Need tips for teaching teen to drive a stick shift

I hope this is the right forum for this. It may belong in IMHO or MPSIMS, since there probably isn’t one right answer, but many.

My 17 year old daughter has her permit. She did well this summer, driving her grandmother’s and her aunt’s car when we were on the East coast, so she has the basics of steering and stopping and signalling down all right. Now we are back home and we only have manual transmission. We went out today and didn’t do too well. She got pretty upset when she kept stalling out. I didn’t get upset with her at all, but I feel badly I can’t explain better how to drive a stick.

I have told her to let up the clutch smoothly and slowly as she puts down the accelerator smoothly and slowly. At this point, for me, it’s such a matter of how it feels and sounds, I have trouble breaking it down into components I can verbalize. Is it just a matter of practice or is there some technique or tip I can give her that will be more help?

One little trick, something that you do without even thinking about it: tell her that when she’s letting the clutch out, just at the point that it begins to engage, hold the clutch at that point for a brief period, until the car is moving smoothly, then let it out the rest of the way. It’s just a matter of a second or two, but it really helps prevent stalling.

Have her forget about the gas pedal for starters. Have her focus on the clutch alone. Just have her sit in the car (engine running, car in first gear) and have her slowly let out the clutch (hopefully you don’t have a heavy clutch or this will be tiring). Eventually she’ll start to hit the sweetspot where the clutch and engine engage. Make sure she is calm about this and doesn’t release the clutch all of a sudden…just let her feel where that point is and the car will slowly start to creep forward. Do this in a wide open area with nothing to hit so you needn’t worry about anything. As the car starts to creep forward she can let out the clutch a little more…the engine RPMs will start to dip (the tachometer will tell her so but she’ll feel and hear it as well). Do not let her go too far with this…you just want to give her the sense of where the engine starts to grab. Have her push the clutch back in, roll to a stop, rinse and repeat several times.

The point of the above is to get her used to the idea of where the clutch engages (every car is different) and that letting the engine grab a bit doesn’t mean a panic stomp on the gas. The car can idle a bit like this without stalling and she’ll see there is some wiggle room where the gas needs to be applied.

Once she has a sense of where the clutch grabs again have her do the whole thing slowly as before but add in stepping on the gas. She already knows now a stomp is not needed. As the engine starts to struggle a bit have her apply a little gas to keep the RPMs steady (maybe around 750-1000 for this purpose). Do not have her go all the way to releasing the clutch. Let her get a sense of this too. Try it several times till she gets a feel for it.

Now you can go all the way and have her slowly release the clutch and slowly apply gas till the clutch is all the way out and she’s cruising. Once going the rest of the gears are easy. If you have a lockout on the stick (as most cars these days do) the car itself should keep her from shifting from first to fourth (or vice versa). It still needs some practice to get comfortable but getting going from first is the hard part.

Once she’s zipping around you can graduate to tougher things like being on a hill at a dead stop and starting from there but first things first (the hill has busted my chops on several occasions…avoiding rolling backwards took some practice).

Don’t forget the other things like parking and leaving the car in gear…especially on a hill…and engaging the manual parking brake…again especially on a hill. Sounds obvious but I’ve seen more than one person new to manual transmissions skip this.

Girls who can drive stick shifts are way cool in my book…hopefully she’ll stick with it and get the hang of it.

The tachyometer is your friend -

Step 0: Take a hefty dose of anti-seasick medication
Step 1: Find a nice empty parking lot.
Step 2: Rev the engine a few times in neutral to get the hang of it, and to see how far you need to press it down.
Step 3: Rev the engine to about 1000-2000rpm and hold it there.
Step 4: Press in clutch, shift into first gear.
Step 5: Slowly release the clutch and look at the tachiometer.
Step 5.5: See the revs doing down? Try to press gently on the gas to maintain a constant revs.
Step 5.75: Ignore the road. We’re only trying to start car here. That’s why we’re in an empty carpark, right?
Step 6: Repeat ad nausem

The most problem I had was remembering to apply the gas. Just try to get her to start and perhaps change into second gear first. It’s probably better to use too much gas than too little (barring red-lining the engine). The smooth gear changing will come later on, tell her that’s ok to bunny-hop.

It might also pay to get a friend to teach/supervise her. My sister used to get mega-tense when driving with the parents.

I second Early Out’s suggestion and offer a somewhat opposing one. Sometimes, it’s easier to try shifting as quickly as possible rather than doing it slowly and ending up in the wrong RPM range for the selected gear. It really all depends on the car and it’s gear ratios.

Another thing to practice is the whole concept of doing the four necessary actions in proper sequence and timing. That is:
1)Let off the gas
2)Press down on clutch
3)Shift gears
4)Release clutch while at the same time gradually pressing the gas pedal.

Obviously, #4 is the most crucial and difficult to get right, but with understanding the proper technique and a bit of practice, anybody can do it. I’ve taught a few people how to drive stick, and they all end up saying it’s a lot easier than they expected it to be.

Just tell her to remember that on step #4 her left foot should be slowly releasing the clutch at the same time that her right foot is slowly pressing down on the gas. That’s the one everyone always gets messed up on.

