Learning how to drive a manual car is a very important skill. It helps you to appreciate the driving experience and opens up your world when it comes to buying a new car. If you’re already pretty good at driving, then you’re probably ready for some tips and tricks to get even better.
A lot of the tips have to do with unlearning behaviors that were used as a method to learn how to drive a manual. Things like coasting in “Neutral” to a stop, resting your hand on the shift knob, keeping your foot on the clutch, and parking in “Neutral” can be hurting you. Keep reading to learn more.
In this ultimate guide, I’ll review 25 advanced tips and tricks that will help you drive a manual car even better. A lot of things you learned as a beginner could be hurting your current driving experience. Together, we’ll “take the training wheels off” your driving experience by unlearning these bad habits.
What Is Manual Driving?
This is the act of driving a car that has a manual transmission. If you look down and see three pedals and you see a shift knob with etched numbers to your right, then you’re in a manual car. If you already know how to drive this vehicle, then you’re ready for some advanced tips to get even better.
Who Is This Guide for?
This guide is for anyone who already knows how to drive a manual and has some experience behind the wheel. None of these tips will help you learn how to drive a manual car. Instead, I’ll be helping you unlearn some of the bad habits you learned while pointing out ways to become a more efficient driver.
If you want to learn how to drive a manual, then follow my in-depth guide here.
To put it simply, this guide won’t benefit truly beginner drivers, and it might not offer too much insight to expert-level manual drivers. If you’re somewhere in-between these two groups, then you came to the right place.
25 Advanced Tips and Tricks for Manual Driving
Without further ado, let me start rattling off some of these tips. Below are 25 tips that I think an advanced driver can benefit from when it comes to driving a manual car.
1. Revving Sound Cool, But it’s Terrible for Your Car
I want to get this idea out of the way quickly. I know how cool it sounds to rev your engine, but you should understand how harmful it really is.
When your clutch is fully pressed, your transmission is disengaged. This means that any power generated from the engine will stay in the engine and won’t result in you moving.
Your engine doesn’t like doing this. Engines are built to create power then transfer that power to the rest of your car. When it’s spinning “on-air”, it has no load. Instead, the full impact is going into your clutch.
Revving your car is a quick way to burn out your clutch disc. It also damages the moving parts within your engine.
Of course, revving is a natural part of driving. I’m referring to revving when you’re in “Neutral” or have the clutch depressed. It’s a nasty habit that should be kicked.
2. Stop Rocking at Red Lights
Another habit that a lot of manual drivers get into is rocking at red lights. It’s soothing to let your car roll back then put it in “1st Gear” and give it a little gas to rock forward. While it might feel fun for you, your car is having a bad time.
What you’re doing is putting your clutch and transmission through needless shift cycles. As you go to “1st Gear” then use the clutch to emulate “Neutral,” you’re just wearing down these components.
Rocking might have been a good practice when you first learned how to drive, but it shouldn’t be part of an advanced driver’s repertoire.
3. Keep Your Hand Off the Clutch Between Shifts
If you think your shift knob looks like an armrest, I have some bad news for you. When your hand is on the clutch between shifts, you’re putting a load on your transmission that it doesn’t like.
In fact, doing this will cause your transmission to die sooner.
Just to clarify, I’m not talking about avoiding the shift knob while shifting. You definitely need to touch it during that process.
I’m talking about when you’re cruising after a gear shift. Some drivers will keep their right hand on the knob to prepare for a later shift.
When you push or pull on a clutch when it’s in gear, you’re wearing down your gears even quicker.
Personally, I rest my hand on the center console near the base of my shift knob. This area is called the boot. As long as you’re not touching the shift knob or the shaft, you’re fine.
4. Never Force it in Gear
Do you know what grinds my gears? People who grind gears in their manual. I’m talking about forcing your car into gear without full use of a clutch.
It’s possible to brute force your shifter into “3rd Gear,” but there’s no reason for it. If you look under the hood while you do this, you’re subjecting your transmission to extreme force, too much friction, and a path that it doesn’t like.
This might be the quickest way to burn out your transmission.
If your clutch is shot and you need to force your car in gear, you should immediately take your car to the shop. Continuing to drive this way will bring your transmission to a grave right next to your clutch.
