Knowing how to drive a stick may seem like a lost art, but contrary to popular belief, the activity is still alive and well for thousands of people in the United States.
In fact, many stick drivers would argue that knowing how to operate a manual transmission is the best way to avoid being distracted behind the wheel. Ultimately, it makes for a better and safer driver on the road.
With that being said, it’d be unfair not to mention that there’s a type of pride you get when you learn to drive a stick shift. For many, it feels like you’ve suddenly been approved to join an elite and private club. After all, only 18% of Americans know how to drive manually—so there’s a lot to be said about the admiration that accompanies learning this unique skill.
In Part One, you learned the history of manual transmissions.
And in Part Two, we covered the basics of how to drive a stick shift car.
In this final part, we cover the finer points of driving stick shift. You’ll learn advanced maneuvers like heel-toe downshifts. In addition, you’ll pick up some essential tips for caring for cars with a manual transmission.
The Basics of the Heel-and-Toe-Shift
If you’re learning how to drive a stick shift, you might have learned about the heel-and-toe shift.
Also called H/T, this is a method where the driver manipulates the gas pedal (also “throttle” or “accelerator pedal”) and the brake pedal at the same time with their right foot.
In reality, the “heel-and-toe” is a misnomer. Instead, the technique involves the ball of the right foot and the side of the right foot. Although not a necessary method anymore, it was common in manual cars to avoid gear clashing during shifting before synchromesh became standard.
So, why learn it? Today, it’s considered a unique skill that only the most experienced manual drivers can master. Heel-to-toe shifting can also minimize the disruption of the driveline while braking into a turn.
With this method, you can combine braking and downshifting during a turn, which is less stressful on your engine. The movement is tricky at first, because it’s done using the ball of your right foot on the brake pedal while your heel of the same foot is on the gas pedal.
In other words, heel-and-toe shifting maintains engine speed so that it stays constant with your road speed. This is fun for the driver and the car because it maximizes efficiency and power.
It’s also a crucial skill when driving on slippery roads and before turning corners. If your wheels are spinning while rounding a corner, they will put unnecessary stress onto your engine, which can cause damage.
Here’s a simple step-by-step guide on how to do the heel-and-toe method:
- As you approach the corner, begin braking with your right foot.
- Push in the clutch pedal with your left foot as you would typically do.
- With the clutch pressed down with your left foot and your right foot still on the brake, move the outside of your foot out and down to the gas pedal.
- With your right hand, move the shifter to the third gear.
- Allow your left foot to release the clutch pedal slowly and turn.
Quick Tip: The maneuvering of your right foot takes some skill, so don’t be afraid to practice. Keep your car parked on a flat surface and in a neutral position, like an empty street or a parking lot. Then, once you get the movement down and feel comfortable, take it to the road and see how you do.
Caring for Your Manual Transmission Car
Automatic transmissions are taking over, so manual transmissions are a dying breed in the automotive world.
The long-term effects of climate change and advancements in technology have made them less prevalent. However, there are those who can’t imagine driving anything but a stick shift, so it’s essential to know how to take care of your transmission.
Tip #1: Go Easy on the Clutch Pedal and Brakes
Riding the clutch pedal is a sure-fire way to put unnecessary strain on your clutch and gearbox, so be sure that you avoid this habit. In addition to your clutch pedal, you also want to be sure that you’re going easy on your brakes.
The best way to keep your brakes in good shape is to ensure that you’re stopped entirely before shifting gears. If you don’t stop between shifting, you’ll put extra wear and tear on your transmission’s components, engine, and transmission.
Quick Tip: If you’re parking on a hill, don’t forget that a manual transmission is not like an automatic transmission. You’ll need to use your parking brake if you’re on the slightest incline to prevent rolling. In a manual car, the parking brake looks like an emergency parking brake but truly acts the same as the parking gear in an automatic vehicle.
Tip #2: Get Your Engine Serviced Routinely
Manual cars only make up only 13% of new vehicles introduced in 2020. For those who love sticking to something with more character, it’s essential to keep your engine running smoothly so that it can last you for years to come.
Be sure to go to a trusted mechanic who has plenty of experience with manual cars, can service your engine, and keep it in its best shape.
Tip #3: Avoid a Gear Shift When Slowing Down
It’s tempting to downshift when you need to slow down—but, unfortunately, this is one of the more dangerous habits that you could do to your vehicle.
Downshifting when you intend to slow down could add stress to your engine and gearbox, so do your best to stick to the brakes when necessary.
Tip #4: Have Your Transmission Inspected Every Year
Manual cars are famous for their complex, interchanging components, which means that the transmission is the heart and soul of your vehicle. Flushing your transmission and having it inspected at least once per year is the best way to ensure that your car won’t malfunction anytime soon.
If you enjoy driving stick shift vehicles, then you know how important it is to master techniques. Getting down the heel-and-toe manipulation is just one place to start, so be sure to practice your technique before trying other advanced methods.
Besides learning new and fun skills in your manual transmission, it’s also crucial that you pay close attention to what the car actually needs. Manual cars are no stranger to requiring plenty of maintenance thanks to their complex mechanisms, so be sure to keep your stick shift in good shape by following these important care tips:
- Always go easy on the clutch and brake pedals (and don’t forget to use your parking brake on inclines)
- Be sure to regularly service your engine
- Do your best to avoid downshifting when you should brake instead
- Go to a trusted mechanic and have your transmission inspected every year
Stick shift drivers might be among the safest drivers on the road because of the level of concentration and knowledge required when behind the wheel. As a manual transmission driver, you can increase your knowledge on the road by taking defensive driving courses. The best part? Doing so may even lower your auto insurance rates!