Teaching Your Spouse, Kid, Friend; How to Drive Stick and Survive

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You finally traded in that 12-year-old Toyota Camry that used to be the family ride, but for the past 8 years has been “your car” to get to and from work. You got a 2015 Mazda MX-5 Miata, a 167 hp roadster that is incredibly impractical and a blast to drive. And it’s a stick. Your spouse and 17-year-old are both going to want to drive it. Neither of them has a clue how to operate a manual transmission. You can’t tell them “no…stick to your two-year-old Forester” and expect to live safely in the same house. You’re going to have to teach them how to drive stick.

You only hope your baby (the car) survives their efforts to master its five-speed manual transmission.

That prospect brings back memories of your Grandpa teaching you how to drive his old 3 on the column Buick. It was frightening. The bucking, the stalling, the grinding, and your determination to tame the beast, finally resulted in a functional ability to drive a stick. Thanks to Grandpa, it also expanded your vocabulary of vulgar expressions.

And now it’s your turn to be Grandpa.

You traded in the old family slushbox for something a little more fun. But now you need to teach the family how to drive stick. Here's how.

How to Learn to Drive a Manual Transmission in 10 Minutes or Less

Wyatt Knox of Team O’Neal Rally School claims he can teach anyone how to drive stick in five minutes. We think it will take you a bit longer. This is family after all. It’s not like you can just say “OK you’ve got it” and leave. Only to learn later about the accident after it appears on Facebook. You have to live with these people after you teach them how to drive stick.

But Wyatt does layout a template that makes sense, and if you are going to attempt to teach stick to a novice then this is a good place to start.

Plan When and Where the Lesson Will Be

This may be the hardest part of the learning process. Ideally, you want a flat surface with a marked roadway and no traffic. Mall parking lots or big employee parking lots work well before or after hours but you may have a problem with security. Conducting driving lessons on private property is considered a liability and you may be asked to leave.

But if you plan on giving the lesson in a mall lot, go on a Sunday early in the morning before the stores open. You’ve got marked roadways, parking slots, and typically these lots are relatively flat. The early hour should guarantee no or light traffic, so you’ll have minimal distraction.

Know Where Stuff Is

Once the new driver is behind the wheel, it’s time to get familiar with the two principal parts of the manual transmission, the clutch and gearshift. You don’t need to go into the mechanics of a stick, in fact that may mussy the waters. The objective here is to simply become functional with a manual transmission.

So, with the engine off, have the student slowly depress the clutch all the way and slowly let it return. What they should be looking for is the “feel.” Typically it will be light at the top and heavier the further the pedal is depressed. Have them do that for about two minutes, long enough to develop some muscle memory.

Next is understanding the gearshift and the necessity to depress the clutch in order to change gears. Have them go through the pattern 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, and then 5th, 4th, 3rd, 2nd 1st. Do this exercise until the student can shift to a specific gear without looking at the shifter. This exercise will give them a feel of the mechanics involved in using their leg and hand together.

You traded in the old family slushbox for something a little more fun. But now you need to teach the family how to drive stick. Here's how.

Go and Stop

By now you’ve spent five or six minutes sitting in the car with the engine off pumping the clutch and going through gears. The student is probably pretty bored so it’s time to put the basics to work on how to drive stick. With the transmission in neutral start the engine. Explain that the next exercise is to just get the car creeping, no accelerating. With the engine idling, have the student depress the clutch and move the shifter to 1st gear. Then, without touching the gas pedal, have the student slowly bring the clutch up until they feel the engine “grab” and then depress the clutch. Do this a few times and then tell the student you want them to intentionally stall the engine and have them slowly raise the clutch until the car bucks and dies.

Do that a couple of times so they can get a feel for how the engine reacts without enough RPMs to keep it going.

Now comes the fun part where you add gas to the equation. Make sure the path in front of you is clear, then have the student slowly raise the clutch until she feels the engine grab and then gently add some gas. This will probably result in a stall from not enough gas or a big increase in revving from adding too much with the clutch still mostly depressed. Go through that exercise until the student can get a smooth start.

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Getting the ride going in first is the toughest part of learning. Once that is accomplished, advancing to the rest of the gears is comparatively easy. After that, it’s a matter of practice and experience.

In no time at all, your spouse and kid will be carving up curves and you’ll be driving the Forester to work, maybe even regretting how the day you decided to teach them how to drive stick became the day you lost your fun car.