Is Driving a Manual Hard? (Tips most learners ignore)


learner driver

Approximately 66% of Americans know how to drive a manual vehicle. However, that does not mean that most of them are comfortable enough to teach others how to do so. For a lot of people, they rely on research more than anything else. That is what probably brought you to this article, so is it hard to drive a manual car?

Driving a manual car is not hard at all. While it may seem intimidating at first, it will take you about a day or two to get used to it if you already know how to drive. With that said, if you learn how to drive a manual car before an automatic, then switching to the latter is a lot easier than if you did it the other way around.

Ok, I need to add a little disclaimer. When you ask anyone who knows how to drive a manual, they will most likely say that it’s not hard, but it’s because we don’t consider what it’s like for someone when they are starting. So, in this article, we want to start by talking about the hardest part of driving a manual car, and we will discuss some other valuable information that you need to know. 

The Hardest Part of Learning how to Drive a Manual

The goal of this article is not only to give you information. We also want to try and help you along the way. If you have never driven a manual car before, knowing what to expect before jumping in can significantly improve your first experience. With that said, it should not be that intimidating. Here are few things that you should look out for.

• Clutch control: An automatic car does not have a clutch. So, do not be hard on yourself if it takes you a while to get used to clutch control. Even some experienced manual car drivers have to get used to the clutch in a new car. Take your time, be patient, and remember that every car has a sweet spot; taking off and shifting becomes easier once you find it. 

Learning the car pedals

• No rolling back: This part is related to clutch control. You want to be as cautious as possible to avoid rolling back. This is why timing also plays a major role. You could ride the clutch if you wanted to, which means keeping the car in first and using your clutch to keep you at a standstill instead of your brakes. I do not recommend this as it damages your clutch cable.

Knowing when to shift: Knowing when to shift is also one of the hardest aspects of driving a manual car. It is done for you in an automatic, but in a manual car, you need to listen to the car, feel what it is telling you, and check on your rev counter. If you change gears and the car has no power, you shifted too early. If you hear a screeching noise before your shift, you shifted too late.

Getting a feel for the shifter: This is the hardest part of driving a manual vehicle for many people. It is also one of the easiest to get the hang of, in my experience. The key here is to practice by getting a feel for the shifter while the car is stationary.

Dual Clutch Transmission or Manual: Which is Harder to Drive?

Modern cars are starting to utilize a dual-clutch transmission more often these days. VW uses their signature DSG system, BMW calls it DCT, and Audi calls it “S Tronic.” VWs DSG is the most popular. But which is harder to drive, a manual vehicle or a dual-clutch transmission?

A dual-clutch car gives you the freedom to choose between automatic or manual. Therefore, it is easier to drive for most people. When you switch to manual, you don’t need to use a clutch but you can flick through the gears as if it were a manual car.

If you like, a Dual clutch transmission gives you the best of both worlds. Having driven a VW DSG several thousand miles, I can tell you without a doubt they are really easy to use. One area where the DSG shines is that you do not have to memorize where each gear is, the gears are sequenced, just tap the shifter up or down and the transmission does the rest. Clever Germans! 

If you have never seen what a dual-clutch system is, here is a great video from VW.

DSG – Easy to understand | Volkswagen

How to Drive a Manual Car (Tips most learners ignore)

So, I’m sure it seems less intimidating by now. After all, there are only four things that make driving a manual vehicle harder than driving an automatic, so I decided that I want to give you a few tips on how you can make driving a manual a little bit easier for yourself. Look, it does not have to feel so hard the first few times.

Phone a Few Driving Schools

While there are no specific laws that target manual cars, every state does have its regulations, at least a few of them. Therefore, every driving school needs to be certified by the state that they are in. Keep that in mind when you try to find driving schools. Your best bet is to try to stick to the state that you live in to avoid confusion.

Finding a Driving School can make your life a lot easier. Yes, it does cost a few dollars to go on driving lessons. The beauty of it is that you can specify that you want to learn how to drive a manual car, and most driving schools will have an instructor that is more than happy to teach you how.

Memorize the Shifter Gears

Manual gear change

One thing that makes driving a manual car for the first time hard is anxiety. This anxiety can be amplified when you start doing things wrong, and trust me, the car has a not-so-subtle way of telling you that you are changing gears wrong. To make sure that you don’t change into the wrong gear while driving, here are a few steps you can take while the car is standing still:

1. Make sure that the car is off.

2. Push down on the clutch.

3. Shift the gears in order, 1, 2,3, and so on.

4. Repeat the process until you can shift from 1 to 5 without looking.

I understand that it might seem a little silly at first. Trust me; you will feel a lot more comfortable once you know the position of each gear. Soon you will be shifting like a pro. Finally, I do not recommend doing this in a public space. Instead, it would be best if you tried to stick to your driveway.

Use a New Model Car

Cruze

Not everyone can afford the latest car, and while you can learn using an older manual vehicle, a newer model make your life a little easier. One benefit would be a smoother gearbox. This can significantly impact how smooth transitions are.

Also, we need to consider other comforts such as power steering. I know; how is that related to shifting gears? Well, it is not, but it helps keep your mind on your clutch and your gears.

Find a Small Hill

Memorizing the shifter is great, but you still need to work on your clutch control. What is the worst that can happen? You could roll back in traffic. It is rare to see because you have the breaks to stop you if you do not “catch the clutch” properly.

In some states and countries where manual cars are common, an incline takeoff is part of the driving test. If you can find a place away from any traffic with a hill, you will fast-track your learning. 

Final Thoughts

That brings us to the end of what I feel is an important article. Manual cars are fun to drive. It feels more immersive, and you feel more in tune with the car. If you are nervous because a few people have told you that they are hard to drive, do not think about it.

Instead, you should learn how to drive a manual transmission if you have never tried it.

You may find the following articles useful also:

Should my first car be a truck?

Is driving a car hard?

Is Tesla a good first car?

John Cunningham

John Cunningham is an Automotive Technician and writer on Rustyautos.com. I've been a mechanic for over twenty years, I use my knowledge and experience to write articles that help fellow gear-heads with all aspects of classic car ownership, from tires to roof aerials and everything in between.

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