Learning to Drive Manual


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I see a lot of posts around the internet from people struggling to learn manual, full of frustration and thoughts of giving up. So I think it's worth it for people to hear that it may not be as easy as they initially thought, and not everybody just "picks it up" right away.

TL;DR: Driving manual is a skill like any other skill, and it takes practice to get good at it. Many people struggle, and I struggled hard, but it was worth it in the end.

I wanted to learn manual, since before I learned to drive. My dad had an '89 Acura Integra 5-speed coupe, and I really wanted it. But the car wasn't in great shape, by the time I could drive. I was very fortunate to be in a position for my parents to buy me a car when I turned 17, but they wanted me to have something more reliable, so I ended up driving automatics until I could afford my own car.

Once I had the money to buy a car on my own, it was time to learn to drive manual. I had a couple of friends that drove stick, who were more than willing to teach for beer. So I took advantage of the situation, and I went out twice (once with each of them) before going out to look for a car.

I was living in Somerville, MA at the time. For those of you unfamiliar with the area, it's one of the highest populations per square foot in the country, the roads are very narrow, even before all the cars parked against the curb, and the drivers there are lovingly referred to as Mass Holes. Needless to say, it was trial by fire.

After a little while in a parking lot, and embarrassingly rolling into one of those cement curb stops at the front of some of the parking spaces, I went out onto the road. The only thing I remember from that trip out, is trying to make a left turn, and stalling in the intersection as traffic started to get close. It was a little scary, but I restarted the car and continued on, as I'd do many more times to come.

The next time out, we went to a busy shopping area, to do a few loops in traffic. I remember being stopped on a hill at a red light, in a line of traffic. I was very nervous, and when the light turned green, I tried to go, but only rolled backwards, and immediately hit the brakes. The person behind me was honking and yelling, of course. I tried again, and rolled back some more, and hit the brakes again. My friend, who's car I was driving, rolling back toward angry, screaming drivers behind us, was so calm. It really helped me to calm down a little, and get the car going. And of course, when I went to shift into second, the angry driver behind us decided I was going too slowly, and followed up with some more honking and screaming.

As if that wasn't enough excitement for one day, my friend told me to drop him off at a sporting goods store and drive around for a bit. Again, in his car, in traffic. His calmness and confidence in me helped me a ton. But that doesn't mean I was out of the woods.

It was time to find a car now. After being told that Civics and Accords don't come in manual by the Honda sales guy (in 2012, very much a lie), and being told that a Subaru with paddle shifters was close enough to driving manual (also a lie), I test drove a Mazda 3. On that test drive, I managed to shift from 2nd to 5th, while trying to get onto the highway, but otherwise did okay.

I ended up buying the Mazda, and on day three of ownership, I ended up stuck in traffic for two and a half hours. I don't know how many times I bucked and stalled and just generally struggled to move just a few feet at a time, but I was extremely frustrated and full of regret.

The problem was, I just bought this car. I couldn't just take it back and get my money back. And I had a job to get to. So I had to drive it. And, like any other skill, the more you do it, the better you get. And after I got it, I never wanted to go back. I get so much more joy out of driving a manual, than out of driving an automatic. Any time I drive a friend's car, my wife's car, or a car for work, I just wish I was driving my car instead.

If you want to teach someone to drive stick, or you want to learn and don't have anyone to teach you, check out the student / teacher finder. If there's no one in your area, you can sign up to be added to the search results, from that page.

What's your story of wanting to learn manual and how did your learning experience go? Leave a comment below with your story!

Similar Story. I always wanted to learn to drive manual. I graduated from college in 1993 with a job selling copiers-I bought a brand new Ford Escort 5 speed wagon, (without knowing how to drive it-apart from a few lessons from the salesman). Was living in Mass also, and had a huge copier in the back, going up a hill in traffic-which was scary. Eventually got the hang of it, and I've been driving stick ever since.

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