How to Drive a Standard Transmission Vehicle

This post is a result of being behind someone in a manual shift car yesterday who clearly had no idea how to drive it. 

Having been a driver instructor and driver examiner in the Canadian military for some time, perhaps I'm a little too hard nosed on this topic but....

If you are going to drive a vehicle with a standard transmission, that means you shift the gears yourself, then please, for the sake of your safety and everyone else on the road,  LEARN HOW TO DRIVE IT PROPERLY!

This is not a difficult task.  Everyone can learn it. 

Basically, when you are sitting at a light or stop sign or some other location where you are starting off from a stand-still, there is no legitimate excuse for allowing the vehicle to roll backward.  NONE!

There is this little concept known as a friction point.  That is where the clutch begins to engage.  Not the point where you stall the vehicle because you let it out too far with not enough accelerator and certainly not where the vehicle is all but in neutral, but just where the engine RPM drops a little bit.  Leave your right foot on the brake pedal.  You don't need it yet.

At this point, the vehicle will stay put.  It won't move forward, it won't move backward without acceleration.  This is what you need to learn to use.

When I taught driver training, the student could not move on to the road test portion until every start, on a steep hill, was made using the friction point and the vehicle did not move even and inch.

Here's a tip for you at traffic lights once you have mastered the friction point.  Watch the other light to see when it turns yellow.  That is your signal to put the vehicle in gear and engage the friction point.   You do put the transmission in neutral at traffic lights right????

Leave your foot on the brake at this time.  Then, when the light turns green for you, you are ready to ease the clutch out a little further with acceleration and you are off with no rolling back.  No panic, no revving of the engine.  A simple and straight forward start without compromising the safety of you and those behind you.



Comments (73)
  1. Literarytech says:

    Thanks, Gerry. I was never taught that manuever, in part because I’m mostly self-taught on the manual transmission front. I always used my parking brake to obtain a similar effect with the car pulling forward before I release the brake.

    Regardless, I completely agree that it is bad form to roll backward. Bad Bad Bad form.



  2. Hey David.

    Glad to hear it will help out.  At least I’ve reached one person!  🙂

  3. Dave says:

    "You do put the transmission in neutral at traffic lights right????"

    While you can put the transmission in neutral at a light you really shouldn’t and is not a correct practice and will also wear your clutch quicker.  

    Let off the gas, push in the clutch when the engine starts to labor, come to a stop and throw the car back into first with the clutch depressed, then when the light goes yellow start letting it back out.  In my opinion taking the vehicle out of gear and into neutral is lazy and I can’t believe as an instructor you teach your students to do this.

  4. Dave says:

    "You do put the transmission in neutral at traffic lights right????"

    While you can put the transmission in neutral at a light you really shouldn’t and is not a correct practice and will also wear your clutch quicker.  

    Let off the gas, push in the clutch when the engine starts to labor, come to a stop and throw the car back into first with the clutch depressed, then when the light goes yellow start letting it back out.  In my opinion taking the vehicle out of gear and into neutral is lazy and I can’t believe as an instructor you teach your students to do this.

  5. Just getting back to this now so I will offer my explanation as to why I teach that.

    When you are sitting at an intersection such as a red light, it is correct procedure place the transmission in neutral and release the clutch.  How you determine that it wears out the clutch is not apparent to me.  

    Nor is it apparent to me how you think that is lazy.  

    At any rate, the rationale for it is this.  If you are stopped at a red light and you have the vehicle in gear with the clutch depressed, you are facing the potential of causing a more serious accident than otherwise might not happen.

    The reason is simple.  If you are struck from behind by another car, the way the body reacts to this impact typically results in your left leg actually releasing the clutch due to the jarring that takes place from the rear end impact.  

    When you do this, and the car is in first gear, you have just increased your chances of launching your vehicle into the intersection, where you will most certainly be hit by another car again.

    This is information that is based on studies.  I don’t have the data to show you as it was a part of the driver training in the Canadian military.


  6. I think it’s great advice Gerry. I have friends who keep the clutch depressed at all lights, and it personally drives me nuts. For my first car I am debating still whether or not it should be standard (for more of a driving experience), or automatic (for more of a functional, multi tasking experience).

    I’ve definitely been one of those people you hate, but don’t we all hate them. With your advice, I really doubt I’ll be in that situation again.

  7. Hey Trevor.

    I guess it’s one of those things that just comes from bad habit forming at the outset.

    I’ve always been a believer in forming good, correct habits from the beginning that will follow you through life.

    I haven’t always been able to do that but I certainly try as much as possible.

    I take the same stance when teaching students computer programming.

    There is likely more of an issue with people not "knowing" about this then there is of people not "wanting" to drive this way.  I’m sure there are lots of people driving standard transmission cars that hate rolling back too, they were just never taught how "not" to do it.


  8. Ruth says:

    I remember being told years ago was that if you are struck from behind your foot would most likely fly off the clutch causing the car to stall which would actually prevent you being pushed into the intersection.  

    I actually learned to drive standard on my driver non-trade course years ago but don’t remember if that’s where I learned this.

    I’m currently teaching my teenage son to drive standard so I’d appreciate knowing the current philosophy

    Thanks ~ Ruth

  9. Hi Ruth.

    If you were sitting at an intersection and just let the clutch out, yes, the vehicle would stall.

    However, it you are sitting at an intersection and you are struck from behind, the vehicle is now moving forward and anytime the vehicle is moving, you can release the clutch and the engine will not stall.

    Now, you could argue that the brake is applied but, your foot will come off the brake as well so the engine won’t stall.

    My son is 15 so I will also be teaching him to drive.  Rest assured that he will learn this way.


