Tips for Beyond Basic Stick Shift Driving
March 22, 2007 3:42 PM   Subscribe

I'm a reasonably adept stick shift driver but what do I need to know to be a great stick shift driver?

I learned how to drive stick shift (manual transmission) in San Francisco about 3 years ago, nearly 20 years after learning to drive an automatic transmission car. I'm pretty good at it but I still feel like I can do better. At this point, I know some basic tricks (use the parking brake when stopped on a hill) but what else is there I could be doing to win the admiration of stick shift drivers everywhere?

One specific question I have is about using the clutch when idling. My usual mode is to shift out of 1st gear and into neutral, keeping my foot on the brake, if I think I'll be stopped (say, in traffic) for more than a few seconds. Which is worse for the car, sitting in 1st gear with the clutch pressed all the way down, waiting to be able to accelerate out or shifting out into neutral and then shifting back into 1st once you can resume forward? Is the extra shifting (1st-neutral-1st) any worse than idling in 1st with the clutch in so as to avoid having to shift out and then back into 1st?

That's the type of tip I'm looking for.
posted by otherwordlyglow to Travel & Transportation (48 answers total) 46 users marked this as a favorite
It's best to shift into neutral and let the clutch up when idling.

And a really, really good trick is to be able to toe-heel it between the clutch and brake on a hill, so you don't need to use the parking brake. I've never quite figured that one out myself, so I can't help you there.
posted by yohko at 3:48 PM on March 22, 2007

Learn to double clutch shift, where you manually match the engine speed to the gear speed.
posted by dendrite at 3:51 PM on March 22, 2007

Response by poster: Yeah, I've heard about both the heel-toe thing and double-clutching but don't really understand either of them. I think I need to find someone to show me how.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 4:08 PM on March 22, 2007

Is the extra shifting (1st-neutral-1st) any worse than idling in 1st with the clutch in so as to avoid having to shift out and then back into 1st?

you should go for the "drop in neutral" method. now this answer varies a little bit, because for sportier cars, 1st is a very quick gear. most bmw can start from 2nd (admittedly, ive only tried this with older bmw). why do i bring this up? because you never go 1st - neutral - 1st in a bmw. i mean, you never go from 1st to neutral. i'd always maybe go down to second, apply brake and drop to idle to come to a stop. so from this perspective going to idle is not "extra-shifting".

i suppose if you're talking about shifting down to first but never actually engaging first, just depressing the clutch all the way and using the brake to come to a stop, i guess that's possible, but it seems like a lot of added work "preparing yourself" for the fact that you are about to stop at a red and "you'll need to be in first."
posted by phaedon at 4:18 PM on March 22, 2007

Keep the revs up. That's the purpose of heel-toeing. You use this to slow the car down into a curve through downshifting- with minimal braking. This is known as "mechanical braking". This is what will impress whomever it is you're trying to impress (a girl, I'll bet- that's why I learned it).
posted by wfc123 at 4:31 PM on March 22, 2007 [1 favorite]

(FWIW, you shouldn't shift into neutral if you expect you'll need to move quickly. This is less relevant at a normal stoplight, but it will come into play if you've inched forwards in preparation for a left turn. If the light changes and some asshole starts bearing down on you, you need to go.)
posted by nebulawindphone at 4:32 PM on March 22, 2007

When you're stopped, say at traffic lights, you should apply the hand-brake (parking brake), and shift into neutral. The reason for this is simple: if somebody rear-ends you, your foot being knocked off a pedal isn't going to result in the car going out of control. Not doing this will result in a failed driving test in the UK.
posted by veedubya at 4:33 PM on March 22, 2007

Response by poster: I think the instance that I'm speaking of frequently comes into play in my horrible commute home across the Bay Bridge.

