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Busting the Myths of Driving a Manual Transmission

Edmunds.comEdmunds.com Posts: 10,059
edited September 2014 in General

imageBusting the Myths of Driving a Manual Transmission

After having to pay $2,000 for a new clutch and flywheel, Edmunds employee Julie Sun turned to Editor in Chief Karl Brauer for some guidance on the correct way to drive stick. | March 18, 2010 | Eric de los Prados for Edmunds

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Comments

  • This stuff I never knew, but passed on the downshift method to three kids so far, damn! I sent them this site's URL and hope it helps.
  • I have a remark on your third point: There are other reasons for downshifting, other than saving your brakes. While I agree that one that can't properly downshift will kill the clutch, I think you shouldn't be driving a MT if you can't downshift properly, period.

    Apart from that, unclutching to brake lenghtens your braking distance, and lessens your control over your vehicle, which can be quite important for young drivers.

    And, before tarting about costs, you may want to think about this:
    A car with a busted clutch will not start.
    A car with busted brakes will not stop.
    In what situation are you most likely to walk away unharmed?
    (I didn't count the handbrake here, while it's certainly a decent safety measure, I think that, when present with broken brakes, few people would react in time, myself included)

    That said, I think that people that want to use a MT, need to pass a test for it. Those people will not bust their clutch so easily, and it will cause less conflicts with car dealers claiming you broke the clutch because you can't use it.
  • I've been an automatic driver for a long time. Looking forward to the 'fun' of a manual, just bought a 2012 . I had no problems shifting gears 2-5 and reverse. My car really likes to shift at 2000 rpm. Rev it up past that, then clutch until back to 2000 and release. Easy. What I did not immediately realize was that the car also liked 2000 rpm when shifting from neutral to 1st. That little tactic has eliminated the stalls at stoplights. In my car, no accelerator is required for reverse, just let the clutch out and it goes. I had to learn to give the stick a little shake in neutral when shifting from reverse to first. That makes a smoother transition and that the reverse collar is fully released. Coast to a stop with the clutch in, braking when necessary. My car stalls at 0 mph when I apply the brakes to a full stop without using the clutch. The car can restart while in still in 1st. 'Park' is the hand brake. I've had the car for a week and learning to drive it has been like playing with a new toy. The magic number for my car is 2000 rpm. That probably varies with different models.
  • RE: Myth #3- Using the clutch (actually the engine) for braking also puts tremendous stress on the connecting rods & the rest of the reciprocating assembly. You think replacing the clutch is expensive? Try rebuilding/replacing the engine!
  • If you have trouble starting from a standstill on steep hills and/or live in an area where there are a lot of hills, a roll control device (aka: line lock) utilizing an electric solenoid actuated hydraulic valve, can be installed to lock the brakes at the touch of a (momentary release) button. When engaged, the brakes are locked until the button is released.

    Line locks have been used for several decades on drag-racing vehicles to lock the non-driven wheels to facilitate a power "burn-out" to heat the driven wheel tires.
  • I learned to drive a m/t as a teenager and have not owned one for many years . However my husband recently purchased a brand new car with a m/t and its like riding a bike , once you learn it stays with you. Fun to drive however I still prefer the ease of an automatic.
  • Actually, keeping the clutch pushed all the way in does wear the clutch - but just a different parts called the throwout bearing and clutch fingers.

