How to Drive a Stick Shift

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Although it can feel intimidating at first, you’ll be driving a stick shift car in no time! All you need is an understanding of the equipment and some practice time with changing gears and parking. 
A stick shift car uses a manual transmission as opposed to an automatic one. Although these vehicles are less common nowadays in the United States, some driving enthusiasts swear that there’s nothing like the speed and control of a stick shift.
You can’t really learn to drive by reading an article online—you’ll have to practice. But this guide from the car insurance comparison app Jerry should help you feel more comfortable in the car and more prepared for your first lesson. 
Here’s a beginner’s guide to driving a manual transmission car.

Understanding the equipment

It’s a good idea to consult your owner’s manual before hitting the road because not all stick shift cars are the same. Your vehicle may be configured differently depending on the make, model, and year. With that said, here are the basic components of a manual transmission car. 


You’ll know you’re in a manual car as soon as you sit in the driver’s seat and look down towards your feet. There are three pedals instead of two.
From left to right, you will see the clutch, the brake, and the accelerator (also known as the throttle). The brake and the accelerator serve the same function in a manual car as they do in an automatic car. The clutch enables you to switch gears.
Use your left foot to operate the clutch and your right foot to operate the brake and the accelerator.
Key Takeaway: If you’re used to driving an automatic car, one of your biggest challenges will be learning how to operate three pedals instead of two on a manual car.

Gear shift

The gear shift is typically located on the floor or center console between the driver’s seat and the passenger seat. Most of the time, the gear positions will be indicated by a diagram on the knob of the gear shift. 
If you have a five-speed transmission, there will be five gears in addition to the “reverse” gear, which is typically denoted by “R”. 
  • First gear is usually located at the top left of the diagram, next to third gear and fifth gear
  • Second, fourth, and reverse are usually located left-to-right across the bottom of the diagram
When the gear shift is not locked in one of the dedicated gears, the transmission will be in neutral.
While you are driving, you will shift between each gear to match your vehicle’s speed as indicated on your tachometer or speedometer. 
You’ll usually want to use first or second gear when you’re driving on a steep hill or stuck in slow-moving traffic. If you’re driving 70 mph on a freeway, let’s say, you’ll upshift to the highest gear, sometimes known as top gear
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Starting the car

Start with the car in neutral with the parking brake on. Then:
  • Use your left foot to press down on the clutch
  • Turn on the ignition, then let off of the clutch
  • Disengage the parking brake once you’re ready to put the car in gear

Changing gears


When you’re ready to shift up, here’s what you need to do:
  • With your foot on the brake, press down on the clutch while you move the gear shift into first gear
  • Then, ease off the brake
  • Let up from the clutch while you step on the accelerator
Build up your speed until you can switch to second gear. To do this:
  • Ease off of the accelerator as you press on the clutch again
  • While the clutch is engaged, use the gear shift to shift into second gear
  • Release the clutch while you accelerate
Continue this process as you work your way up to higher gears. You will need to continue building speed in order to do this, and you must work through the gears in order.


To shift to a lower gear, you will follow the same process as upshifting but in reverse order.


Move your foot from the accelerator to the brake pedal and downshift to a lower gear. When you’re ready to accelerate again, slowly lift your foot off the clutch while you push down on the accelerator.


When you’re ready to come to a full stop, follow the above instructions for braking. Keep the clutch engaged when slowing to five miles per hour or less until your car fully stops. 
While the car is stopped, switch to the gear you plan on using next.


Start your reverse from a stopped position. Then:
  • Step on the clutch and move the gear shift to “reverse”
  • Keep one foot on the brake while you slowly lift your left foot off the clutch
  • You can control your speed by slowly lifting your foot off the brake or lightly tapping the accelerator


Once you come to a complete stop, keep pressing down on the clutch while you turn off the ignition. Don’t forget to engage the parking brake before you leave the car. 
It’s a good idea to put the car into the gear you plan on using when you drive again—especially if you are parked on a hill. 

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Try to find a large, level, empty parking lot where you can safely practice away from other vehicles, drivers, or pedestrians. Bring an experienced driver with you.
When you park facing uphill, turn the steering wheel towards the street so that the back of your front wheels are aimed at the curb. When you start the car, keep your wheels turned in the direction you plan to drive. Keep your parking brake engaged while you put the car into gear, and slowly accelerate. 
Once you can feel your car struggling against the parking brake, slowly release the parking brake while also gradually releasing the clutch and pressing the accelerator.

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