeding 2000 RPM.

Step 2 -- The clutch pedal

Now its time to play with the clutch. Get the engine RPM to the desired level as in step 1 and then slowly let out the clutch. Do not change the amount of gas you are giving. When the clutch begins to grab and the car starts to roll forward keep the clutch in the same position for a moment and then slowly let it out some more until your foot is off the clutch. If the engine RPM drops below 750 you are letting the clutch out too fast. Usually the RPM will drop a little but as the car starts to roll forward it will slowly increase back to 1500 at which point you should be able to fully release the clutch without any bucking. Now push the clutch back in and come to a complete stop. Do not bother shifting or accelerating...you must learn the start first. Practice removing your foot from the brake, setting the gas, and letting out the clutch until it grabs allowing the car to start rolling, and then let the clutch out completely. Remember you must pause at the point where the clutch begins to catch. If you just let it out in one swoop you will stall or cause the car to buck. Pay attention to where in your leg movement the clutch grabs. Each time you perform this step you should be able to move your clutch foot directly to that position to reduce the time the whole procedure takes. When you stop, remember to always push the clutch in at the same time you press the brake (for nowmore on this later). Think both feet down when braking.

Step 3 - Feathering

Now we get to feathering. Repeat step 2 except when the clutch starts to grab and the car begins to roll forward instead of releasing the clutch further, push it back in to the point where it stops grabbing. For the time being keep your gas at 1500 RPM. The car should continue to roll a little. Now repeat this motion to get the car to accelerate a little more and then push the clutch back in. Always keep the gas steady. You should be using the clutch as a pseudo gas pedalonly the motion is reverse. This is what I call feathering. Now do a series of them, each one a little faster than the next and setting the gas at a higher RPM each time. The steps are set the gas, release the clutch until it grabs and causes the car to start rolling, push the clutch back in, and repeat. Once you are confident with that try removing your foot from the gas pedal in between each "feather" and then setting the gas to the appropriate level before performing the next "feather".

Step 4 - Reverse

Now that you have spent at least 15 minutes in 1st gear it is time to move on to the other gears. You may be itching for the open road but youve still got more to learn. Make sure you have a nice straight path behind you and place the car in reverse. Practice your feathering some more but with your hand on the passenger seat while you look backward. This isnt as easy as you might think because you cant look at your feet and your body is somewhat twisted. Unless you really practiced the previous steps you may find this difficult. Practice your "feathering" technique as you roll backwards. Now go back to 1st gear and pull into a parking spot and then try to back out as slowly as possible using your "feather" technique to get the car to just creep out of the spot. You dont want any soccer moms in their giant SUVs to take out the back of your car now do you.

Step 5 -- Accelerating to 2nd

Getting to 2nd is relatively easy now that you have mastered "feathering" to some extent. Set gas, release clutch until it grabs, and this time as you release the rest of the clutch start giving more gas and as the RPM passes your original setting the clutch should be fully out and you should be zipping up to speed for your shift into 2nd gear around 3000 RPM. When you reach 3000 RPM, take your foot off the gas and press the clutch in at the same time. With the clutch fully depressed, shift from 1st to 2nd by juts pulling down on the shifter. There is no need to hold the shifter like a joy stick. It just takes a smooth pulling back motion using the backside of your fingers. Next you need to set the RPMs again since the most likely dropped back to idle, and then release the clutch. Since you are moving you can release it faster than when you were starting out in 1st but if you release it to fast the car will buck a little. Getting the 1-2 shift smooth just takes practice but remember that if you are slow to shift from 1 to 2 you will have to set the RPM before releasing the clutch. This is often referred to as rev-matching, more on that later. Come to a complete stop and repeat your 1 to 2 shift several times so you are comfortable.

