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Tips on driving standard?
September 21, 2007 3:18 PM   Subscribe

I've recently purchased a standard because I used to drive one and loved it, but I've never really been properly trained in how to drive one. The car I bought is much more powerful than the one I've learned on, and I'd appreciate some answers to a few questions and any general tips you've got to help me get the most of out my new clutch (and car).

Here are the extra questions:

Are any of the following considered bad practice? (Bonus points for why)
1. Skipping a gear when down shifting. If I'm in 4th and start slowing down, but slow down quick enough it makes more sense to shift into 2nd than 3rd.
2. When in 1st, I sometimes never totally let the clutch out before pressing it back in and shifting to second (to avoid a jerky shift).
3. When slowing down, not downshifting at all and just putting the car in neutral and using only the brakes/wind resistance to slow down.
4. When at a stop on a reverse slope (where there would be roll-back if you weren't holding the brake), giving a little bit of gas and letting the clutch out just a little, to hold the cars position without using the brake.

Thanks!
posted by patr1ck to Travel & Transportation (37 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
 
I drive a standard.

1. When I downshift, I usually only do it in 2nd gear. No specific reason. It just feels right.

2. Not sure

3. The rational behind that is that downshifting can produce extra wear and tear on your clutch and flywheel, and those are more expensive to replace than brake pads. It's a matter of preference as far as I know.

4. I do that all the time as well. Don't know of any downsides.
posted by Industrial PhD at 3:24 PM on September 21, 2007


I don't see anything wrong with 1, unless your getting jerking or grinding, but I'd consider 2, 3, and 4 bad. 2 and 4 will wear out your clutch early. 3 is a safety and control issue: if someone hits you from behind while you're sl;owing down in neutral you won't be able to break fast enough to keep from being pushed in to car in front of you or into an intersection.
posted by timeistight at 3:27 PM on September 21, 2007


Here's a $500 tip: you should get your clutch adjusted periodically. I had to replace the clutch on my 10 yr old car (bye-bye, $500) and the mechanic advised me to get it adjusted after about a month of driving on it. My response was, "you adjust them?" He said it helps reduce wear. He also said to take your foot off the clutch when not using it - if you're holding it down unnecessarily, you're wearing it out.
posted by selfmedicating at 3:27 PM on September 21, 2007


It sounds to me like you're probably a little rougher on your clutch than you absolutely need to be, but really that's the fun of driving a stickshift, isn't it?
posted by lekvar at 3:29 PM on September 21, 2007


The first 3 are all fine for the car. In my old Pontiac GTO, I don't think I've ever had the clutch all the way out in first gear more than 5 or 6 times, because all that does is burn the rear tires up.


The 4th one is ok if you just do it for a moment or two. But if you do it for 2 minutes while you're stopped at a red light, you are putting hundreds of miles worth of wear on your clutch and it will wear out much faster than it ought to. Use your brake instead.

With regard to #3, there is a safety issue. If you are slowing down gradually but you suddenly need to change your plan, it's a good idea to have the car in gear. For instance, if you suddenly need to brake hard, and you also decide you want the car back in gear, you run the risk of stalling your engine out. Suddenly your car's bogging because its momentum is turning a stalled-out engine; the power steering is dead; and you're trying to control everything. For this reason if the traffic's pretty heavy around me or the situation's uncertain (crowded sidewalks, school zone, whatever) I don't do this.
posted by ikkyu2 at 3:38 PM on September 21, 2007


Number 3 is a no since since technically you are not in control of a car when you are freewheeling, if you are descending a hill - the engine provides additional braking which happens when you are in gear. If you use only your brakes - you run the risk of brake overheating and failure. This is why trucks downshift when going downhill.

