Teaching My Teenage Son How to Drive a Manual Transmission

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To me, driving a standard or manual transmission is a dying art. My mother always drove a manual and for the longest time I didn’t know that automatic transmissions existed. When I was fifteen my mother started to teach me to drive her car, but then I started driving with friends in their automatics and I never did end up learning how to drive a manual until I was twenty-seven. Now, I prefer it and insist on having at least one manual vehicle and I also want my teenage son to know how to drive one. 

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It’s hard for me to believe that this child, my baby is going to be sixteen in a few short months and is now a Junior in high school. Now it’s getting real. This is the year that he will be starting to look at college more seriously and before I know it, he will be off on the next big adventure. Of course, before that happens he needs to learn how to drive so driving lessons are next on our to-do list. He will learn the basics like steering, not hitting parked cars, and reverse on our automatic, but then he will move on to lessons on how to drive a manual transmission.

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The main reason I prefer a manual transmission is that they are more fun to drive. Aside from that, I feel like I have more control over the vehicle, they are better in the snow, have better gas mileage, and it’s important to know should you find yourself in an emergency and the only vehicle available is a manual transmission, which has happened to me more than once.

How to drive a manual transmission:

Driving a manual transmission is just as it sounds; you will be manually shifting from gear to gear instead of having the car do it for you automatically. Most manual transmissions have five gears, but some older cars have four and some newer ones have six. No matter how many gears your car has, the basic mechanics are still the same. 

If you are used to an automatic transmission then you are familiar with the gas and the brake pedals, but a manual also has a third pedal called the clutch. The clutch is what allows you to change gears. 

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Starting a manual transmission:

To start the car, I like to hold the clutch and brake all the way down then start the car in either first gear or reverse. Keep the brake and clutch down until you’re ready to drive or the car will buck and stall and that’s no fun. It can even be pretty scary if you’re not used to it. 

Some people prefer to start the car in neutral, then put it in gear. Starting the car in neutral is good if you are waiting for someone or for the car to warm up or cool down, just be sure to have the parking brake up so the car doesn’t roll. 

Once you’re ready to drive you will take your foot off the brake, then slowly give the car some gas as you lift your foot from the clutch. Once you feel the car start to move you start to give it more gas while pulling your foot all the way off the clutch. This is a balancing act that takes some getting used to, so don’t be discouraged if you stall a few times. I stalled a lot when I was first learning. 

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How and when to shift gears:

Now you have the car started and are ready to go, you have to know when and how to shift gears. When shifting you will pull your foot off the gas, press the clutch all the way down, and move to the next gear. Be sure to press the clutch all the way down every time you want to change gears or you will grind the gears and that’s always startling and embarrassing. 

As you get more familiar with driving a manual you will just know by the sound and feel of the car, but when I was first starting out I was taught how to look at the tachometer.

Upshifting is when you want to speed up. You will always start your car in first gear, but once you start to move you will then shift up to second gear. You will know when it’s time to shift when the tachometer is between three and four and you will hear the engine start to rev. 

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Downshifting is when you want to slow the car down. Say you are traveling along at 40 mph in third gear and you have to slow down for traffic or to turn a corner, you will want to downshift to second gear. The easiest way to know when it’s time to slow down before you are familiar with the sound and feel is when the tachometer is around the number two. You will also hear the engine start to slow down. 

The speed you are traveling in also plays a role in when to shift. The speeds below are approximate depending on the vehicle, but a good general guideline. 

  • First gear starts the car. You will be in first gear to get the car moving from a stop and to pull in or out of a parking spot and then you will quickly move up to second gear. 
  • On a neighborhood road traveling between 15-30 mph, you will likely be in second gear. 
  • On an average secondary road traveling between 30-45 mph, you will likely be in third gear.
  • On a main road traveling between 45-55 mph, you will likely be in fourth gear. 
  • On the highway or interstate traveling over 55 mph, you will be in fifth gear. 

Pro tips:

  1. You can park either in neutral or in gear, but remember that a manual transmission doesn’t have a park feature so always pull the parking brake up when parking so the car doesn’t roll away. Yes, this really can happen. 
  2. Until you are comfortable downshifting when stopping quickly, put the car in neutral and press the brake. Just don’t forget to put it back into first gear once you’ve stopped. 
  3. Unlike an automatic vehicle, a manual will roll backward when it is stopped on a hill. If you are stopped on a hill you will have to let the clutch up and give the car some gas very quickly to stop the car from rolling too much. I recommend practicing this on small hills until you get the hang of it. 
  4. Practice makes perfect. A manual transmission can be frustrating at first, but in no time you will be driving like a pro. After about two weeks, you will know what to do and when to do it without even thinking about it. Promise. 

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In addition to learning how to drive, it is important to take care of your vehicle inside and out. Keeping the car clean is important, especially when the car he is going to be driving is mine. Soda cans, chip bags, grime, and garbage aren’t going to fly so I put together a car cleaning kit to keep in the back of the car. 

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I picked up a cargo bin with rubber feet so it will stay put and filled it with Armor All® Outlast Protectant and Leather Restorer for our second car, glass cleaning wipes, upholstery cleaner, leather care towels, and microfiber rags.

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The car cleaning kit is now in the back of the car so there aren’t any excuses when it comes to keeping the car clean. Everything he needs to clean up spills, dirt, and grime are right there in the cargo area so he can’t say that he didn’t have anything to clean with. 

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I picked up everything that I needed for our car cleaning kit in the Repair & Maintenance aisle in the Auto Care section at Walmart. There are so many Armor All products to choose from to make your own clean car kit. Learn How to Drive a Manual Transmission #1stImpressionsCount #cbias (ad)

I would love to hear about the first car you drove. Have you driven a manual transmission? 

Find out more about the fantastic products from Armor All® to put together your own car cleaning kit by visiting them on Facebook and Twitter and be sure to enter the Armor All® Outlast 1stimpressionscount Sweepstakes below.

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  1. I’m envious that you have a manual transmission! I love to drive them! My vehicle has the “manual mode” which makes it a bit more fun to drive, but still – manual rocks! These are great tips for people new to driving stick shift. It’s important to keep the interior and exterior of your vehicle clean, and Armor All does an awesome job! I am obsessed with the Leather Restorer! #client

    1. Yes! Our second car is an older vehicle that my husband uses as a commuter car and the leather seats were looking pretty sad. The Leather Restorer has helped a lot.

  2. I don’t know how to drive a standard but I have wanted to learn because when I was shopping for a used car that really limited what my choices were. Going to save your tips in case I get the opportunity to learn.

    1. Honestly, the very best way to learn is to buy a standard because then you don’t have a choice. That’s how I finally learned and my husband did, too. 🙂

  3. I’m actually learning right now (27 here). I prefer a stiff clutch but my main huddle is to learn the soft and balancing act there. And I get super tense and nervous getting out of first gear. I’ve stalled so many times learning with a soft clutch, but I can shift gears like it’s second nature. However, getting out of first is the hardest for me. Also! The hills freak me out the most. A lot actually, but overall I’m having a good experience. Plus, my teacher is super patient (my boyfriend is teaching me). =]

    1. First and reverse were the reasons for me taking so long to learn. Friends tried to teach me when I was about 20 and the bucking freaked me out so I gave up. I bought a standard when I was 27 and since it was the only car I had, I had no choice but to learn how to drive it. Hills were scary to me too. I would drive way out of my way to avoid them for a while, lol. Now I barely even roll back even on big hills. You’ll get there. Congrats on wanting to learn and good luck!

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