5. Don’t Park in Neutral
When you learned how to drive a manual, there’s a good chance that you were taught to park in “Neutral.” This makes starting your car a little simpler.
Now that you’re an advanced driver, you can know the truth: you shouldn’t ever park in “Neutral.” Instead, you should park in either “Reverse” or “1st Gear,” depending on which way your car is pointing.
If you reverse into a spot, then park in “1st Gear.” This is the best practice because it protects your car in case your parking brake fails.
If your car is in “Neutral,” it will just roll away with a parking brake failure. If your car is in “1st Gear,” your car will stay still even if the brake fails. Essentially, your car will stall and lock up if this occurs.
6. Never Slam Your Gears
After watching any racing movie, you probably have the itch to start slamming gears. After all, when Vin Diesel does it his car goes faster.
That’s a huge myth. Slamming your gears does nothing except wear out your transmission and clutch way faster.
When I say, “slamming gears”, I mean throwing the gear quickly and roughly into its slot, typically hitting the backend of the gear position. If you watch footage inside a NASCAR or rally car, you won’t see the driver slam gears. They’ll shift quickly, but they know exactly where the knob needs to end up.
7. Avoid Popping the Clutch
In addition to never slamming your gears, you should also never pop the clutch. This is another big movie trope that you’ll see as the criminal drives away from the police.
Your clutch likes very smooth, controlled motions. When you slam it, you’re adding extra force and immediate friction to the equation.
Popping the clutch is when you quickly release your foot from the clutch pedal. When you do this, you’re slamming the clutch disc into engagement with the transmission.
It will wear out your clutch.
8. Feather Your Gas into Shifts
You might notice that your car rocks between shifts. To smoothen things out, feather your gas into an upshift. The added boost can make things a lot smoother.
The most noticeable difference is when you feather your gas from “1st Gear” into “2nd Gear.” Even an experienced driver tends to buck their car through this shift without gas.
9. When in Doubt, Shift Up
When it comes to gear ratios, larger gears are always more forgiving. They provide less power, but they can take more of a beating.
For that reason, I suggest shifting up when you’re not sure. This is a great tip if you’re driving an unfamiliar car. Before you learn the perfect gear for different speed ranges, you should err on the side of caution.
Even if you can be in “3rd Gear” without redlining, it’s a good idea to throw it in “4th Gear” just to coast.
10. The Redline Is a Bad Place
Speaking of the redline, you should understand that this is a bad place to be. I know that it looks so tempting and most people want to touch red things, but this should be the exception to the rule.
If your engine is commonly in the redline, your engine will blow much sooner. If you’ve seen those videos on YouTube of people’s engines catching on fire during a dyno test, it’s commonly associated with kissing the redline for too long.
This line indicates the RPM range where your engine is deeply uncomfortable. It’s also the area where your engine can provide the most torque and horsepower, but that’s no excuse to creep up into this space.
11. Coasting to a Stop Isn’t the Best
Another habit you should unlearn is coasting to a stop. I was guilty of doing this way into my second year of driving a manual car.
When you’re first learning, the easiest way to stop your car is to throw it in “Neutral” and apply the brake until you come to a complete stop. This is called “coasting”, and it’s actually very unsafe for an advanced driver.
The reason you were taught this way is that downshifting is difficult and it’s easy to downshift too early and destroy your engine.
Coasting to a stop means driving out of gear. If you need to quickly accelerate to avoid getting rear-ended, or you need to swerve out of the way, it’s not possible. Your car doesn’t have any power from your engine when you’re in “Neutral.”
12. Downshifting Is Your Friend
Instead, you need to learn that downshifting is your friend. As you approach a red light, you should downshift from your current gear all the way down to “2nd Gear” before going to “Neutral.”
If the same emergency situation arises where you need to quickly get out of the way, now you’re in gear so you can.
Downshifting can be uncomfortable at first. It’s tough to find the right rev range to successfully downshift without your engine whining afterward.
At the same time, downshifting to a stop might be the biggest difference between a beginner and an advanced manual driver. I urge you to practice this skill and start using it moving forward.
13. When Downshifting, Avoid First
You might notice that I said you should downshift all the way to “2nd Gear” then go to “Neutral” for a stop. What about “1st Gear?” No, I didn’t forget how to count, I was just segueing into my next tip: avoid downshifting into first.