There is an uphill approach to the bridge entrance that is frequently stop-and-go the whole way. So when I'm stopped and waiting at a traffic light, I'm usually in neutral with brake on. So then the light turns and it's:

Clutch-shift to 1st, go 10 feet forward and then have to stop again (god, I hate the Bay Bridge) due to traffic. At this point, knowing that I'm going to be needing to inch forward again in 10, maybe 15 seconds, maybe 30 seconds or so, do I just hold in the clutch and brake and wait in 1st or do I clutch-shift to neutral and brake to wait and then start all over again from the beginning of this paragraph? Does it make a difference if you know that the wait will be 5 seconds versus 45 seconds?
posted by otherwordlyglow at 4:36 PM on March 22, 2007

Response by poster: This is what will impress whomever it is you're trying to impress (a girl, I'll bet- that's why I learned it).

Nope, I'm the girl. There's is a guy to impress but it's really mostly casual carpool folks in the passenger seat. They probably aren't even aware.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 4:38 PM on March 22, 2007 [2 favorites]

All this stuff is great but I would just concentrate more on being really smooth with the clutch and shifts. Many aren't.

And don't ride the clutch.
posted by jcwagner at 5:02 PM on March 22, 2007

"There is a guy to impress..."

Debbie: "Peel out."
Toad: "What?"
Debbie: "Peel out. I just love it when guys peel out."
posted by anticlock at 5:08 PM on March 22, 2007

Response by poster: concentrate more on being really smooth with the clutch and shifts. Many aren't.

And don't ride the clutch.

Both of those things require further explanation. This is one of the problems I've had with learning stick shift: y'all are talking a different language than I know.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 5:09 PM on March 22, 2007 [1 favorite]

Short waits, and when there is a real danger of needing to GO RIGHT NOW BECAUSE THAT TRUCK ISN'T STOPPING!, keep the car in gear and your foot on the clutch. Long waits, put it in neutral. (The UK people, as noted above, are taught to use the parking brake even on the flat, but that isn't much practiced in the US. If there is no car in front of you and moving traffic behind, then it can make sense. If there are stopped vehicles in front and behind, you won't go very far even if rear ended, so I wouldn't bother.) I don't think there is a clear rule about how many seconds makes it a "short" versus "long" wait, although you should check your owner's manual; it's as much a comfort issue (is your left leg getting tired of holding down the clutch pedal?) as it is concern of wear and tear of parts such as the throwout bearing.

The real way to impress passengers is not with hotrod heel and toe driving, or clutchless shifting (although both are fun to play with), but rather with driving exceptionally smoothly. If you can shift up and down through the gearbox, and start on an uphill, without lurching and jerking, you are doing great. A good test is whether a passenger could hold a cup of (not scalding hot!) coffee without is spilling when you shift up and down. (Alternately, if their head is jerking back and forth with every shift, you need to learn to be smoother.)

Personally, on uphill starts, I almost never use the parking brake. Easing off the clutch as you ease off the brake, and get onto the gas, will let you start smoothly on even very steep hills. I do use the parking brake when there is someone stopped directly behind my bumper, though -- the consequences of rolling backwards would be really embarrassing, and using the parking brake guarantees that that won't happen.

The other thing worth knowing how to do (and that you can't do with an automatic transmission) is learning how to bump-start the car. Meaning, starting the car without the use of the starter -- good to know in case your battery dies. With the ignition "on" but the motor not running (remember, we are pretending that the battery is dead), let the car start rolling downhill. When it is going a few miles an hour (not fast), shift to second gear and let out the clutch and give it some gas the engine should start right up. (If you are on level ground, then you have to find helpful people to come push the car for you, so practice on hills.)
posted by Forktine at 5:14 PM on March 22, 2007 [1 favorite]

I'd actually advise against shifting into neutral when idle. It does put a little more wear and tear on the clutch, but there is a very good safety reason for doing it; it will stop your car in the event you are rear ended.

Picture this, you are at a stoplight in front of a very busy intersection, a car comes up on you too quick and rear ends you hard enough to deploy your air bag. There is a good chance that the surprise of this might cause you to take your foot off the break, or you could be knocked unconscious.

