Do You Know How to Drive a Manual?



By: Deborah Beckwin

7 Min Quiz

Image: Azarubaika / E+ / Getty Images

About This Quiz

For the first half of the 20th century, if you drove a car in the United States, it was with a manual transmission, where you manually changed the gears of a car with a stick shift. The first creations of modern manual transmission car came from France in the late 18th century. Manual transmission cars were the default until 1938, when U.S. carmaker General Motors introduced the Hydramatic transmission in their Oldsmobile and Cadillac cars, making the first manufactured automatic transmission. This transmission was used in other vehicles as well, including Bentley and Rolls-Royce. A decade later, GM introduced the Dynaflow transmission in their Buicks.

Gearheads have always enjoyed manual transmissions, because they give more control of the car's acceleration and can be (mis)used to make the car burn rubber and pull other unwise stunts.

Over time, manual transmission cars grew less popular, so much so that by the mid-1980s, just over 20 percent of cars sold in America had manual transmissions. Now, it's less than 5 percent of cars sold. But overseas in Europe, manual transmission cars are still favored. So are you one of the few who knows how to drive stick? Then let's see what you've got on this quiz! Good luck and we hope you don't stall out!

So if you're driving stick, you've got to know where the clutch is. So what is the order of pedals, from left to right?

If you've never driven with a clutch before, the extra pedal may take some getting used to. The clutch is the farthest pedal to the left, left of the brake.


Where is the stick shift typically located in an American car?

The gear shifter is centrally located between the two front seats, to the right of the driver. It's the same location for most automatic cars and their shifters.


On the stick shift, which position will you find neutral?

Neutral is not a gear, per se. It's a position which means that car is not in gear and you can shift the shifter left to right (which you can't do if you're in gear). You can press on the accelerator and see that you'll get nowhere fast.


On a stick shift, how do you usually NOT shift into the reverse gear?

Finding reverse with a manual transmission usually just involves looking for where the R is on the shift knob, and usually it's below the highest gear on the right. In some cars, you have to push down on the knob while shifting, while in other cars, there's a collar or ring you need to pull up as you shift into reverse.


Before you put the car into gear, where should your left foot be?

Before the car is in gear, the clutch pedal needs to be depressed. You can't shift into gear without the clutch being pushed because the clutch pedal allows you to move the gear shift.


After you shift the car into gear, how do you get the car to move? What should you be doing?

After you shift your car into gear, while you're easing off the clutch, you hit the gas pedal at the same time – but not too much! Mastering this skill is essential to driving a stick shift.


In most cars, which gear would you want to use for climbing hills or in stop-and-go traffic?

If you've ever ridden a bicycle with gears, it's the same concept. Lower gears help you to climb hills and higher gears help you go faster downhill and on flat roads.


When you start the car, what is the best gear or position for your car to be in?

You want to start in neutral to make sure that the car doesn't stall. So after you've pushed the clutch all the way down, shift into first and then put your right foot on the gas as you're taking your left off the clutch.


Driving with a stick shift means you need to be looking at your RPM (revolutions per minute) of your car's engine. Which instrument provides this information on your dashboard?

When driving a car with a manual transmission, the tachometer will be your best friend – especially if you're just starting out. You'll be able to see if you're revving the engine too high and when to switch gears.


Around how many RPM should you stay under when changing gears?

If you've driven an automatic, you've most likely not paid attention to your tachometer. Staying under 3000 RPM (a range of 2500 to 3000 is recommended) when changing gears, especially lower gears, helps to keep your engine from revving too high.


When you've come to a stop and have parked your car, what is one other thing you need to do that you normally wouldn't do with an automatic car?

If you've noticed in an automatic car, when you take your foot off the brake and put it in park, it rolls or moves a tiny bit. But with a manual car, that rolling could go farther. So while having your foot on the brake, putting on the emergency brake (also known as the parking brake) prevents the car from rolling.


Where will you typically find the emergency brake in a manual car?

Also known as the parking brake, the emergency brake is something you'll use a lot more than you would in an automatic car. It helps to keep the car from rolling after it's stopped and has been parked.


What happens if you don't have the right balance of using your clutch and accelerator?

Although it can be embarrassing, stalling happens to the best of drivers. Knowing when to let off the clutch and give the car more gas is the basis of driving a manual.


What is one method of slowing down your car while applying your brakes?

Downshifting, meaning shifting down to a lower gear, is the preferred method for slowing down a manual car. It also puts the car in the correct gear for the correct speed.


When manual cars first came on the scene, they used to only have three gears. How many gears can a manual car have now?

Typically, a manual car will have four or five gears, along with reverse. But it can go as high as seven gears, and you'll see this in high-end sports cars. For automatic transmission cars, it can go as high as ten gears!


Usually, how many gears should you downshift as you're slowing down?

Typically, you shouldn't down shift more than one gear at a time. It can cause clutch wear and affect the balance of the car otherwise.


What is one gear that you need to be careful using because it's very fast?

When you're using reverse with a manual car, you'll find that you won't have to hit the accelerator much at all. You'll want to focus on using your clutch along with your brakes if needed.