  10. Chelsey says:

    I have a question about driving standard.

    I have driven a standard for over 5 years now, and when I come up to a set of lights, in which the light is red (as an example), I push the clutch in and take the car out of gear and into neutral.

    When my boyfriend drives my car and is coming up to a red light, he just takes the car out of gear and puts it into neutral…NOT using the clutch to take the car out of gear.

    I flip out every time because to me, that is somewhat a grinding of the gears if you are not clutching to take the car out of gear and into neutral…or else I think it will screw up my clutch.

    Can anybody tell me if this will wreck my clutch or gears please.


  11. It won’t wreck your clutch but it will cause premature wear on the gears.  When there is still pressure on the gears, as there will be in the way he is taking the car out of gear, then you will cause wear on the metal.

    Pushing in the clutch release this pressure and makes it easier for the gears to unmesh.

    Truck drivers, of the 18 wheeler class, will often shift without using the clutch.  They have learned to do this through experience and knowing when the least amount of resistance is on the gears.  Most mechanics who work on transimissions will tell you that those who use the clutch, are in the transmission repair shop a lot less.


  12. Newbie says:

    OK, so I just bought my first manual car, after 7 years of driving an automatic.  I was thinking it would be much more fun (and eventually more economical) than it has turned out to be.

    While I realize that I’m getting better at the stop-start-go, I still have serious anxiety while out in traffic.  I’m feeling very prohibited by my lack of skills, and my inconsistency with the tricky things (like hills).  I Do I need to have my foot on the gas when downshifting is complete — it seems that riding it out leaves me with that brutal "lurch", kind of like my stomach is going to propel right through the windshield. I can’t imagine this is being kind to my new car.

    Now I’ve entered the financing contract, thus I’m stuck with this car I had hoped to love, but kind of despise.

    Do you have any advice to speed up my skills and confidence?

  13. HI Newbie,

    Believe it or not, when I teach new students on a standard transmission, one of the first places I take them, after they learn where the friction point is, is straight to a hill.  I like to make the incline gradual at first.  This gets you used to finding the friction point in a sort of panic way, before the car rolls backwards.  Find a hill that doesn’t have traffic at first though.  🙂

    The basics of driving and manual transmission is finding and knowing where the friction point is.  Finesse is of utmost importance.  In other words, don’t be quick and jerky with your motions using the clutch and you will have a much better experience.  

    When you are pressing the clutch for either up or down shifting, there should be an equal and opposite, smooth motion of both right and left foot.  The right foot should be releasing the accelerator at the same rate as you left foot is depressing the clutch.  If done correctly, there is no accelerator pedal depression by the time the clutch has disengaged.

    For down shifting, you should not be on the accelerator at all.  Release the accelerator as mentioned above while depressing the clutch, shift into the next lower gear, slowly release the clutch until it engages and then slowly out through the remaining length of the pedal.  This will reduce the lurching you are talking about.

    You need to also be aware of the speed the vehicle is travelling to ensure a smoother transition.  If you are going too fast, there will be a slight lurch and the engine RPM will increase significantly.  When that happens, you know you are going too fast for that specific gear down.

    THe only time you would ever use the accelerator when down shifting is if you are driving a truck, of the larger variety than a pickup, and it has what is sometimes called a split axle.  The shifters have a ruxal, don’t think that is how you spell it, button on the shifter that basically shifts the rear axle into a different ratio, high or low.  When down shifting with these, you need to apply accelerator to match RPM etc in order for the shift to work correctly.

    However, in a car, no accelerator on the down shift.  Think smooth and fluid motions and be familiar with you friction point.  It’s like playing guitar.  The more you practice, the better you become and the more you will find the anxiety in traffic will go away as your confidence builds.

    Hope that helps a little bit.


  14. Chris says:

    Hi Gerry,

    I`ve been reading your comments, and I find them very helpful. I`m just learning how to drive a standard and I`m finding that it`s not as easy as I thought it would be at first.

     I find that at intersections, especially 4 way stops. I try to be quick and end up stalling, or I find I roll back. therefore I try and get in gear quickly and again stall. It`s fustrating because I don`t want to hold people up, but then again I don`t want to drive in a hurry, ( car lurching)

    Any helpful advice would be appreciated.


  15. Hi Chris.

    Most people do go through the same thing.  It’s a little bit of panic, a little bit of anxiety plus other factors all rolled into one.

    Here’s my advice.

    Watch the traffic lights.  As soon as you see the light for the cross traffic turn yellow, put the vehicle in gear and bring the clutch out to the friction point and hold.  Don’t take your foot off the break yet.  You should feel the car want to move a little bit but don’t let the clutch out any further or the car will stall.

    You are now ready for when the light changes green because all you have to do is a little bit of accelerator pedal and ease the clutch out for your start.

    When you are surprised by the light, it will cause a small panic situation as you said, you want to move without holding up traffic but you don’t want to start too quick and stall.

    Being prepared for the take off is all important.  Once you get used to it, it will be second nature.

    Even in an automatic, I find myself checking the cross traffic lights so I know when they will change.


  16. kate says:


    You seem to really know what you’re talking about. I have issues with reversing, I find that I either stall, or speed backwards. Do I leave the clutch in a bit as I’m reversing and a little bit of gas, then break, or should I release the clutch and just break. I’m getting most other things okay, but I still don’t quite understand the reverse dynamics.

    Thanks alot

    speedy reverser kate

  17. Hi Kate,

    One of the things that I have noticed with vehicle is that the reverse gear has a different ratio than the any of the forward gears.

    What this means is that most vehicles I have driven allow you to use the clutch in reverse without requiring any throttle.  That means that you can "feather" the clutch to reduce the speed during back up.  