Now, if your car is in neutral, you are going to go shooting out into that busy intersection possibly to be even more injured. If your car is in 1st, your foot is going to come off the clutch, your car will lurch forward about a foot and die (by 'die', I mean it will stall, not die as in your need a new car...) More importantly, you will live.

Other tips; when parking, in addition to the parking break, make sure you leave the car in gear. Ideally, when pointed uphill, put it in 1st, and when downhill, put it in reverse.

Double-clutching and heel and toeing are useful, but unless you are a truck driver or a racer, they probably won't help you in day to day driving.

And opinions vary on this point considerably, but I recommend engine breaking, that is down-shifting and letting the engine take some of the load off your breaks. Others feel it's too hard on the engines, but after hundreds of thousands of miles driven, I have never had to replace an engine or transmission due to a problem caused by down-shifting to decelerate. YMMV of course.
posted by quin at 5:16 PM on March 22, 2007 [2 favorites]

First of all, double clutching won't help much, if at all, on a modern syncromesh transmission. If it does help, it will be when downshifting from second to first gear, in cheaper cars, while rolling. That's because, in many economy cars, first gear is still not equipped with syncromesh, it being thought that most drivers will only select first gear when stopped, and so syncromesh would not help with engaging that gear. And it saves the car maker a few bucks (maybe $20) not to provide a syncromesh cone for first gear. So, if you downshift to first while rolling, and routinely get "gear grind" when doing that, you could double clutch to avoid that. Basically, you depress the clutch, shift out of second into neutral, let out the clutch in neutral, rev the engine above rolling speed to speed up the transmission's input shaft, shove in the clutch while you let off the throttle, and as the engine speed comes down, you shift into first. No grind, because all the moving parts in the transmission are moving at nearly exact speeds when they engage. You do this whole sequence in about 1/2 second, so that the only external evidence that you're doing it is that there is a little "blip" of engine revs spinning up the transmission input shaft as you slide through neutral. If your car has a stiff enough clutch that you have to use your whole leg to operate it, forget it. This is best done with foot motions only, as ideally, it is literally a 1/2 second technique. And, again, if first gear happens to be syncromesh in your car, too, forget it. Buy a performance motorcycle, with a straight cut gearbox, and do this with the hand clutch, for all your shifts, up and down, instead. It's noticeably quicker than syncromesh, and the hand clutch on a motorcycle is really helpful in doing this lickety-split. Very Formula One.

The heel and toe thing on a hill is pretty easy. You use your right heel on the brake pedal and your right toe on the accelerator. It helps if your car's pedals aren't too far apart, and if they are in about the same operational plane. Most people interested in doing this a lot wind up relocating the accelerator pedal farther towards the driver's seat, or lowering both the brake and clutch pedals significantly. And if you've got a size 7 women's shoe, you may need to rebuild the foot pedals entirely, to get them close enough together to do this at all. Downside is, if you don't learn to do this right, you bend the bumper of the guy behind you on a hill, and if the car gets away from you before you get it back in gear, you're scrambling to stop it and get it in gear, as it's tough to shift into first on many cars, if the car is rolling backwards.

One thing you can do in a manual transmission car a bit better than in an automatic, that is subtle and tres cool is the chauffeur's stop. Another thing you can do better in a manual transmission car, with rear wheel drive, is a J-turn.

On preview:

"Riding" the clutch is resting your foot on the clutch pedal any time you aren't actively operating the clutch. The weight of your foot cause the clutch to slip a little, quite often, or nearly constantly, prematurely wearing the clutch, and wasting engine power. You should either be using the clutch, or completely off it. No "getting ready to clutch."

