How to teach someone to drive stick?
September 17, 2007 5:23 PM   Subscribe

How do I teach my wife to operate a manual transmission?

I have a sports car with a manual transmission. I'd like to teach my wife to drive it, but she's not comfortable learning on that particular car. I've had trouble finding rental cars that are stick. Any ideas? Any suggestions on how to teach this topic well? Any additional resources that might be helpful?
posted by rush to Travel & Transportation (24 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
"but she's not comfortable learning on that particular car. "

Without the answer as to why that is, this is hard to answer.

If she doesn't WANT to learn, there isn't much you can do, let go of the idea and move on.

If she wants to learn. Take her to a parking lot for a day, make it fun, and teach her how to work a clutch.... don't get mad, don't be critical, laugh a lot. It's just a matter of practice...

Tell her if she screws up the clutch in the process of learning it doesn't'll still love her!

Make sure she understands the physics behind it..describe the various plates on a clutch, make her understand what the difference between 1st gear and 4th gear is...

and...have fun...

A bottle of wine and a nice dinner at the end would be a good idea too...
posted by HuronBob at 5:29 PM on September 17, 2007

I learned to drive stick about 5 months ago (I'm almost 30).

I'd recommend some cursory reading to understand the basic mechanics of what's going on. Then, just practice, practice, practice. Empty parking lots and slow, low traffic streets. I was driving around fairly confidently after my 2nd practice session, but it took a few weeks of steady driving before I felt I had mastered it.
posted by gnutron at 5:30 PM on September 17, 2007

Best answer: I had fun learning from my husband. We would go for drives with him driving, but I would work the shift. I learned the rhythms of the car and when to shift before I had to deal with the clutch and gas.
posted by saffry at 5:32 PM on September 17, 2007

I chose to go to a professional driving instructor. No relationship with ANYONE who loves me could stand up to that stress.
posted by Rubythursday at 5:35 PM on September 17, 2007 [2 favorites]

It depends on how badly you want her to learn. If you really want her to learn, you need to find a car that's basically trashed already. If you're lucky, this actually comes cheaper than renting a car! Then she can practice on that without worrying about your precious sports car (she may have the feeling that if something happened to it, you'd kill her).

P.S. A driving instructor would also be nice, but good luck actually finding one in the US.
posted by anaelith at 5:41 PM on September 17, 2007 [1 favorite]

I can't speak about you wife's issue with your particular car, but I can give you an easy way to teach driving a stick. I had trepidations about learning to drive a manual myself, and this is how my dad taught me (I learned in about ten minutes, with no damage to the car):

Drive to a large, empty parking lot with your wife, leave the car in neutral, and have her get in the driver's seat of the car while you stand outside. Do not let her move the car out of neutral, instruct her to take the e-brake off, and then have her practice letting the clutch up, never pushing down the gas pedal, so that she can develop the muscle memory for getting the catch point of the clutch. Have her do figure-eights at low, low speed, and don't even let her touch the shifter until she can master clutch manipulation. Once she's got that down, the rest will be easy.

And then you can teach the double-clutch!
posted by diggerroo at 5:42 PM on September 17, 2007 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Seconding the question as to why she's not comfortable with your sports car. If it's because the clutch is particularly difficult, then can you consider borrowing a car with an easier one? (In my experience, manual transmission Hondas are the easiest.) If it's because it's YOUR car and she's scared of screwing up your pride and joy, then you need to figure out how to reassure her that you're not going to freak out* as she goes through the inevitable herky-jerky sputters in learning how to shift smoothly.

I learned to drive stick a million years ago, mostly courtesy of my then-boyfriend. The thing that helped me, mentally, was when it finally clicked that when I was in first gear, the car would start to move around the point when my feet were roughly even with each other -- that is, when I had let the clutch out about halfway, while simultanousely pressing in on the gas. Up till then, I had this weird thought that the car wouldn't go till the clutch was all the way out and the gas all the way in, I think because someone had once explained it to me to think of it as pedaling a bike. The bike analogy didn't work for me because I didn't think of the relationship of what caused the car to move forward in relation to the relative position of the pedals, which kept me from learning how to finesse the whole operation. Once I realized that the "go" part of the equation was located when my feet were roughly even with each other, rather than in the "left foot up, right foot down" position I'd been visualizing (a la the bicycle analogy), the whole suddenly thing clicked.