Number 4 is a big no-no since it results in early clutch failure, and in my humble is the worst of all clutch abuses. When you are doing this - you are basically spinning the two plates of the clutch together and wearing out the clutch in super quick time. Proper technique is to use the use the brakes to come to a stop, then pull the handbrake to hold the car in position. Take the car out of gear, and let out the clutch while you wait for the light. When ready to go - put in gear and balance the clutch engaging against you disengaging the handbrake. This is very tricky and requires lots of practice. When it comes to clutches - the basic idea is that it should always be either in (against the floor) or out (and by out - foot completely off and not resting on it).
posted by clarkie666 at 3:40 PM on September 21, 2007


Personally I would not skip gears when downshifting ... at least not quickly. E.g. I'd never go quickly from fourth into second. Unless you are really decelerating hard, you'd be hard pressed to do that without racing the engine. However, a lot depends on how the gearing in your car is set. In a car with a very 'short' 3rd and 4th gear (not much 'distance' in terms of RPMs between 2nd/3rd and 3rd/4th), you could probably do it.

I used to fairly frequently just shift into neutral when I was going down a hill, if I knew I didn't need the engine to brake. Some people are against this for various reasons, but I don't think it's unsafe, and it keeps you from either revving the engine (by downshifting too aggressively when you don't need it), wearing the clutch (by keeping the clutch in until you're ready to go into a new gear), and using up more fuel than you need to. However this is just personal style, I'm not advocating it.

Your point #2 strikes me as possibly being bad. The objective of the clutch is to get it from in to out, and out to in, as quickly as possible, without jerking the car horribly. You should spend as little time as possible with it halfway in, because that's what actually causes wear on the clutch. So I think something is a little wrong here. You should work on your shifting so that you can get that clutch out faster. You might not spend very much time with it out, but ideally you should be able to take your foot completely OFF the clutch for a moment before putting it back on to shift into second. If you ever watch a camera on the feet of a professional driver (sometimes they show it on Top Gear), their clutch movements are fast. The key IMO is finding the point where the clutch 'grabs' and balancing the gas against the clutch to keep the car from stalling while getting the clutch out as quickly as possible.

For your point #3, as I said above, I do/did this all the time on my manual. Occasionally I used to get people saying that this was bad. I think their justification is that with the engine disconnected, you have less control over the car. While there may be some truth to this, you just need to use your head. Don't shift into neutral when you might need power out of the engine anytime soon. Eliminating the braking effect of the engine will require you to use more regular brakes, but I think it's a fair tradeoff: especially considering that judicious use of Neutral can improve your gas mileage significantly.

And point #4 is definitely bad. Do not do it, that's what your brake is for. You are causing a lot of wear to your clutch by doing this (the engine is turning and the wheels are not ... so where is the slip/non-slip point? in your clutch). Keep the car in neutral until you're ready to go, then clutch in and shift into first, then apply gas and clutch out (using more gas than you would on a flat surface, obviously, so you don't roll backwards).
posted by Kadin2048 at 3:42 PM on September 21, 2007 [1 favorite]


When I did my Irish driving test (most cars are manual in Ireland) any of the above were grounds for failing the test, as was not being able to perform a hill start.
posted by clarkie666 at 3:43 PM on September 21, 2007


Point 4 continued: Or use the handbrake as Clarkie666 suggests. This may be a necessity depending on how much torque your engine generates at low RPMs and how heavy the car is. You might want to find a hill somewhere and practice with a traffic cone before you do it for real (especially because you never know when some jackass is going to come up and sit 3" behind your bumper).
posted by Kadin2048 at 3:47 PM on September 21, 2007


More on the hillstarts...
1. Brake to a stop.
2. Pull up the handbrake and slowly let out the footbrake to make sure that the handbrake is holding the car.
3. Take the car out of gear.
4. Wait for light, etc.
4. Just before the light turns green put car in first gear and hold the clutch in.
5. Pull the handbrake and press and hold the button in. The only thing keeping the handbrake on now is you pulling on it.
6. Let the clutch out until it begins to engage giving the car a little gas to ensure it doesn't stall.
7. When you feel the car beginning to strain forward (when you can feel that the only thing holding the car back is the handbrake) - then release the handbrake while giving more gas.

