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Old 04-01-2012, 06:48 AM
Join Date: Apr 2001
Location: Europe
Posts: 5,413
Learning to drive manual if you already know automatic

I have a driver's licence but no car, and have only ever driven cars with an automatic transmission. I don't need a car often enough to make buying and maintaining one worthwhile, so I'm thinking of joining a local car sharing scheme. However, it's a virtual certainty that all the cars available in this scheme (the only one operating in my community) have manual transmission. So I imagine I'd need some practice and/or lessons for driving manual before signing up.

So my question is directed to all those who, once upon a time, learned to drive manual long after driving automatic: how long did it take you before you felt comfortable enough to do ordinary city and highway driving on your own, and how did you learn (lessons from a professional driving instructor, informal tuition from a friend, self-learning, etc.)?
Old 04-01-2012, 07:06 AM
Join Date: Apr 2008
Posts: 14,843
I learnt on a manual. But I taught my sister to drive a manual after she learnt on an automatic. There is a learning curve and the few people I know who have transitioned are always more comfortable on manuals. But it can be done.
Old 04-01-2012, 07:22 AM
Join Date: Aug 2009
Location: Southern Ontario
Posts: 251
I learned on an automatic, but only had access to a manual to drive back and forth to school a year later. I had one "lesson" with my boyfriend where he showed me the point at which you are half on the gas and half on the clutch where the car doesn't stall. (I don't even know if this is a good way to teach someone, but that's what we did...). After I figured that out, it was easy to shift. Somewhat harder to get started on a hill - that took some practice but it came fairly soon.

There is nothing like a trial by fire. I think I stalled twice at intersections just due to "holy crap, someone behind me wants me to move now and god that is so much pressure..." but it didn't take long to be very comfortable. I prefer manual now.
Old 04-01-2012, 08:03 AM
Join Date: Jun 1999
Location: Massachusetts, USA
Posts: 1,566
I just bought a car with manual and drove it. At first there's some jerky starts and stalling out, but you catch on quickly.
Old 04-01-2012, 09:01 AM
Join Date: Nov 1999
Posts: 4,440
Like Coffeecat, I bought a car with a manual after driving automatics for 9 years or so. My boyfriend actually test drove the car for me (Geo Tracker - not a hard car to learn stick on) and I bought it. I was forced to learn to drive it or not go anywhere. I would say it took 3-4 days of driving it to work and back home (~9 miles one way) before I was shifting smoothly and not stalling it.
Old 04-01-2012, 09:31 AM
Join Date: Oct 2009
Location: CentralArkansas
Posts: 23,778
The biggest issue with manual is learning not to ride your clutch. A friend replace two burned out clutches in three years. He never could get the hang of not keeping the clutch partially pressed in. Thats a bigger issue in traffic.

I like driving manual in rural areas. It would be challenging in the city with 14 traffic lights between my house and a restaurant I visit regularly.

Old thread on burning out a clutch.

Last edited by aceplace57; 04-01-2012 at 09:34 AM.
Old 04-01-2012, 12:03 PM
Join Date: Dec 1999
Posts: 1,571
I learned on an automatic. This was back in the 1946 - 1947 time frame, on a 1941 Oldsmobile hydramatic. We sold the car in 1949, getting a Pontiac with a stick shift on the steering column. Don't remember many problems with the transition. Have driven manual shift cars ever since.

BTW, that old Pontiac was a real dog. Acres of sheet metal, a huge straight-eight engine with almost no power, and getting 13 mpg.
Old 04-01-2012, 12:39 PM
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Location: Lethbridge, AB.
Posts: 49,082
Since you don't have a manual car, I think taking lessons is probably your best bet. You need time to practice to get used to what you're doing with your feet and arm, and when to shift and how to start up on hills and stuff.

