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How to Master Driving a Manual Transmission Vehicle

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There's a little more to the art of driving a manual transmission car, or driving stick shift, as it is more popularly called. It can seem intimidating, especially once you're accustomed to auto-transmissions, but it's nothing you can't do with a little practice. Besides, it's a skill that you can't afford to overlook – at one point in your life you may find yourself having to drive a manual transmission car. Below are a few tips to help you master the art of manual transmission driving.

1. Smoothness is the key

The most important concept you can grasp about driving stick is that the clutch doesn't run like an on-off switch. Whether you are clutching in (depressing the pedal before changing gears) or out (releasing after changing gears), you should master how to coordinate your left foot on the clutch with the right on the accelerator for every transition. Nowhere is this balance more crucial than when starting a stationary vehicle: you need to clutch out gradually as you depress the accelerator.

Clutching out too fast will not lend your engine the torque it needs to power movement. However, clutching out too slowly makes the clutch manage too much power at once, which ruins the clutch system over time. When clutching out, do not depress the accelerator too far; only increase the gas once your foot is completely off the clutch. As you handle the vehicle more often, you will learn how to subconsciously make this shift.

2. Do not depress the clutch halfway

Depressing the clutch halfway, better known as 'riding the clutch', is a common problem with starter manual-transmission drivers. This usually happens during normal driving, while temporarily stopping or even while accelerating from a stop. Riding the clutch damages the clutch over time. For longer stops, shift the vehicle back to neutral and release the clutch. When changing gears, depress the clutch completely.

3. Master the art of gear selection

This is the most difficult part for drivers accustomed to automatic transmissions, since the system controls everything. In a manual car, you make the decisions about gear-changing. To do this, you need to learn your car engine's and gear's characteristics, so that you'll know when the vehicle is 'struggling' because of a wrong gear. A general rule is that higher speeds require higher gears, and lower speeds require lower gears.

When starting out, look at the engine RPM indicator on your control panel: if you're accelerating and the engine clocks 3,000RPM, you need to shift to the next gear. However, since higher gears mean less engine torque, your ability to accelerate may be limited beyond a certain point, requiring you to shift down to a lower gear.

Regular maintenance of your transmission is the best way to ensure that you enjoy optimal fuel consumption, and that any problem areas are discovered and fixed before they escalate at the worst possible time: when you're on a busy road and likeliest to cause an accident.