“1st Gear” is your smallest gear, and it’s the roughest to ride on. When you’re at the speed that you would downshift into first, you’re already going slow enough to justify going to “Neutral” instead.
If you downshift to “1st Gear,” I can guarantee that your car will buck a lot and you’ll get thrown around. There’s no reason to go through this stress. In addition, it’s easy to downshift too easy and redline in first.
At the end of the way, you’re wearing out your transmission if you downshift to “1st Gear.”
The only exceptions to this rule would be if you’re driving an old three-speed, you’re off-roading, or your car is really underpowered or doesn’t have a lot of horsepower. In these cases, “1st Gear” might be your best bet.
14. Understand Your Reverse Gear
Your “Reverse” gear is not the same as your “1st Gear” or even “2nd Gear.” People tend to have trouble with either stalling or going too fast in “Reverse.”
While the gear itself works just like any other gear in your transmission, the ratio is a little different. Depending on your car, it’s somewhere between a “1st Gear” and “3rd Gear.”
That means that you might need to give it a little gas to reverse without a jerky motion.
15. Work with Your E-Brake on Hills
At this point, you already know how annoying hills can be for a manual car. If you come to a complete stop on a hill, you’ll have to focus more than you would on a flat road.
This is because gravity is working against you. Simply putting it in “1st Gear” and giving a little gas can end in two different bad ways: you can stall and stop where you are, or you can roll back and hit the car behind you.
An advanced technique that I learned is to use your e-brake to your advantage. You’ll be disengaging the parking brake while simultaneously applying gas while in gear.
Here’s how it works: push the brake pedal down, push the clutch down, and put the shifter into “1st Gear.” While still holding both pedals down, pull up on your e-brake to fully engage it.
Release the brake pedal slowly to make sure the e-brake has you locked in position. Slowly release the clutch while simultaneously pressing down on the throttle and giving your car some gas.
You should feel your car click into gear. When this happens, slowly lower the e-brake while still feathering the throttle. You should feel your car creeping forward as the forward acceleration outweighs the stopping force of your e-brake.
Continue this process until the e-brake is fully disengaged and you’re driving away in “1st Gear.”
I will say, this sounds a lot harder than it really is. This is currently my go-to move whenever driving a manual on a hill.
16. Keep it Smooth
If you take anything away from this list of tips, I hope it’s this tip. Keep it smooth.
Every part of the car-driving process should be smooth when it comes to manual.
The way you select a gear, use the clutch, apply the brakes, and use your throttle should be super smooth. It’s easy to get into the “Fast and Furious” mentality when you have a shift knob next to you, but it’s important to shut down those urges.
There’s nothing “cool” about burning out your clutch and bombing your transmission because you drove your car too hard.
17. Minimize First Gear Usage
Earlier, I mentioned that you shouldn’t downshift into “1st Gear.” In reality, you should avoid first as much as possible. People tend to abuse this gear, and it’s one of the first to get worn down since it’s so small.
At the very least, you should keep the revs really low when you’re in “1st Gear.”
You can start your car in “2nd Gear” with a little extra gas and a smoother foot on the clutch. It wastes more gas and results in slower acceleration, but it saves your “1st Gear.”
When you’re driving through a parking lot, then you should be in “2nd Gear” (at the very lowest). “1st Gear” will buck your car every time you take your foot off the gas pedal and it wears down your transmission quicker.
18. Downshift to Accelerate
When you’re cruising at highway speeds and want to accelerate in an automatic car, your vehicle will downshift. You might notice that you stomp the gas pedal, there’s a slight delay, then your tachometer shoots up to high RPMs. This is proof that your car just downshifted.
When it comes to manual cars, you can emulate the same behavior if you want to accelerate quicker. Smaller gears provide faster acceleration but can’t handle as high speeds as larger gears.
If you are cruising at 3,000 rpm in “5th Gear” and drop down to “4th Gear” to punch it, you’ll accelerate much faster.
The big disclaimer is that you should make sure you’re in the appropriate speed range to go down a gear. If you’re at 5,000 rpm in “4th Gear”, “3rd Gear” isn’t going to be an option. When you downshift, you might be close to redlining already.
