How to shift gears on a manual transmission

Written by arlene mason
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How to shift gears on a manual transmission

Shifting gears on a manual transmission is a delicate balance of knowing when to shift and how. If you do it wrong, it will be glowingly obvious. It is very rare that a car will die during a gear lever, but it will not be a pleasant ride. But once you learn to do it properly, you will be able to shift gears as smoothly as an automatic.

Skill level:
Easy

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Things you need

  • A car with a Manual Transmission
  • Patience

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Instructions

  1. 1

    The best way to learn when to shift is to either ride around with someone who already knows how to drive a manual transmission and watch when they shift. Or you can drive your automatic and feel when the transmission shifts. In either case, you are looking for the sound and feel of the engine at the shift points. Remember this.

  2. 2

    There are several styles or speeds of manual transmission around, any where from 3 to 6; although the 5 speed is the most popular. The shift pattern will vary widely. But, it should be engraved on the gear lever.

    How to shift gears on a manual transmission
  3. 3

    Instrumentation is going to vary widely from car to car, but most cars with manual transmissions have a tachometer, this is very useful in knowing when to shift. If you don’t have one, your car may have an orange light that tells you when to shift. If you don’t have one of those, then you will have to rely on speed and the feel of the engine.

    How to shift gears on a manual transmission
  4. 4

    You will shift when the tachometer is at 2,000 RPMs – if you have a light, it will come on at this time. That is true for what ever gear you are going into. If you don’t have a tachometer, then you will shift about every 10 MPH. That is at 20 MPH you shift into 2nd, at 30 MPH you shift into 3rd, at 40 MPH you shift into 4th and at 50 MPH you shift into 5th. Thus, if you are going 35 MPH you should be in 3rd gear.

    How to shift gears on a manual transmission
  5. 5

    If you are already proficient at getting the car going and stopping in first gear, you are experienced in balancing the gas and clutch, if only a little. You will need to use this when changing gears. When you reach the proper RPMs (or speed) let your foot off the gas, press in the clutch and, using your right hand, shift into the next gear. Let the clutch out carefully and continue to accelerate.

    If you let the clutch out too fast, the car will lurch forward. If you don’t let it out before you accelerate the engine will whirr. If this happens let your foot off the gas, and then let the clutch out. If you let the clutch out too slow, the car will chatter and jump. Either way it’s not a fun ride. The good news is; this will prompt you to work on the proper timing of clutch and gas.

    How to shift gears on a manual transmission
  6. 6

    Down shift to the next lower gear, whenever your RPMs drop below 1500. Down shifting is the same as up shifting, press in the clutch, and let your foot off the gas. Using your right hand, shift to the next lower gear and let the clutch out. You will feel a decrease in engine RPMs and speed.

    How to shift gears on a manual transmission

Tips and warnings

  • One way to learn the proper balance of clutch and gas is to play a simple game. Using only the clutch and gas, see if you can keep the car from rolling backward or creeping forward when on an incline. You will want to start out on a slight slope and then increase to a real hill, for safety’s sake.
  • Keep practicing, and soon you will be able to shift smoothly and seamlessly.
  • When turning a corner, it is best to press in the clutch, press the brake and shift down to 2nd gear.
  • Downshift to first gear, when you stop at a traffic light. Always start your car out in first gear.

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