Whether automatic or manual, transmission isn’t typically top of mind when buying a new or used vehicle. If you’re seeking an automatic car, that’s easy to find when searching for your next ride. But finding a car with a stick shift, now that’s a challenge!
According to the latest data from the United States-based Environmental Protection Agency, fewer than 3% of cars, trucks, and SUVs get made with manual transmissions, down from a peak of 35% in 1980.
Still, a community of driving purists (and racers) love (and need) these manual transmission cars, even if they’re quickly fading from the streets. This is partly due to lack of demand, including because many commuters prefer automatic cars over manually changing gears when stuck in traffic.
But there is still a small market for stick shift cars. Manufacturers offered over 30 cars, SUVs, and pickup trucks in 2021 with manual transmissions either as standard equipment or optional.
In this guide, we’ll tell you all about manual cars, why people like them, how to drive a stick shift, and more.
What is a Manual Transmission Vehicle?
A manual transmission car is a vehicle that uses a stick shift and a clutch pedal to change gears. When you want to speed up or slow down, you will shift gears. Manual cars sometimes get referred to as “standard.”
Learning how to drive a stick shift car properly is fun, but it takes patience and time. It can be a thing of joy once mastered. You have to learn how to press the clutch pedal with your left foot while shifting the gear lever with your right hand. And don’t forget: you have to do all of this while trying to drive. If you mess up while doing this, you could stall your car.
Manual Versus Automatic Car
When it comes to the types of transmissions in cars, there are manual or automatic versions. With a manual transmission, the driver shifts the gears. With an automatic transmission, the vehicle shifts the gears automatically, doing the work for you. You may not even be entirely aware when the car changes gears, but when you accelerate and feel your car jump a bit, that’s the car changing gears.
However, if you drive an automatic and still want control over the gears, many new cars come with paddle shifters that allow you to shift gears if you desire manually.
How to Start a Manual Car
To start manual transmission cars, you first need to check out the floor, where the pedals are located. Unlike an automatic transmission, you will notice that a manual car uses a third pedal known as the clutch. The clutch will be the pedal on the far left.
Depress the clutch with your left foot, put the gear shifter in a neutral position, and either turn the ignition key or press the start button to get the car started. While your left foot presses the clutch, you may also need to keep your right foot on the brake to keep the car from rolling if you’re on a hill. Some people use the emergency brake to keep the vehicle in place during this process, while other cars feature a hill-hold feature that momentarily keeps the vehicle from rolling.
How to Drive a Manual Transmission Car
- Shift into gear. Now that the car is on, continue pressing on the clutch as you move the gear lever into the first gear.
- Ease your foot off the clutch and press the accelerator pedal. You can now completely remove your right foot from the brake or emergency brake while simultaneously removing your foot from the clutch. At the same time, use your now free right foot to press the gas pedal gently. This needs to be a smooth, seamless motion. You should feel the car start to move.
- Remove your foot from the clutch. At this point, you should fully remove your foot from the clutch and be only pressing the accelerator.
- Press in on the clutch again. As you gain momentum, it is time to put the vehicle into second gear. Press your left foot onto the clutch again and remove your foot from the gas.
- Change into second gear. With the clutch depressed, move the gear lever from first to second gear. The first gear is usually in the upper left and shifting to the second gear means moving the lever straight down. Again, release the clutch as your right foot presses the gas pedal. This will take some practice to learn how to transition seamlessly, and more importantly when to transition.
- Repeat. You will repeat this process every time you feel you need to increase your speed through all the gears.
- Slowing down. To slow down a manual car, you will reverse the process, using the same method of pressing in the clutch with your left foot while downshifting.
- Stopping the vehicle. When you want to stop the car completely, such as at a traffic signal, press down on the brake as you normally would. As your vehicle reaches a slow rolling stop, step onto the clutch.
- Go back to neutral. Place the car in the neutral position again. You can now lift off the clutch pedal while keeping your foot on the brake. To get moving again, repeat the steps above.
Learning when to switch gears is the most important part of driving a stick, and timing it properly will help to prevent your car from stalling. This will come with practice.
But you will get the feel of it. When the car speeds up, you will feel the car engine and hear it telling you to switch to the higher gear as you drive. Same for changing to a lower gear to slow down. Some vehicles will also display an indicator when it’s time to shift.
Advantages of a Manual Transmission
Once you learn how to drive a stick shift properly, you will understand why driving purists enjoy driving them. There are multiple advantages to driving a manual. They include:
- You have ultimate control over your car. When you drive a manual, you have more control over the vehicle’s speed and handling.
- Better acceleration. As you switch gears, you decide when the car accelerates. The acceleration can feel livelier because you can hold the gear longer than would be typical in an automatic transmission.
- Cheaper. Since these cars aren’t in high demand anymore, they tend to be more affordable to purchase than their automatic transmission counterparts. This may not apply to performance or sports cars, where a manual is preferred and sometimes costs a premium over an automatic.
- Makes going up or downhill a breeze. Manually changing the gear can help you get up a steep hill easier. Also, when going downhill, a manual puts less strain on your brakes.
Is a Manual Transmission Right for You?
A manual transmission car can be an enjoyable vehicle to drive. Driving a stick shift is a more hands-on driving experience than if you were to drive an automatic.
Quickly shifting gears can be exciting and give you a rush when you downshift on the highway to increase your speed. While this does sound fun, a manual isn’t for every driver.
If you are a younger driver and just learning how to operate a vehicle, it is probably best to learn how to drive a traditional automatic before trying your hand at a stick shift. Also, if you do not want to spend days, weeks, or even months learning how to drive a stick shift, then this type of vehicle is not suitable for you.
Learning how to drive a manual properly can be a tedious task that some people don’t have the time to learn.
Lastly, an automatic car is right for you if you prioritize getting from point A to B and don’t care about how in-tune you are with the driving experience.