Step 6 -- Feathering in 2nd

Rush hour traffic can often travel at 10-15 mph which is too fast for 1st but not fast enough to stay in 2nd all the time. You can "feather" 2nd the same way you do it for 1st and reverse and you can even feather at higher speeds by setting the RPM higher before you release the clutch. Practice rolling around the parking lot at higher speeds. Put the clutch in as you go around corners and then smoothly re-engage the gear when you get to the straights.
 

chuyler1

goes to eleven
Moderator
:
2013 CX-9
Step 7 -- The hill start using the e-brake

Believe it or not, there are quite a few "hill starts" on the roads. You make them every day in your automatic but may not realize a stick-shift could easily roll backwards. If you are with someone who knows how to drive stick, have him or her take you to a residential neighborhood where there is a slight incline on one of the streets. Switch into the drivers seat and get a feel for what the car will do by releasing the brake. Kind of scary huh? It doesnt take long for the car to roll a few feet. Stop the car with the brake and pull up on the e-brake so that the car will not roll backwards when you take your foot off the brake. If you are strong you can hold the handle up and the button in at the same time. If you are weak you can just let the handle lock into place. Dont pull it up any higher than what is necessary for the car to stay put. Now set the gas and release the clutch to the point where it starts to grab. The engine will start to strain. Release the e-brake and let the car gain some speed before you release the clutch any more. If the car starts to roll backwards you arent giving it enough clutch. If giving it more clutch causes the car to stall try using more than the usual amount of gas (but again your gas should be steady).

If you have trouble finding the right amount of gas and clutch there is a trick to help you learn but it should never be used regularly since it wears out the clutch. Use the e-brake technique above but once the car starts rolling forward push the clutch in a little so it stops forward progress. Let the car roll backwards a little by pushing the clutch in a little more. Now release the clutch a little to get the car moving forward. Do this several times and vary the amount of gas you use until you are familiar with the feeling of using the clutch in this manor.

Step 8 -- The hill start without using the e-brake

This is really an advanced technique that cannot be mastered until all previous steps are mastered in the "real world" but I will describe it here so you have something to look forward to. The steps are identical to "feathering" except you only have a split second to set the gas pedal and release the clutch because the moment you take your foot off the brake the car will start to roll backwards. The easiest way to practice this is to start on very small incline and work your self up to bigger and bigger inclines. Youll have plenty of chances to practice it in every day driving. The first few times you try without the e-brake it is best to make sure no one is behind you.

Step 9 -- 3rd gear and beyond

Since many beginners tend to look like they are driving a Mac truck I will briefly describe how easy shifting should be. Push in the clutch and practice this while you are stopped. The following descriptions assume a standard 5 speed transmission with reverse on the far bottom right.

N to 1: Make like you are going to shake someones hand. Without curling your hands around the shifter slide it closer to your knee and then use your palm to push it forward.

1 to 2: Curl your fingers and place them over the shifter and pull backwards with the back of your fingers. Do not wrap your thumb and pinky around the shifter tightly. The shifter will glide from 1st to 2nd.

2 to 3: Using your palm, push forward on the shifter. You may think the shifter will go into 1st with this motion but because it is spring activated to bounce into neutral, a forward motion will actually send it right into 3rd. If you fist the shifter and try to force it forward-right-forward you will end up in 5th gear almost every time. Let the shifter go where it wants.

3 to 4: Same as 1 to 2. Pull back on the shifter with your fingers.

4 to 5: Finding 5 usually requires fisting the shifter and going forward-right-forward. It can also be done by pushing diagonally away from you while applying adequate outward pressure with the inside of your thumb.

5 to 4: Similar to the 2-3 shift, you can just pull back on the shifter and it will glide back-left-back into 4th gear. Most transmissions will lock-out reverse so there is no worry about it going there by accident. If you try to fist it and force the back-left-back youll end up going into 2nd almost every time.

4 to 3: Just push forward on the shifter.

3 to 2: Here you need to fist the shifter and pull back-left-back or do it as one motion and pull the shifter diagonally toward your body.

2 to 1: Make a hand shake again and push diagonally forward applying adequate force towards your body as you push the shifter forward. If you dont provide adequate pressure you will end up in 3rd and then youll be wondering why you keep stalling.

Reverse: Fist the shifter, find neutral, and push far right and then pull back. If the shifter doesnt click into place try releasing the brake pedal. If it still doesnt go trying shifting to 1st and then back to reverse. If it STILL doesnt go, try driving forward in 1st a few inches and then repeat the previous steps. Never shift into reverse while the car is movingyoull do it at least once and curse the day you read this.