For what it's worth, I think learning to drive a manual car is a great idea.
Old 04-01-2012, 12:42 PM
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Join Date: May 2000
Location: SW Side, Chicago
Posts: 44,402
I learned on a slushbox, but didn't drive my first stick until I was about 23. It didn't take all that long to get the basics down. I was basically out driving it in traffic within 30 minutes of playing around with it. That said, those first few times in traffic I stalled getting it from neutral to first a lot. I learned on an old 1980 diesel Mercedes 240D with a pretty heavy clutch that didn't seem to have a lot of slip to it. It took me about a week or so of driving in traffic before I really started to feel comfortable with the manual gearbox.

The more modern manuals are pretty darned easy to learn. My now-wife, when we were dating, had to drive my manual Mazda 3 about two miles or so back from a bar after I had overindulged a bit. She had never driven one before, but managed to get it home (at about 3 a.m., to be fair, so there wasn't much traffic) only stalling it out twice at lights. I sure as hell was impressed.

That said, YMMV. I've known a couple people who are just adamant that they've tried learning a stick repeatedly, but simply cannot get the hang of it.

Last edited by pulykamell; 04-01-2012 at 12:43 PM.
Old 04-01-2012, 03:47 PM
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Join Date: Nov 2001
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Originally Posted by coffeecat View Post
I just bought a car with manual and drove it. At first there's some jerky starts and stalling out, but you catch on quickly.
Prety much my experience, but I had some experience with a small tractor first.

My best teaching experiences have been with:

1) Find a large empty parking lot (school or church at the right day of the week)

2) Practice starting and stopping in first gear. You need to master the series of : clutch down, shift to neutral, start engine, shift to first, clutch up/gas down, foot off clutch, cruise in first, clutch down/brake/shift to neutral, stop.

The clutch up/gas down without stalling is the key thing to master. Learning that smoothly and what a 'lugging' engine feels like is important.

3) After mastering 2), move on to shifting into second etc.
Old 04-01-2012, 03:56 PM
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Join Date: Apr 1999
Location: Schenectady, NY, USA
Posts: 41,348
I learned on an automatic and then switched to a manual. I think I has a lesson or two to learn how to start up without stalling, but the rest came easy.
"If a person saying he was something was all there was to it, this country'd be full of rich men and good-looking women. Too bad it isn't that easy.... In short, when someone else says you're a writer, that's when you're a writer... not before."
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Old 04-01-2012, 05:17 PM
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Join Date: Jan 2001
Location: Mid Atlantic, USA
Posts: 9,115
Originally Posted by coffeecat View Post
I just bought a car with manual and drove it. At first there's some jerky starts and stalling out, but you catch on quickly.

It shouldn't be hard to learn not to ride the clutch, any more so than learning not to ride the brake. If this is for some reason hard to master, I suggest getting somebody large and unpleasant to ride with you, and hit you whenever you do it, and say "Don't do that!" in an intimidating voice. No need to be nuanced on this point in any way.

Learning can be hard on the clutch, nevertheless. Applying too much gas and not letting the clutch out soon enough will have the engine spinning very fast while the clutch slips under load, and that dissipates a lot of energy in the clutch itself, burning it and wearing it away. My darling stepdaughter made my little Honda smoke a couple of times while I was teaching her, leaving me to wonder how many thousands of miles of normal driving corresponds to one noisy, smoky, pedestrian-head-turning start from a standstill pointed uphill.

Experienced manual transmission drivers can try driving with broken clutch linkage for extra credit. Starting from a non-downhill standstill is the hard part. I had a funny experience with this - my wife called me when her clutch linkage broke, deserting her car in the left turn lane of a busy intersection (fortunately I was just a couple minutes away). It was a dark and stormy night, just to help out. So I drove up behind her abandoned car (leaving plenty of room for misadventure) and got her into my driver's seat, and got into her car and waited for the light to change so she could follow me through the intersection. Then I realized there wasn't room to meet after the intersection where I planned to, so I jumped out and ran back to my car with her in it, and started banging on the window for her to roll it down so I could talk to her.
And it turned out that somebody else with a car like mine had somehow pulled ahead of her and between us, and I was banging on the window of a stranger's car and yelling at this poor woman and putting her into fear for her life. Her expression haunts me to this day.
Old 04-01-2012, 06:41 PM
Join Date: Apr 1999
Location: Maryland
Posts: 35,615
Originally Posted by coffeecat View Post
I just bought a car with manual and drove it. At first there's some jerky starts and stalling out, but you catch on quickly.
Same with me. I drove nothing but automatics for the first 15 years of driving, but then had the opportunity to buy at a good price from a trusted friend a small pickup truck that was perfect in every way...except it was a standard.