Besides learning how to control the clutch in first and second gear, what is the one procedure that will take time to master with a manual car?

It can be a little scary when you're learning how to start on a hill, because you can feel the car start to roll back after releasing the clutch. After you shift into first gear, you can either use the emergency brake to assist you as you engage the gears of the car, or quickly move from brake to accelerator while releasing the clutch.


Starting on a hill requires some practice and finesse. What is the name of the mechanism which helps your car not roll back on a hill?

Many modern cars have a mechanism called a hill hold control (HHC) or hill hold assist (also known as a Hill-Holder), which has been around for decades. If you're not that experienced with starting from the hill, the HHC can help as you release the clutch without needing to use an emergency brake.


If you want to be extra safe as you park your car and make sure it doesn't roll, what is one other thing you can do?

Usually, using the emergency brake is enough for parking a manual car. But if you want an extra layer of safety, leave the car in first gear when you park. Just remember to put the car in neutral when you start the car again.


Driving in bad weather can be challenging. What's one method of driving which helps you to drive more safely in inclement weather?

Learning how to accelerate a car with a manual transmission is important, but so is learning how to decelerate. Downshifting can be very helpful when you're in bad weather instead of suddenly braking your car.


When you've come upon slow traffic on the highway and you're in fifth gear, at what RPM would you approximately start to downshift to fourth?

Again, the tachometer is your friend when it comes to when to shift up or down a gear. When the RPM has lowered, it's probably time to downshift, which will increase the RPM.


There are different ways to slow down a car. What is engine braking?

Engine braking with a manual car sometimes has some controversy around it because it's thought to be bad for your car. But it can actually help your car be more fuel efficient (since you're not using as much gas when you slow down) and can extend the life of your brakes.


In what situation should you downshift into first gear?

Downshifting to first gear should happen when you're at a complete stop. You'll want to engine brake into slowing down, then depress the clutch and brake to come to a stop, put the car in neutral, and then, when you're ready to move, shift into first gear and go.


Why shouldn't you leave your hand on the gear shifter while driving?

If you're using the gear shifter as a handrest, you're applying pressure to the transaxle shift fork which is rubbing up against the rotating collar. That collar is pressed into the gear that you want. It's also just a good idea to have both hands on the wheel.


Although shifting beyond one gear isn't preferable, you can still do it. What should you do to make sure that you don't cause premature wear and imbalance in your car?

Rev matching involves stepping on the gas (revving) to match a higher revolution speed. So if you wanted to downshift from fourth gear to second gear, you need to make sure the RPM would match what it's like to be in second gear. You can do the same for upshifting.


When you've come to a stop, what is the best gear for your car to be in?

Having your car in neutral at a stop also helps your clutch because depressing the clutch for a long time while stopped is not good for your car (it can wear out throw out bearings). Instead, you should only have the clutch down for a few seconds when you're ready to go into first gear. The car should be in neutral beforehand.


In an older car, which of the following driving techniques will you have to do to downshift?

Most modern cars have mechanisms called synchronizers, which synchronize the engine, the gears, and the output together when downshifting. But if you have worn out synchronizers or if you have an older car, you can double clutch.


If you're into racing, launching your car with a manual transmission can be fun. At what point should you release the clutch?

Launching a car is more of an advanced skill mainly for drag or street racing. You see this done during speed tests where cars go from 0 to 60 MPH in the shortest time possible. Make sure you have a car that can handle this maneuver!


One technique that some drivers used is called power shifting. What does power shifting usually entail?

Usually, when you shift gears, you let your foot up from the accelerator because you don't need as much power. But power shifting involves keeping your foot on the accelerator without any modulation, which can be bad for your car, mainly because it causes your clutch to slip and thus wear down.


When should you shift gears for the FASTEST acceleration?

So if you're driving like this, you're probably at a closed track or you're racing. But for a manual car, to shift gears and receive the fastest acceleration, you need to take it to the red zone of the tachometer.


In what gear should you have your car if you're parked on a hill and facing upward?

You want to put your car in the gear in the direction it will most likely roll if it was nudged or hit. It's better for your engine this way. And, of course, put on your emergency brake.


In what gear should you have your car parked if it can possibly roll backward or forward?

This would apply to being on top of a hill or on a flat surface. If your car is facing downward on a hill, you'll want the car to be in first gear as well.


Where should your left foot be resting as you're driving a manual car?

This is a bad habit that if you have a manual, it can be easy to do, to rest your left foot on the clutch (and we're sure you're not resting it on the brake or accelerator). If you do this, it leaves the clutch slightly engaged, wearing out the clutch and throw out bearing prematurely.


When you're more of an advanced driver of a manual car, you can learn some time-saving tricks. Do you know what "heel & toe" refers to?

The full name of this maneuver is heel & toe downshift, and this is useful if you need to slow down while turning into a corner or curve. While you're braking, you hit the clutch as you quickly hit the accelerator, shift gears, and then release the clutch. You should have a smooth downshift that doesn't wear out your clutch.


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