You need to use the handbrake because foot 1 is on the clutch, foot 2 is on the gas. Start with small hills and then head for San Francisco...and that's why manuals = good times!
posted by clarkie666 at 4:05 PM on September 21, 2007


You dont NEED to downshift at all actually (by that I mean you dont need to drop down into lower gears to slow the car down etc) but it can give you better control over the vehicle, especially on slippery or steep roads where applying the brakes may be potentially dangerous. Can save your brakes a bit too, but I would point out that brake pads are a lot cheaper than a clutch job.

Downshifting can also help with certain maneuvers. For example, by dropping into 4th from 5th at moderate-high speeds (say, 55-65 mph in US terms) will give you a boost of power for passing, but you dont want to keep that RPM (probably 3500-4000+) up for long without going back to 5th.
posted by elendil71 at 4:07 PM on September 21, 2007


Number 4, as everyone says, is the bad one. When I see someone at the lights rocking back and forth on their clutch, the first thing that springs to mind is `Company car!'.
posted by tomble at 4:13 PM on September 21, 2007


Based on what I know, and what I think:

1. Skipping a gear when down shifting. If I'm in 4th and start slowing down, but slow down quick enough it makes more sense to shift into 2nd than 3rd.

Your brakes are powerful enough to lock all four wheels on your car; they're designed to be wear items, and pads are cheap to replace. If you downshift so that the engine revs itself up (well, dragged up by the drivetrain via the wheels hitting the road, actually) you're abusing your drivetrain.

Engine braking (the shorthand for what I describe above) is useful for keeping the car at a steady pace on downhill stretches without overheating your brakes, but isn't a good way to come to a stop.

Downshifting itself, when done correctly, doesn't involve involuntary revving up of the engine; in fact, you should be blipping the gas a bit while the car's in neutral during the downshift so that the engine speed matches the road speed for the new gear before you let the clutch back out. At that point, it doesn't contribute to braking, but it shouldn't; it's what you do when you're planning to keep moving, but would like to do it in a lower gear. Downshift before a turn to speed out of it; downshift as you adjust your speed to road and traffic conditions; but don't downshift as a way of being "easy" on your brakes.

Oh, and matching revs (the shorthand for blipping the throttle and all that before putting the car back in gear) is the way you should be driving, even when upshifting -- when upshifting, you try not to let the clutch back out until the engine speed has slowed to match the road speed in the new gear. If you're good, you can upshift without using the clutch (from 1/2 on up), but if you're REALLY good you can downshift this way as well. NOT RECOMMENDED FOR STREET DRIVING.

2. When in 1st, I sometimes never totally let the clutch out before pressing it back in and shifting to second (to avoid a jerky shift).

That's a lot of wear on the clutch; your 1st/2nd shift doesn't need to be jerky if you're doing it right. So you must not be doing it right; let the clutch all the way out in first, then spend your time and energy practicing the 1/2 shift so that it's smooth.

3. When slowing down, not downshifting at all and just putting the car in neutral and using only the brakes/wind resistance to slow down.

If you know you're going to be coming to a stop, that's the way to do it. If you suspect there's a chance you might not be stopping (the light may be about to turn green, say) then leave the car in gear until the revs are around 1000/1500, then go neutral. If you're just adjusting your road speed downward without stopping, leave it in gear and downshift if you need to keep the revs up at the lower speed.

4. When at a stop on a reverse slope (where there would be roll-back if you weren't holding the brake), giving a little bit of gas and letting the clutch out just a little, to hold the cars position without using the brake.

If you enjoy replacing clutches early and often, do this.
posted by davejay at 4:25 PM on September 21, 2007 [1 favorite]


1. Depends how your car is geared. I've driven one where it was perfectly happy to shift from 2nd into 4th while accelerating. Doesn't hurt anything as long as the engine stays in an sensible range of speed. Do learn to match the revs before engaging the clutch when downshifting.

3. Is no big deal, but leaving the car in gear while braking, when not inconvenient for whatever reason, actually saves a bit of fuel. No reason not to leave it in gear at least until you'd otherwise have to downshift. My habit is to shift down one gear, then coast, though often with the clutch pedal in and the correct gear selected and ready to go just in case.