Practice all these movements. Another technique to learning the smoothness is to put a big-gulp soda in your hand and then try to move the shifter around. Push forward with your knuckles and pull back with the bottom of your hand and the bottom of the cup. It can be done although reverse and 5th are sometimes tricky.

Step 10 -- Braking w/o depressing the clutch

I mentioned before that you should always press the clutch in when braking. This isnt necessarily true. When it 1st gear you should always do it but when in other gears you can press the brake and slow down while the car is still in gear. In fact sometimes just taking your foot off the gas is all you need to adjust your speed. The engine will cause the car to slow down more than it would in an automatic. The key is knowing when you must push the clutch in. The car will usually tell you by bucking and you need to remember that feeling so you dont let it happen again. The will also buck when you press the gas again if you let the RPM drop too much while it is still in gear. My personal preference is to never let the RPM drop below 1000 while in gear. When it gets to that point I either put the car in neutral or downshift to a lower gear. But in an emergency you should still think "both feet in".

Step 11 -- Downshifting

If you are at this point you have probably been driving for a while and cant figure out why the car bucks forward when you shift down a gear. There is a technique called "rev-matching" which essentially means you set the RPM to the correct level before you release the clutch in a lower gear. If you are in 3rd at 2000 RPM in order to shift smoothly into 2nd your RPM has to increase to 3000 before releasing the clutch. Always remember to set the gas so the RPM is higher than where you were before the shift and youll smooth out the downshift. Listen to the engine and over time you will begin to feel the right RPM for each gear given a specific speed. There is no formula, you just have to feel and/or hear it.

Step 12 -- Downshifting as a form of braking

First of all, you should NEVER use the clutch as a form of braking. The clutch is much more expensive to replace than brake pads and you are just putting unnecessary stress on the drive train by doing this. With that said, you can use downshifting as a form of braking but it doesnt provide you with much braking power. It is good practice because it keeps you in-gear as you slow down and that means you have the ability to maneuver quickly should someone cut you off or do something stupid in front of you. The technique for downshifting as a form of braking is the same as regular downshifting except you are dropping to a much lower gear and therefore have to compensate by setting the RPMs higher. You also dont want to linger with your foot on the gas so the trick is to blip the throttle to get the RPM above your desired point and then release the clutch as the RPM drops to the desire level. Race car drivers actually perform a technique called heel-toe downshifting where they are braking at full force and roll their foot over to blip the throttle so they can downshift while still braking. That is all I will say about heel-toe shifting since it is not really necessary in every day driving.

Update:
Want to know exactly what is going on inside the clutch and transmission? Try reading these articles:
http://auto.howstuffworks.com/clutch.htm
http://auto.howstuffworks.com/transmission3.htm
 
Last edited:

Astral

who got tha funk?
Contributor
good stuff, comprehensive!

"Feather it" is pretty much right...

I found that the most important thing is quickly and consistently getting to the point where the clutch starts to grab.

I find that starting is essentially a 3-step process:

1. Clutch all the way in, brakes on
2. Clutch at midway grabbing point, some gas to keep the engine at above 1000rpms (basically keep it from stalling/bogging).
-- stay at this point until 5mph or so
3. Release clutch fully. Now you can get on the gas.

You have to learn to quickly go from clutch all the way in to clutch at midway grabbing point.

One of the most common mistakes I made is to rev the engine too high (because I wanted to "go") while the clutch is not sufficiently engaged.

So it's really a "3-step" process, in a simple kind of way (sure, you move the clutch gradually out when you get better). That intermediate "friction the clutch to speed up the car to 5mph" step is key.

I found it helpful to practice getting to the friction point and back off into disengaged clutch, like you say in your step 2.
 
:
2003 Spicy Orange
dam that was pretty thorough. Have you ever tried (only works on level ground) to let the clutch out with no gas. I could do this with my 01 LX2.0 and i can do this with my 03 MSP. Give it a shot. No one could believe this. U cant just drop the clutch though. Ease it out, u might have to pump it.

Good write up though. Now everyone get out there and be somebody.
 

Akaveli

I Alwayz Haz Ava Hottiez
Contributor
:
{2002 Mazda Protege DX}[2004 Acura RSX Type S]
Astral said:
good stuff, comprehensive!