A "smooth" manual driver is always 1 or 2 shifts ahead of the car, mentally. They rarely touch their brakes in highway driving, because they are controlling the car with engine power and engine braking. They never lug the engine, because they've anticipated the power they'll need for the situation, and put the car in the right gear for the engine to supply it, before they get there. Because they are thinking ahead all the time, they can "feather" the clutch a little whenever they use it, avoiding drivetrain shocks that come from mis-matching drivetrain and vehicle speeds, so the car feels, always, smooth and under positive control to passengers. It's quite apparent when you drive with this kind of driver. They accelerate through all corners, keeping the car balanced evenly on all 4 tires, and feeding power smoothly to accelerate out of corners. It feels very safe to passengers to go very fast with such a driver, because the car is never straining.
posted by paulsc at 5:18 PM on March 22, 2007 [9 favorites]

Riding the clutch = having your foot on the clutch except when necessary (like riding the breaks). Alternatively, letting out the clutch peddle too slowly (engaging the clutch slowly)--although I would not worry too much about this, since having a nice smooth shift is probably more important then getting every last foot out of your clutch's life.

My real recommendation is to look up an autocross club in your area and go to an event and look around, most people there will be using interesting techniques and they generally have a reputation for being friendly.
posted by anaelith at 5:19 PM on March 22, 2007

It doesn't really matter, except to your left leg, whether you leave it in gear with the clutch in when stopped or you shift into neutral and release the clutch. I tend to do the latter if it's going to be more than a couple of seconds, but that's only because I'm lazy and I can shift into first and start in one smooth motion, as I'm very familiar with my car.

If you practice, you won't need the parking brake to start on a hill except on the most extreme inclines or if the person behind you is only a few inches from your bumper. My car (a honda) is resistant enough to stalling that I can avoid any backwards roll on most slopes just by letting out a bit on the clutch immediately as my foot is lifting off the brake to move to the accelerator.

The heel-toe itself is an easy thing to do, in most cars where the brake and the accelerator are reasonably close together. You just brake with your toe and use your heel to blip the throttle. The hard part is knowing your vehicle enough to instinctively know how fast an engine speed you need to downshift into a particular gear at a particular speed. Double-clutching the downshift makes it a bit smoother, but in most modern cars, not very much. IMO, its purpose is more to allow you to trail brake through the corner while shifting gears so you will be in the proper gear for maximum acceleration once you're at the apex more than any mechanical braking, which you can get just as easily by downshifting before turning in. You only need to heel toe if you want to shift while braking.

FWIW, I always blip the throttle when downshifting rather than letting the clutch plate "force" the engine to a higher rpm, whether I need to heel-toe or not.

What will impress people most about your stick driving is making it so smooth that it's better than a good automatic transmission. ;) You don't need to learn to heel-toe for that, but you will need to learn to properly match the engine's RPM to the gear you are shifting into. The smooth as butter shifter feel when you get it right is incentive enough for me to always try.

Just for your edification, double clutching is when you shift from one gear, into neutral, then into the gear you want. The only reason to do it in a modern vehicle is to save some wear on the synchros that match the speeds of the gears in the transmission to allow them to mesh properly. My 16 year old car with 240 thousand miles on it still has working synchros, so I don't think it's really necessary, but it is kinda fun. Say you want to downshift from third to second: Depress the clutch, move the selector to neutral, and release the clutch, then depress the clutch, move the selector to second and release the clutch. If you do it quickly and blip the throttle to properly match RPMs, you'll get both the smooth shift and the smug satisfaction of knowing your transmission will last just a tiny bit longer.

On my car, rev matching is only really necessary when shifting into first while still moving..if you don't, the mechanical braking from the engine causes a rapid slowing of the vehicle. In other gears, it isn't an issue.

After a while of practicing, it will all become second nature, and after a couple of years, you'll almost never screw it up. ;)

BTW, in crappy traffic, if it's moving enough and there aren't a bunch of assholes around who will cut in, you can just idle in first gear (unless you're going up a steep incline, of course) and move very slowly forward without stopping as much. People who drive automatics often hate that, though, because if they idle forward in gear, they move faster than you probably will, so they have to ride their brakes.

