What's the "right way" to drive a stick shift?

Note to mods: if this is better suited to IMHO, feel free to move, but I’m really seeking as close to a factual, objective answer as possible.

So, I’m shopping for cars and have found a couple that are near perfect for me with the sole “problem” that they’re manual transmissions.

I’m not opposed to the idea, especially given that manuals are noted for better fuel economy and lower TCO (as well as “wearing out” rather than having immediate failures).

I’ve driven a stick before, but never regularly and not in probably five years. The only manual transmission I’ve used regularly was a motorcycle, and I’ve heard that there’s differences in proper use (specifically I know that it’s standard to use the clutch gradually on a bike whereas it’s more “in” or “out” on a car).

But I’m nervous about my inexperience with a stick shift, especially since I’ve frequently been told there’s a “right way” to extend the life of the transmission without ever being told what that way is.

So…what’s the right way?

Oh man…that’s something that’s easier to show than tell, for sure. (If you’re in SE Michigan I’ll offer lessons :slight_smile: I have helped teach people to drive semis and taught my three younger siblings how to drive.)

I’m a stick shift fan big time.

Number one rule of thumb: Never ride the clutch. Your foot should be engaged with the clutch for the shortest time possible - about one second - just enough time to shift smoothly from one gear to another. Never ever rest your foot on the clutch pedal, even lightly or in between gears.

All of my cars have been manuals. The previous one was a Plymouth Laser, which I drove for ten years and almost a hundred thousand miles. The current one is an Audi A4, now just over ten years old and at almost a hundred thousand miles. I’ve never had any clutch or transmission problems in either one.

So I can’t say if what I do is the “right way” or not, but I must not be doing anything horribly wrong, or I think I would have had to repair something by now.

I wouldn’t describe what I do with the clutch as “gradual”. I let it out to where the car just starts to move, hesitate on the clutch just a bit as I give it some gas, then smoothly and quickly let the clutch out the rest of the way.

For me, trying to describe how I clutch is difficult. The above is it in a nutshell, but really it’s something that you just get a feel for after a while. The finer points, like how, exactly, quickly you can let the clutch out, how much gas you need to give it (and in other circumstances how much you can give it), are all learned. They’re also all different for different cars. I test drove a manual Fiat 500, and its clutch was completely different than my Audi. Again, hard for me to describe, but the Fiat clutch was a lot “touchier” and I had to be much more careful of that place where the car just starts to move. The Audi is more forgiving about not stopping the clutch pedal at exactly the right point, compared to the Fiat.

Also note that starting from standing still in first gear generally requires somewhat of a different “motion” (read: combination of clutch-motion and accelerator-motion) than shifting from first to second (or second to third, etc.) when already moving. In the latter case, you put in the clutch, let off on the gas just a bit, shift, then let the clutch out in one smooth quick motion while getting back onto the gas. That “hesitation step” isn’t necessary at all.

So, really, you need to drive a particular car for a while and just learn and get used to it. It’s really not rocket science. As far as how quickly to let the clutch out, I’d say just as quickly as possible without making the car jerk or stall.

My dad, a man who is pretty knowledgeable about all things automotive and mechanical, consistently warned me against “riding the clutch”; which is to say, keeping the clutch depressed without a good reason. For example, when approaching a stop light, I would press the clutch and keep my foot on it until I came to a complete stop; Dad said “nay nay,” and said I should shift into neutral, take my foot off the clutch, and coast to a stop that way. I have no idea whether or not his advice is sound.

There’s also this point: knowing when to shift is something that one develops a “feel” for, and it varies from vehicle to vehicle. The pitch of the sound of the transmission, the acceleration (or lack thereof) of your vehicle, and other factors are things you must consider when deciding when to shift. Having never driven a motorcyle, I can’t tell you whether or not there’s much difference in when you should shift (vis a vis your engine’s rpm’s, etc.).

I drive a stick, and I’ve only ever been told two things regarding not wearing out your transmission (and I don’t know how true they are):

(1) When stopped, put your stick in neutral and release the clutch. Apparently holding the clutch pedal down holds a spring in tension needlessly and wears it out faster.

(2) Gears are to go, brakes are to stop. Downshifting to slow down seems like a good idea for saving your brakes, but really it just transfers the wear from your brake pads (which are easily accessible and cheap) to your clutch (which isn’t).

I agree with chiroptera. I would like to add that when slowing down you should use the brake instead of the clutch to slow down. For example if you are going from 50 mph down to 10 mph to make a turn and then back to 50 mph you should stay in the gear you were in at 50 mph until you are ready to accelerate again and then you can down shift to the lower gear. Of course if your engine starts bogging down before that you may have to downshift sooner.

