Grelby tries to drive a standard! (Hilarity ensues)

Well, today (yesterday, actually… unless my clock is lying) I finally got to drag my father out in our little Honda Civic hatchback so I could learn to drive the silly thing. It’s a standard, which was the point of this whole exercise - I can drive an automatic just fine, thankyouverymuch. The reason I want to learn to drive this thing is largely because the vast majority of my driving time is in a minivan. A smaller minivan, but a minivan nonetheless. I much prefer driving smaller cars because I have a much better sense of where the entire vehicle is, especially the right side. The feeling of control is also much nicer; I’m driving, not guiding. I do like the feel of the hatchback - the only downside to it is the lack of powered steering. Even with this little car, turning the wheel at a stop takes Herculean effort for my tiny biceps. Anyway… we pull into a fairly empty, moderate sized parking lot that wraps around a couple buildings in a mostly empty industrial park. My dad and I swapped seats, and the fun began.

To begin with, I was a bit ahead of myself. I figured, hey, I know how this done, more or less. No problem; a couple tries and I’ll have it down pat. Oh, so wrong I was. My first start was impressive - I think I raced the engine a bit, then popped the clutch. WHOAH! The thing lurched forward, burning rubber, than jerked to stop as I reflectively came off the gas. It stalled. Great. I tried a couple more time, before I got the car moving, albeit with difficulty. So finally, I’ve gotten it going a couple times, but I still can’t do it smoothly. I go from first to second a few times as I head around the other side of the building. This was much easier; I had a couple shifts that weren’t too great, but I often was able to shift from first to second gear quite smoothly. But from a stop to moving, even after half an hour of practice, I hadn’t had one perfect start. I had a reasonably smooth one at one point, but nothing too great. Fortunately, before we headed home, my dad demonstrated a few times for me. It seems that I’m doing two things, now that I think about it: First, I’m easing the clutch up until I feel it start to engage, at which point I release it too quickly. The other side of this problem is that I’m often not giving it enough gas as I engage, and giving it the right amount of gas is made far harder when you release the clutch too fast. The other thing that I tend to do is race the engine a bit when trying to give it enough gas. As before, I’m still releasing the clutch too fast while do this. I figure I need practice.

Dopers, what’s your experience with manual gearbox cars? How long did it take you to learn it? Do you have any tips? I am determined to get this down; I think it could be fun to drive one of these. Besides, I might soon own a Geo Metro with a manual transmission (I know, I know::eek:). I WILL learn this!


I’m hooked on manual (only I still call them “standard”) transmissions. I think it’s because I’m a control freak.

I learned to drive them when I was in driving school a million years ago. I remember that the one I drove for the teacher was a breeze; I caught on right away and had no problems at all. Then my mother went out and bought a second car because she had two other drivers in the house. I was entirely sure that I’d have no problems at all with it. The first time I tried driving it, I got it to an intersection (a 4-way stop, not a major one, thank God) and could not get the thing going again. My mom had to switch places with me to get the car back home. My second attempt wasn’t much better, but with practice, I learned.

I think the best training is to take the car out on a hill and practice finding the friction point on the clutch. You can use the emergency brake as a backup, but there’s nothing like trying to hold a car on a hill to teach you exactly where the clutch engages (don’t do this as a rule after you learn to drive the thing, though. It wears a clutch out quickly). Don’t get discouraged with the amount of time it takes you to learn. Even when you’re experienced, there’s a learning curve with each new car you drive, since not all clutches are alike.

The thing I like best about manual transmissions is that they give a little car with a small engine far more low-end power than you get with an automatic. This makes it possible for me to tolerate cars like the Metro. :slight_smile:

Hi Gelby

It sounds like your having all the right problems. :slight_smile:
It’s always more frustrating than most people think, but don’t worry about how long it took me. There’s no time limit. :wink:

I found the easiest way to learn was on long open roads. If the traffic’s light, you can still practice stopping and starting, but 3rd and 4th gears will give you a break in between. Less shifting, and shifting in lower gears makes it easier on your ‘beginner’s nerves’, and builds your confidence. Starting from a dead stop in 1st gear is the hardest, but once you master that first six feet, the rest is easy. It sounds like you have a pretty good grasp of the mechanics, but like you said, it just takes practice to make it feel comfortable. Before you know it, you’ll be doing it without thinking about it.

Not to add to the pressure :wickedgrin:, but your final exam will come the first time you pull up to a stop sign on an incline, with some clown riding on your tailgate (or hatchback). (Here’s a tip: Pretend like you’ve stalled out and wave him around…just to be safe.)

Good luck to you.

InternetLegend, You’re absolutely right. I have a Toyota Celica and a Ford F250 farm truck. Two completly different beasts.

I learned to drive in a stick, like most Europeans - automatic transmissions are a thing for luxury cars here. I’d say less than 10% of all cars in the Netherlands is an auto - maybe even less than 5%. Since the car I learned to drive in was a very forgiving (read: powerless) VW Golf Diesel, I experienced little problems.