    It requires you to keep your foot on the break or accelerator, depending on your speed, but if your car allows it, you can hit the friction point on the clutch, release the brake and slowly let the clutch out a little at a time until you have acheived your desired back up speed.  Feathering means that you push the clutch back in a little or let it out a little more to maintain the speed you want.

    Again, this is all done with subtle and slow movements.  Nothing too fast, or you will stall the vehicle.

    Hope that helps.


  18. Joshua says:

    Thank you so much for your lesson! I`ve been driving an automatic forever and am learning to drive a manual at he moment. I have mastered most things except the `rolling backwards on a hill thing` hopefully now with your lesson I can do it! Again Thank you!

  19. bond21 says:

    Hey, I have also been told about the clutch start on a hill – finding the friction point then pressing the accelerator, but some people think this wears out the clutch?

    Is this true?

    My isntructor told me it doesnt because its only a slow start and you only have trouble if you do burnouts etc.

    What do you think?  Does it wear the clutch out?

  20. bond21 says:

    Hey, I have also been told about the clutch start on a hill – finding the friction point then pressing the accelerator, but some people think this wears out the clutch?

    Is this true?

    My isntructor told me it doesnt because its only a slow start and you only have trouble if you do burnouts etc.

    What do you think?  Does it wear the clutch out?

    EDIT – Could you please reply to this comment, as I forgot to put email notification on my previous one.

  21. Hi bond21,

    The answer to that question is that no and yes, at the same time.  In order to understand why, you need to understand how the clutch works.

    It is basically a set of friction plates and springs.  The friction plates are made up of steel and the same kind of material that a brake pad is made of.

    When you have the clutch pedal fully release, that means the clutch is fully engaged.  At this point in time, the springs are applying their maximum pressure to hold the friction plates together and cause the whole assembly to turn.

    This is what provides the power from the engine to the transmission and finally to the rear wheels, but I think you know that part already.

    So, when the clutch is fully engaged, the pressure will prevent the friction plates from slipping.  This doesn’t mean that there isn’t some wear taking place on these plates.   Eventually, all clutches need replacing anyway.

    When you reach the friction point, the clutch is not fully engaged and this means that the engine side is still spinning but the transmissions side is not, however, the two sides are now in contact.  Does mean you are wearing out the clutch due to friction and the rubbing action?  A tiny little bit but, it is not significant enough to affect the lifetime of your clutch.  Remember, you are only doing this very briefly.  You should never sit at a red light with the clutch at the friction point.  Only just before you start off.

    Here’s a tip for you.  If you smell a bad odor when using your clutch, you are causing problems and premature wear.  it is known as burning the clutch and trust me, you will know what I mean when it happens.

    You would basically need to hold the clutch at the friction point and apply lots of accelerator to cause some major slipping in order to do that.

    Hope that helps to clear it up.


  22. beekay says:

    hi gerry,

    thank you for posting this. you have explained driving a standard in a clear manner.

    i was just wodnering, i have heard different comments on what you should do when parking the car. do you 1) leave it in neutral with the e-brake on of course or do you 2) leave it in a gear (1st or reverse?) and the e-brake on.


  23. Hi Beekay,

    Glad the explanations are helpful.

    As for parking a vehicle that has a manual transmission, you should always leave the transmission in either 1st gear or reverse with the

    e-brake on.

    The recommendation has always been explained that the lower gear ratio of 1st or reverse is best for helping prevent the vehicle from moving should the e-brake be accidentally released.

    NOTE: I have not verified that claim but I have also never had a vehicle run away on me when placed in either of these two gears and no e-brake on.

    The transmission should never be left in neutral when parking and leaving a car unattended or with children in it.  You should also never leave a manual transmission car parked and unattended without the e-brake on regardless.


  24. I appreciate all the advice and help you have given us. I am doing ok with the starting and stopping, my problem now is driving in traffic and knowing what gear to put it in when slowing down and starting back up. I understand I will have to downshift at times but the question is what gear…2nd?

    I have found when people are slowing down to turn into a parking lot, I have to slow down but not stop completely…what gear?? This is why I’m really nervous about driving in traffic. Please help!!! I’d appreciate either a response on here or an email. Thank you so much!!!!

  25. Hi Melissa,

    The gear you need to be in is closely related to the speed you are travelling at.  For starters, take note of the speed you are going when you shift up.  That is a good indicator of the speed at which your vehicle would be in a particular gear.

    For example, let’s say that you are in first gear and shift to second when you are doing 15 mph, that basically means that anything below 15 would require you to be in first gear.

    Each car can be different so it’s important for you to do that exercise at least once to learn your gear to speed values.

    Now, when slowing down, I personally like to downshift one gear at a time using that the engine compression and braking to slow down.  Saves wear on your brakes and also means that you are likely to be in the correct gear when you start to accelerate again.

    Hope that helps.


  26. Vincy Girl says:

    Hi Gerry,

    All of ur advice has been very helpful as I have just started to learn how to drive a standard vehicle…. My question is this though, in relation 2 changing gears, I was told that I would know wen to change dem wen i feel like the vehicle is losing power… but i have read dat u need 2 change them at 15 mph intervals…so have I been given the wrong instruction?

    Thank u in advance for ur response…!

  27. Hi Vincy Girl,

    Each make of vehicle is different due to the gear ratios in the drive axles and transmissions.  As a result, you can’t really follow a rule that every 15mph you need to change gears.

    Most newer standard transmission vehicles have a little light or arrow on the tachometer, the guage that shows the RPM the engine is at.  These little lights indicate when you should shift up.

