How to Drive a Standard Transmission Vehicle

How to Drive a Standard Transmission Vehicle

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This post is a result of being behind someone in a manual shift car yesterday who clearly had no idea how to drive it. 

Having been a driver instructor and driver examiner in the Canadian military for some time, perhaps I'm a little too hard nosed on this topic but....

If you are going to drive a vehicle with a standard transmission, that means you shift the gears yourself, then please, for the sake of your safety and everyone else on the road,  LEARN HOW TO DRIVE IT PROPERLY!

This is not a difficult task.  Everyone can learn it. 

Basically, when you are sitting at a light or stop sign or some other location where you are starting off from a stand-still, there is no legitimate excuse for allowing the vehicle to roll backward.  NONE!

There is this little concept known as a friction point.  That is where the clutch begins to engage.  Not the point where you stall the vehicle because you let it out too far with not enough accelerator and certainly not where the vehicle is all but in neutral, but just where the engine RPM drops a little bit.  Leave your right foot on the brake pedal.  You don't need it yet.

At this point, the vehicle will stay put.  It won't move forward, it won't move backward without acceleration.  This is what you need to learn to use.

When I taught driver training, the student could not move on to the road test portion until every start, on a steep hill, was made using the friction point and the vehicle did not move even and inch.

Here's a tip for you at traffic lights once you have mastered the friction point.  Watch the other light to see when it turns yellow.  That is your signal to put the vehicle in gear and engage the friction point.   You do put the transmission in neutral at traffic lights right????

Leave your foot on the brake at this time.  Then, when the light turns green for you, you are ready to ease the clutch out a little further with acceleration and you are off with no rolling back.  No panic, no revving of the engine.  A simple and straight forward start without compromising the safety of you and those behind you.



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  • Thanks, Gerry. I was never taught that manuever, in part because I'm mostly self-taught on the manual transmission front. I always used my parking brake to obtain a similar effect with the car pulling forward before I release the brake.

    Regardless, I completely agree that it is bad form to roll backward. Bad Bad Bad form.



  • Hey David.

    Glad to hear it will help out.  At least I've reached one person!  :-)

  • "You do put the transmission in neutral at traffic lights right????"

    While you can put the transmission in neutral at a light you really shouldn't and is not a correct practice and will also wear your clutch quicker.  

    Let off the gas, push in the clutch when the engine starts to labor, come to a stop and throw the car back into first with the clutch depressed, then when the light goes yellow start letting it back out.  In my opinion taking the vehicle out of gear and into neutral is lazy and I can't believe as an instructor you teach your students to do this.

  • "You do put the transmission in neutral at traffic lights right????"

    While you can put the transmission in neutral at a light you really shouldn't and is not a correct practice and will also wear your clutch quicker.  

    Let off the gas, push in the clutch when the engine starts to labor, come to a stop and throw the car back into first with the clutch depressed, then when the light goes yellow start letting it back out.  In my opinion taking the vehicle out of gear and into neutral is lazy and I can't believe as an instructor you teach your students to do this.

  • Just getting back to this now so I will offer my explanation as to why I teach that.

    When you are sitting at an intersection such as a red light, it is correct procedure place the transmission in neutral and release the clutch.  How you determine that it wears out the clutch is not apparent to me.  

    Nor is it apparent to me how you think that is lazy.  

    At any rate, the rationale for it is this.  If you are stopped at a red light and you have the vehicle in gear with the clutch depressed, you are facing the potential of causing a more serious accident than otherwise might not happen.

    The reason is simple.  If you are struck from behind by another car, the way the body reacts to this impact typically results in your left leg actually releasing the clutch due to the jarring that takes place from the rear end impact.  

    When you do this, and the car is in first gear, you have just increased your chances of launching your vehicle into the intersection, where you will most certainly be hit by another car again.

    This is information that is based on studies.  I don't have the data to show you as it was a part of the driver training in the Canadian military.


  • I think it's great advice Gerry. I have friends who keep the clutch depressed at all lights, and it personally drives me nuts. For my first car I am debating still whether or not it should be standard (for more of a driving experience), or automatic (for more of a functional, multi tasking experience).

    I've definitely been one of those people you hate, but don't we all hate them. With your advice, I really doubt I'll be in that situation again.

  • Hey Trevor.

    I guess it's one of those things that just comes from bad habit forming at the outset.

    I've always been a believer in forming good, correct habits from the beginning that will follow you through life.

    I haven't always been able to do that but I certainly try as much as possible.

    I take the same stance when teaching students computer programming.

    There is likely more of an issue with people not "knowing" about this then there is of people not "wanting" to drive this way.  I'm sure there are lots of people driving standard transmission cars that hate rolling back too, they were just never taught how "not" to do it.


  • I remember being told years ago was that if you are struck from behind your foot would most likely fly off the clutch causing the car to stall which would actually prevent you being pushed into the intersection.  

    I actually learned to drive standard on my driver non-trade course years ago but don't remember if that's where I learned this.

    I'm currently teaching my teenage son to drive standard so I'd appreciate knowing the current philosophy

    Thanks ~ Ruth

  • Hi Ruth.

    If you were sitting at an intersection and just let the clutch out, yes, the vehicle would stall.