    I would amend the advice slightly to say that, yes, when you need the clutch, make sure it's pushed all the way in or completely released. However, if you won't need the clutch in the next 2-3 seconds, shift to neutral and release the clutch.
  • OK, I have major issues with this article. I've been driving both sticks and automatics for years, and while both have their pros and cons, I've almost always obtained better gas mileage than the sticker estimates, especially with manual transmissions. Case in point, I own a 2011 Kia Sorento base with the I4 engine 6-speed manual. Sticker estimates are 20 city, 27 highway mpg. On the highway I almost always average between 31 and 33mpg. City driving around 24. Contrast that to the gas mileage estimates for the automatic which are 21/29. I drove a Kia Sorento I4 automatic for 1 week and never got over 28mpg. City driving was about the same as the stick at around 23-24mpg. I've always done better than the sticker estimates with manual transmission car, but only occasionally with automatics, and that's after owning and driving over 50 cars to date.
    Regarding greater wear on the engine rotating parts due to downshifting that was made by one commenter, I say hogwash! Sure if you downshift at too high of RPMs and cause the engine to rev too high, than sure it could be a problem, but normal downshifting does not cause greater engine wear. I've had several manual transmission cars that had well in excess of 100,000 miles and had no tell-tale signs of wear (knocks, ticks, or other engine noises). In fact, the only 2 cars that ever developed engine issues (bad rod bearing in one, bad wrist pin in the other) were both automatics.
    So in my driving experience of 38 years, I'd have to say manual transmissions have done well be me. I do enjoy the convenience of an automatic sometimes, and I certainly prefer them for pulling a trailer, but overall manuals have provided better gas mileage, not to mention have done better by me in snowy or icy road conditions.
  • jeah6jeah6 Posts: 0
    Now if they'd only stop phasing out MT cars we MT fans would have something to drive!
  • roto2roto2 Posts: 1
    Yeah, I'm no longer a manual fan. But I drove many cars for many years with one. At least for me, the truth is that today's automatics are more efficient, faster, and particularly comfortable in urban driving (which is much the norm nowdays). Performance automatics are also getting much more engaging with very well behaved sport shift patterns and rev matching. Ferrari for one no longer sells manuals. And for a reason. They get beat by the Ferrari automatics. Also, automatics are a real preference for off-roaders nowdays because of the smooth control of torque. Anyway, there are those that will always prefer manuals. They should certainly buy them in that case.
  • I've been driving a clutch almost as long as I've been driving and have never actually worn one out... on my Jeep Cherokee the throwout bearing started squalling at 300,000 miles but the clutch still worked perfectly... and that's also about the time one of the rod bearings started getting noisy so it was time for a new engine and clutch (first major work on the car).

    The point the connecting rods and crankshaft are DESIGNED for high loads... if you think using the engine for breaking puts a load on them imagine how much of a load they get from hard acceleration!

    In a car generally using the engine as a brake is more trouble than it's worth, and I rarely do it, however when driving downhill in the mountains downshifting and letting the engine help keep your speed down is the smart thing to do.
  • Why do you repeatedly say that you need to match the engine revs to the rear-wheel speed? A) Most cars are front-wheel drive, not rear-wheel drive. B) it doesn't matter whether the car is front or rear wheel drive, because all four wheels are rotating at the same speed. Well, unless you're burning out...in which case you wouldn't be downshifting.
  • The biggest problem with owning a manual transmission car is that manufacturers like Honda will use that as an excuse to not honor the vehicle's warranty.
    I had a 2010 V6 Accord with the manual transmission, it had major engine issues every six months and when it finally had major damages as a result of poor manufacturing...Honda decided to deny repairs claiming "user abuse" (which was never observed - previously or at the time of final break down). They just decided not to repair it and bet that I couldn't afford to fight it.
    State Lemon Law Board eventually ordered Honda (unanimously) to buy it back, but the process takes six months on average.
  • srbirdsrbird Posts: 1
    How on earth did you come up with these so-called "Myths of Driving a Manual Transmission"? Every one is totally wrong! Do people actually believe in these "myths"? You'd have to get your clutch redone every year if you drove like that.
  • yessuhyessuh Posts: 1
    if you really know how to drive a m/t you only use the clutch to start from stopped. you can upshift and downshift without touching the clutch
  • Don't know what this guy's been driving, but his emergency brake advice is bizarre since a great many cars emergency brakes are operated with the left foot. Trying to push it and the clutch simultaneously is going to be a bit difficult. If a process can't be used all the in every vehicle it sholdn't be used in any vehicle. Neither does he discuss shifting at speed without using the clutch which creates the least wear of all, and is a method used by most of the 7 million truck drivers in the US.
  • ray175ray175 Posts: 1
    This article takes all the fun out of a manuel transmission. Manipulating the clutch is one way to enjoy driving and getting the mosty out of your car. A clutch is not a delicate daisey, it takes a lot to burn one out. Have some fun!
  • Re: Myth #3: Use the clutch to save your brakes. -- Another important reason to use the brakes instead of the clutch is that using the brakes engages your brake lights, which are an important communication tool to alert other drivers that you are slowing down. Other drivers can notice and react to the lights faster than they can perceive the decrease in your speed. If you don't want to be rear-ended, or inadvertently cause that sort of collision behind you, use your brakes to tell the other drivers what is going on ahead of you.
  • nocellnocell Posts: 1
    Had a friend of mine who said his driving coach mentioned only use the brakes to slow down, and that downshifting wears your clutch out quicker......I hate to say but I have discovered that since being in Houston I need to downshift and utilize my brakes at the same time...allllll the time....sometimes immediate braking is not always the best course of action, I have downshifted and lurched out of the way of an accident many times since I have been here. Everytime I see someone in an automatic always try to "emergency" stop to keep from hitting someone, they can't control their vehicle very well......Its give and take I suppose...but I'll stick with my manual transmission..........anyone can drive an automatic......or so I thought....I'm not perfect by no means, but people just don't know what they are missing by not driving a manual....
  • Ref #3: Never depress and leave the clutch down to coast at over 20 mph. I learned the hard way that this wears out the "throwout bearing". For normal stops, let up on the gas in the higher gear you are driving in, then depress the clutch as you go below 20, or shift to neutral to coast. Also #1: riding the clutch wears out the throwout bearing prematurely, as well as the clutch surface.
  • Regardfing #3, the main reason that I have been driving a MT is to use the engine to brake while going down a mountain and also, I believe that it is much safer on snow or ice covered road when you come up to a stop light or sign.
  • I disagree with most of this, Oh bye the way I am a professional driver with more then 30 years behind me. The one that bothers me the most is myth #3, if you don't down shift, the light changes and you are stuck looking for the right gear, so you either grind the gears till you find the right one, or bring it to a stop.
  • Re: Myth #3: USE THE CLUTCH TO SAVE YOUR LIFE! What you fail to mention is that even short descents under braking without your car in gear can lead to brakes overheating and them becoming useless. Remember that people drive stick shift cars that last had their brake fluid changed a decade ago or they're running discs/drums, etc. The correct, perfect world method for driving any operated by a manual transmission is to keep it in gear. When you are going around a corner you should be in gear. When you are descending a hill you should be in gear. When you are coming off the highway you should be in gear. Why? ****Because your inability to accelerate away from danger may cause you more harm than your repair bill***. Because going downhill using your engine to help brake your car will make sure your regular brakes have enough left in them to help you stop***Because when something gets in your way your hands should be on the wheel, NOT ON THE GEARSHIFT!!**