    If your car does not have one of these lights, you will need to go by RPM on the guage or engine sound.  A good rule of thumb is when you are in the highest gear and driving at a normal speed, look at what the "natural" RPM of the car is.  Use this as a base line and go about 500 to 1000 RPM above that before each gear shift.   Listen carefully to the engine sound as you do this and if it sounds as though it is revving too high, shift immediately.

    Again, this depends a lot on each make of car and you have to find the proper shift RPM for your car.  Remember, the shift is based on RPM, NOT speed.


  28. Brad Cordier says:

    Hello, i just bought a brand new 2009 toyota corolla that is standard!!! I bought an automatic but it was taking too long to build so i choose the standard since it was on the lot. Ok so the one question is.. when im parked on a minor hil(parking lot in my backyard…. is it alright to use my e-brake to back so i dont roll foward or will it burn up the e-brake lines and wear the f out my brakes? And also lol can i have some pointers since i have only just learned last week?

  29. Hi Brad,

    Using the e-brake is never a good idea in this context.  The e-brake is meant for parking and emergency stopping only.  Using it in the way you are thinking causes you to have bad habits and becomes and unnecessary crutch to learning properly.

    The best tips I can offer are as follows;

    1) Because starting off is the most troublesome for most people, spend some time away from traffic practicing the clutch and accelerator coordination including starting on inclines.  This way, you have a few less things to distract you until you get the motions and friction point down.

    2) Be comfortable enough with the above so as not to "panic" at lights or on hills when cars are around you.

    3) Always be prepared for what is required next.  For example, I see a lot of people get "surprised" by the light change and then scramble to put the car in gear and get the clutch out to the friction point etc.  Watch the lights periodically and learn to anticipate the change.  When you see the other traffic’s light change to yellow, put the car in gear and ease the clutch to the friction point.  You are now ready to accelerate when the light turns green.

    4) Look through the posts in this thread for other tips but always remember, your motions on the clutch should always be smooth and fluid.  No jerky movements or fast shifting.  It only serves to make the ride rough and causes damage to clutch and transmission.


  30. Sarah says:

    I just learned to drive a standard a few weeks ago and I seem to be doing pretty well so far (not even rolling on hills). One thing I noticed though is that I find myself leaving the clutch depressed through a turn, going down a hill, and turing into a parking spot. Also, when I am in 3rd or 4th gear and I am slowing down to come to a stop at a light I will slow down with the break, while clutch is depressed all the way, to 1st gear without taking the time to engage the gear into second. So basically while I am slowing down I skip over the middle gears and will go right to first but there is no jerking because i am at the right speed to be in 1st.  

    My question is, is holding in the clutch and skipping a bad habit that i am forming/bad for the car or does it not make a difference?

  31. Stan says:

    People always comment to me that a standard is more fuel efficient than an automatic but when i drive my standard it seems to have around the same mpg as other cars. I feel that my mpg is affected by the way I drive and could be increased. Can you give me a few tips on how to drive fuel efficiently in a manual or why they get better mpg? thanks

  32. Hi Sarah,

    There is a lot of controversy over whether this is good of bad.  In my opinion it is bad and here is why.

    1) It has a tendancy to not force you to think about what gear you are in, which results in you taking time to determine what gear you should be in.

    2) It can be considered "coasting" and in some places, that is illegal, especially going down hills.

    3) It causes premature wear on your brakes that can be avoided.  Use downshifting to utilize engine compression to slow the vehicle down and rely on the brakes less for slowing down in situation where you are going downhill or slowing down.

    4) I suspect your desire to push the clutch in comes from the fact that you are scared the vehicle will stall.  If that is the case, find an empty parking lot or a road with no traffic and find where the stalling point is for your vehicle.  Do this by placing the car in each gear at the right speed and then use the brakes to slow down, without pushing in the clutch.  When you feel the vehicle starting to jerk or stall, that is the point that you should be pushing in the clutch.  Well, actually just before that point, but it gives you an idea as to what speed this becomes an issue for each gear.

    As for being bad for your car, it is not doing any damage other than premature brake wear that can be avoided.  It’s just simply not good form.  🙂


  33. Hi Stan,

    This has always been a hot topic among car afficionados and although I have not seen proof of either way being true, I have heard it many times.

    Some people believe that a standard transmission vehicle gets better gas mileage because you have more, (sometimes), gears than an automatic.  For example, most automatics until a few years ago had 3 speed transmissions while most standards were 4 or 5 speed.  I learned to drive a standard using a 1973 Ford pickup with a 3-speed column shift.  Talk about a work on the left leg and right shoulder.  🙂

    Anyway, the theory is that with more gears, the standard allows for a lower starting gear plus a higher ratio overdrive.  

    The lower starting gear makes it easier on the engine to get the vehicle moving resulting in less fuel consumption during that phase of driving.  The extra overdrive gear allows for the ease of maintaining momentum at higher speeds while keeping the RPMs of the engine lower.

    I buy into both theories as logically they make sense.

    So, this means that if your driving habits are causing the engine to rev at higher RPMs, then yes, you could be using more fuel than you should be.

    Keeping engine RPMs lower is not only good for fuel economy, but it prolongs the life of the engine as well.

    I would say just be aware of the speeds at which you are shifting gears.  You don’t want to shift too soon and have the engine labor too much but you don’t want to "wind it out" either.


  34. Carol says:

    im learning standard and I reved my car really high lots of times my first few days of driving , have I already damaged my new car?

  35. Hi Carol,

    Probably not.

    Engines are designed to take high revolutions for limited periods of time, as long as there is sufficient lubrication, ie oil level is correct, filter is clean and oil pump is working.

    I won’t go into the theory behind engine lubrication because it’s not required.  Basically if your car is brand new, you are ok in terms of lubrication.

