How To Drive Stick: The Essential Guide

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‘Driving stick’ refers to driving a car with manual transmission. Since many drivers only drive automatic cars, this can seem a little daunting at first. When you drive stick, you have to actively change the gears using the clutch and your gear shifter (also known as the stick.) This requires drivers to know when they should change gears (1-5), what gear they need to change to, and when they need to let go of their clutch. However, like any new feat, all you need is a little bit of practice.

How To Drive Stick: The Essential Guide

Practicing driving stick will boost your confidence with manual transmission, and in no time,  you’ll be a total pro! Like any new task, patience is key. It’s also super helpful if you have someone with you who knows how to drive manual and can teach you on the road. While the theory is helpful and you should know the basics, there is no teacher like being on the open road. Driving stick requires to get a feel for when gears need to be changed, and thus, practical experience is paramount.

Remember, a manual car won’t immediately stop when you hit the break, so it’s important to always use your hand break when you’re stopping on a hill. This will stop your car rolling and prevent possible accidents.

While many cars are automatic and you might not have to drive a manual car, it’s a great skill to learn and means that you will be able to drive any car in the future. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll wonder why driving stick was ever of concern. It’s just muscle memory, and while the learning process can be a little frustrating (because you might just stall!) it will become second nature in no time.

So, What Exactly are the Gears?

Gears in a car are able to ‘shift’ power from the crankshaft (the axle that rotates and takes power from your engine) to the driveshaft.  Gears work in a range from low gears (1 and 2), the middle gear (3), and high gears (4 and 5). As a general rule of thumb, you increase the gears as you go faster. Thus, a higher speed equates to a higher gear.  Some passenger cars might have 6 gears, but 5 is the norm, plus the reverse gear.

Before you learn how to change gears, it’s important to know about the different pedals you will be using. They are:

The clutch:

The clutch is on the far left of the pedal area and is an integral part of changing gears effectively. The clutches main job is to disengage your engine from your wheels. When this happens, you are able to change gears swiftly and easily without the teeth of your gears grinding. When this happen your car will make an awful sound. As long as your clutch is in fully, the gear change will happen with ease.  Remember, before you change  gear, you always depress (push) your clutch! Your left foot will always press down on the clutch.

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So, your clutch is always pressed down by your left foot and your clutch is always depressed (pushed) before you change gear and move the gear stick to the correct position.

If you’re used to driving an automatic and never use your left foot, this will feel strange at first. However, with a bit of practice you will get used to engaging this foot and it will feel natural in time.

The Brake:

The brake is located in the middle and is an essential part of driving safely. When you use your break, your car will begin to slow down, and you might want to revert to a lower gear (don’t worry, we will get to the ‘how-to’ in a moment!)

The Accelorator:

The acceslorator makes your car go faster and pumps that gas. It’s located on the far right.  As you acceslorate and your car goes faster, you will want to up your gears.

So, we gear up when we go faster (higher gears for higher speeds), and we gear down when we want to go slower (lower gears for slower speeds!)

Simply remember these pedals as the C B A (Your ABC’s backwards).  ‘Clucth, Brake, Acceslorator’

So, How Do You Change Your Gears? A Step-by-Step Guide

First of all, always start in neutral. Before you turn your engine on, make sure that your gear stick is in the neutral middle position. When your stick is in neutral, it will be able to loosely move from side to side.  Learning how to drive stick means you have to learn where the different gears are located. This might seem complicated at first, but it will soon become second nature to you. Again, practice makes perfect.