19. Keep Your Foot Off the Clutch Between Shifts
Akin to keeping your hand off the shifter, you should keep your foot off the clutch between shifts. This is called “riding the clutch”.
Instead of adding unnecessary strain to the system, you’re actually ruining the connection between the clutch disc. This disc likes to be fully seated whenever you’re in gear in order to spin correctly and transfer power.
If your foot is very slightly touching the clutch, you might be barely disconnecting the disc. Now, the disc will spin at an uneven speed and friction will wear it down quicker.
Where do you put your left foot between shifts? Put it on the dead pedal. This is the raised area to the left of the clutch that is simply a reinforced part of your car’s floor. It’s still close enough to go over to the clutch when you need to, but it doesn’t activate the clutch. It’s a nice pedestal to rest on.
20. Stop Flooring it Before First
Depending on who taught you how to drive manual, you might have heard the phrase “give it gas into “1st Gear.” This refers to applying the throttle before releasing the clutch as you shift into first from a stop.
This is certainly good advice, but it should be a bit more specific. The phrase should be, “give it a little bit of gas into “1st Gear.”
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been at a red light next to a younger person in a manual who floors it as they slowly shift into “1st Gear.” All you’re doing is unnecessarily revving your engine and wearing out your transmission.
You just need a little touch of the throttle as you shift to avoid stalling, you don’t need to go overboard.
21. Remember, All Manual Cars are Different
As you become more experienced, you might gain a false sense of security. Manual cars are different and they all drive differently and respond differently to inputs.
You might be the best WRX driver in your neighborhood, but that doesn’t mean that you can hop into a Mustang and peel away. These cars require a little bit of learning, in the beginning, to understand how the clutch responsiveness and the sensitivity of the gear shifter.
22. Don’t Go Halfway with the Clutch
This tip is that you should never partially press the clutch, you should always fully depress the pedal. I’ll admit, I’m guilty of breaking this one a lot in the past.
After driving a car for long enough, you might realize that you only need to press the pedal 70% before you can smoothly throw the gear into position. Even though the gear didn’t grind, you’re still doing a lot of damage to your car.
For one, the clutch is burning out. That 70% figure might not fully disengage the clutch, so there’s still a load on it. Effectively, you’re forcing your car into gear which was a tip that I mentioned earlier. This destroys your transmission.
The other problem arises when you accidentally give the pedal 65% and try to put it in gear. When your muscle memory slightly fails you, you’ll grind the gear into position.
Instead, fully press the clutch until it hits the hard stop at the bottom.
23. Feel Free to Change the Shifter Length and Knob
Another tip is to consider personalizing your shifter. One of the first things I did on my first manual car was to get a special marbled shift knob. I also picked up a longer shift shaft so I could drive more comfortably.
You can change the length of your shifter to make it taller or shorter based on your preference. Some people claim that this damages the transmission, but that’s not true. As long as you don’t hang on the gear between shifts or slam the gears, the length of the shaft means nothing.
Even the shifter boot (the plastic or leather cover at the base of your shifter) can be swapped out and personalized.
24. Please Stop Multitasking
As you get better at driving a manual, you’ll be more tempted to multitask while driving. You probably already know this, but you should really stop multitasking.
With a manual car, you need to be dialed in the whole time. You have to perform all the other duties associated with driving a car, plus so much more. You need to listen to your revs, pick the right gear, shift, and anticipate future downshifts.
More importantly, you have to use both hands and feet while driving. This means that you don’t have the luxury of enjoying chicken nuggets while driving since both hands need to be free and ready at all times.
You might think that you can get away with playing with the radio while you’re driving, but if you need to quickly downshift, you’re stuck. Situations like these are much easier in an automatic. Those drivers can just slam on their gas or brake and avoid a crisis. With our manual cars, we need to be fully focused and ready to react.
25. Keep Having Fun
I really hope the allure of driving a manual car hasn’t worn off for you. I always get excited when I need to push a clutch pedal to start a car.
Even with these added restrictions, driving a manual fun is so much fun. I enjoy every gear change and appreciate the ability to be in complete control. It’s a fun club to be a part of, and I hope you feel the same way.
As you just saw, there is still more to learn when it comes to driving. I hope some of these 25 tips will help you drive your manual car even better. For more tips and tricks, check out the other guides on my site. I also have a list of some car products that might help you in the long run.