Luckily I was living in Newport News, a very flat area, at the time, but I had to drive it up to DC the first weekend I owned it, and managed OK.

A few years later, my wife, who'd been driving for 10 years on nothing but automatics, had the opportunity to buy a slightly used Honda Accord at a good price, and damned if that Accord wasn't perfect in every way...except it was a standard. So with a modest amount of tutoring from me, and a lot of practice on her own, she learned to drive it, and except when driving rental cars, didn't drive another automatic for nearly 20 years.

Our latest Accord, which is her car, is an automatic, and you can tell she hasn't quite made the shift mentally, because after 3 years of this car, she still drives with her hand on the gearshift, even in highway driving.
Old 04-01-2012, 07:11 PM
Join Date: Jan 2004
Location: Milwaukee
Posts: 1,115
I drove an automatic for my first seven years of driving. I decided my new car should be manual, even though I'd never driven manual before. I knew the car I wanted and had checked out the automatic. Then, when my car arrived, I did one test drive (salesman was with me), and I knew I would be good. The first day or two were herky-jerky, but then I was good. The pressure of having to figure it out is a strong motivator to avoid stalling in traffic.
Old 04-01-2012, 07:20 PM
Join Date: Apr 2010
Posts: 920
The guy who sold me my first manual showed me how to drive it in a snowy dark parking lot and I drove it home. I've been driving manuals ever since. 16-26 auto, 26-36 manual...10 years of each.

Starting on hills took a little while to do smoothly but no biggie.
Old 04-01-2012, 07:22 PM
Join Date: Jul 2005
Location: 小浜国
Posts: 6,465
I learned to drive in the early '80s in Switzerland, in a car with a manual transmission and a choke. Most Americans I know have never even heard of a choke. Later, when I came back to the States, the first and every car I've owned since had a standard manual transmission.

My wife, when I met her, had no familiarity with manual transmissions, having learned on an automatic. We had little money in those days and couldn't afford a second car, so with no car of her own, her choices were to continue to have me ferry her around, or learn to drive my car.

Contrary to others' experience in this thread, learning to drive a car with a manual transmission was quite a challenge for my wife. It took a few lessons over the course of approximately a week before she could maneuver the car without stalling. First and second gears were the toughest for her, and even after she "got it", if she spent more than a few days without time behind the wheel, it was almost like starting all over again.

I think it took my wife almost a month with approximately 4 hours a week behind the wheel, before she was able to drive the car confidently, and without fear of causing, or getting in to an accident. However, it took her probably 3 to 4 months to master and be comfortable with it. It didn't help that during this period from time to time she borrowed friend's cars who only drove automatics.

It's been over 20 years since my wife learned to drive a manual transmission vehicle, and every car she's owned since then has been manual. She says she will never go back to automatics, which makes me very happy because the few times in my life that I've driven automatics have been white-knuckle experiences I hope never to have to repeat again.
Old 04-01-2012, 09:24 PM
Just Lovely and Delicious
Charter Member
Join Date: Aug 2001
Location: Northeast Ohio
Posts: 24,488
When I was in my early 20s a boyfriend tried to teach me to drive a manual. But the parking lot was too small and it was like a $40k BMW and he is a fucking asshole so I was just too scared. I kept stalling and nearly running in to parking dividers.