    This article is completely irresponsible and should be reviewed by your legal staff. Seriously, how could you post such poor advice?
  • Great article, all very true.

    One more thing .. a Myth 6 "Its ok to sit at a stoplight with the car in gear and the clutch pushed in"

    The throwout bearing is dry with no active lubrication. If you keep it under load and spinning at stoplights it will wear out much sooner. Replacing this bearing is the same labor cost as replacing the entire clutch.

    I leave the car in neutral at stoplights, when I see that the light is about to turn green, I press the clutch and put it in gear to prepare for takeoff.
  • I agree with most of the points expressed by everyone. A good driver with an MT will have endless miles of life out of his gearbox, something that can't be said for an automatic. Used properly it saves wear and tear on the engine, better fuel mileage and creates a link between the driver and his machine.
  • hijkhijk Posts: 1
    Comment on Myth #3: Use the clutch to save your brakes. I have driven a MT and only a MT for over 30 years. I have never owned an automatic. I down shift extremely smoothly, and I routinely use my engine to slow the vehicle. In fact I have avoided collisions doing so. To the best of my knowledge, I have never had to repair my engine or replace a clutch (never replaced a clutch period) as a result of using the engine to slow the vehicle, and I have owned some vehicles for 150,000 miles +. If down shifting to slow the vehicle damages the clutch and/or engine it must be very slightly OR the cars I have driven over the past 30 years were built so well they could handle my so-called abuse. In short until today I've never had a mechanic advise against the practice.
  • Downshifting to save brakes is not a bright idea.. Brake pads and components are cheap and quick to replace. There are exceptions though, if you find yourself waring the pads down to metal, downshifting can help you make it to the repair shop. Or on steep grades, downshifting is vital to avoid overheating your brakes.
  • ANOTHER BS article full of opinions ...

    This is absolutely FALSE:

    "Whenever the clutch pedal isn't all the way up or all the way down, you're putting wear on your clutch"

    Lie. Any time the clutch is depressed sufficiently to cause plate slippage under a significant load, yes, but that unqualified statement is FALSE>

    next lie:

    " it's important to "rev-match." "

    FALSE> Only in a non synchronized transmission

    Lets see what other lies are passed off as "I know it all"

    ........
    next false statement:

    "The most important rule, however, is never use the clutch to hold your car in place while waiting on an incline. Doing this will burn out that imaginary red light on the dash — as well as really burn out the clutch."

    FALSE. Again, another highly conditional situation where an idiotic Author wishes to play know it all and make a false, grand, sweeping overgeneralization.