    However, it you are sitting at an intersection and you are struck from behind, the vehicle is now moving forward and anytime the vehicle is moving, you can release the clutch and the engine will not stall.

    Now, you could argue that the brake is applied but, your foot will come off the brake as well so the engine won't stall.

    My son is 15 so I will also be teaching him to drive.  Rest assured that he will learn this way.


  • I have a question about driving standard.

    I have driven a standard for over 5 years now, and when I come up to a set of lights, in which the light is red (as an example), I push the clutch in and take the car out of gear and into neutral.

    When my boyfriend drives my car and is coming up to a red light, he just takes the car out of gear and puts it into neutral...NOT using the clutch to take the car out of gear.

    I flip out every time because to me, that is somewhat a grinding of the gears if you are not clutching to take the car out of gear and into neutral...or else I think it will screw up my clutch.

    Can anybody tell me if this will wreck my clutch or gears please.


  • It won't wreck your clutch but it will cause premature wear on the gears.  When there is still pressure on the gears, as there will be in the way he is taking the car out of gear, then you will cause wear on the metal.

    Pushing in the clutch release this pressure and makes it easier for the gears to unmesh.

    Truck drivers, of the 18 wheeler class, will often shift without using the clutch.  They have learned to do this through experience and knowing when the least amount of resistance is on the gears.  Most mechanics who work on transimissions will tell you that those who use the clutch, are in the transmission repair shop a lot less.


  • OK, so I just bought my first manual car, after 7 years of driving an automatic.  I was thinking it would be much more fun (and eventually more economical) than it has turned out to be.

    While I realize that I'm getting better at the stop-start-go, I still have serious anxiety while out in traffic.  I'm feeling very prohibited by my lack of skills, and my inconsistency with the tricky things (like hills).  I Do I need to have my foot on the gas when downshifting is complete -- it seems that riding it out leaves me with that brutal "lurch", kind of like my stomach is going to propel right through the windshield. I can't imagine this is being kind to my new car.

    Now I've entered the financing contract, thus I'm stuck with this car I had hoped to love, but kind of despise.

    Do you have any advice to speed up my skills and confidence?

  • HI Newbie,

    Believe it or not, when I teach new students on a standard transmission, one of the first places I take them, after they learn where the friction point is, is straight to a hill.  I like to make the incline gradual at first.  This gets you used to finding the friction point in a sort of panic way, before the car rolls backwards.  Find a hill that doesn't have traffic at first though.  :-)

    The basics of driving and manual transmission is finding and knowing where the friction point is.  Finesse is of utmost importance.  In other words, don't be quick and jerky with your motions using the clutch and you will have a much better experience.  

    When you are pressing the clutch for either up or down shifting, there should be an equal and opposite, smooth motion of both right and left foot.  The right foot should be releasing the accelerator at the same rate as you left foot is depressing the clutch.  If done correctly, there is no accelerator pedal depression by the time the clutch has disengaged.

    For down shifting, you should not be on the accelerator at all.  Release the accelerator as mentioned above while depressing the clutch, shift into the next lower gear, slowly release the clutch until it engages and then slowly out through the remaining length of the pedal.  This will reduce the lurching you are talking about.

    You need to also be aware of the speed the vehicle is travelling to ensure a smoother transition.  If you are going too fast, there will be a slight lurch and the engine RPM will increase significantly.  When that happens, you know you are going too fast for that specific gear down.

    THe only time you would ever use the accelerator when down shifting is if you are driving a truck, of the larger variety than a pickup, and it has what is sometimes called a split axle.  The shifters have a ruxal, don't think that is how you spell it, button on the shifter that basically shifts the rear axle into a different ratio, high or low.  When down shifting with these, you need to apply accelerator to match RPM etc in order for the shift to work correctly.

    However, in a car, no accelerator on the down shift.  Think smooth and fluid motions and be familiar with you friction point.  It's like playing guitar.  The more you practice, the better you become and the more you will find the anxiety in traffic will go away as your confidence builds.

    Hope that helps a little bit.


  • Hi Gerry,

    I`ve been reading your comments, and I find them very helpful. I`m just learning how to drive a standard and I`m finding that it`s not as easy as I thought it would be at first.

     I find that at intersections, especially 4 way stops. I try to be quick and end up stalling, or I find I roll back. therefore I try and get in gear quickly and again stall. It`s fustrating because I don`t want to hold people up, but then again I don`t want to drive in a hurry, ( car lurching)

    Any helpful advice would be appreciated.


  • Hi Chris.

    Most people do go through the same thing.  It's a little bit of panic, a little bit of anxiety plus other factors all rolled into one.

    Here's my advice.

    Watch the traffic lights.  As soon as you see the light for the cross traffic turn yellow, put the vehicle in gear and bring the clutch out to the friction point and hold.  Don't take your foot off the break yet.  You should feel the car want to move a little bit but don't let the clutch out any further or the car will stall.

    You are now ready for when the light changes green because all you have to do is a little bit of accelerator pedal and ease the clutch out for your start.

    When you are surprised by the light, it will cause a small panic situation as you said, you want to move without holding up traffic but you don't want to start too quick and stall.

    Being prepared for the take off is all important.  Once you get used to it, it will be second nature.

    Even in an automatic, I find myself checking the cross traffic lights so I know when they will change.


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