    Just know that your engine is still likely ok.


  36. WRX says:

    I have a question about driving standard in short distances with many many traffic lights. I experience this for the first time when I drove my car near downtown area where there are lots of traffic signals with many cars and short distance. Lets say that I am driving in first gear and the cars front of me are driving slow, should I be pressing my clutch all the time with giving gas or let go off my clutch. How do i get my car rolling in smooth without jerking. Because what happened was my car tends to slow down and stall. I almost stall like few times but I quickly pressed the clutch with giving acceleration. Need advice please. I am okay driving on high way.

  37. I would have to say you are definitely driving slow if your car is stalling.

    By all means, use the clutch in instances such as this.  You should always "feather" the clutch in these situations to prevent stalling or jerking.


  38. CONNIE says:

    Hello Gerry!

    I have driven a manual transmission for a number of years and often wonder if my shifting is the most efficient. Can you give us experienced "stick shifters" any advice for more efficient fuel economy and less wear on our transmissions?



  39. Hi Connie,

    Manual transmission vehicles are supposed to be more fuel efficient than automatics but I’m not certain I’ve seen any conclusive evidence of that.

    However, I have found that watching your speeds when shifting up and down are the best methods of keeping your fuel economy the lowest it can be.

    For example, if you shift at or slightly before the indicator found on some cars, you will achieve a better fuel economy then if you allow the engine RPMs to go much higher before shifting.

    Basically, the more aggressive you are on the accelerator, the more fuel you will burn.


  40. Eugene says:

    i already know how to start the car and move it off.  What i want to know is how to stop it when it is already in motion? if i am moving i third gear for example, do i have to downshift to stop or just press the brakes?

  41. Hi Eugene,

    The proper procedure is to downshift, it possible.  This will use engine compression to slow the vehicle and will also save some wear on your brakes.

    However, ultimately, you still need to apply the brakes to slow down and to come to a complete stop.  Just don’t forget to push in the clutch just before the engine stalls.  You can tell when this will happen as the car will start to jerk a bit.  Note the speed at which that happens and press the clutch just before that point in the future.


  42. Rob says:

    Hello Gerry,

       I have a question about turning in my standard car. Should I hold in the clutch while turning in second gear    or do I not have to hold in it at all? I’m just wondering if the clutch would burn out quicker. I have the tendency to press the clutch in when turning in first or second gear because I fear the car will stall. So I guess my question to you is this the correct way?

  43. Hi Rob,

    A lot of people feel the same way.  It just feels like the car will stall for sure.

    You should not have to depress the clutch in turns as the car will be going fast enough around the corner to avoid stalling, provided you are in the proper gear.

    Here’s how to know when the car will stall.

    Go to a parking lot, preferably vacant, or a road or street with little to no traffic.  Place the car in first gear and start off until you are cruising at a speed that doesn’t require you to shift up, let the car slow down, pressing the brake if needed, but don’t touch the clutch.  Let the car stall.  

    Do this a few times in 1st and 2nd gear, the most common gear you will be in when turning.  This will give a good feel for when the car will stall.  Then, use that when driving.  You will get a sense for when you need to depress the clutch and when you are ok.


  44. Pfunk says:

    Hi Gerry,

    You have given a lot of good advice.  I just bought a brand new manual trans car and I have not driven one for years (previously was a truck, easier).  On the highway or backing up is not a problem for me, but I am struggling w/ first.  I can back up in my car w/ no gas, just feathering the clutch.  Does that mean i can apply the same mechanics in 1st?  Because my accelerator in an 09 camry is real sensitive and I’ve read everywhere that the no-gas method is best at first, however I hate stalling especially on a hill.  A couple times already I have given too much gas w/ the clutch halfway out and there’s that dreaded awful smell… am I already killing the clutch?  And also in heavy traffic where its stop and go in 1st is it harmful to feather the clutch constantly cuz I really don’t want to be all over it unless absolutely necessary.  Thanks for your help!

  45. Hey Pfunk, how’s it going?

    The reason you can’t apply the same feather technique without accelerator in first gear is due to the gear ratio that you find in the different gears.  Reverse is very low gearing and you can’t drive that fast without causing the RPM to spike quite high.

    First gear is designed to allow you to drive at a specific speed to get the car motion started but yet allow for a faster forward movement then you get from the reverse gear.

    You will need to practice being "light" on the accelerator if it is sensitive.  That way, you can adjust the coordination of clutch and accelerator to the best combination for a smooth start everytime.  It takes practice and there is no way around that.

    As for feathering the clutch, you will not wear out the clutch prematurely just feathering.  When you smell that odor, you are causing slipping on the clutch and that causes wear.

    You will not be able to start off, in a car, in 1st gear without some accelerator.  It’s just not possible without stalling due to the speed at which you need to let the clutch out.  You can, but you will upset a lot of drivers who will be waiting for you to get moving.  🙂

    On a hill, it is impossible to start off with using the accelerator.

    Patience and practice will make you perfect on the startoff.  Trust me, it will be worth it.


  46. Nancy says:

    I have driven standard transmission for years and am now teaching my son to drive my husbands 5 speed jeep. My husband is teaching him to take car out of gear when slowing down and coast to a stop in neutral. I had been taught and have always used the practice of gearing down. My husband says that gearing down causes premature wear on the clutch. I would like my son to learn the correct and safe way to drive.

    Can you tell me which way is better?

  47. Hi Nancy,

    Like most women, I suspect you will be happy to hear that you are right and your husband is wrong.  🙂

    As long as the clutch is let out fully on down shifting, there is no more wear on it than when shifting up.  This is actually something that a lot of people don’t seem to understand.  