I learned to drive an automatic shortly thereafter, as my father owned a Hyundai Sonata automatic at the time. Terrible car, worst auto tranny ever. But after a few tries, I was able to stop at a traffic light without having my left foot slam on the brake pedal involuntarily - the clutch reflex. :slight_smile:

Now, the “clutch-reflex” only kicks in once or twice when I have to drive an automatic again after a long time of “stick-driving” (my own car’s a manual, too). Come to think of it, I drove an automatic for more than 400 miles 2 weeks ago, and I didn’t double-brake it once!

[sub](Of course, the fact that it was 400 miles of straight desert highway may have helped…)[/sub]

I began learning to drive in 1953, when I was thirteen years old. Automatics were few and far between back in those days, so I learned while driving a variety of stick shifts.

While I’ll never be able to drive i have some amusing stories of the attempts of my mother learning how to drive a stick …

The first time she crushed trashcans and bumped the garage door

The second time she threw it in reverse when she was supposed to go forward and ran over my step dad

He wasnt injured seriously

For years afterwards when they would fight my mom would wish she finished the job when she hit him

But it was a big joke in the family

I learned on – get this – a Dodge Aspen station wagon with a standard tranny!

[sub]short pause while readers stop wetting their pants from laughing too hard.[/sub]

So I sorta like 'em. It didn’t take me too long to get the hang of it.

The funny thing is, when I got married, I had a standard trans car, and my wife hadn’t learned to drive. She was scared to. So I tried to teach her. She made that little Colt buck like crazy, while I was yelling, “Clutch! Clutch!” At least she didn’t cry. She was too busy laughing at the sight of me being tossed back against the seat by the lurching of the car.

I never taught her to drive, BTW. Eventually, she had a professional driving instructor teach her, while she was pregnant. It was being pregnant that finally did it. I told her she had to be responsible for another person now, and she must learn to drive.

She still can’t drive a standard, though.

I want to start this post off with the following information: I own a car with a manual transmission. I am perfectly comfortable with a manual transmission and have been a competent, safe driver using a manual transmission for many years. However…

When I was first learning to drive a stick, I used my father’s old '65 pickup truck- a faithful and reliable, if less than agile old beast that did not deserve the treatment that I was about to inflict upon it as I clumsily learned to master the subtleties of the clutch.

As many beginners find, the hardest part of driving a standard is getting started from a dead stop. Although changing gears while moving is relatively simple, the novice driver struggles mightly with the all-important task of starting the motion. You, Grelby, are not alone in this regard.

I must beg your indulgence while I give you a little bit of background information about the setup of the truck I was learning on. It was, I believe, a standard shift pattern for a four-speed. First was up on the left, second straight down from first, third to the right and up, and fourth to the right and down. Reverse went to the far left and down, with a little bit of spring to let you know that you were moving into reverse.

(I tried to add a diagram, but found out when I previewed that the spacing wouldn’t come out right. Please use your imagination. For those of you who may be imagination challanged, ask a friend to draw it for you).

This particular truck was geared very low. First gear was restricted for extremely low speed operations that required lots of torque. Routine operation involved starting in second gear and going from there.

I was running a short errand with my father. I had gotten tired of driving around parking lots and convinced him that this errand was the perfect first test run for my growing mastery of manual shifting. My shifting after starting was growing more fluid and I was compensating for my lack of skill in starting as many beginners do - by revving the engine a bit and (somewhat gently) popping the clutch. When shifting, I employed the technique often demonstrated on television and at the movies - a sudden, firm jerk from one gear to the next. If it worked for all of the race car drivers on TV (who were obviously experts), it should work for me, right?

We stopped at a light and as the light turned green I, with increasing confidence (and feeling quite manly), jammed the stick into gear, gave the truck gas, popped the clutch, and felt the truck lurch…
… backward.

In my enthusiasm to shift gears, I had pushed past the somewhat weak spring and had put the truck into reverse. Fortunately for all concerned, we were in the left turn lane and there was no one behind me, so the only damage was to my ego.

My father drove home.

I learned how to drive on a '76 Toyota Corolla 5 speed. Didn’t take very long for me, just a few times out… but the first time I drove an automatic was terrifying!

It was my mom’s car and she was in it… instinctively my left foot stomps down for the clutch to shift. Well in that car the brake pedal is about 8 feet wide and so my foot landed on that instead. Not good.

I still prefer manual transmission but both of my current vehicles are automatic. Nowadays my main problem is that I’m used to driving the van, which has the thing sticking out of the steering wheel, and so I’ll get into the station wagon and go to put it in reverse but end up just turning on the windshield wipers.

I’m pretty good at teaching other people how to drive standard, I think. I have taught a few. Heck I even had a girl who had never driven standard before and taught her how to help me push start my car. It was hilarious, she was so proud of herself she got on the phone with her boyfriend afterward and I heard her say “I popped the clutch!!!”