Oh, and learn to shift without the clutch, but don't do it too much, as you can damage the transmission. It's an invaluable help when your clutch fails or almost fails. A couple of years ago, I sprung a leak somewhere in the hydraulic system and I didn't have any brake fluid to top it off. Luckily, I had just enough clutch fluid left to kinda sorta release the clutch enough to jam it back into first and start moving without having to resort to the "turn off the car, put it in first, use starter to get moving" trick. Saved me the cost of a taxi or a tow, since all I needed was a $5 hose and a couple of quarts of brake fluid. ;)
posted by wierdo at 5:21 PM on March 22, 2007 [1 favorite]

Double clutching is not that complicated.
The basic idea is: you are going fast and you want to use your engine, not your break, for slowing down.
So, you downshift say, from 4th to 3rd.
But when your right foot is on the clutch, your engine revs down and if you clutch in the 2nd, your whole car will shake from the shock of high speed and low RPM.
So you pose the stick in neutral for a second between the 4th and 3rd and, while in neutral, you rev up the engine. And then you engage the 3rd and all goes smoothly.

Now, you are ready to do it from 3rd to 2nd and 2nd to 1st.
posted by bru at 5:26 PM on March 22, 2007

bru, you've adeptly described rev matching, but not double clutching, although double clutching only requires the release of the clutch in neutral before blipping the throttle and continuing the shift.

Congratulations! If you didn't have syncros or had worn out ones, you would have just ground your gears rather than completed the shift. ;)

As I mentioned earlier, in modern cars simple rev matching is fine for smooth driving.
posted by wierdo at 5:33 PM on March 22, 2007

I wanted to add: "Admiration of stick shift drivers" is won by smoothness, not acrobatics: your right hand and feet do the dance but all is soft and cool for the passengers.
posted by bru at 5:33 PM on March 22, 2007

wierdo: of course you are right, sorry. I haven't driven a stick shift for a while and I described it by playing "air clutching" from memory from my desk chair.
posted by bru at 5:43 PM on March 22, 2007

Excessive standing on the clutch is best avoided, lest one wear out the Throw out bearing. Put it in neutral and wait to go.

With some practice, it is possible to start on a hill without relying on the parking brake, or doing funny heel-toe stuff.

Also, if the car has a difficult to find 1st gear (like my old rabbit) put the clutch in, pull back to second and then straight ahead into first. This trick also works to line up the gears when they are a little off and makes getting into the granny gear easier.

HTH, and enjoy driving a manual while it lasts. In America, at least, the stick shift is a dying art.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 5:43 PM on March 22, 2007

Don't downshift unnecessarily. It wears out your clutch faster than if you don't. Use the brakes instead. People often think downshifting all the time is "saving" the brakes, but think of it this way - which is designed to be replaced commonly, your brake pads ($20/pad or so) or your clutch?

Also, when I moved to San Francisco, at first I tried to use the parking-brake trick to pull off starts on hills. I actually found that to be way more complicated and nerve-wracking than just using the clutch. I drive over that brutal hill on 17th street between the Castro and Cole Valley all the time, with the stop light at the top. I keep my left foot on the clutch, car in first gear, right foot on the brake. When the light changes, I flip my right foot to the gas as I let off the clutch with my left. I never roll back more than a couple of inches, and it didn't take me long to learn to do it this way.
posted by autojack at 5:52 PM on March 22, 2007

I think something to note is that if you engage the parking brake and take your foot off of the brake pedal, your brake lights will not be on.

Generally that's no big deal, but I worry about it when I'm at a stop and there's a car coming to a stop behind me. On a flat road at a red light, I often put the car into neutral and take my foot off the brake while I wait for the green. I sometimes worry that the car coming to a stop behind me will see my brake lights off and not realize that I'm fully stopped, resulting in a rear end collision. It's yet to happen, though.
posted by cyclopticgaze at 5:57 PM on March 22, 2007

Oh, one other really useful trick with a manual transmission is being able to bump start your car (also known as "pop starting").