"Feather it" is pretty much right...

I found that the most important thing is quickly and consistently getting to the point where the clutch starts to grab.

I find that starting is essentially a 3-step process:

1. Clutch all the way in, brakes on
2. Clutch at midway grabbing point, some gas to keep the engine at above 1000rpms (basically keep it from stalling/bogging).
-- stay at this point until 5mph or so
3. Release clutch fully. Now you can get on the gas.

You have to learn to quickly go from clutch all the way in to clutch at midway grabbing point.

One of the most common mistakes I made is to rev the engine too high (because I wanted to "go") while the clutch is not sufficiently engaged.

So it's really a "3-step" process, in a simple kind of way (sure, you move the clutch gradually out when you get better). That intermediate "friction the clutch to speed up the car to 5mph" step is key.

I found it helpful to practice getting to the friction point and back off into disengaged clutch, like you say in your step 2.

Ooooooh...Now I understand. :)
 

SuperProtege5

Silver Bullet Away!
:
2004 Mazda 3 2.3
When I was first learning how to drive the P5, which was my first stick-shift, the biggest problem was the touchy accelerator and dropping the clutch. I eventually learned to ease the clutch out and it finally clicked for me when my dad gave me a mark of 1500 RPM to let the clutch out fully from my easing out. Once I practiced doing that a couple of times, I had no problems from then on. Excellent write-up and I commend you for taking the time to write it.
 

chuyler1

goes to eleven
Moderator
:
2013 CX-9
210_ZOOM said:
dam that was pretty thorough. Have you ever tried (only works on level ground) to let the clutch out with no gas. I could do this with my 01 LX2.0 and i can do this with my 03 MSP. Give it a shot. No one could believe this. U cant just drop the clutch though. Ease it out, u might have to pump it.

Good write up though. Now everyone get out there and be somebody.

Yes I can do this with the P5 and most cars with electronic fuel injection. However I don't see it as a good technique for teaching beginners because it makes them think they can always start with no gas when in fact it is very rare that you would do this and you are more likely to bog the engine and/or stall.
 
:
Black Protege ES 2.0L
Also a tip for newbies... When pushing down on the clutch to change gears... please don't be scared to push it ALL THE WAY DOWN. its not like a gas pedal. I can't tell you how many people grinded my gears by not pushing the clutch all the way...
 

chuyler1

goes to eleven
Moderator
:
2013 CX-9
Yes, good point. I'll have to add that in. I kept telling my wife, "hammer it to the floor when pushing it in...the finesse only applies when letting it out"
 

musiclikscreams

home's where the heart is
:
'02 red MP5
what about shifting w/o the clutch. my girl's dad kept telling me how you don't have to use the clutch after 1st. so i gave it a try. didn't make any sense. all i did was grind gears. but i was determined to figure it out and i did.

i don't really know what the benefits would be of not using the clutch. but if mine fails, i can still drive after i figure out how to get into 1st. haha
 

chuyler1

goes to eleven
Moderator
:
2013 CX-9
Hmm, last I checked the clutch was there for a reason. Sure you can shift w/o using the clutch but if it could be done quickly and efficiently you would probably see racers doing it...but you don't.
 
:
2003 Spicy Orange
its most beneficial for the truckers (18 wheelers). They have to shift a lot and while on the road they can FLOAT gears.
 

chuyler1

goes to eleven
Moderator
:
2013 CX-9
...because when you're a trucker, you've got nuthin but time. I'd mix it up a bit if I were puttin that many miles on the road.
 

musiclikscreams

home's where the heart is
:
'02 red MP5
chuyler1 said:
Hmm, last I checked the clutch was there for a reason. Sure you can shift w/o using the clutch but if it could be done quickly and efficiently you would probably see racers doing it...but you don't.
true
 

Astral

who got tha funk?
Contributor
chuyler1 said:
Hmm, last I checked the clutch was there for a reason. Sure you can shift w/o using the clutch but if it could be done quickly and efficiently you would probably see racers doing it...but you don't.
You can shift w/o the clutch if you perfectly match the RPMs as you engage the gear. Problem is that unless you do perfectly match the RPMs, you're raping your synchros. Your synchros are acting as clutch. So don't do it.