I've not had any desire to learn since.
Old 04-01-2012, 11:30 PM
Join Date: Nov 2002
Location: San Francisco, Ca
Posts: 1,731
having lessons from a professional or a friend is always the best.

If that is not an option I would suggest you
1) Go learn how a manual transmission works. I think it's important to know what is happening when you depress a clutch and shift a gear.

2) I note that there are lots of videos on youtube and other places on how to watch videos now. I just googled "how to drive manual" and found a bunch. I didn't watch any of them.

3) I recommend the left foot only method to start. That is, you do nothing but shift into first, and clutch up VERY slowly until you can get the car moving. No Gas. It will take a while to get the clutch fully up without stalling the car. What this teaches you is where the clutch catch point is in your car.

After you can do this reliably you move onto phase II. Phase II is you add the right foot. You add gas to the mix so that you can start and get moving quickly.
Old 04-02-2012, 01:31 AM
Join Date: Apr 2002
Location: Lincoln Park, Chicago
Posts: 6,525
Learned to drive on an automatic, but the first car I bought (several years later) was a manual. My dad went with me to pick it up, drove it to a big mall parking lot, and coached me for about half an hour.

Then I drove it home, and immediately started a new job delivering pizza! Within a few weeks, I was shifting like a champ. That's also the month that I got really good at parallel parking.

Last edited by Tim R. Mortiss; 04-02-2012 at 01:32 AM.
Old 04-02-2012, 08:30 AM
Join Date: Jun 2000
Location: Florida
Posts: 6,062
I learned mostly on automatics, with one or two brief, failed lessons on my mom's stick. Fast forward 20 years or so, and I bought a stick shift truck from a co-worker. Part of the sales deal was he had to give me a stick-driving lesson or four. He gave me two lessons. After that, I practiced driving around my neighborhood, first on flat streets, then gradually increasing the distance to find inclines and finally, I graduated myself to steep hills. I'd say it probably took me all of a week to get the hang of it. When I had to take my primary car (an automatic) to the shop for about three weeks, by the end of the three weeks, I was a stick-drivin' fool.
Old 04-02-2012, 10:08 AM
Join Date: Oct 2007
Location: rhode island
Posts: 38,810
I learned on both standard and automatic, and I've taught several people to drive a standard. It's not really very difficult, except for learning how to do an uphill start. You can learn to use a standard in an hour for level and downhill starts. For uphill you need practice. You need to find a hill without traffic so you can practice starting up over and over again.

I've seen some people don't get the basic idea that you have to control the clutch by feel. Initially you wil have to let the clutch slip a lot to get used to the feel of it. It becomes second nature after a while. While practicing you need to intentionally slip the clutch a lot to really become familiar with it. I've seen people doing an awful job because someone harangued them about riding the clutch. Forget about that. You will have a lot of additional clutch slip while you are learning. It will eventually become second nature and you'll do a much better job. If your clutch would have last 50,000 miles, well it might only last 49,000 miles as result of that extra friction. Not that big a deal, because if you don't learn to shift well, the clutch is only going to last 25,000 miles (numbers used for illustration. You get what you get out of a clutch).
Old 04-02-2012, 10:42 AM
Join Date: May 2011
Location: Raleigh, NC
Posts: 1,124
The first time I drove a manual was when I picked up a new car on the other side of Boston from where I lived and had to get it home at rush hour. I plotted a course with the fewest trafffic lights, but it was still a bit of an adventure. At one stop light I turned around (it was a convertible) and said to the motorcycle behind me, "Go around me. I'm incompetent."

I managed to get it home and the next morning I went out early and practiced for an hour before work. Within 2 or 3 days it was second nature.
Old 04-02-2012, 01:49 PM
Join Date: Feb 2007
Location: Challenger Deep
Posts: 10,982
Learned from driving a friend's car and then a car that my parents owned. Had some tips from the friend and from my parents, but I don't remember the details, and I'm sure it wasn't any particular prescribed teaching method. That was 25 years ago.