2 and 4: You shouldn't be doing that unless you have a really good excuse.
posted by sfenders at 4:30 PM on September 21, 2007


Blimey, there's some duff advice here:

1and 3 are directly linked:
Braking the car. This is best done with the gears and the brakes at the same time. Mainly because it saves wear on your brakes, and also because the engine (while slowing the wheels) helps resist the wheels locking over surface imperfections by providing momentum/mass to each wheel during braking. It is a LOT easier to lock a wheel when braking with no drive to any of the wheels, especially when going over bumps.

Incidentally, there is an obscure bylaw in England that makes coasting without brakes or power illegal... Basically, the thinking is that without an input the car is essentially not being controlled, ergo out of control. Not necessarily completely true, but the principle is the same - if the drive-line is connected the wheels are better controlled.

Skipping the gear is fine as long as you wait plenty of time before the change to 2nd. It will be slightly more wear on the syncro rings (the friction rings that stop them crunching when you change gears) but not by a huge amount. It's not massively problematic, though.

2 and 4 are also linked: 2: Very bad. Massive increase in clutch wear. There should be absolutely no need to do this unless you have no throttle control. Try not accelerating as hard during clutch take up and then accelerating harder when the clutch is fully engaged. The clutch should be fully engaged within about 10-15 feet of starting off at the most if you do it right (usually less).

4: As noted. Very bad for clutch wear. Use the handbrake to hold the car, then balance the car against the clutch in much the same way to pull away from the clutch, rather than the hill. Does that make sense?

So, in summary, the bare minimum of time you have your foot on the clutch the better. Slipping it is just wear, holding it down is just bad (while going - holding it down while sat still doesn't matter quite so much but it does decrease the life of the bearing that operates the clutch.)
posted by Brockles at 4:50 PM on September 21, 2007


Downshifting itself, when done correctly, doesn't involve involuntary revving up of the engine; in fact, you should be blipping the gas a bit while the car's in neutral during the downshift so that the engine speed matches the road speed for the new gear before you let the clutch back out. At that point, it doesn't contribute to braking, but it shouldn't; it's what you do when you're planning to keep moving, but would like to do it in a lower gear. Downshift before a turn to speed out of it; downshift as you adjust your speed to road and traffic conditions; but don't downshift as a way of being "easy" on your brakes.

Sorry, but most of that is spurious and more likely to be confusing to someone just trying to drive a manual gearbox better.

Blipping of the engine is a way of smoothing downshifts, yes. But in a road car it is largely ineffective unless you are driving pretty damn hard. By which I mean really damn hard. Just change down later (ie at a lower speed). It is something that racing techniques use for preventing the driven wheels locking as the next gear is selected, but is mainly done on the road just because it sounds good... :)
posted by Brockles at 5:14 PM on September 21, 2007 [1 favorite]


1. Skipping a gear when down shifting. If I'm in 4th and start slowing down, but slow down quick enough it makes more sense to shift into 2nd than 3rd.

No problem, but keep the clutch in long enough for the synchros to catch up.

2. When in 1st, I sometimes never totally let the clutch out before pressing it back in and shifting to second (to avoid a jerky shift).


Not good. Shift earlier, faster, more decisively, whatever, but don't feather the clutch.

3. When slowing down, not downshifting at all and just putting the car in neutral and using only the brakes/wind resistance to slow down.


Brakes are made for speed reduction, the gearbox is not.

4. When at a stop on a reverse slope (where there would be roll-back if you weren't holding the brake), giving a little bit of gas and letting the clutch out just a little, to hold the cars position without using the brake.

Until you get the hang of it don't be afraid to use the hand brake. After a few hundred hill starts you won't do them any differently than a flat start, just faster.
posted by caddis at 5:17 PM on September 21, 2007


The good news, modern gear boxes are tough, tough, tough. Whatever damage you do in learning will not show up for a hundred thousand miles or more unless you are a complete and unthinking klutz, in which case you sell at 60,000 miles.
posted by caddis at 5:19 PM on September 21, 2007


(God, here we go again clashing) :)


Brakes are made for speed reduction, the gearbox is not.