    The clutch will only prematurely wear when it is not fully engaged.  By holding the pedal in part way, you allow the friction plates to slip a certain amount.  When these friction plates are moving quickly, such as shifting up or down, they will slip against each other and cause wear.  When the pedal is fully released, these plates are held against each other by a strong set of springs.  If there were any slippage at this point, such as an improperly adjusted clutch, then there would also be wear.

    Also, by gearing down, you actually save wear on the brakes because you use engine compression to slow the vehicle instead of braking.

    The proper way, and the most effective way, is to gear down correctly.  The vehicle should only be placed in neutral when you are waiting at a red light.

    As a matter of fact, check your local traffic regulations because a lot of places actually indicate that coasting in neutral or with the clutch depressed is illegal.  I can’t remember the rationale for that regulation but I know it was present in my home province and here in the state of Washington.


  48. Yvonne says:

    My husband hasn’t driven a standard for many years and doesn’t enjoy driving it.  He has a tendency to skip 4th gear and goes directly from 3rd to 5th, sometimes before he has attained the proper speed for shifting to 5th.

    Is he doing any damage to the gears by doing this.  I have heard it is necessary to double clutch when skipping a gear.  What are the facts?

  49. Hi Yvonne,

    Believe it or not, there is no damage being done to the gears or transmission.  It is harder on the drive train as a whole due to the fact that there is more strain put on everything when the proper gear is not selected, but it won’t make any noticeable difference over the life of the car.

    Double clutching should never be necessary in a car.  The transmissions in cars today use synchronizers to ensure that the gears are in the correct position meshing when shifting.

    Double clutching is a carry-over from larger trucks.  It basically allows you to keep the transmission and engine spinning at the same rate of speed before the gears are changed.   When you depress the clutch and shift out of gear, there is a slight delay before you shift into the next gear and the engine and transmission may not be at the same speed again.  The double clutching reengages the clutch and allows the pressure plates and input shaft on the tranmsission to get to the same speed as the engine.

    It is not required on a car at all.


  50. Andy says:

    hi I am wanting to learn how to drive a manual transmission for my next car. What gears are best for highway traffic. IF I am in third and coming up to a red light can move from third to first without having to make sure i am slowing at the right speed or would this make the car stall or be hard on the clutch?

  51. Hi Andy,

    For your first question, the answer depends on your car.  In other words, is it a 4 speed, a 5 speed etc.  Normally, for highway speeds, 60 MPH/100 KMH or greater, you will be in the highest gear to reduce engine RPM and maximize fuel economy.

    For question 2, I always recommend using down shifting through each gear, when possible, to aid in slowing down and reducing wear on the brakes.  Note that I said when possible.  What I mean by this is simple, if you need to stop quickly and you are in a higher gear, I recommend not downshifting but using your brakes to stop.  You only need to depress the clutch a little before your vehicle stalls or you come to a complete stop.

    I recommend the brakes only for a quick stop to help reduce confusion and workload during a potential emergency situation.


  52. Kara J says:

    I have been driving a standard now for about six weeks and I have been hating it. I take round about ways, to avoid traffic and I do not go to places because I am stressed about stalling. I have learned alot from your forum and I am applying alot of these rules tommorow. I am good with everything except for the starting (at a stop sign or traffic light). I was never told to have the clutch at a friction point. I always had it fully depressed and when I go, I stall. That is probably why I am stalling and feeling stupid. Thank-you, and I will post back and let you know if I am a non-staller (which hopefully I am).

  53. Hi Kari,

    I’ve taught many people who hated a standard transmission at first too.   Once you become comfortable with the techniques I mention and you master them, you won’t hate it any longer.  Driving a car with a stick is actually quite nice as you have more control over your speed, your shifting and you get a better feel for the way the car is driving, in my opinion.

    Keep at it and let us know how are are doing.


  54. Kara J says:


     My post is just up above, I do not stall anymore and it is great. I do not hate standards anymore, thanks to you. I only have one more question though. I do avoid inclines because I am scared of rolling back, so I still basically only drive to a limited number of places (but with no stalling 🙂 ) Can you please tell me how not to roll back. Please and thank-you so much!! I live in a town and do not have easy access to a hill…crazy I know, but it is true!

  55. Hi again Kara,

    First of all, congratulations on mastering the starting and stopping.  I’m sure you are enjoying your car more as a result.

    For hills, you need to practice one simple little maneuver and you will never roll backward again.  It was actually watching people roll back that prompted me to start this post in the first place.

    When I was teaching in the Canadian military, it was mandatory that they students drivers were able to start on an incline with no rolling back whatsoever.  Here is what we did for instruction and practice.

    We used a non-busy road with an incline.  Had the student pull over to the side of the road and stop.  Then start off, drive far enought to shift at least one if not two gears on the incline, stop and do it all over again.

    Here’s the trick.  When stopped on an incline that you are facing up, because facing down is not a problem, you keep your foot on the brake.  Slowly raise the clutch pedal until you get to the friction point.  You’ll know where that is because you can hear the engine RPM start to drop a little.  Don’t come out too far and stall the car, just enough to get the feeling like the car almost wants to move forward.

    Once you are there, slowly release the brake to see if the car stays in one place, if not, you will need to ease the clutch out just a tiny bit further.  Now, you don’t want to do this when driving, this is just for practice to get a feel for the friction point.

    When driving, and the real practice part, ease the clutch out to the friction point and then move your foot from brake to accelerator and slowly accelerate and ease the clutch out more.  You will start off with no rolling back at all if you get the clutch set just right.

