Old School Stick Shifting

by James Fitzgerald

For most of the automobile's history, the manual transmission was the standard. In fact, even though a majority of cars today have an automatic transmission, the term "standard" transmission still refers to manual.

Manual transmissions have the disadvantage of being more complicated to drive, but in many other aspects are superior. When driving an automatic, a person needs only one hand and one foot, but a manual transmission requires the use of both hands and both feet, and requires that they be used in an organized, coordinated fashion. Advantages of a manual transmission include greater efficiency (since the engine is connected directly to the wheels), arguably more control (since the driver is able to anticipate when he will need which gear and switch ahead of time), and for many is just more fun.

However, the initial learning curve means that when starting out, driving a manual is not more fun. In fact, it can be downright frustrating. While the best way to learn is simply practice a lot in a small car in a low-traffic area, there are a few things to keep in mind that can make the learning process easier.

Knowledge of how a manual transmission works can go a long way in learning how to use one. There are a few parts that someone driving an automatic doesn't have to deal with. First and foremost of these is the clutch. The engine turns the wheels, and when the engine is running, its output shaft is spinning. The speed of the spin is determined solely by how much gas the driver is giving the engine. However, the engine speed does not vary enough to provide a wide enough range of speeds. This is the purpose of the gear box.
Multiple gears on a car (or bike or anything else) ensure that the engine is running at a fairly constant rate, regardless of the speed of the vehicle. Engines are usually most efficient at a certain speed, and gear boxes give the ability to keep them there. However, it is necessary to disengage the engine from the wheels when switching between gears, and the clutch is how this is done.

The best way to think of a clutch is as a reverse braking system. It has pads like brakes, and when these are pressed together, the engine and wheels are connected. Pushing down on the clutch pedal creates a space between the pads, enabling the engine and wheels to move independently. If the engine side of the clutch is moving at a different speed than the wheels side, gradually letting off the clutch bring the pads together, and friction between the two will mean that eventually they are turning at the same rate.

The problem many beginners have is letting out the clutch too fast. Because the clutch is a like a set of brakes in reverse, letting out the clutch too quickly will make the car lurch just like slamming on the brakes.

To learn where the clutch "sticking point" is, depress the clutch fully, and put the car in first gear. Without touching the gas pedal, begin to very slowly release the clutch. (Do this on a level area so that the car does not roll when the brake is released). If the car stalls, repeat, this time letting out the clutch even more gradually. Eventually, you'll get to a point where the clutch is being released slowly enough that the car begins to move forward before stalling. As soon as there is movement, stop letting out the clutch - simply freeze your foot so that the pedal remains exactly where it is. The car will gradually gain speed. After a few seconds of acceleration, release the clutch some more. Now the car is moving, and you haven't touched the gas pedal yet.

This method of starting is not recommended once you learn how to synchronize the application of the gas pedal and release of the clutch, but is good for learning where the clutch sticking point is. After getting a feel for starting using just the release of the clutch, give the car a little gas at the same time.

After getting the feel for driving a manual, you might find that the clutch has been used up a little. For an estimate of such things, a good mechanic or repair shop can provide a quality evaluation. For Phoenix Volvo repair, Tanner Motors is unsurpassed in both quality of work and honesty of service. Tanner Motors is unsurpassed in both quality of work and honesty of service. For Volvo repair Phoenix, Tanner Motors is a great choice.

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