*This is, of course, assuming that you really won't freak out as said herky-jerky sputterings happen. If you are in fact inclined to freak out on her, then you need to find a way to chill, so that she's not getting nervous because she's trying to manage your response.
posted by scody at 5:50 PM on September 17, 2007

If she's worried, as I am, about burning up a clutch while learning, that could explain why she doesn't want to trash the sports car in the process. Perhaps you could explain that, because sports-car enthusiasts are so hard on their clutches in the first place, replacement parts are cheaper, and the procedure easier, on your car as compared to some alternatives?

If that's not true, of course, find a cheaper car to use. Even if she's not likely to destroy the thing, the peace of mind that comes from avoiding your car might be the crucual factor.
posted by Myself at 6:17 PM on September 17, 2007

i think it's just that she doesn't want to wreck your precious car (assuming you feel the way about your stick sports car that most men i know feel about theirs).


maybe set her up with a driving school for a few lessons, then let her refine her technique with the car once she's more comfortable.
posted by thinkingwoman at 6:18 PM on September 17, 2007

Best answer: I learned to drive the way saffry did - a friend in high school who already had her license would have me shift when we were driving around. We spent some time (couple of weeks? It was a long time ago) where, when we were in the car, I would just rest my hand on hers when she was working the stick. We usually kept the radio off, so that I could hear and feel when she put the clutch in, and learn what the car felt like when it "wanted" to change gears.

Whenever the two of you are driving around doing errands or whatever, have her rest her hand on yours as you shift gears, and have her pay attention to the sound and feel of a manual transmission.

I drive an automatic now, but I still miss driving stick.
posted by rtha at 6:35 PM on September 17, 2007

There really shouldn't be much of an easier-to-learn car than a sports car...easy clutch, short gear throw.

I learned when I was 15 in a 1989 GMC Jimmy that had, well, no clutch left. About 15 or so inches of pedal to push, and both levels of engagement in about the last inch.

The first thing I learned was what was mechanically happening; what the clutch was and that there are TWO levels of engagement. Then I learned to listen to the car and feel the idle change for each level of engagement. After I could discern that, it became time to make the car move.

With that said, my dad made me learn to start on the flat in second gear. Once I could do that, first gear was never ever a challenge after that. Really, nothing about a stick is challenging besides starting, and that's only really tough on a hill.

I drive lots of sticks now, and I only EVER start in first if I'm going up a hill, and I never drag a clutch and I never overrev.

After that the only thing to pay attention to is that different cars, (say...german ones) have a different gear setup than other cars---but even with that, they're set up so that it's particularly hard to go from first to fourth or second to fifth without REALLY TRYING to break the car, same/same with downshifting.
posted by TomMelee at 7:19 PM on September 17, 2007

Buy an old ford festiva for 300 bucks. FOr a piece of crap, they shift like buttah. That way, she can get confidence.

Alternately, if you've got any friends in construction, see if he can borrow the company's "beater" for the weekend. You know, to "teach" his "wife". Every reasonably sized construction company will have one beast they just can't kill, to have as a loaner when one of the regular crews' trucks needs an engine or whatever.

(of course, the first three things I drove with a stick were a '51 Chevy, a '78 Scout, and a ton-and-a-half work truck. In all cases, they were so rough I wasn't really scared I'd hurt 'em)
posted by notsnot at 7:23 PM on September 17, 2007

I learned how to drive a stick a little over two years ago, after spending my entire driving career to that point on an automatic.

The advice here is spot on - go somewhere quiet, and spend several hours practicing in low gear. For me, the low gears were the most anxiety producing: putting the car in first without stalling it was perhaps the most difficult skill to master, then figuring out when to shift up and down. I knew I would need those gears in the city, and that was where I needed the confidence.

In terms of her anxiety around your particular car, I'm not certain what to suggest. I can tell you this - I learned on my wife's car, and the skills for doing this finally clicked for me when I took the car out to practice with my father as my coach, and not her. Once I felt comfortable, I took the car for several drives -- alone -- to feel proficient. Then I was able to drive the car without my somewhat critical partner's comments making me too uncomfortable to drive.
posted by never used baby shoes at 7:31 PM on September 17, 2007

Best answer: the way i learned was to get the car moving on level ground without touching the gas- just by lifting the clutch sloooowly. this gets the point across about how the clutch feels with no other distractions and no speed at all. once you can do it in first gear, the advanced technique is in reverse. remember to tell her that accidentally grinding the gears a few times won't break anything.

i also liked learning about the physics of how it all worked (this was especially good for driving in ice/snow) but i could see how that might freak some people out more.
also keep in mind: driving stick is supposed to be fun! if she doesn't like it, don't force her.
posted by genmonster at 7:33 PM on September 17, 2007 [1 favorite]

genmonster has it. That is how I taught my 16 year old son.

