How To Drive A Manual Transmission Car – An Ultimate Guide For Beginners

If you’ve never driven a manual transmission car, or stick shift as it’s often called, this can seem daunting. You may feel awkward as you learn to shift between gears and feel the vehicle jerk and revs spike. In fact, it’s pretty easy to drive a manual transmission with feeling. You just need to know how to use the clutch properly, when to shift gears and how to use the accelerator correctly. After that, it takes a lot of practice until the shifting process feels smooth.

Use the clutch

Always keep your left foot relaxed on the clutch.

The clutch is the leftmost pedal and it allows you to shift between gears. Knowing how to handle the clutch when shifting is the key to smooth driving a manual transmission car. To make sure you’re always ready to shift, keep your left foot on the clutch consistently and without any pressure. The left pedal is the clutch, the brake is in the middle and the right is the accelerator.

Fully depress the clutch to idle the engine.

Idling (also neutral gear) is the state where no gear is engaged. The engine must be idling when you want to shift gears. Depress the clutch pedal all the way down with your foot in a gentle and controlled manner to bring the engine to idle. Do not stomp the clutch with force, you could damage the pedal. Make sure you depress the clutch properly when attempting to shift, otherwise you may stall the engine or cause the vehicle to jerk and shake.

Release the clutch slowly after shifting the shifter.

The shifter is stick-like and sits in the vehicle’s center console. With it you can select the gear you want to switch to. When it’s time to shift, depress the clutch to idle the engine, shift, give it some throttle and slowly release the clutch. Practice shifting in an empty parking lot or on a quiet street so you can get used to letting the clutch in properly and shifting smoothly.

EXPERT COUNCIL Driving Instructor Ibrahim Onerli is Partner and Manager of Revolution Driving School, a New York City based driving school dedicated to making the world a better place by teaching safe driving. Ibrahim trains and manages a team of more than eight driving instructors, specializing in defensive driving and geared driving. Ibrahim Onerli Driving Instructor Our expert confirms: While the car is moving, take your foot off the gas pedal, depress the clutch and change gears. Then gradually release the clutch and accelerate again at the same time.

Once in gear, keep the clutch fully up.

After you’ve shifted the shifter and are in the gear you want, release the clutch by releasing your left foot. Keep your left foot lightly on the clutch pedal so you can depress it if you need to shift again. Don’t put all your weight on the foot that’s on top of the clutch, or you could accidentally engage it or cause the engine to idle if you suddenly brake.

Shift gears

Push the clutch all the way down when you want to shift.

When it comes time to change gears, use your left foot to disengage by pressing the pedal all the way down. Press the pedal with feeling and not with force. This will put the engine in neutral, allowing you to shift between gears. Do not engage the clutch until you are ready to shift, or you could cause the vehicle to lurch and go off the road.

Put the shifter in the neutral position.

The shifter in the center console has a middle position where you can shift out of gear and put the engine in neutral. You’ll know you’re in the neutral position when you can move the lever back and forth freely. The clutch must be depressed when you want to put the shifter in neutral.

Shift to the next gear when the RPM reaches 2500.

RPM refers to revolutions per minute and is a measure of how fast your engine is running. There’s a gauge on your dashboard that shows RPMs. When you’re driving and the RPM hits 2500, it’s time for you to shift up a gear. Shifting gears at the right moment makes your vehicle run more smoothly.

Tip: Shifting gears at the right time will keep your engine running well and will extend its life.

Release the clutch slowly and step on the gas gently.

After you’ve selected the desired gear, gently let your left foot up on the clutch while gently accelerating with your right foot. With practice, you’ll get a feel for shifting smoothly. Every engine is a little bit different. Practice shifting to make the shifting process smoother.

Release all pressure from the clutch when the gear is shifted.

As soon as the engine is running in another gear and the accelerator pedal is depressed, you can release the clutch. This will cause the engine to run in the gear you’re in. Keep your foot near the clutch in case you need to change gears again.

Depress the gas pedal

Try to avoid abruptly taking your foot off the accelerator.

With the gas pedal you determine the speed of the engine and the speed of the vehicle. If you suddenly remove all pressure from the pedal, the car will lurch and could throw your passengers forward in their seats.

Note: If you need to brake suddenly, you must release all of the pressure on the accelerator pedal to apply the brake with your right foot.

Gently press the accelerator pedal to steadily increase the vehicle’s speed.

With the engine running, apply slowly increasing pressure on the accelerator pedal with your right foot to steadily increase your pace. Accelerate in this manner until the RPM gauge on your dash reads around 2500. Do not suddenly open the throttle or the car will shoot forward, which is unpleasant for all occupants.

Release the accelerator pedal carefully when you want to change gears.

Once the RPM has reached about 2500 rpm, it’s time to change gears. Carefully take your right foot off the accelerator to stop the engine revving up as you go into neutral to shift. If the RPM is too high when you change gears, the engine will make a rattling noise and the vehicle will shake. Avoid taking all the pressure off the accelerator at once, as this would give the car a jolt that would make your passengers uncomfortable.

Apply a small amount of throttle as you release the clutch.

After shifting gears with the shifter, gently accelerate with your right foot while slowly releasing the pressure on the clutch with your left foot. Balancing this well while engaging the gear is important for smooth driving.

Drive carefully

Slow down before speed bumps and corners.

To keep your vehicle running smoothly, be sure to slow down ahead of speed bumps, turns, or traffic lights you are approaching. If you slow down to the point where you need to change the engine to a lower gear, squeeze the clutch to place the shifter in the neutral position. Watch out for traffic signs that announce upcoming speed bumps or bends.

Drive the car in first gear in very slow traffic.

If you find yourself in a traffic situation where the traffic is only moving at about 15 km/h, keep the engine in first gear so that you can continue to roll forward. In neutral gear the vehicle would not move. Shift the vehicle into second gear when the traffic speed increases to around 25 km/h. Make sure you stay about a car length away from the person in front in case you have to stop suddenly.

Put the shifter in the neutral position when traffic stops or just crawls.

If you drive too slowly in first gear, the engine may stall. Squeeze the clutch, put the shifter in neutral and release the clutch to let the engine idle. Let the vehicle roll and use the brakes to slow it down or stop it if necessary

Tip: Don’t keep the clutch halfway down. This is called “slipping the clutch” and can damage and wear out your clutch.

Shift down from a higher gear when slowing down.

Don’t put the engine in neutral when braking to slow down. You could make the vehicle jerk or the gears crunch. Instead, gradually shift down the gears until you’re in the gear that’s best for you to maintain the speed at which traffic is flowing. Don’t skip aisles. For example, don’t shift directly from fourth gear to second. That could grind the gears and make the car jerk uncomfortably.


Practice driving a manual transmission car in an open area, such as a parking lot or a street with little traffic, so you can get used to it.

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About the Author

Terese Cass

Terese Cass is a stay-at-home mom and blogger. She enjoys stacking coupons, sales, and store promotions and walking out of the store with sacks full of free groceries. Now, Terese blogs about topics like How to Get Coupons, How to Coupon for Beginners, How to Grocery Shop on a Budget, etc.