Is Driving Hard? – Do it today!


My grandfather let me drive for the first time, I still remember it clearly. It was summer, I was staying on the family farm, I don’t remember exactly how old I was, I’d say ten or twelve. I know by the end of the summer, I had his old VW mastered.

Driving is not difficult, but like all skills, it will take time, patience and practice to master. Most beginners will learn to drive proficiently in as little as two or three months.

In this post we’ll learn the basic mechanics of driving, both an auto and manual transmission, we’ll also learn what you’ll need know and do before actually getting behind the wheel.

Driving Safety

Spark

Learning to drive is such an exciting time, I remember passing the driving test, getting my license and realizing that the world was open, I was FREE!! Yep, you’ll just love the sense of freedom driving brings, but driving also comes with responsibility too.

Driving is of course a serious business, we need at all times to respect the machine, the road and other road users. To drive safely we’ll need to understand the rules, understand our vehicle and our own skill level.

Overconfidence is a common problem, I understand it, I was once a young man and remember thinking I was a great driver, maybe even…the greatest ever. Overconfidence will without doubt cause accidents, we need to listen to our inner voice and weigh its message against reality, we aren’t as skilled as we think, I’m sorry gentlemen!

But we do need the correct level of confidence, it’s a requirement. Confidence allows us read road situations and perform both offensive and defensive maneuvers. Hesitation causes accidents too.

Confidence comes from knowing our craft, and driving is a craft. To be safe then, we’ll need to understand and obey the rules (Drivers handbook), understand and respect our vehicle and remember to keep our confidence in check.

Drivers Permit

Before we can begin learning to drive on the road, we’ll need to obtain a driving permit. A permit is not a license, a permit allows us drive with a license holding adult in the passenger seat. The permit also comes with some curfew small print too – Not exactly freedom, but hang in there, this is an important step on the journey.

Eligibility for a permit varies from state to state, you can check out your state at your local DMV website, but general criteria looks something like this:

  • Min age 14 – 16
  • Sit and pass a written exam based on your state drivers handbook (available from your DMV)
  • Id and proof you’re a resident of the state
  • Proof you are attending school
  • Pass an eye test
  • Parent/guardian signature may be required depending on the state

There’s also a fee to be paid.

After passing the eye and drivers handbook test (typically not difficult) you’ll receive your permit and you are ready to begin learning the mechanics of driving.

After six months of permit driving (varies by state, check your local DMV) the beginner driver may apply to sit the unrestricted license test. However, many states require x number of practice hours with a registered driving instructor first.

Controlling A Car

Learning to control a vehicle may seem intimidating, there’s a lot to manage, the brake, accelerator, gears, other traffic, mirrors, turn signals, parallel parking, reversing, speed limits….

Small steps, first master the stance of a successful driver, make sure the car fits you. You’ll need to reach the controls comfortably.

Adjust your seat, slide it forward or back, elevate it (if equipped), move seat back and head rest if needed. You should feel comfortable and confident in your seat. Feel like you are in control, your arms should reach out for the steering, not crouched over it.

Seat comfy? Great!, now adjust the rear view mirror and both door mirrors. Now seat belt on and you are ready for the next step – learning the controls.

Car Controls

A car has a ton of controls, however we’ll focus on the business end of making a vehicle move, steer and stop. We won’t focus on controls such as indicators, wipers etc.

At this point, the learning curve for beginner drivers diverges depending on which type transmission you choose to learn with. Vehicle transmissions come in two flavors – auto or manual.

Yep, it’s time to introduce you to the exciting world of transmissions…it’s not actually that exciting.

Automatic transmission

Transmission

The main controls of a auto transmission vehicle include the following:

  • Steering wheel – You know what to do
  • Brake pedal – Middle pedal stops the car
  • Accelerator pedal – Pedal on right for more speed
  • Shifter – Select D for forward, R for reverse and P for park
  • Parking brake – Apply parking brake, but only required when actually parking vehicle

When choosing a vehicle to begin driving, many beginners choose to learn using an automatic transmission. The auto is more forgiving and is a ton easier to master. Automatic transmission, means the driver simply selects the forward gear (D) using the shifter. That’s it, the transmission takes control of all forward gear changes.

