How to Shift Gears on a Car Properly


Now that automatic transmissions are so common, it's easy to get so used to them that the slightly more difficult manual transmission seems intimidating. But it's not that hard to drive a manual transmission, and stick transmissions give you a much better knowledge of and control over your car as you drive--not to mention that, like all things that are tricky-but-not-actually-required, it's now a kind of status symbol to know how to operate a stickshift, and it can't hurt to pick up a few status symbols.

  • Sit comfortably in the driver's seat with your left foot on the clutch pedal and your right on the gas. Just like it does with an automatic transmission, your right foot will move between the gas and brake, but your left foot is reserved for the clutch.

  • Familiarize yourself with your gear shift pattern. This is almost always one form or another of capital H, with the top and bottoms of the stalks representing gears 1 through 4, in a clockwise rotation. The center of the H is usually neutral, while fifth gear and reverse are to the far upper and lower right, respectively. Nevertheless, your shift may vary--check for an illustration on the shift itself, or in your owners' manual.

  • Depress the clutch pedal all the way and enter first gear. Keep the pedal down as you start the car. As long as the clutch is in, you can rev the engine all you want; it's not transferring its energy through the transmission and to the wheels.

  • Let the clutch out gradually and get a feel for the point at which the engine power starts going through the transmission. You'll feel this. The first few times you do this, you'll probably let the clutch out too quickly and the car will buck and stall; this happens to everyone and at such a low engine speed it won't damage your car. If you don't rush things, the car should move smoothly into first gear and you can press the gas pedal.

  • Upshift in motion by putting in the clutch, moving the gear shift, and pressing smoothly down on the gas pedal as you let out the clutch. (You can let out the clutch much more quickly when you're moving than you would from a standstill.)

  • Downshift in motion the same way: put in the clutch, shift gears, and give the car some gas as you release the clutch. Don't downshift while going too fast for the gear you're shifting to, as this can severely damage your car. You'll get an idea of what speed range each gear represents as you drive.

  • Stop the car by slowing down gradually to around 10 mph, then put in the clutch, put your car in neutral, and brake to a stop.

Tips & Warnings

  • Probably the hardest thing you'll find yourself having to do is to start from a standstill while pointed up an incline, because you have to be gentle enough with the clutch to prevent stalling while still not taking so long that your car begins to roll back. It may be best to practice this at first with the parking brake on, so that drifting backwards isn't an issue. Once you have a good idea of where the friction point (the point where the transmission starts to engage) is on your clutch, you'll be able to start in first gear very quickly, and even hills will seem like second nature.

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  • Photo Credit shift stick image by BaSSaBaS from
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