This is the scene: you went into work and left your lights on, when you got back to your car at the end of your shift, the battery is flat and you are alone in a big empty parking lot with no one to give you a jump. Screwed? Nope. All you need to do is get the car pointed to a nice long expanse, put the car in neutral and get the car rolling. Ideally this is moving at about a fast walking pace. Turn the car to 'on' (not start, that isn't going to do anything), engage your clutch and put the car into 2nd gear (first is too abrupt, 2nd or 3rd is a smoother transition), release the clutch and watch your car roar to life.

Now, drive around a bit to let your alternator recharge your battery.

This trick has saved my butt more than once.
posted by quin at 6:04 PM on March 22, 2007

Don't downshift unnecessarily. It wears out your clutch faster than if you don't.

If this makes your clutch wear unacceptably quickly, you are the proud owner of the world's most sorry-ass clutch. I downshift with nearly every stop, I'm still on my original clutch at almost 150,000 miles. If driving that way means my clutch needs replacing at 180,000 miles instead of 230,000 or whatever, should I really give a fuck? Either way, the car gets one new clutch before it is junk.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:50 PM on March 22, 2007

Downshift v. braking is quickly joining teh fatties, Christianity and abortions round here.

When us kids were young, my grandfather used to make us practice shifting by putting an egg on the (flat) dashboard. You had to get the car going without making the egg roll or shudder. Took ages, but now me and my cousins are seriously smooth shifters.

I'd find an empty lot, and an egg, and set to work. Mastering it is the best thing for your passengers -- jerky shifts and go-stop gas application can make a journey completely unbearable.
posted by bonaldi at 6:57 PM on March 22, 2007 [1 favorite]

The coolest stick-shift trick I've ever seen is something my dad does, and I haven't been able to replicate it yet. Starting about five feet before his target in the driveway or a parking spot, he shifts into neutral, turns off the car, unbuckles his seat belt, then stops the car with the parking brake as he's opening his door. It's the most slick James Bond-ish thing I've ever seen, and I keep screwing up when I try to do it.
posted by cebailey at 7:18 PM on March 22, 2007 [1 favorite]

cyclopticgaze: Just flop your foot on the break, the weight of your leg should press it down enough to put your lights on without any effort. If you look at night with something behind you (car, house, wall, whatever) you can see how much pressure it takes, it's usually not a lot.

Also that reminds me, sometimes you can flash your break lights at someone to get them to back off a bit, except that most of the people who would get the point aren't going to be that close anyway. But worth a try somewhere between over-rev-and-pray-ing and actually getting out and telling the person to back off and never get that close to the rear of your car again.
posted by anaelith at 7:19 PM on March 22, 2007

When you're stopped, say at traffic lights, you should apply the hand-brake (parking brake), and shift into neutral. ... Not doing this will result in a failed driving test in the UK.

Funny, I was taught to keep it in first, and I passed.
posted by chrismear at 7:24 PM on March 22, 2007

Otherworldlglow: I was behind you at the exact same spot, doing/wondering the exact same thing. Every dingle day. Bay Bridge onramp blows big donkey balls.

I find that going up Brannan, cutting over to Bryant, and getting on at the 2nd street onramp is usually a big timesaver. It's two lanes and flat.

Sorry for the diversion. Back to topic.
posted by iamkimiam at 7:24 PM on March 22, 2007

As someone above has mentioned... learn to roll-start.

ie, get some other mug to be pushing the car, or park on a hill, have the ignition on, clutch depressed and car in second. Now release the clutch pedal (ideally warning any pushers you have first), and the car will start.

I gather this is contra-indicated by modern cars with catalytic converters (because you'll be pumping too much unburned petrol through it), but hey, if your car's not starting what use is a catalytic converter?
posted by pompomtom at 7:28 PM on March 22, 2007

Oh, also handbrake turns... but I suppose you can do that in an automatic too.
posted by pompomtom at 7:30 PM on March 22, 2007

One method of getting really good at rev-matching is to shift without using the clutch at all. Find a long stretch of road that's rarely used and start off in first. When you're nearing your shift point, let off the gas a bit to take some tension off the gears and slip into neutral. Then, without letting the engine revs drop too much, slowly pull the shifter down towards second, maintaining downward pressure until it pops into gear. Too much pressure at the wrong revs and you'll hear grinding. Do this regularly and you'll soon know the optimum revs for every speed and gear.
posted by pmbuko at 8:25 PM on March 22, 2007

pmbuko, I actually got really good at that on a motorcycle. It had a dodgy clutch cable and eventually I found that I hardly needed it at all. It's trickier to down-shift, but not at all impossible. The only time I ever used the clutch was when coming to a stop where I needed to idle for a moment.