My sister, starting seven years ago, taught her two daughters to drive stick using a more deliberate method of instruction. As TriPolar notes, you have to develop the "feel" for where the clutch begins to engage, and how rapidly it engages after that; you also have to develop the "feel" for how the engine responds to the accelerator pedal. To those ends, the following steps are recommended:

1. With the car at a dead stop on a flat, empty parking lot, engage the parking brake, push the clutch in and select first gear. Keep your right foot off of the accelerator. Now watch the tachometer, and let the clutch out just until the engine RPM starts to dip. That's the start of clutch engagement. Don't engage the clutch any further; push it back to the floor, and let it out again until the RPM starts to dip. Repeat this a couple of dozen times, and your left leg and foot will start to develop a feel for where clutch begins to engage. Because the engine is at idle, and you're only just barely engaging the clutch, wear will be minimal for this portion of the exercise.

2. With the transmission in neutral and the parking brake set, put your right foot on the accelerator, and press it until the RPM comes up to about 1500. Release. Repeat this a couple dozen times, and your right leg and foot will start to develop a feel for how much to press the gas when launching.

3. Release the parking brake, clutch-in, select first gear. Now combine your left and right foot actions: rev the engine up a bit, and slowly release the clutch until the car just starts to roll forward. As soon as the car starts to move clutch back in, and take your right foot off the gas and brake to a stop. Repeat this partial-launch a couple dozen times.

4. Repeat step 3, engaging the clutch a bit farther than you did, and getting to a bit higher speed before stopping.

5. Repeat step three, this time releasing the clutch completely until the car is idling forward.

I think an approach like this is likely to give the fastest results at developing the muscle memory needed to smoothly launch the car.
Old 04-02-2012, 08:50 PM
Join Date: Feb 2008
Location: Montana
Posts: 4,965
One advantage you have being located in Europe is that you can actually rent a nice manual transmission car. If you go the autodidact route, a more upscale car with a reasonably powerful turbodiesel engine is going to much more forgiving than the aneimic econoboxes the car sharing group probably uses. Last time I was over there, we got a Ford crossover with a big turbodiesel V6 that drove wonderfully and was almost impossible to stall. One of my travelling companions who is generally manual-phobic (she won't drive any of my manual vehicles at home) even drove a little and said she actually enjoyed it.

Rent yourself a nice TDI Passat or C-class Mercedes or similar for a weekend and you should be ready to move up (down?) to a manual economy car.
Old 04-02-2012, 09:16 PM
Corellian Nerfherder
Join Date: May 2000
Location: Brookfield, IL
Posts: 11,686
I learned how to drive on an automatic (my parents' 1977 Cadillac Sedan deVille, a.k.a. The Battlestar). About a year or so after I got my license, my dad bought an extra car -- a little Plymouth TC3 coupe, with a stick. My parents taught me to drive the stick, but I was pretty bad at it for at least a few months.

I drove several cars with sticks through the 80s and early 90s, but spent the last 15 years rarely, if ever, driving a stick. Then, last fall, I bought my midlife crisis car -- a Ford Mustang, with a stick. It came back to me quickly, but the first few days with the new car were a little shaky.
Old 04-03-2012, 03:49 PM
Join Date: Aug 2003
Location: slightly north of center
Posts: 4,602
I'd strongly suggest finding a friend that has driven a manual, and spend a couple of hours going over how it works. Go to a nice flat open parking lot, let them drive, and ask them to talk you through what they are doing and why.
First you depress the clutch, then you put the car in neutral. It's over here, just like the drawing on the shifter knob shows.
Second, you start the car

That kind of walk through.

Then practice a little in the parking lot. Practice starting the car, getting moving, upshifting, braking, downshifting.

Finally, find an empty road or parking lot with a hill. Practice moving forward from a stop.

A couple of hours and you should be good.

But try this all when you have time and an empty area. My first try driving a manual was when I was 16, and we were heading to church. Nothing like a time crunch and a car full of family to make stalling the car a traumatic experience.

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