    NOTE: If you are at a red light on an incline, don’t put the clutch at the friction point while sitting there.  Watch the opposing traffic’s lights.  When you see the light turn yellow, you know it’s time to find your friction point and be ready to go for when your light turns green.

    I know you can do it.

    Have fun, and let us know how you make out.


  56. Devin I says:

    Gerry where abouts are you located, i would gladly pay for you to teach me. i live in Canada about 10 miutes away from CFB Petawawa. i just started driving standard. im not bad at it i just feel very insecure about starting off from a complete stop in first. sometimes the car tends to chug a bit but not much. i learned in one day really and have been practicing lots but its still that inital start that bugs me so i stay out of traffic if possible….ahah i just want to find an istructor that kows what there doing, my parents have driven standard and taught me how but they dont have time to show me everything.

    thanks for all these post they have helped alot. plan to get out tomorrow and work on that friction point.


  57. Hi Devin,

    Although I am Canadian, from Atlantic Canada actually, I live and work in the state of Washington in the US at the moment.

    I used to love teaching when I was in the Canadian military.  My own son who is 16, is going through driver training with me now.  I put him in a defensive driving school for insurance purposes but the remaining hours he is in the vehicle with me.

    We have an automatic so I don’t get to teach him all the little things about driving a standard but if you have any questions, ask away.  I’ll be glad to help, from a distance.  🙂

    Oh, and, keep up the practice.  You’ll be proficient in no time and look back on this and wonder what all the fuss was about.

    Just remember, smooth movements.


  58. Shawn says:

    Hi Gerry:

    Well, my clutch is finally starting to go. I was speaking to my trusty mechanic earlier today and he has confirmed the situation that I am presently facing–a situation that I have but all too often read about on the Internet–and I understand that, while there are ways to delay the inevitable (i.e., not driving my car, finding ways to used the clutch less, etc) there is (at least) one way to get around the inevitable.

    What I am speaking about is what I have heard people talk about on occasion: shifting without clutching. Would you be able to explain how to go about starting from 1st gear and getting to 5th gear without using the clutch (in the event that my clutch goes before I can get it to a mechanic and do not want to pay towing fees)?

    If it is too hard to explain via such means, do you know of any good external posts or infomation on websites that could direct me through this process?

  59. Hi Shawn,

    Sorry to hear that your clutch is going bad.

    As for shifting without a clutch, it’s not typically something I recommend for cars.  Larger trucks, such as tractor trailer and such, have proper synchromesh transmissions that allow the transmission to be shifted without a clutch.

    Your transmission will still have synchronizers in it but shifting without using the clutch is a bit tricky.  

    Basically, you accelerate as normal and time the shift just as you are releasing the accelerator.  You have to get the timing right or the car will still be in gear and the pressure applied by the car’s weight moving forward will make it hard to shift out of gear first.  DO NOT FORCE IT.  It should be a smooth shift.

    Once in neutral, simply shift into the next gear position.  Again DON’T FORCE IT.

    Oh and did I say, DON’T FORCE IT?  🙂

    Seriously, you can do far more damage to your transmission that you can imagine by doing this.  It’s better to look at getting the clutch replaced as soon as possible.

    Oh and down shifting without a clutch?  Not recommended at all.


  60. Shawn says:

    Hey Gerry:

    Thank you for your response. I am going to avoid clutchless shifting; however, for the time being, any tips on preserving the life of my clutch until I can get it serviced? I am picking up the kit today and having it installed by my mechanic on Monday the 13th?

    For example, should I use disc braking more for the time being relative to engine compression braking?

    Any other ideas (besides resorting to public transit)?

    Thank you for your input.

  61. Hi again Shawn,

    Nothing special to do really.  Remember that clutch wear occurs mostly when the clutch is not fully released or fully engaged.  ie, when starting off and you are easing the clutch out.

    The more you hold the clutch in the intermediate position, the more it will wear.

    Also, don’t accelerate too rapidly which can cause a worn clutch to slip more, resulting in more wear.

    Stay off the bus.  🙂


  62. Ying says:

    Hi Gerry,

    Just went through all your replies, extraordinarily helpful!

    I got this manual CRV, which I feel quite comfortable to drive now. But I have an issue of going into second gear. It seems it is HARDER than any other gear because no matter up or down shift, I always feel it is not as smooth as I am going into any other gear…

    I am trying to ease off the clutch more recently but I feel the car is losing power when I am doing it.

    Any comments?

    Thanks a lot!


  63. Hi Ying,

    Sorry for taking so long to answer your question.

    If you find that one gear is harder to shift into than others, I would suggest you have the transmission looked at.

    It sounds like the synchronizers in the transmission are going bad.  How old is the CRV?

    The last time this happened to me, was on a Ford Ranger 4×4.  I took it to the dealer three times complaining about the way it wouldn’t shift into and out of 2nd gear correctly.  I told them it was the synchronizers.  They put it off until the warranty was up, saying that wasn’t the problem.  When the bill came in for the repair job, because it got to the point where it would NOT go into 2nd at all, the first thing that was listed as bad and replace were the synchronizers.

    Needless to say, after I showed them the previous service requests where I indicated that was the problem, before the warrany ran out, they reversed the charges and covered it under warranty.


  64. Ying says:

    Hi Gerry,

    Thanks a lot for the information. I can’t believe your dealer tried to do THAT to you!

    The synchronizer might be bad. The CRV is a 2004 one and I got it as used from a guy working at CFB Kingston (AND he happened to worked as a driving instructor, too!!! But the car belonged to his late mother).