God that bike was a piece of shit, but man, I sure do miss it.
posted by quin at 8:38 PM on March 22, 2007

Response by poster: Now these are getting much better. Thanks for all the (somewhat conflicting tips)! I really don"t have a ton of interest in being a show-off or doing shifting tricks. I just want to be a better driver and treat my car well.

iamkimiam: I don't think Brannen is much better these days. I"ve gone from that way before and it's not much better. It's worth mixing it up every once in a while but frequently my Pine to First St route is totally fine. But somedays it is inexpicably and infuriatingly not.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 8:44 PM on March 22, 2007

Screw double clutching, what'll really impress the carpool is drifting the Camry. Try it.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 8:57 PM on March 22, 2007 [1 favorite]

Nope, I'm the girl. There's is a guy to impress but it's really mostly casual carpool folks in the passenger seat. They probably aren't even aware.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 7:38 PM on March 22

Well if you are saying that the carpool folks are not even aware that you are driving stick (with respect to the ride), then you are already doing a heck of a job. [It's not fun getting sick from someone who sucks at driving stick.]
posted by ngn01 at 10:56 PM on March 22, 2007

Response by poster: Well if you are saying that the carpool folks are not even aware that you are driving stick (with respect to the ride), then you are already doing a heck of a job.

No, no. I meant that they would be unaware of any fancy tricks. It's early and most riders are in their own world.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 11:05 PM on March 22, 2007

A lot of people have mentioned bump starting as a skill to learn. While I admit it's neat, I question whether it's possible to do on a modern fuel-injected vehicle.

It may have just been a quirk of the car, but I distinctly remember the owners manual for my standard-shift diesel VW (98 New Beetle) having a huge screaming warning against push/bump starting it when the battery was discharged, because the fuel injection system wouldn't be working and thus it just wouldn't function.

Most modern gasoline engines have fuel injectors these days, too, which are run by the electrical system, and I'm not sure if they'd have a chance to power up and pressurize in the split second you were popping the clutch (when the alternator would be turning). In most cars, you can hear the fuel system do its thing when you turn the key to "ON" in the morning, sort of a humming/buzzing.

Unless you have a carburated engine, I'm not sure that bump starting is really a skill worth practicing, since I'm not sure it'll start the engine if the battery is well and truly dead.

If anyone has successfully bump started a fuel-injected car with a dead battery (or disconnected the battery before it had been primed), I'll not argue with you, but I can't figure out how it would work.

Anyway ... other than that, I think the suggestions regarding smoothness are really the mark of a good manual-shift driver. A good stick-shift operator ought to be able to drive FAR more smoothly (particularly during downshifts at speed, e.g. passing) than all but the very best automatics. (Some auto trans are downright dreadful, too.) As for the other controversies previously mentioned, I always tended to shift into neutral and brake rather than downshift and engine brake, when going down hills, because (and this was in a diesel that idled at a few hundred RPM, and no real Jake brake) I could get better mileage that way than by revving the engine to brake with it. With a 98HP diesel car, I used to make a game of getting ridiculous mileage, since I wasn't going to be impressing anyone with my 13 second 0-60 time.
posted by Kadin2048 at 1:18 AM on March 23, 2007

A lot of people have mentioned bump starting as a skill to learn. While I admit it's neat, I question whether it's possible to do on a modern fuel-injected vehicle.

