How To Drive A Stick Shift
Instructions on how do drive stick shift cars, plus a look at how the drivetrain of a car operates
Driving a manual-transmission car well is an art. The fluid and precisely synchronized movements between hand and foot that a professional driver displays were not born overnight. Just as everything in life, to drive like a pro requires practice. No amount of written instruction will ever be able to take the place of actual personal experience, but for those who are not looking to conquer race circuits, here is a simple set of instructions on how to drive a ‘stick shift’.
1) Get to know the controls – the key to driving well is to understand how the components of what you are driving work. The main parts of a standard transmission are the clutch and the gearshift lever. Most people know that to change gears, you have to press in the clutch, and to drive, you must let out the clutch. However, there is much more to the internal components of your transmission that you may not know, but will help you be a better driver.
First of all, the purpose of the clutch is to transmit the power from the engine to the wheels, via your transmission. A clutch is literally pressed against the flywheel of the engine by strong springs on one side, and connected to the input shaft of the transmission on the other side. When the clutch pedal is pushed in, the springs loosen and allow the clutch to be disengaged from the flywheel. This relieves the stress put on the clutch, and allows the changing of gears. Otherwise, with the torque of the engine applied to the clutch, the gears in the transmission would be badly damaged before ever being changed. Thus, it is important to always disengage the clutch fully before attempting to move the gearshift lever.
Next, the workings of the transmission also play an important part. The input shaft of the transmission is connected to the flywheel, while the output shaft is connected to the axles of the driving wheels. In between the input and output shaft are a mess of gears of different ratios that are attached to the output shaft. For example, suppose a driving gear had a ratio of 2.73 to 1 when compared to the gear off the input shaft, that would mean that the put shaft rotates 2.73 times while the selected gear rotates once. This effectively multiplies the torque that is transmitted to the driving wheels. Thus, the lower gears always have a high ratio while the upper gears have lower ratios. This allows the car to pick up speed sooner but not over-rev the engine when cruising at highway speeds. However, there is the problem of how to synchronize the speed of the input shaft with the speed of the gears that are attached to the output shaft. In the old days, this difference in rotational speed between the input and output shafts required the driver to momentarily rev the engine to just the correct speed so that the input shaft rotational velocity equals that of the output shaft, and the two gears would mesh at equal speeds. However, this required considerable skills, and if done with even a bit of error, resulted in a horrific crunching noise from the two gears attempting to mesh while spinning at different speeds. Needless to say, this is very stressful on the transmission. Thus synchronizers were invented. These mechanisms are basically a very light, toothed ring mounted directly in front of the gear. The teeth on these rings would try to mesh with each other, and the low inertia of the ring allows for them to synchronize speeds very quickly. This contraption took away the need to rev the engine to match speeds, otherwise known as “double clutching”. Now, with this knowledge in hand, the rest will be easy.
2) To get rolling from a stop, gently engage the clutch while at the same time, apply the throttle in a similar fashion. Once you are used to your car, you will be able to intuitively know when the clutch will engage, and this is the point at which you want to give the car some gas to keep the engine revving. If not enough gas is applied at this point, the engine will sputter, in which case you either apply more gas, or disengage the clutch. Practice this repeatedly as rolling from a dead stop is the hardest to perform smoothly.
3) Once you are rolling, you need to change out of first gear and into second. To do so, disengage the clutch, but at the same time, let off the gas a bit so that the engine does not rev too much. Move the gearshift lever out of first gear, and gently into second gear. If you feel the shifter is resisting being moved, that means your synchronizers have not synchronized the speeds of the gears yet. Do not force the lever because synchronizers are easily damaged. Wait a brief moment, then try to move towards second gear. Only after the transmission is firmly in gear, engage the clutch while applying gas at the same time. The timing of the two requires lots of diligent practice to achieve smoothness.
4) Coming to a stop, it is best to disengage the clutch and let the car coast, rather than let off the gas and use engine compression to slow the car. However, do not attempt to shift into first gear when the car is still rolling as anything faster than a slow walking pace. The wear on the synchronizers when you attempt this is great, and should be avoided. Come to a stop, put the transmission into first gear, and then repeat the above steps.
Most of all, practice. Practice is the key to perfecting this skill. Once you have mastered shifting, driving will take on a new level of excitement.