This is not exactly true in your inference. There is absolutely no problem using a drivetrain for slowing. They are not in any way stronger in one load direction than the other. Engine braking is perfectly good and a better, more balanced, way of slowing a car than braking alone. The damage will be to your clutch, not the gearbox.


No problem, but keep the clutch in long enough for the synchros to catch up.


Hmmm. The time is irrelevant. It is the difference in speed between the gearbox and the engine. The amount that the gear pack needs to be accelerated to match the main shaft when you lift the clutch is the issue. Letting the engine go all the way down to idle means that the difference in speed between the two components is bigger, and the syncros need to work harder to match the speeds. Holding the clutch down longer makes that worse unless you wait until the car stops (or the gear speed matches that of the car at idle, which is pretty low).

This IS a problem for syncro wear. Changing down promptly with minimum delay with the clutch down is the least wearing on engine and gearbox (given that the downshift is delayed enough that the engine won't be over revved when the clutch comes back up).
posted by Brockles at 5:27 PM on September 21, 2007


The Car Talk guys give lots of good tips on driving stick. I summarize them like this: Pretend it causes you physical pain to touch the clutch pedal or the shift knob. Never ride the clutch, don't partially let it out, don't downshift unless you need to, don't rest your hand on the knob between shifts or at stops. All of these are for different reasons but the basic fundamental issue is the gears, synchros, linkage, clutch pedal and clutch plate are all mechanical parts that wear out. The less you use them the longer they last.
posted by chairface at 5:31 PM on September 21, 2007 [1 favorite]


Engine braking is perfectly good and a better, more balanced, way of slowing a car than braking alone.

wrong
posted by caddis at 5:35 PM on September 21, 2007


Caddis: Start citing sources of information, then. What are you basing this on?

You are fundamentally wrong. A loaded suspension and drivetrain is more stable than one that is unloaded. Lets see some proof of your assertion.


(I like chairfaces analogy of the pain thing)
posted by Brockles at 5:39 PM on September 21, 2007 [1 favorite]


"... any general tips you've got to help me get the most of out my new clutch (and car)."

Change the gear oil in your transmission and differential at or before recommended change intervals (typically 30,000 miles). Manual transmissions and differentials don't have the replaceable filter elements common to automatic transmissions, and the only way of getting wear particles out of the mechanisms is to drain and replace the lubricants, and manually clean any magnet trap plug they have.
posted by paulsc at 6:14 PM on September 21, 2007


Maybe this is a trans-Atlantic thing - in the UK I was taught much along the lines of davejay's comments above (the use of balanced braking and the like) on both basic and advanced driving courses.

Rather than exacerbate further argument can I recommend a couple of books? Both cover driving from a UK perspective and, by necessity talk about clutch & gear use in some detail. Obviously, you'll need to swap all the references to right and left for lots of other stuff...

Roadcraft by Philip Coyne and High-Performance Driving by Tom Wisdom (although it's out of print, it's worth trying to track down a copy - written back in the day before speed limits).
posted by dogsbody at 6:28 PM on September 21, 2007


Driving is mostly done through habits. You can develop good habits by always trying to do the good thing, or bad habits by doing the bad (2 & 4) thing. Most of the time, the habits are in control.

I use turn signals and stop at stop signs in totally deserted places because it would be an effort to break these commendable habits, even if the actions are nonsensical in context.

My shift algorithm (not for first gear) is:
0. Engine is making slightly unhappy sound.
1.Stomp clutch to floor. off gas (upshift) or little gas
(downshift)
2. Neutral, and listen for the 'right' engine speed. About .20-.50 second
3. In Gear .2 second (not real fast)
4. Clutch up to grab, stop for an instant, and then off clutch, foot on FLOOR.

The whole shift takes a little less than one second. A clutch has a long lifetime if you only use it one second at a time.

There's also, the PANIC STOP :)
Stand on the brake, stutter if the wheels lock. Screw the clutch and gears. Stalled engine will start after key is turned.
posted by hexatron at 6:50 PM on September 21, 2007


Don't let the clutch slip (#2 and #4); you'll wear it out.

