Driving a stick shift is within your reach!

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If you only know how to drive a car with an automatic transmission, learning to drive a stick shift...

If you only know how to drive a car with an automatic transmission, learning to drive a stick shift isn't hard. The most important thing is to remember not to panic! You already have the hang of 90 percent of driving stick, after all.

The Basics

Here's the only thing you need to know before you get behind the wheel: The clutch is the pedal to the far left. You have to use it to shift gears. Shifting gears is what you do with a manual transmission that automatics do, well, automatically.

Want another bit of interesting information? You will learn to listen to your car. Seriously, it helps. Revving, sputtering, shuddering, grinding - pay attention to these four specific sounds and you'll be reacting instinctively and driving like a pro in no time.

The Process

To start the car, step on the clutch with your left foot, the brake with your right, and turn the key. Once the car is running, put the car into first gear, remove your right foot from the brake and depress the gas pedal while releasing the clutch.

Here's a tip: if the car starts to stall, let the clutch back in! This is a good reflex to build into your muscle memory. If the engine doesn't stall out completely, you only have to start over from putting the car in gear.

Once you're in first gear, you're in motion and have accomplished the hardest part of manipulating a manual transmission. Congratulations!

Now, shift to higher gears when your tachometer is between 2000 and 3000 rpm, roughly one gear for every 15mph. Or just listen. When your engine revs, shift up to the next gear. You do this by engaging the clutch and letting up on the gas, shifting to the next gear and letting the clutch out while stepping on the gas once again. Always depress the clutch entirely or you'll end up needing to find a good transmission shop before you're done.

To stop, depress the clutch and brake. Before starting again, make sure the car is in the appropriate gear.

Other Advice

Before you begin, learn where the gears are by rotating through them with the engine off. Practice engaging and releasing the clutch, as well, so you build muscle memory. Once you're comfortable with the clutch and the stick shift, your two new elements, you are ready to begin.

If possible, start off in a large, open, level space and have an experienced friend there for advice. You may also want to consider hiring a professional driving instructor instead.

Parking a manual car is a little different, too. Park on level ground when possible, and always use your emergency brake. If you must park on an incline, leave your car in first gear or reverse, whichever goes against gravity. Also, point your wheels so if you did start rolling, you'd roll into the curb and not the street.

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