Be A Better Man In 30 Days | Day 4: Know How To Handle a 5-Speed


Driving a manual transmission is slowly working its way into the history books. Especially in this day and age, what with the higher-end manufacturers making SMG, PDK, flappy paddle gearboxes, and various other clutchless-manuals (no, not automatic’s with shiftmatic settings) that perform equally and sometimes better than even the best drivers. It seems fewer and fewer drivers care about the ability to improve gas mileage, experience greater vehicle control, amp up their driving enjoyment, or the indisputable fact that chicks dig the stick! I doubt any of the GP Crew members based in larger metropolitan areas do. I certainly wouldn’t.

These days, learning to drive with an automatic is almost de facto. It’s a sad byproduct of generations succumbing to the slushbox and its driving dynamic succubus qualities. For any driving enthusiast, this is a sad notion. It makes us lazier drivers and, in the end, everyone loses. I still recall hounding my friend to teach me how to drive his manual Volkswagen Jetta and I still remember the ever-so brief instructions he gave me. They were the ones he had learned only weeks prior. They went something like this…

  1. Push clutch all the way down.
  2. Put car in gear.
  3. Let out clutch slow.
  4. Give it some gas… WAIT, NOT TOO MUCH! WAIT, NOT ENOUGH! WAIT, WHAT’S THAT SMELL (oh, it’s the clutch, melting)?!
  5. Repeat.

Granted I’ve come a long way since then, and, though I’m no stock car racer, I often find myself cringing when getting into the car with an unaware driver at the helm of a manual. The following are a few simple tips to improve your manual driving skills.

The Clutch is Your Friend, Not The Town Bike. Don’t Ride It.

It is not uncommon for drivers to reach over 100,000 miles on the original clutch. It is also not uncommon to hear about people who burn their clutches out at 20,000 miles. Essentially, if the clutch isn’t all the way down or up (FYI: pressing the clutch pedal disengages the clutch and vice-versa), you’re riding the clutch. Typical practices suggest you spend 1 to 2 seconds releasing the clutch and easing the car into gear. Not only is smooth shifting an essential man-practice, it won’t give your passenger(s) whiplash either.

Don’t Use The Clutch To Brake.

Have you ever had someone tell you to use your clutch to save your brakes? Chances are, it’s probably the same guy who replaces his clutch every 20,000 miles. If you haven’t checked (and likely you haven’t), it’s cheaper to replace your brakes than your clutch. Here is the proper way to Engine Brake:

The key is rev-matching. What the hell is rev-matching? Well it’s this: when downshifting (to engine brake), you should tap the gas (blip the throttle) to increase your RPMs to the same point they would be in the lower gear before letting the clutch out. Relying on your clutch to do the rev-matching for you will not only slow you down but also burn through your clutch quicker. Some modern cars like the new Nissan 370Z have internal computers to do this for you making you look like a manual driving hero. For those of us without such electronic gizmos, the aforementioned steps will get you rev-matching. It takes some time, practice, and really getting to know your car’s behavior.

Stay In Neutral When Stopped At A Light.

It’s always easy to forget the basics but here’s a friendly reminder: always keep your car in neutral when stopped at a light. Keeping your car in gear with the clutch disengaged burns your clutch (yes, sounds backwards). Staying in neutral also helps in case you get rear-ended. The last thing you want to do is have your foot slip off the clutch and lurch into the car in front of you or, worse, into a busy intersection.

Hopefully, these tips are just a quick refresh to your Speed Racer/Mario Andretti/Dale Gordon-like driving skills. Just remember that avoiding any technique that rides the clutch means you’ll spend more time in gear and less time in transition. After all, less wear = less money on repairs and replacements. Not to mention the most important aspect of all – you’ll drive and look like a man in control of his ride.

If you’re like me, you learn well from someone demonstrating. Here’s a (decent) video I found on YouTube of some advanced manual transmission driving techniques.

Let’s continue the conversation. Do you ghost brake when your friend (god bless him/her) is at the wheel? Do you wince when a fellow driver has no idea that they constantly mash the throttle instead of easing? Share your horror stories or tips below and spare the world one more burnt clutch.