Don't take the car out of gear until you're just about ready to stop (#3, no coasting); it's better to be in control of the car than in the grip of gravity and momentum.

Engine braking is perfectly fine. Brockles is right that blipping isn't strictly necessary in modern cars, but blipping does lead to smoother downshifts. And it's fun.

The classic blip requires double-clutching (clutch in -- shift to neutral; clutch out -- jab the throttle; clutch in -- target gear; clutch out), which is yet another thing to learn. You can get the same effect by rev-matching with the clutch engaged (stay on the clutch through neutral and into the next gear, throttle up, release clutch).

Here's Ayrton Senna behind the wheel of an Acura NSX taking a lap at Suzuka, with a picture in picture of his penny-loafers at work, blipping, heel-toeing, modulating the throttle through the turns.

And here's an anonymous racer heel-toeing and double-clutching (and by the sound of the squeals, apex-missing).
posted by notyou at 7:16 PM on September 21, 2007


It is a LOT easier to lock a wheel when braking with no drive to any of the wheels

Well now, that would depend on which wheel it is, what type of differential you have, and what type of surface you're on. My car has a good ABS, rendering this debate entirely irrelevant for it, so I can't test it out. But it seems to me that the engine is not going to do much to stop a wheel from moving far enough from rolling to sliding friction to lose about as much as it's going to by locking up, even if it does keep at least one of the drive wheels from coming closer to a complete stop than it otherwise would. I can imagine it making some difference, for some non-ABS cars, particularly for people who aren't good at threshold braking, but I'm betting against it being enough to make this of any practical concern, aside from the obvious effect of engine braking or its opposite if you neglect to disengage the clutch before the end of that "PANIC STOP". Unless maybe you're racing or something, in which case the change in brake balance on a 2WD car might be important.

But anyway, if you're downshifting during braking without matching the engine revs pretty closely, you're already doing at least as much harm to braking stability, and it's not like everyone on the road is going to learn to heel-and-toe really smoothly. Or is that mandatory in Britain? I think I'll just stick with ABS, let the computer take care of it.
posted by sfenders at 7:24 PM on September 21, 2007


1. Don't lean on the drivetrain to slow you down. That's what your brakes are for. It's cheaper to replace brake pads than it is to replace a clutch. But if you absolutely must downshift, only do it once. Don't downshift through all your gears.

2. This is called riding the clutch and increases wear on it. That means more frequent maintenance.

3. The Car Talk guys (as mentioned above) specifically recommend braking without hitting the clutch or shifting into neutral until you've nearly come to a stop. Whatever gear you're in, when you're slowing down, stay in it until you either stop (in which case you shift into neutral and wait to go into first), or find a speed you're going to maintain/accelerate from (in which case you need to downshift to the appropriate gear).

4. Again, you're riding the clutch and wearing it down. Your brakes are built to brake and hold the car, your drivetrain is built to make it go. Don't confuse their purposes. Yes, manipulating the drive train can slow/hold a car in place, but that's not what it's built for.
posted by middleclasstool at 9:21 PM on September 21, 2007


Maybe this is a trans-Atlantic thing

Oh yes.

I'll just go on what I was taught by my British instructor: changing down more than one gear is okay in certain circumstances -- 4th to 2nd for things like tight roundabouts or corners with lots of deceleration, 4th to 1st only for things like off-ramps with quick junctions or lights, where the aim is to get down from motorway speed, and then only at the final moment. You don't want to be riding the clutch, but anticipating the gear you're going to need in the short time you've got to assess.

I was also taught to use the clutch at its biting point with the accelerator to keep still on an up-slope, but only at those points when you've released the handbrake in anticipation of moving. Neutral's for when you're at a standstill on the level, such as a pedestrial crossing.