    I think i will consolidate the service needed for my next oil change (oil change, tyer . I may want them to have a look at the transmission too. I just do not trust local Honda dealer too much. They first suggested me to get a new shifter cable. But the guys working for Mr. Transmission said the tranny is OK…


  65. Julie says:

    Hi Gerry,

    I started driving a standard about 6 months ago.  I taught myself by reading about it on the internet including your site which is fabulous.  I just read Ying’s post about having trouble shifting into 2nd.  My transmission is brand new, 2 weeks after I got the car.  I seem to have trouble getting it into 1st and reverse sometimes.  Alot of times it’s fine and usually goes in nice and smooth but every now and then (especially reverse) it takes a bit to get it in the right gear.  Do you think it could be the same problem as hers (synchronizer) or just inexperience? Thanks for your help.


  66. Hi Julie,

    If your car is brand new, I doubt that it would be a transmission problem.  Potentially it could be the clutch adjustment.  Especially since first and reverse are entered when the car is at a stop.

    If the clutch is not disengaging fully when you press it to the floor, this will cause the transmission to be hard to shift into first or reverse.  Not so noticeable when driving though.

    I would ask that you ensure you are indeed pressing the clutch all the way to the floor.  If so, and you notice it not getting any better or getting worse, then I would suggest a quick trip to the dealership and have them verify the clutch adjustment.


  67. Vanessa says:

    Hi Gerry,

    I just bought a new vehicle it is a standard, after driving automatic for all of my driving career, The most problems I have it stopping and going I tend to stall the vehicle everytime 🙁 Please tell me how I can learn not to do this ……. and what is an easier method to overcome this?

    Thanks ~Vanessa

  68. Hi Vanessa,

    This is the area where everyone has trouble.  It is easy to overcome.

    The clutch has a friction point.  This is where it starts to engage, or, where it will start to cause the transmission to turn and put power to the wheels.  When teaching people how to drive standard transmission vehicles, I start them off on small hills.   This is a great way to find where the friction point is and to get used to feathering the clutch and adjusting your pressure on the gas pedal.

    What you do is find a hill that has a small incline, nothing too steep at first.  Find one that doesn’t have a lot of traffic and park on the side of the road, facing up the hill.  Use your 4-way flashers.

    Put the car in first gear.  Keep your right foot on the brake and ease the clutch out slowly until you feel the car start to move ever so slightly.  You should also hear and fear a slight drop in the engine RPM.  You’ll know you’ve gone too far if the car stalls.  🙂

    Once you have the clutch in this position, you should be able to take your foot off the brake and the car should not go backwards.  If it does, apply the brake again and ease the clutch out just a tiny bit more.

    Then, once you can take your foot off the brake and the car stays put, you can move your right foot over to the gas pedal and start to press it gradually, while easing the clutch out a little more at a time.  You will start off slowly and eventually you will have the clutch out all the way and be accelerating.  Once you can get to the point of having the clutch out all the way, stop the car and do it again.

    Practice that until you can start off on a hill without stalling everytime.  Then, simply apply the same principal on level ground.  Because you are at the friction point before taking your foot off the brake, you won’t experience that desire to let the clutch out quickly, which is where most people stall the car.

    As for stalling when you are stopping, that’s just a matter of pushing the clutch in before you are going too slow and stall the engine.  I usually wait until you can feel the car start to jerk a little and then push in the clutch.   It’s tricky at first, but you will find the right time for your car.

    And remember, there’s nothing wrong with pushing the clutch in when you are about 15 mph and then stopping with the brakes.  Oh, almost forgot, don’t forget to down shift when you are coming to a stop.  It helps to save wear on the brakes and ensures that you are in the proper gear for stopping.  This could be a reason why you are stalling when stopping.  If you are in a higher gear, the engine will stall easier when slowing down than if it is in a lower gear such as 1st or 2nd.

    Have fun!  Let us know how you make out.


  69. Julie says:

    Thanks so much Gerry.  It wasn’t a new car, just a new car for me.  The clutch is what they replaced so I will have them take a quick look at it where I got it fixed.  

    Thanks again,


  70. Ronelle says:

    Hi. I have had my licence for 3 years now, but am really nervous when getting behind the far i have driven only twice. I find it difficult to drop down gears when i am turning, and i have this habit of looking at my gears before i can change them. i would really love to drive and not depend on others. I am so jealous when i see my sis-in-law driving and she just got her license and is younger than me. I am also scared of stalling and other drivers shouting at me. please help as it is the holiday period and i would like to do stuff on my own without having to bother others.

    Thank you

  71. Hi Ronelle,

    First of all, when it comes to turns, you should never be down-shifting in a turn.  For turns, you need to adjust your entry speed correctly before entering the turn.  Then, you either maintain or slowly accelerate in the turn to the completion.

    Now, as for lookng at the gears, that is usually a matter of comfort.  Here is what I recommend.  With the car parked and not running, practice shifting without looking.  Resist the tempation to look down.  

    You will feel the pattern in your hand and arm and you will develop muscle memory for the shifting pattern.  You will also learn to know which gear you are in by the position of your arm.

    Practicing in this manner takes all other factors out of the picture, such as traffic etc. and allows you to concentrate on the shift patterns.  It will become second nature, trust me, and you will be driving and shifting without even thinking about it.

    Let me know how you make out.


  72. Shawn says:

    Hey Gerry,

    When approaching a stop is it bad to go from 2nd gear to neutral and coast to a stop? If so, should I just stop in 2nd and then go back to first when I want to go again?


  73. HI Shawn,

    Coasting, in some locations, is considered illegal.  Not 100% certain it applies here however, whenever possible, use engine compression to slow you down and to help save wear on the brakes.

    Leaving the transmission in gear, especially lower gears when coming to a stop, helps you slow down and requires less braking, hence less wear on the brake pads.

    Personally, I don’t like coasting and always taught my students to never do it.


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