Learning to Drive a Stick: Part 2 – Week 1

Manual transmission is a completely different animal when compared to an automatic. It’s really not even a fair comparison as all 4 of your limbs are moving in unison to control a car instead of 3 or in some lazy (read: majority) motorists’ case, 2. If you think you can drive a stick, and you do not on a daily basis, you cannot. It’s not simple plug-and-play here. I’m coming to learn this first hand.

For the average driver, knowing how to drive stick is not a commonplace, daily task. It should be. Everyone needs to know how to drive a stick for the sole reason of emergency scenarios. I was in the “very basic knowledge” category coming into this, but now I’m realizing I should have placed myself in the “knowing diddly shit” category. This whole process is incredibly exciting, challenging, and enlightening all at once. And I love every second.

The first week of learning to drive stick is crucial not only because you’re attempting to learn how to drive all over again, but also because this is when you form bad habits that will haunt you over the course of the car’s ownership. It’s key to not drive the car hard in this initial period for a number of reasons: 1) If brand new, like mine, your car might have a break-in-period where you cannot go over a certain RPM number along with other parameters (no cruise control, do not race the engine, etc); 2) Getting used to a clutch takes time and patience and getting frustrated and taking it out on the car will only compound your frustration and could lead to parts breaking; and 3) It’s easier to learn manual when you’re going slower as you will have more gear changes and more opportunities, as you cycle through the shorter gears, to learn where the clutch engages, disengages, how much your clutch travels, etc.

My car is AWD and I came to find out that it takes slightly more effort to get it moving than the Mazda 3 I learned on. This doesn’t mean that I need to rev higher or drop the clutch harder, but it does mean that it takes a bit more finesse and slightly more RPMs to get it moving. In the 3, it started to move almost around 1000-1500 RPMs. The WRX is happy to get going from 1500-2500 RPMs and that range has remained constant throughout. It’s important to note that when you’re first learning, letting the clutch out too slowly will lead to clutch burn. When the clutch burns, you will have a pungent burning smell coming through the cabin. This is bad. Try to avoid clutch burn as much as possible as this could lead to a worn or broken clutch down the road; not a cheap day as the service station in any car. However, if you do burn a clutch, you have not broken the car. Get used to letting off the clutch a bit quicker without popping it. Popping a clutch can lead to the car hopping or bucking and if that happens, novice drives could be scared and slam on the breaks which can make the car stall out if you don’t have enough RPMs built up. It all sounds very complicated and hard to learn, but it really isn’t. I liken it to hitting a golf ball: you think too much about it, and you’re going to have a bad time. It’s more about feel and knowing where the car will pick up and go.

Next time, I’ll touch on some key pointers I’ve learned over the first month as well as touch on rev-matching and how this aids both casual drivers and racers alike. Until then, drive safe.


Photo credit: Subaru of Canada


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