I learned to drive a standard in college because a friend and I were roadtripping on spring break and he wanted a break. We were practicing in a high school parking lot when my friend decided I was ready for a road test. We were stopped on a slight incline at the exit to the parking lot when a police car pulled up behind me. Inexperience + nerves + increased nerves due to The Man behind me = leaving rubber behind when I pulled out of the lot. Thankfully I wasn’t pulled over.

A few years later I was driving a standard for the same reason (Spring Break roadtrip with a different friend). I hadn’t been on a standard for a few years. This time I stopped on a pretty steep incline on a bridge with a car on my ass. As traffic started moving again I began revving the engine. As the rpms skyrocketed my friend yelled “No Zoff, no!” as I popped the clutch. I still remember the looks of fear from the drivers around me. It sounded like I was dragracing and the guy in front of me was obviously worried that I was going to kill him. I’m not real good on tires when I drive a standard.

It only took me a day or so to learn. You’ll get it pretty quickly.

When I was learning to drive, we had a VW Minivan that resisted about 30% of all attempts to go into first gear. (Not just attempts by me, the beginning driver, but by everyone who drove the car.) To find first, you had to pull the stick into second and then push forward into first and you might get there. You might get nothing. We also had a second car that resisted 90% of attempts to go into reverse. Finding reverse in that thing generally required combinations of prayer and luck. This is a less than perfect condition.

So, along with all the bouncing and lurching and stalling that happens when someone normally learns how to drive a clutch - every so often first was just nowhere to be found. The worst time ever was when I was at a stoplight - one lane every direction. No shoulder, a pretty constant stream of traffic in all directions - except for behind me where cars just lined up (no room to pass) while I tried to get that thing to move forward for three cycles of the light with both parents yelling conflicting instructions at me.

We did live in a very hilly suburban area, so my sister and I both did a lot of stop/start practice on hills. It was not uncommon (when driving to home or to friend’s houses) to be the only car on the road so we could just stop partway up the hill and then restart and stop and restart & even if we missed and began to roll back a bit, there was no worry of hitting anything as there was nothing there to hit. Helped a lot. But I still get pissed at tailgaters.

Hey, great stories! I figure that I should get the hang of starting on level ground before moving onto hills ;). I heard someone once advise a beginner to use the emergency brake for the first few starts on a hill. As long as he remembers to put it back down!

Hmmm, and by the way, the one time I tried downshifting, my dad told me not to do it while in motion. Why should I not? I know some people like doing this, for gear braking (or whatever it’s called). Is it just not worth the wear and tear on the transmission?

Actually, using the emergency brake for accelerating from a full stop on a hill is pretty much standard practice. Brake as normal, and when stopped, pull up the emergency brake. Put the car in first, rev the engine a bit, let the clutch pop just enough so it starts gripping, and then lower the emergency brake at the same time as you’re letting the clutch come up further. Smooth takeoff, without major reversing!

Unless you drive a Mercedes, or some other brand that has a foot-operated emergency brake. Then you’re shit outta luck. :slight_smile:

Oh, and regarding engine braking.

It’s only useful when going downhill. It takes some of the strain away from the brakes - they can overheat in hilly areas. On horizontal terrain, downshifting and popping the clutch may seem “sporty” to some, but it has little use. The brakes are better suited to decellerate the car than the engine is.

Unless you meant downshifting with the clutch engaged. In which case: be careful when you do it. A friend of mine did this in my car (I was a passenger): he put it in back in second at 110 km/h. Even though the clutch is fully engaged, you can still damage the, errrr, synchro meshes I think they’re called. When braking in a straight line, just leave the car in whichever gear it’s in, and engage the clutch when you’re almost at a standstill (i.e. before it stalls). NEVER put it in first gear when it’s still in motion. Perhaps that’s what your father was referring to.

I’m a valet driver at Ballys Park Place in Atlantic City.
I learned to drive a stick there.

Practicing on cars that don’t belong to me.

Give her 10-25% gas, and let the clutch out slow.

Didn’t take long to master.

Useful advice Coldfire :). I’ll keep that in mind… I imagine that the first few times using the e-brake like that will have me taking off like a rocket from not knowing how much gas to use, though.

I think that you’ve got that right… my father was referring to putting it in first while moving. When it comes to engine braking, probably the only place it would be useful in my area would be a little city called Fitchburg - it’s the second hilliest city in the United States. Good to know, for sure.

What Coldfire said.

In a modern car, there should be no reason to shift down to slow the car, in most driving conditions. But c’mon Clogboy admit it -it’s fun. We all do it sometimes.

Cecil thinks so too.

So Grelby, you’ve had what… one lesson? And you got the thing moving? You’re doing well.

You and me both, Opal. I’m an absolute menace in a rental car for just that reason.