    What about a very shallow hill where the clutch is just slightly engaged for a few seconds? that will not "burn it out"

    Folks, when you see huge sweeping overgeneralizations like this, just assume the Author is an idiot, this one is.

    Signed, AUTOMOTIVE ENGINEER.
  • I learned to drive a standard on a 1962 Ford falcon (parents 2nd car) love a manual. heaven forbid someone couldn't talk on a cell phone and have to shift gears at the same time.

    wish I had another one, better on gas too.
    used the clutch to hold it on hills (takes practice) and always used the transmission to downshift to slow down along with the cars weight. (old truck driving trick).
    besides automatics were always a lot more in the cost of the car.
    Do they even put manuals in cars anymore?
  • I learned how to drive 35 years ago, and my father told me that if I could drive a stick shift I could drive anything. Until 2009 that was almost all I drove. I tried to teach my first husband and our son how to drive stick - it wasn't happening. I tought my mother successfully and she liked it. I miss it, although I get stuck in highway traffic a lot and don't miss it then. For years guys/men were amazed that I drove a stick, and very well, thank you! I think I will treat myself to a manual next time. It's a matter of pride!
  • I've been driving a stick off and on for over 43 years and driving with a manual transmission can be boiled down to three very simple rules:

    Rule A - Keep the clutch FULLY engaged as much as possible.

    Rule B - When the clutch must be disengaged, it will be FULLY disengaged except for Rule C.

    Rule C - Slip the clutch as little as possible when starting off, up-gearing or down-gearing.

    That's it. Three simple rules. It's that easy.
  • Some points in this article are useful, and there certainly are plenty of people who can't drive a standard properly. I must say however as someone who's driven a standard on and off for many years, unless you ride the clutch at stoplights, use it to hold the car in place on a hill, or allow it to slip too much when up-shifting or down-shifting, a clutch can last 100,000 miles plus. The poster who stated you shouldn't down-shift to help slow the car because it puts a tremendous amount of stress on the engine is incorrect. Only if you down-shift at too high a speed (or too high of engine rpm's) could that be an issue. Normal downshifting causes no harm to the engine if done correctly, nor does it cause excessive wear on the clutch. I guess I don't understand how driving a standard can be such an issue, as most of it is based on simple skills and common sense. I've only had to replace 2 clutches in my lifetime (out of probably a dozen or more standards I've owned), and both were on older classic Mustangs that had already gone many miles.
  • cl580cl580 Posts: 0
    I daily drive a 1994 Camry 5 speed every day to work, 45 miles away. I have been driving a manual since my Mom taught me in 1996. If I can help it, all of my children will also learn to drive a manual transmission car. There's nothing like it in my opinion. We also own an automatic equipped car, but that is strictly for convenience.
  • When I read this I just laughed. I have replaced my brakes twice and my clutch once in 300,000 miles and downshift all the time.
    Americans REALLY need to understand how to drive a manual shift.
  • I had a 2004 Acura RSX type S (six speed box) and I downshifted at every stop. I got 104 thousand miles from the original clutch! It all depends on how good you are at minimizing slippage when starting and stopping and how smoothly you engage when starting from a stop. I now have a 2012 Civic Si (six speed, short throw) and I hope to get as much use from it's original clutch.
  • If you cant float gears, get an automatic.
  • When we had a really bad snowfall and the roads were icy, I found downshifting to be very useful when driving home in my truck. By the time I got to the intersection, I was almost stopped anyway, so I didn't slide.
  • There is no real advantage to the "stick shift" with today's transmissions, except for "I'd rather do it myself" which is certainly a valid reason. However a well timed automatic should do better than a manual.

    Clutches will eventually wear out even with the most careful and knowledgeable driver as will automatic transmissions. I've driven cars until they were well past time to replace with no clutch problems, but I've also had clutches fail as well as automatics. In general the clutches were cheaper to fix than the automatics and you don't have to worry about intercoolers failing on high mileage cars and running radiator fluid into the manual transmission. That can be really expensive. Voice of experience!
  • Well, not to target any of the specific points but I have been driving my 2001 model since 2002, five speed, 82,000 miles and the front brakes are original and the rear brake pads were replaced on July,2011 and the clutch is perfect. I have to agree that a 100% car person must learn as to the mechanics of a car and to be proficient as to shifting and downshifting to have a nice long life out of car parts. Not to brag but I have seem to have mastered that based on the results I have achieved. Driving a manual is an art but for those that treat cars as transportation, then, the results are different. Always get training from the professionals on anything new. I did. It works wonders. Thanks for the piece.
  • I grew up driving manual transmissions. I stopped buying manual transmission trucks for my business because no one I hired could properly drive one. I would let the clutch out until it engaged and then accelerate. My workers would ride the clutch to accelerate.