Yes, it does, I've done it a number of times. When my fuel-injected motorcycle's battery is dead, I can start it by pushing it down a hill and dropping the clutch in 2nd gear. The alternator must be putting out enough power to run the electronics.
posted by knave at 1:59 AM on March 23, 2007

Use the highest gear possible to be environmentally-friendy:
  • Ecodrive

  • Use a lower gear to keep your speed down and improve safety and handling:
  • Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (PDF) (Google HTML cache)

  • posted by alasdair at 3:26 AM on March 23, 2007

    It doesn't really matter, except to your left leg, whether you leave it in gear with the clutch in when stopped or you shift into neutral and release the clutch.

    It matters to the throwout bearing, which gets to rest when your foot is off the clutch pedal. When you push the pedal down, the bearing has to take all the force of disengagement and apply it to the clutch, while at the same time spinning its outside at engine RPMs as its inside sits still. Be kind.
    posted by Kirth Gerson at 3:44 AM on March 23, 2007

    Some theft systems won't allow you to bump start - they need to see the key go into or out of the crank position.
    posted by rfs at 9:07 AM on March 23, 2007

    on ice/snow/slippery roads it may be easier to pull away in second gear than in first as your wheels won't spin so easily

    it is also easier not to lose control on ice and snow if you shift down gently rather than break
    posted by koahiatamadl at 1:00 PM on March 23, 2007

    Wow, lots of fancy tricks here!!

    My dad taught me to drive stick at the same time I learned automatic and I've been thankful to him ever since. I'm a girl and for some reason it feels empowering to drive shift. (Ok boys, tuck your Freudian theories away- it's more about knowing a skill that usually only guys know.) ;)

    I've never learned all this fancy stuff these dudes are talking about, but I still compliments on my shifting. As many people pointed out, it's all about smoothness. On hills I just have to exagerrate the pedal shifting motions more and do them a bit quicker to prevent rollback.

    The one tip my dad gave is use the clutch as little as possible. It's just like a brake pad (at least that's what he told me) and will wear out if you use it too much, except it will be more expensive and difficult to replace.

    So he always told me to downshift to neutral when waiting at a stoplight. I always do it unless I know I'll be moving immediately.

    My dad still has the truck I learned stick-shift on- it's about 15 years old now and he's only replaced the clutch once. Go Toyota!! :)

    BTW, that truck also had no power-steering, which made me feel like even more of a bad ass when parking and stuff. ;)
    posted by thejrae at 3:35 PM on March 23, 2007

    thejrae, I have to disagree with you on one point. As I mentioned above, the minimal wear and tear imposed on a modern clutch by not shifting into neutral at stoplights is more than offset by the safety factors of not rolling unexpectedly in the event of an accident.

    And while I learned how to drive a manual transmission on my motorcycle, I really perfected the art watching my mother in her car, so it isn't totally a guy thing. Though I will agree that when I taught the Wife, and she finally developed it into a instinctive action, she was thrilled at how empowered it made her feel.

    Personally, I suspect it was because it meant that she could take my car at will, but then, she is crafty beyond words, so I never presume to understand her motives.

    posted by quin at 10:39 PM on March 23, 2007

    quin, while I understand the point you're making about getting hit from behind causing your foot to slide off the brake, I do not agree. I've been smacked from behind while sitting at red lights a couple of times, and my foot did not leave the brake. You're postulating that if you have the car in gear and get rear-ended that both feet will get knocked off their pedals. Are you so certain the right foot would not land on the accelerator, thus maybe negating your engine-dying scenario? The situation you describe is only applicable if you're first in line at a stoplight. If there are cars in front of you, you'll have to get past them to have your meeting with the hurtling cross-traffic.

    If you were arguing that since you're first in line, you should be ready to drive off as soon as the light changes, so as to not delay the drivers behind you, I'd agree. If you're further back in the line, I say go to neutral.

    As I mentioned above, the wear from your method is not on the clutch, but on the throwout bearing. Replacing a bike's clutch cable is trivial when compared to replacing that bearing in a car.
    posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:20 AM on March 24, 2007

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