As for the Car Talkers, I do love those guys but I wouldn't take their advice on driving. If you're changing gear solely with an eye on making the transmission last as long as possible, then you're going to be in the shop soon enough for other things. ('Top Tip: avoid tyre wear by driving on the rims!') They're close to being right on how to decelerate rapidly, but if you're in fourth and braking down to a stop or a first-gear situation, you do need to know the bottom end of the ratio or you will stall.
posted by holgate at 10:15 PM on September 21, 2007


"Blipping of the engine is a way of smoothing downshifts, yes. But in a road car it is largely ineffective unless you are driving pretty damn hard. By which I mean really damn hard. Just change down later (ie at a lower speed). It is something that racing techniques use for preventing the driven wheels locking as the next gear is selected, but is mainly done on the road just because it sounds good.

I have to disagree with this. Moving the shifter slowly and waiting until the transmission is "ready" for the next gear is good way to avoid excess wear on the transmission. Because of this, I have to blip on every downshift to match the revs to the speed of the new gear.

Hell, the blip is half the fun of a manual. If it wasn't so uncomfortable, I'd drive heel-toe all the time.

As for the poster's 3rd question, ikkyu2 has got it. If you've ever had the power assist on your brakes cut out on you, you'd know that the phrase "standing on the brakes" can be a very literal thing. When you shift into neutral, only the idling engine is providing energy to the power assist on the brakes. However when you leave the car in gear, both the engine and the mass of the car are providing energy to the power assist on the brakes. A very important thing if your engine has a tendency to stall.
posted by 517 at 10:39 PM on September 21, 2007


I drove a standard for many years.

Fundamental rule #1 of standard transmission: go down a hill in the same gear you needed to use to go up. If it was steep enough to need second gear on the way up, it needs second gear on the way down. You do NOT use your brakes to maintain speed on a hill, you ALWAYS use your engine, with maybe just a touch of brakes once in awhile.

But, for normal stops, I was told by my mechanic not to downshift. Why? Because modern brakes are extremely good and wear like iron. Further, when you have to replace them, it's cheap and easy to do. Clutches, on the other hand, are expensive.

So, given the choice between wearing out the cheap part and wearing out the expensive part, the cheap part would seem the appropriate thing.

Oh, for #4: use your parking brake.
posted by Malor at 12:43 AM on September 22, 2007


Late I know but... I was taught, in the UK, by an ex ambulance driver who went on to teach other ambulance drivers for a time. I figure he knew what he was talking about.
He encouraged changing down for exactly the reasons mentioned here (and not the people claiming to only brake - that is more dangerous). If something happens up ahead of you while braking, it's ideal if you can be in gear to give yourself throttle if need be.
Any point at which you are freewheeling would fail you a test in the UK, ad while the brake pedal counts as control over the wheels, it is far better to also be in gear.
I was taught to change from say 4th to 2nd when slowing up, but this is something I rarely do. I don't know if it's just the gearing in my car, but I find it far more useful to change down through all the gears (and it's not like I come to a stop slowly, I probably have double the brake wear of my father for instance). Again, this just ensures that if I need it, I am in exactly the right gear, for instance, crossing a road where you can't see what's coming until you get right to it, changing down so you are always in gear and you can judge the moment you can see wether you can go or have to stop (though of course, not ignoring stop signs).

It is true that your gear box and engine ought to be able to take it. I drive a Nissan, and the engine and gearbox in that thing really are tough, but I can't imagine most anything you'd be driving now would be prone to falling apart just due to engine braking. The one thing to watch out for, as people say is the clutch. Hovering on the clutch is what causes wear, so you want to avoid being semi-declutched for any length of time if possible. That said, I will briefly sit on a hill behind a light that's just changing, just hovering it on the clutch in gear. But basically, yea, use your brakes!

As I say though, not being in gear when braking in the UK, will technically fail your test.
posted by opsin at 4:02 AM on September 22, 2007


Blipping of the engine is a way of smoothing downshifts, yes. But in a road car it is largely ineffective unless you are driving pretty damn hard. By which I mean really damn hard. Just change down later (ie at a lower speed). It is something that racing techniques use for preventing the driven wheels locking as the next gear is selected, but is mainly done on the road just because it sounds good... :)

Ah, but you didn't read closely enough. I said that you shouldn't be downshifting to come to a stop, just when you're selecting a lower gear to adjust for a slower road speed, or to keep the revs high for some other purpose (passing, say.)