The Basics: Starting Your Car

  • Start your engine with your gear stick in neutral. Then push the clutch in as far as possible with your left foot. Once it’s in, you can move your gear stick. Move it sharply to the left and the upwards, and you will be in first gear.
  • Once in gear, you can let out the clutch because you only use it when you need to change gears. Once the gear has been changed, you can release the clutch slowly (till you feel it’s at its friction point) and give your car a bit of gas with your right foot on the accelorator.
  • Then take your foot off the clutch and continue to drive with your right foot on the accelerator and your gear stick in the desired gear. Some cars might have a different gear pattern, so be sure to take a moment before you start driving to acquaint yourself with your one.
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So the Process Goes:

  • Push the clutch with your left foot
  • Move gear stick to the desired position
  • Slowly release clutch till you feel its at a friction point
  • Press the acccelorator down gently with your right foot as you begin releasing your clutch
  • Take left foot off the clutch completely
  • Voila, you are in gear!


  • Remember you always gear up or down! So after first gear, you will have to go to second, and from the second you can either go back dowen to first or to third. Basically, you can’t go from first to fifth, or from fourth to second. It always has to be consecutive. From First gear, press your clutch in again, and then move your stick all the way straight down. Now you are in second, and your car is beginning to pick up a little speed. Second is also great when you are turning corners and need a bit more control.
  • Third gear requires you to go to neutral and then simply move upwards. This is the mid-range gear, and you will use it when you start to pick up a bit more speed. Fourth and fifth gears will be engaged when you’re driving faster and are perfect for interstate roads and highways.
  • When you slow down, you’ll gear down and when you eventually stop your car, you will out your car back into neutral. The term neutral highlights that this is the happy medium, and when your car isn’t moving, this is your go-to gear.

When You Want to Stop Your Car:

When you want to stop your car, you will need to push your clutch in again with your left foot. You’ll then need to move your gear stick down to neutral (remember to gear down, so if you’re in fifth work your way down to fourth, third, second, and first).  When going to neutral, there is no need to apply the gas, just let the car slow down and then use your break to stop.


Unlike an automatic car, a manual car doesn’t have a parking function, so it’s essential that you use the handbrake (also known as the parking break) when you top your car.  When you want to stop your car, slow it down using your break and gear down to neutral. You will then turn your engine off while keeping your right foot on the break. Then put your handbrake up (to stop your car rolling) and take your foot off the break pedal. Your car is now safely parked.

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This endeavour might be pretty frustrating at first because learning how to change gears smoothly takes time. If you happen to let your clutch out too early, your car might lurch, and even die. You’ll have to restart it. If this happens, it’s important not to let it get you down or to feel embarrassed. It happens to everyone who is learning to drive manual and is all part of the process.

Some tips to remember when you’re learning to drive stick!

  • Practice is key! You probably won’t get the hang of it immediately, but with enough patience and practice, you will soon be a pro at driving stick. Give yourself time and try not to be too hard on yourself if it doesn’t come naturally.
  • Start practicing somewhere relaxed like an empty car park on a Sunday or on a quiet afternoon. This will enable you to get the hang of changing gears and using your clutch without the panic of being on an open road. Since you will be driving slowly, you might only change between first and second gear, but this will give you lots of opportunities to work on the clutch and gear transition.
  • If you’re feeling anxious about driving stick, invest in a driving lesson or two with a seasoned instructor. They will boost your confidence, give you all the know-how, and ensure that you’re driving manual in the safest way possible.
  • Always remember to use your handbrake when stopping on a hill to ensure that your car doesn’t roll!
  • In a matter of no time driving stick will become muscle memory. You won’t need to over think the process because you will naturally remember what to do. It’s all about getting your feet used to the different movements and the balanced relationship between pushing in the clutch, releasing it, and using the accelerator. Start practicing in quiet areas where you won’t be frightened by busy roads and lots of drivers. Once your confidence builds and you are comfortable with menouvering the clutch and the accelerator, you can brave bigger and busier roads. Always try and drive with someone who knows how to drive a manual car while you practice as this will stop any anxiety and ensure ultimate safety.
  • Lastly, have fun! This of your quest to learn how to drive stick as an adventure and have fun while you learn, because really, that’s what life is about.

Originally posted 2023-11-25 04:48:26.

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