How to drive a manual transmission smoothly

Written by roryo'loguhlin
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How to drive a manual transmission smoothly
Driving a stick shift requires practice if you're not used to it. (gear stick image by Freddy from

Rough operation of a vehicle can lead to premature mechanical wear and excessive fuel consumption. In order to drive a car with manual transmission smoothly, you need to possess refined control over the engine, brakes and clutch.

Skill level:
Moderately Easy


  1. 1

    Learn the position of each gear. Usually, you'll see a decal on the top of the gear selector that denotes the position necessary for each gear. While the engine is not running, depress the clutch and move the gear selector from one gear the next. Practice this until you can select every gear in sequence, without having to look.

  2. 2

    Park the car flat on ground with room in front for the vehicle to move at least three car lengths without hitting anything.

  3. 3

    Start the engine. Select first gear and begin to release the clutch very slowly without touching the accelerator pedal. Do this much more slowly than you are used to, to prevent the car from stalling. As you begin to ease up on the clutch, you may notice a slight change in exhaust tone or minor deflection in the tachometer. This is commonly referred to as "the biting point"; it indicates you are beginning to engage first gear. The car should start to slowly creep forward. Continue to slowly release the clutch---without allowing the engine to stall---until the clutch has reached the end of its working travel. This exercise will teach your clutch control and the "biting point" of your vehicle; both are essential to smooth driving.

  4. 4

    Pre-rev the engine gently just prior to engaging the gear as you pull off. High revs are rarely necessary. On a flat surface, you don't need more than 2,000rpm of pre-rev. If you rev it higher than 2,000, then you need to go back to practice step 3 as your clutch control isn't good enough yet.

  5. 5

    Release the clutch in a smooth and controlled manner, gently easing on the accelerator. As the car accelerates, don't allow the rpms to build too high. On normal road conditions, you shouldn't need to go above 3,000rpm before shifting up a gear. This keeps the ride smooth and quiet and should also save fuel. Make the motion of changing from one gear to another smooth and linear, avoiding snapping or jerking movements.

  6. 6

    Apply the brakes early if you can see you are going to need to slow down ahead. As with accelerator and clutch, keep the motion smooth, gentle and consistent.

  7. 7

    Downshift to a lower gear as the rpm drops with braking. Depress the clutch, select the gear below the one you are currently in, for example, from fourth to third. Release the clutch to re-engage the gear. This is known as engine braking and helps slow the car down controllably.

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