To see this in action on a car not being driven hard, do this:

1. Get your car up to, say, 4th (assuming a 5-speed) and let your car slow until you're at, say, 1200 rpms -- low enough that you think blipping isn't necesary.

2. Downshift without making any attempt to match revs -- meaning, lift off the gas, shift into the lower gear, and re-engage the clutch. Feel that lurch? That's your engine being dragged up to the new road speed. Keep an eye on the tach, and see where the revs jump up to.

3. Do it again, only this time, as you're shifting adjust the engine speed so that you're at the rpms that the engine jumped up in step 2, before you let the clutch back out. No lurch! You did it right.

Blipping the throttle means to use small throttle inputs to speed the rpm of the engine up to the new road speed. Of course you're correct that doing it gratuitously to make noise is silly, and it's much more necessary when driving hard, but even when driving at a normal pace, it comes into play if you're trying to be a skilled, smooth driver.

In fact, once upon a time before synchromesh and all that, you'd have been unable to downshift at all without doing this; the level wouldn't have even moved into the lower gear until the drivetrain and engine speeds were at parity for that gear. Most modern transmissions only have synchromesh for the first couple of gears, anyway; that's why you can upshift without the clutch fairly easily in 1/2 and 2/3, but 3/4 and 4/5 is much harder even though the engine speed differences are much closer together.

Then again, at the end of the day you can get by without doing things like this, just like you can get by without knowing how to steer properly or brake smoothly -- but if all the asker wanted to know was how to make the car move, he already knew enough to do that. :)

4. Try it one more time, only
posted by davejay at 9:25 PM on September 22, 2007


ignore that spurious 4. above
posted by davejay at 9:25 PM on September 22, 2007


the level? the lever.
posted by davejay at 9:26 PM on September 22, 2007



Blipping the throttle means to use small throttle inputs to speed the rpm of the engine up to the new road speed. Of course you're correct that doing it gratuitously to make noise is silly, and it's much more necessary when driving hard, but even when driving at a normal pace, it comes into play if you're trying to be a skilled, smooth driver.


I'm fully aware of all that (A proportion of my job is to teach racing drivers to drive) but in a road car it is perfectly possible, at the implied level of driving of the OP, to drive smoothly without heel and toe to a pretty high standard. It will always makes a difference to the driving, but it doesn't have any tangible benefit (in terms of car stability and pitch control for example) unless you are pushing your driving on the road to a high level. Just because you can feel the difference doesn't necessarily mean that a slight lurch actually matters at all. I got the impression that the requirement of this sort of level was a bit down the line for the OP. It's just not necessary to drive well, just necessary to drive perfectly.

Syncos: The reason it is harder to change gears without the clutch on 4th/5th than 1st/2nd (although I don't find that it is) is mainly to do with the rev difference between ratios. They have syncros on all gears and have done for years.

NB: For reference, when I drive manual gearboxes (not so much as I used to now I've moved away from the UK) I heel and toe every single downshift. I also (when I'm bored) drive without the clutch - it's just slower in a syncro gearbox and getting it wrong when driving at speed has a greater implication to vehicle stability. I'm not saying it's not 'better' to heel and toe per se, obviously, just not tangibly so and at a level not really required on the road in normal driving.
posted by Brockles at 9:17 AM on September 23, 2007


i find the reliance on parking brakes for hill-starts a little frightening. you should really be able to start on a hill without the parking brake, and it seems to me to be a disastrous idea to shift into neutral while stopped on a hill.

what if the parking brake fails? what if the engine dies, and the foot brake fails (this would only happen if you pumped it, using up the vaccuum boost reserve)? what if you're rear-ended and incapacitated? the engine's compression is the only thing that can save you from rolling backwards down the hill.

also, in my experience, the parking brake is one of the least-robust, least-reliable pieces of hardware on a car, especially if it's a light truck. in any case, in my tacoma, the brake handle is an awkward t-handle under the dashboard that gets in the way of my knees when engaged. it's impossible for me to be a safe driver while operating it.
posted by klanawa at 6:21 PM on September 24, 2007


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