I would sit in the passenger seat, read the Sunday paper while he inched his way across the parking lot. Shifting is easy, starting from a dead stop is the hardest. Just give it enough gas to get the car rolling, then stop. Wash, rinse, repeat.
posted by JujuB at 8:34 PM on September 17, 2007

Best answer: Second genmonster. Learning the clutch feel is most important. Let it out real slow and feel the point of engagement. I think being surprised when the car lurches if the clutch is let out fast is the hardest part.

Have her practice changing the gears with the car off for a while. Go through the motions and let her get acclimated to the motion. There's a rhythm to it.
posted by milinar at 8:36 PM on September 17, 2007

obv. have her kick it in whilst going downhill. as far as it being your wife, it might be best to either use a different car or a different teacher. in my experience one shouldn't "teach" driving or golfing without some sort of emotional distance...
posted by mookieproof at 9:28 PM on September 17, 2007

my (mechanic) ex taught me, and i only really got my head around it when he explained to me the mechanics of what was happening. it might not work for everyone, but if she has some basic understanding of what the clutch is actually doing, it could make it easier.
posted by sleep_walker at 9:51 PM on September 17, 2007

another endorsement for the genmonster technique.b
posted by randomstriker at 10:48 PM on September 17, 2007

Best answer: Nineteen answers, and not one link? I recommend, which, in addition to the FAQ I linked to, has videos, other guides, links to How Stuff Works on manual transmissions, and forums. (When I was learning, it was great fun to read forum posts where people were having the same problems I was.)

I learned to drive a stick, at age 33, by reading the above resources, driving with a friend with a stick on a lunch hour one time, and then just going and buying the car. The trip home from the dealer was one hell of a drive. Mapquest doesn't have a "minimize hill stops" mode, but it really should.
posted by IvyMike at 1:27 AM on September 18, 2007

My dad taught me in a way similar to what was described: large empty parking lot, getting used to starting in first and getting used to shifting to second, stopping, starting up in first. Once I felt comfortable, he taught me about the handbrake and then took me to the steepest hill in town, parked the car, and handed me the keys and sat patiently while I stalled it over and over and over and over.
posted by plinth at 5:37 AM on September 18, 2007

Best answer: How do I teach my wife to operate a manual transmission?

If you want to stay married, you don't. You hire someone else to do it.

It's no mystery why she doesn't want to learn in a sports car. My wife had similar issues. She is not tall but in a sports car you sit low and don't have good vision. The engine is powerful and a little scary, especially when you don't know what you are doing with the clutch. That brings us to the clutch, a performance clutch is a thing of beauty in experienced hands, but to the uninitiated it merely is more opportunity to repeatedly stall out. They are tricky. Until you get the hang of it your choices are often stalling or peeling out, neither of which are very appealing to someone learning, and not learning by choice even.

Hire a pro with a stick (perhaps impossible to find), cajole a friend with an econobox stick to give the lessons, or if you must rent or buy a beater econobox stick and do it yourself, but if you go this route never criticize her. Remember "great" means "great," but "good, now let's try that again" is a much preferable substitute for "not so good." It's pretty embarrassing to be tought how to drive as an adult so you want to make the process as easy as possible.

I taught myself and my clutch survived. Another alternative is to just leave her there in the parking lot to experiment on her own without anyone watching over her shoulder. After 20 minutes of driving around the lot she will probably feel comfortable enough to just drive home on her own, unless there are big hills to stop and start on along the way. Seattle would be a difficult town in which to learn to drive a stick.
posted by caddis at 7:24 AM on September 18, 2007

Assuming she's already a competent automatic driver, have you considered an advanced driving course? The same outfits that train amateur and semi-pro racers almost always offer advanced driving courses (sometimes with certain focuses -- like skid control -- which is a lot of fun).

In most of these courses, they will take the drivers who don't drive stick, and teach them first. By the end of the typical 2 or 3 day program, they'll be able to do a matched rev downshift while drifting across the skidpad.

Call up the race schools in your area (or some of the big national ones, like Skip Barber or Jim Russell), explain the situation, and see if there's a two day program that'll be appropriate for her. After two days with one of those instructors, she'll drive stick better than you do :)
posted by toxic at 9:24 AM on September 18, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks for the comments, everyone.

For clarification, she's intimidated by the car. Some of my friends have commented that it's tricky, so she would rather learn on something more straight-forward. She may also have some trepidation about it being my car, but I suspect that she's being more practical than that.
posted by rush at 10:37 AM on September 18, 2007

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