The reason I mention this is that I used to downshift through all the gears whenever I slowed down and only lightly used the brakes. Unfortunately I only got 60,000 miles out of my clutch by doing that. You can cut down on wear on your clutch when downshifting by “rev-matching” but I wasn’t very good at that.

I don’t know why it would be standard to use the clutch any more “gradually” on a motorcycle than on a car. Maybe there is some advanced technique I don’t know about, but I use the clutch on my bike in pretty much the same way I do the one on my car.

I wouldn’t say the clutch in a car is “on-off”. You need to gradually let out the clutch in order to get moving from a dead stop, just as you do on a bike. “Gradually” means a period of a second or two, as you are smoothly engaging the clutch while adding power.

When you are shifting between gears, it is not necessary to be gradual with the clutch, especially once you get the timing of the gear engagement / clutch engagement set into your muscle memory.

The big mistake most people make while driving a manual transmission is using the clutch to get the engine up to speed when downshifting. For instance, if you are on a highway with a speed limit of 65 and enter a construction zone with a speed limit of 30, you might want to downshift from 6th gear to 3rd gear (for example). Some people will simply put the clutch in, let the engine fall to idle RPM, jam the gear selector into third, and let the clutch speed the engine up to the correct RPM for 3rd gear. It is far easier on your clutch to rev the engine up to the correct RPM using the accelerator pedal first, and then engage third gear and let out the clutch. Somtimes it can help to slightly overshoot the required RPM, to allow for the slight decrease that will occur before you let the clutch out.

Some people take this mistake a step further and intentionally use the resistance of the clutch speeding up the out-of-sync engine to slow down the car. This is a misguided attempt to prolong the life of the $100 brake pads by wearing out the $1,200 clutch instead.

On the other hand, it is perfectly okay to downshift properly (matching the engine RPMS correctly before shifting), and then use the resistance of the engine at high RPMs to slow the car. This is necessary when descending a large hill/mountain, for example, and doesn’t result in significant extra wear and tear. It is pretty much pointless if you’re just braking on a flat road, however.

If you want to be really fancy, you can perform “double-clutch” downshifts, which will prolong the life of the synchronizers in your transmission as well as your clutch. A perfectly-executed double-clutch downshift will result in the gear selector moving smoothly into gear without any resistance whatsoever. Google for details.

This thread is going to be a disaster area anyway. Most people just don’t know what the fuck they’re talking about when it comes to cars, but they’re usually very confident in their proclamations because that’s what Daddy told them (of course, Daddy didn’t know what the fuck he was talking about either).

It is the throw-out bearing that is being worn when you hold the clutch pedal needlessly. That is what is pushing against the finger springs in the clutch assembly to disengage the clutch

Also I forgot to mention in my last post, if the car you are getting has a cable operated clutch, make sure it is properly adjusted. It will extend the life of your clutch.

motorcycles have “wet” clutches (they’re inside the transmission case) and are lubricated. you can slip the clutch on a motorcycle all day long. Well, not really, but they’re far more tolerant. low-speed Clutch control is a basic skill.

When I took my MSF riding course they encouraged us to use the clutch lever to adjust how much power we want to go to the rear wheel and to keep our throttle at a constant position while riding at low speeds (under 10 mph). I have been riding for over a year since then and I don’t do it, but I can see how it can be something some people might prefer.

This has to do with a part called the throw-out bearing. When you press the clutch pedal there is a forked lever in the clutch assembly that pushes against the spring that clamps the clutch parts together, thereby relieving pressure on the clutch’s friction plate. Because the fork is stationary and the spring is spinning, there’s a bearing between the two. The bearing is spinning whenever the engine is, but when you press the clutch pedal, it’s spinning under load. It’s designed for this purpose, but it’s not going to last forever, so it makes sense not to put load on it unnecessarily. The part itself isn’t expensive, but the labor to install it is substantial, so good practice means not keeping the clutch pedal depressed for long periods of time. If you want neutral for just a very short period of time and need to be ready to launch (e.g. at a stop sign, or at a traffic light that’s about to turn green), select a gear and keep the clutch pedal on the floor. If you intend to coast down the road, or sit at a traffic light for a few minutes, move the gear selector to neutral and release the clutch pedal.

This is not the case for BMW bikes with boxer engines, which have dry clutches just like cars. Many police departments have used BMW R1100/R1150/R1200RT for road duty, and early on, experienced motor officers were wearing out clutches in just a few thousand miles because they were using them as you would a “wet” clutch.

well, then, BMW sucks.

Pop the clutch on a car and you stall. Pop the clutch on a motorcycle, and you end up like my friend in high school, who looked rather comical gripping the handlebars of a vertical dirt bike, and running after it until they both wound up crashing in the woods.

Lot of good advice so far, one thing I’d change is HeyHomie’s definition of riding the clutch. I consider riding the clutch to mean keeping the clutch slightly engaged during normal driving, such as by resting your foot on the clutch pedal. While you may wear something out quicker by keeping the clutch down at a stop light, riding the clutch while driving will kill your clutch in no time. Your foot should not be on the clutch pedal unless you are fully disengaging/reengaging the clutch.

One more point - this fairly long thread from last month might be of interest.

typoink - hopefully you enjoy the act of driving. Especially if you tend to commute in heavy traffic.

A common thread in that thread (ha) is that many people, apparently, find it bothersome and difficult to have to constantly shift in traffic. Personally, it’s such an automatic thing for me (ha, again) that I don’t have to think about it and pay it no mind: I’d still rather drive a stick shift even if my regular commute was in stop and go traffic. But people like me are in the minority, I think. I have almost four decades of driving manual transmission vehicles (including semis) under my belt and can’t think of a scenario where I would prefer a slush box.

Apparently a stick shift is a real pain in the ass for many people. I don’t give it a second thought and one of my vehicles has 256,000 miles on it, bought new, still has the original clutch although it is starting to get a bit “sticky” and weird lately.

I also ditto using brakes to slow down instead of downshifting - brakes are cheap to replace, clutches not so much. Depending on the car you’re driving and the type of slowing down you’re doing (entering a hairpin curve at speed or on a hill v slowing down for a light, eg) most of the time you want to use your brakes instead of the clutch.

Also one other point that came up in that discussion…newer automatic cars are not necessarily less fuel-efficient than stick shifts, depending on make and model. Some newer ones may actually be less fuel-efficient.

An example of riding the clutch is engaging the gears with the pedal depressed only halfway. Like if you are on an incline and you’re preventing the car from rolling backwards. Pressing the clutch all the way to the floor and holding it is not riding the clutch. It is coasting with the clutch pressed all the way down, and that is a different no-no unto itself as you should never let the car coast.

When you’re approaching a red light you let the engine, not the brake, slow the car down. Leave the clutch engaged without your foot on the pedal and press the brakes instead. And then downshift appropriately.

When stopped putting the car in neutral is fine.

When accelerating don’t be afraid to press the gas; that concept can be hard for someone just learning how to drive a manual transmission. With practice you’ll know when to shift to a higher gear for more speed.

This is increasingly becoming mostly untrue. A lot of modern automatic transmissions yield superior fuel economy compared to even an optimally operated manual transmission. Then when you consider that most manual transmissions are not even close to being optimally operated, the difference in fuel economy (in favor of automatic transmissions) can sometimes be significant.

There are other good reasons to choose a manual, but fuel economy is not necessarily one of them.

I am one of those “always gotta have a manual transmission” guys.
Every car I drove had a stick. And I enjoy driving.

But some years back I noticed that whenever I drove my wife’s car to work (an automatic), the afternoon stop-and-go traffic on Route 1 was not nearly as annoying.
On top of that, she does not know how to drive a stick and I really don’t want to sacrifice a perfectly good clutch/transmission to teach her. So whenever I was parked behind her, I had to go out and move my car for her.

When I was new car shopping a couple of years back, I fell in love with the VW GTI. The clincher was the fact that their 6-speed DSG auto transmission actually clocks faster times than the 6-speed manual. I could have my fun car and my wife could drive it too.
Sitting in stop-and-go traffic is less annoying, and if I want to play around with the gears, there are two paddles on the wheel that do just that.

Of course it’s not the same thing, but if I really need clutch action, I’ll go drive my old pickup. Now that’s a vehicle that needs babying—the clutch is slipping quite a bit and the shifter lever has far too much slop in it. It’s not a vehicle I’d teach anyone to drive in.

Most of this is me confirming what others have said, but hopefully with some other thoughts.

I’ve been driving a standard for 20 years and really can’t imagine driving anything else. Mainly, I like the feeling of slowing down when I let off the gas. I had a rental car last year and realized why people always seem to be riding their brake. I also like that when I need to stop quickly, I can use the brakes and the engine.

Don’t rock the car. Rolling back then using the gas and clutch to move back forward. (I was 18 and it felt cool) Don’t do it.

If you think you be able to go at a light before you get there, down shift and let the car take you to what should be the right speed without lugging the engine.

Shift into neutral once stopped and don’t rest your foot on the clutch.

In stop and go traffic, keep a bit of distance between you and the car in front of you. Stay in first gear and just touch the gas when they move and then coast. It is a bit jerky, but you can avoid having to disengage the clutch.

It’s also the synchronizers which suffer needlessly if you downshift without rev matching. I double clutch and heel-and-toe (ball of the right foot is on the brake and you can then also use the bottom right of your foot to “blip” the throttle) and I have gotten very good at matching the revs. There’s also a danger if you are in neutral while in motion, in that you might need to speed up to avoid some situation or obstacle.