How to Drive a Stick Shift Diesel

Written by larry amon
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How to Drive a Stick Shift Diesel
Stick shifts can look different in each vehicle. (truck stick shift image by Aditia Patria Warman from

Learning to drive and master a manual stick shift transmission in a car is something almost anyone can do, but it does take time and a lot of effort to get it just right. Many diesel cars and trucks have stick shift transmissions, but using the stick shift in a diesel is no different than using a stick shift in a car that takes unleaded fuel. The hardest part of learning to drive a stick shift is transitioning into first gear. Master this step and the rest will come naturally.

Skill level:

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  1. 1

    Practice on a long stretch of road that is relatively quiet and doesn't have much traffic on it. The ideal place is a big empty car park, away from other vehicles.

  2. 2

    Start the vehicle with the emergency brake on and the clutch pushed in all the way. Make sure the car is in neutral. Put your left foot on the clutch and push it all the way in. Shift the car into first gear. Slowly remove your left foot from the clutch while taking your right foot off the brake and slowly pushing down the accelerator. If you do it too fast or too slow, the car will stall and lurch forward. It takes time to learn just the right timing in terms of when to use the accelerator while releasing the clutch. You'll be driving no faster than 10 miles per hour.

  3. 3

    Stop the car, after driving it 100 feet or so in first gear, by applying the brake with your right foot while pushing in the clutch with your left foot. Be careful not to stomp on the brake. You can push in the clutch all the way before braking, but you will lose power to the transmission, and it will start to slow which is what you want. However, if you suddenly need to speed up, you will have to let go of the clutch and move back into gear.

  4. 4

    Restart the car and after putting it in first gear, speed up until you get to about 10 miles per hour. You can also watch the RPM gauge; and when you see it go over 3,000, that is a good time to shift. Push in the clutch and upshift to second gear. You will need to combine letting go of the clutch with pushing on the gas quickly. This is similar to shifting into first gear, but the transmission is less sensitive in a diesel engine so you can let go of the clutch faster. As the car picks up speed, the engine will rev higher, and the RPMs will start to move into the 3,000 range again. You will need to shift into third gear as it does this. Follow the same steps for fourth and fifth gears. You need to keep the RPMs from getting much over 3,000. You will learn to get a feel for this and how the engine should sound. The faster you go, the higher the gear, and the less finesse it takes to change gears. After you are in fifth gear, you will stay in that gear, no matter how much more you speed up.

  5. 5

    Downshift as you slow down by putting the car in the appropriate gear. For manoeuvring through turns, the car should be in second or third gear. All gear changes need to be made while the clutch is pushed in. You may hear the engine rev a bit high while moving to a lower gear at a high rate of speed. Your car will slow down; and as long as you are braking, this is fine. When you are coming to a complete stop, you don't need to downshift, just apply the brake and make sure you push in the clutch completely before going under 10 miles per hour, or the car will stall.

  6. 6

    Shift the car into reverse to go backwards. Once in reverse, you do not change gears until you have completely stopped. Stop the car by pressing on the brake and pushing the clutch all the way in.

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