In addition to what’s already been said, let me add the obvious: be patient, encourage her to have patience, and make sure she knows that everyone stalls and induces whiplash when they’re first learning stick. If possible, have her practice in an area where there’s really no-one else around, so she doesn’t get the added “Oh crap someone pulled up right behind me and I’m at a stoplight on a hill” stress.

In addition to the basics covered above, you should make sure she gets taught properly from the beginning. She should know and make a habit of using the hand brake when starting on a hill (should be zero roll-back), and also should know and make a habit of double-clutching on the downshift.

If you don’t have a Tach (or don’t want to take your eyes off the road) I suggest leaving a hand on the gear shifter. The vibrations can tell you how the engine is doing. (And you need to have it there soon enough anyway to shift into 2nd.)

I have found that getting the car moving isn’t so hard for my “students”. It’s the concept of “put the clutch back in!” that they miss. I.e., slowing down, engine almost dying, etc. When in doubt, put the clutch in. Sheesh…

Many have addressed the rather simple task of setting a manual transmission vehicle in motion, so I’ll address the driving of one for a bit.

For Example, Voltaire’s instruction # 4 is inappropriate when downshifting:

Absolutely no need to touch the accelerator while downshifting, let alone press it down. There are really not a lot of hard-and-fast rules that apply to upshifting that you can apply equally to downshifting.
Addl. items (IMHO):

Make it clear that there is also no need to depress the clutch pedal when braking. Many new drivers that have only been given the “getting started” instructions will assume they have to de-clutch whenever they brake.

When you begin, assume that a new driver does not have any idea what the terms “engine” and “clutch” mean, in any meaningful engineering or mechanical context.

Introdutory lessons are the ideal time to teach fuel efficient and economical driving habits, for example: Vehicles are quite happy coasting in neutral; Brake linings are cheap compared to clutches and transmissions; Avoid wearing out parts by needlessly leaving the vehicle in gear while stopped, or trying to hold the vehicle on a hill with the clutch.

Best of luck, I hope you survive teaching her to drive.

Many thanks, all. We’ll try again tomorrow, and I’ll let you know how it goes.

Many thanks, all. We’ll try again tomorrow, and I’ll let you know how it goes.

Tell her she can have the car all weekend and go where ever she wants.
She’ll figure it out quite quickly.

Here’s an extremely good tip for learning clutch control: before she even starts to learn on the road, take her to a parking lot or other large open area, and teach her to release the clutch without using the gas to make the car roll along in first gear and without stalling. Once she’s got the hang of that, make her do the same from first into second. Once she can do that, then get her to do it from second into third, and so on right up the gears.

Then get her to reverse - downshifting without touching the gas pedal either.

If she can master doing this, she will have perfect clutch control for the rest of her life, and you’ll avoid whiplash from all the kangarooing. Then you can allow her to introduce a little bit of juice with each gearchange to make the car go faster.

Third gear is your friend.

It is common for a newbie stick shifter to have the basics of it, and to have been driving for a few days when suddenly panic hits, and you forget what gear you’re in, or which one you should be shifting to. My advice. Neutral, then let go, so the stick springs to the centre, then jam it straight up into third, and apply the juice. At 20km/h, your car will shudder and protest, but you’ll get away with it. At 70, you’ll rev to all hell, but once again, you’ll get away with it. The car won’t stall, and the guys in the SUV sitting on your tail won’t give you stagefright. Third gear covers most suburban driving speeds (at a pinch), and it’s easy to find on the box when you get flustered.

Can’t offer you any more advice than you’ve been given already. She’ll stall a few times but will eventually learn to shift by sound and feel. I was very concerned that it would be impossible to teach my son to drive as we only have a truck with a manual transmission but he’s done great. It takes a bit of patience on both parts, but she’ll get the hang of it quickly. Oh, one thing though…you might have her practice shifting with the car not running, just to get the feel of each position. I know the pattern of gears seems very straightforward to us, but my son was wanting to go 1st, 3rd, 5th, as those are all upper gears.

Actually, further to what Amberlei said, something like a truck or an SUV is often the best thing to teach stick, because it’s got the torque to forgive you if you do the wrong thing. My little Japanese four cylinder car is easy to stall if you mis-treat it.

A diesel SUV is the best.

To be honest, I take the opposite attitude to TheLoadedDog - it’s better to learn on something crappy that will stall. That way it forces you to gain good technique.

Yeah, there’s part of me that agrees with that, jjimm, but in the very early days of learning, I dunno.

It’s hard, in most big cities, to find somewhere quiet to learn. Most learners will know the fear of stalling at the lights with a cacophany of horns behind. It’s why I also break with traditional thought in that the first few lessons should be in an automatic. One less thing to worry about, and introduce the gears later.

Can see your point though.

I see your point too - my wife gave up learning for the whole urban reasons you mentioned.

I second this suggestion, I do it myself just for a laugh sometimes, try and get to 5th gear without using any gas and see how fast the car ends up going. The other thing I’d occassionally do for kicks was to try and go from a standstill up to cruising speed using 5th gear only (only in the company car I might add, wouldn’t do it to my own vehicle).

A good fun thing to do is to have her sit in the passenger seat and do all your shifting for you. Whenever you press the clutch she has to guess the gear you want and select it. Initially you’ll have to call for gears but she’ll soon get the idea and it will make her use of the stick far more automatic allowing more brain power for clutch/gas operation :slight_smile: