Various Gear Sticks

How do you drive a stick shift car?

You’ll want to engage the services of an actual driving instructor to learn to drive, but here’s a simple description of the process. We’ll start off with the basics.

The neutral sign in the middle is surrounded by the numbers one to five and the R for reverse (sometimes there is a P instead for Parking). 1-2-3-4-5-R (or P) form an extra wide H shape with the N in the middle. (If their were only gears 1-3 and R you’d have an H.

Shifting into first

With the gear shift should be in neutral you must depress the clutch and the brake.

Turn on the ignition. If you are sure it’s in neutral take the parking brake off if it is on. Then check your mirrors and signal your intention.

After some moments keeping the brake with the right foot and the clutch with your left, move into first gear. Take your foot off the brake now. Slowly release the clutch while pressing down the accelerator pedal roughly equal to the release of the clutch. You’re now in first gear.

Going Up Gears

You probably need to go up a second gear to go faster than 10mph. You will repeat the left and right foot motion to go up a gear, but your car will be rolling forward as you do. Despite this, many people feel like starting from zero forward motion is the hardest part.

You probably change gear without thinking about it but the best way apparently is to cup the gear-shift (or lever), rather than swipe or thump it. It needs to be a conscious decision that you make. Unless the gear shift pedal is pressed down the gear stick shouldn’t move.

Note: shifting up or down is informal terminology. It is more formally called a transmission level.

If you do something like go over a bump or go downhill, you need to change to a lower gear. However, most people just put it in neutral or depress the pedal the whole way downhill. It’s a better idea to shift down on a downhill so you can more quickly re-engage the engine at the right power level, or if your brakes fail you can use the engine to slow your vehicle down.

Odd Shift Levers

Some cars like the Mercedes Benz 180 have a shifter sticking out of the steering wheel. The BMW and the Audi both use a joystick, while the Jaguar and Land Rover use a rotary shifter instead of shifting a stick. A push button gear stick is the rarest – you have to press the button to change them.

The Honda Odyssey has buttons on a central dashboard or console, usually where you have your entertainment system. It’s doubtful that most people would be comfortable using a crystal glass gear shaft used by the Volvo XC60 at least to start with but if you drove this type of car you would have to get used to it.

In the Lexus LC 500 the joystick matches the leather upholstery which again takes some getting used to.

The Hurst has a pistol grip which is a bit like a huge joystick, only cooler. The Chevrolet Camaro uses a horseshoe switch design which has a certain steampunk appeal, it doesn’t however look that practical. It is not clear immediately how you change gear or even how you get out of neutral as the only control seems to be only one switch.

Historic Types of Shifting

Many old trucks have the Reverse where 1st should be or way off to the left or right of the other gears. And many trucks were geared to be able to skip gears when the truck isn’t loaded or hauling a heavy trailer. But you are unlikely to run into such things.

Hardly anyone has driven a car with sliding mesh manual transmission which was the first way to change gear, the first car invented with gear in 1894. It only had three forward gears so parking was a problem. It slid left or right but the gearing unit was basically a rotational shaft which moves or “transmits” the power from one end to the other.  Luckily this has all changed.

Pros & Cons of Manual Cars

The transmission in a manual car is much simpler so it breaks down less and is cheaper to fix when it does. By the time your automatic transmission breaks down it’ll be hard to find a replacement. You’ll have to seek out one from a junk yard which will have some milage and age on it. So if you keep a car for several years, manuals are considered the better option.

On the other hand, if you drive in congested city traffic on a regular basis, operating a clutch gets really old, really fast. So it’s just a strategic choice.

One reason we included the “how tos” in this post is that it’s a good idea to know how to shift even when you have an automatic car. You’ll get a better understanding of how your car operates when you are accelerating, even though its doing it for you.

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