The driver is free to focus on other driver controls and that’s why its the beginners choice of transmission.

How to drive an auto transmission

Sitting confidently in drivers seat, belt on and mirrors adjusted, great. Remember we drive automatic cars with one foot only, our right foot. Proceed as follows:

  • Place right foot on brake pedal (middle) and keep it there
  • Turn ignition key clockwise until engine fires, and release key
  • Move the shifter from P to D
  • Release parking brake
  • Check mirrors and look over shoulder for traffic and pedestrians
  • Release foot brake and gently apply the accelerator (right pedal), using your right foot
  • Turn the steering wheel by shuffling it hand to hand, rather than crossing over your arms
  • That’s it, you did it, you are driving!

To stop, lift your foot from the accelerator and use it to gently press the brake pedal. Obviously if you were on the public roads, you’d be indicating before pulling out and pulling up. But you get the general idea of just how easy driving an automatic is.

Manual transmission

Audi shifter

The main controls of a manual transmission vehicle include the following:

  • Steering wheel – You know what to do
  • Brake pedal – Middle pedal stops the car
  • Accelerator pedal – Pedal on right for more speed
  • Clutch Pedal – Pedal on left, press and hold while changing gear
  • Gear lever – Used to move gears
  • Parking brake – Apply parking brake, but only required when actually parking vehicle

The manual transmission is more work than the auto, and a manual vehicle gets an extra pedal on the floor, how exciting. It’s the pedal on the left and it’s used to disengage the clutch. That’s instructor speak for – stop engine power reaching the wheels.

Pressing the clutch separates engine from transmission, but it’s not a break. The clutch is needed to allow the driver manually move the gear lever out of one gear and into another.

Shifting manual gears smoothly isn’t possible without first pressing the clutch pedal. Gears are needed as you know to prevent the engine laboring on a steep hill for example. Gears help convert, and at times multiply rotational engine movement into smooth, controllable lateral movement.

So if a manual is so much extra work, who would want one? Great question, although it has some drawbacks, it also has some upside too.

A manual vehicle is more rewarding to drive and by rewarding I mean it’s far more engaging, it’s a fun experience, when you master it. When you drive a manual, you’re more in tune with how your vehicle is interacting with the road.

There are other pluses too, they are easier to repair, cheaper to buy, cost less to maintain, don’t give a ton of trouble, offer great gas mileage. I’m beginning to sound like a fan!

How to drive a manual transmission

Sitting confidently in drivers seat, belt on and mirrors adjusted, great. As we are driving a manual car, we have a little more work to do and we’ve an extra pedal.

Proceed as follows:

  • Place right foot on brake pedal (middle) and keep it there
  • Ensure the parking brake is on
  • Press the clutch pedal (left pedal) to the floor and hold it there
  • Move the gear selector to neutral (gear selector will natural fall into the central neutral stance when moved)
  • Turn ignition key clockwise until engine fires, and release key
  • Move the gear lever into first gear or 1 (as marked on the gear shifter gate diagram)
  • Release parking brake
  • Check mirrors and look over shoulder for traffic and pedestrians
  • Release foot brake and gently apply a small amount of accelerator (right pedal), using your right foot
  • Simultaneously, but progressively release the clutch pedal (left foot)
  • Turn the steering wheel by shuffling it hand to hand, rather than crossing over your arms
  • That’s it, you did it, you are driving!

To stop, lift your foot from the accelerator and use it to gently press the brake pedal, simultaneously press the clutch (left pedal) using your left foot. Obviously if you were on the public roads, you’d be indicating before pulling out and pulling up.

All beginners struggle with the clutch and accelerator simultaneous action. It is a balancing act and in the beginning you won’t have a feeling for it. The vehicle will stall out or kangaroo along.

Now, don’t be disheartened in any way this is normal for a newbie. The more you practice this, I promise you’ll develop a feeling for the pedals, their relationship to each other and how they move the car.

It’s just like riding a bike, at first it seems damn near impossible. Stick with it, I believe changing gears makes us better drivers and in the right car, on the right road, it’s just so much fun!

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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