    I decided it was cheaper to pay the premium in lower gas mileage since an automatic will last for as long as an engine nowadays than it is to replace even one clutch.
  • I only use the clutch when starting from a stop. I rev match and change gears up and down without using the clutch.
  • tps4tps4 Posts: 1
    RE: Myth #3 The part about just keeping the clutch down and not downshifting is wrong. The clutch throwout bearing for older cars was not designed for continuous use. Failure to downshift or at least put the car in neutral and release the clutch for long periods of time would cause those bearings to overheat and eventually seize, a more expensive repair than a normal clutch repair as the holder for the throwout bearing also has to be replaced along with the bearing, pressure plate, clutch plate, and flywheel. Unless you downshift too many gears at one time and over-rev the engine, the stress on the engine is minimal when using it to brake the car, certainly no more than when accelerating. Riding the clutch (Myth #1) also wears the throwout bearing. Newer cars have better bearings that are constantly engaged, but not under pressure unless the pedal is depressed. I have driven manual transmissions for the last 45 years, since far before having a legal driving permit. The primary cause of clutch failure is slipping the clutch when starting from a dead stop and riding the clutch. I have had manual transmission cars that had brakes last 75,000 miles and clutches go over 180,000 miles, and I always downshift on hills or when coming to a stop. The car that has given me the most headaches for clutch repair was the one used to train 3 of my 6 children to drive a manual transmission. Revving the engine and slowly releasing the clutch to start from a dead stop along with riding the clutch were the death of clutches in that car. Needless to say, all of those children received stern lectures for that behavior and all 6 of my children prefer manual transmissions over automatics.
  • fzlfzl Posts: 1
    My family always owned automatics when was young, so I never had a reason to learn manual and never really cared. However, before a recent trip to Europe I wanted to at least get the basics down so renting a car wouldn't be impossible.

    Ever try finding a driving school that will both teach MT and provide the vehicle? I did. They don't seem to exist.
  • down shifting a car or truck doe,s not hurt the engine if it did simi,s would be broke down all the time and race cars too
    I love mt,s more power and better gas milage the only time tm,s are bad is in heavy traffic start and stopping gets to you after awhile
  • I successfully taught my daughters to drive a stick. After a few failed class attempts I read an article from the Car Guys who expained how to teach it.

    Go to a flat empty parking lot. Just concentrate on the clutch. Forget about the gas pedal. The student should just learn where the clutch engages and how to slowly let it out. The car will move forward without stepping on the gas at all. Once they get the clutch mastered, then add in the gas pedal. Two easy lessons and they were driving on roads.
  • When you drive a ' stick '; you feel like you're actually in charge ' .

    With an automatic ; you can 't let the engine run a little slower , going up hills , because it is downshifting ; and revving the engine .

    A stick ' ; lets you lower your RPM 's ; go a little slower going up ; and then let it go faster ', going down ' ,making up the time you lost , and helps improve your mileage .
  • When you drive a ' stick '; you feel like you're actually in charge ' .

    With an automatic ; you can 't let the engine run a little slower , going up hills , because it is downshifting ; and revving the engine .

    A stick ' ; lets you lower your RPM 's ; go a little slower going up ; and then let it go faster ', going down ' ,making up the time you lost , and helps improve your mileage .
  • I have always had at least one vehicle with MT, either a truck or sports car. My daughter loves MT, my son never got the hang of it. Go figure.
  • Most European countries require you to take your driver exam in a car like you are going to drive (manual/similar power and weight, etc.) My first car was a Jaguar XK120, Moss straight cut gearbox. I could shift without the clutch; pull it into neutral as you let off the accelerator, LIGHTLY push against the next gear gate (you could feel the gears trying to mesh) then snick it in when the gears matched, back on the gas. That skill came in handy years later when my Lotus throw out bearing went south in the middle of nowhere. If you had to stop, kill the engine, put it in first, start it in gear, then shift like above except the syncros actually made it harder to feel. Also taught my wife to drive a manual in an MGA on an abandoned AF runway. She did pretty well, driving our Ferrari to and from work in Germany. Also had a Honda VR1000 with the gears "cut down" that shifted better without the clutch than with the clutch before the mod.
  • Clutch who uses a clutch anyway. Clutchs are for starting and stopping only and if you are good you don't really need to get started.
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