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How long to become "good enough" at driving stick?

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  • How long to become "good enough" at driving stick?

    We just returned from vacation in Ireland and drove around in a rental. Since I don't drive stick, the automatics for rents are substantially pricier (originally supposed to get something like an Audi A6 but ended up with a Jaguar instead). Couple that with having to drive on the left and it made for some nervous driving. Such small roads. I know I added some scratches on the left side getting a little too close to the shrubbier and one incident of curb rash when I unexpectedly discovered the curb while parking in Belfast.

    Anyway, I think it's time I learned how to drive stick. I'm going to find a local instructor but how long do you think it will take to become good enough at driving stick? I've been driving for 20+ years and I think I'm a good driver. I just don't know how to drive stick. I'm trying to get a feel for how much I should expect to pay.

    Thanks
    Paul

  • #2
    Your post made me smile Paul.

    Quick answer is about a few hours behind the wheel or a day or two. It's really much easier than you might think! Main thing is to quickly learn the shift pattern and then to get just the right touch of enough gas while your easing out the clutch. Not to much on the gas, but not so little that you stall her out when lifting the clutch pedal. Done right you can feel the pressure on the clutch as the car will start to push forward. After that, it's just a matter of clutch, shift, unclutch.... and then press then learning the process of shifting down as you slow and completely clutching as you brake. Sounds complicated, but after a few times of starting and stopping you'll find it becomes almost second nature.... and then you'll wonder why anyone would ever want to drive an "automatic" again.

    My first car in 1963 was a 56' Mercury I bought from my Dad, it was automatci. In 65 I bought a new VW and it was a 4-speed stick. I had never driven a "stick" up until then. but I wanted to (back then, it was a sissy thing for a boy to be driving an automatic. In any case, it took be a couple of stalls to get it moving... most embarrassing as I was in front of the show room! But I got it out on to the road and "never looked back" as they say. When I got married in 1967, my wife couldn't drive the VW, so the following year we bought a new Plymouth Valiant with automatic so she could drive and that was followed my 76 Mercury (junk). In 1984, she hadn't driven all that much so we bought a Toyota, which was "standard" (stick). Since then I''ve had two vans (both auto), But I've also managed to get a second "stick" car just for the fun of it... a 1970 MGB, a 1980 Datson 200SX, and presently own a 95' Miata (for over ten years now).

    I just love a stick shift!

    CWS
    Last edited by cwsmith; 09-18-2018, 12:30 PM.
    Think it Through Before You Do!

    Comment


    • cwsmith
      cwsmith commented
      Editing a comment
      Paul,

      I should have mentioned that there are certain 'shift points', where you know it's time to shift up to the next gear or shift down. On the VW, it was at certain speeds (paying attention to the speedometer (actually on the VW, there were marks IIRC). On the Miata and other cars I've owned, you pretty much watch/listen to the RPM. at which 3,000 is economical, higher if you wish to really accelerate quickly. It's all about efficiency, as you start off in 1st, rev to a certain RPM/speed, and then shift up, etc, etc. Similarly you shift down, letting the engine slow you down with less dependency on the brakes. You get to a point very quickly where you don't pay attention, it's your ears and your hand on the shifter and it becomes instinctive quickly. At that point it's as smooth as an automatic and you really don't pay a lot of attention to it.

      Low power cars are easier to start out with I think, they're less jerky as you start out and there's less tendency to stall them when you first take off.

      CWS

  • #3
    I'm not sure how to answer your question. It took me around five minutes, but I was 15 and we learn more easily when young. I stalled it the first attempt to roll, which gave me the feel, then never stalled it again. The idea of shifting was already in my mind though from having paid attention to and worked on cars since I could walk in a diaper. I think everyone is different and there's no way to know, but if you don't pick it up in an hour or two, I doubt you ever would.

    Comment


    • #4
      A lot depends on the type of car you are going to learn on. Many cars use a cable actuated clutch mechanism, others use hydraulic just like the brakes. The hydraulic ones I think are easier simply because the total pedal travel tends to be smaller. With cable setups, as the clutch wears the "active" portion of pedal travel moves further and further from the floor so the cable setup is designed with a lot of excess "overtravel" to minimize how often you must adjust the cable slack. Hydraulic is used on brakes, and some clutches, because it automatically compensates for brake pad wear or clutch disk wear. I learned on hydraulic clutch setups and can leave my heel on the floor, rotating my ankle to work the clutch. I didn't understand why folks grumbled about clutches "in traffic" as it was never a big deal to me... until I drove a Mustang in the 1980s. It had a mechanical/cable setup and about twice as much pedal travel as I was used to. This was a brand new car too - a friend was doing a test drive on a new/dealer car and I tested it too. Wow, I was surprised at how far the pedal moved and that I had to physically lift my foot and leg that far - that'd get tiring. It's also harder to coordinate.

      When learning, there are two typical things that will happen when you are first getting the hang of a clutch:
      1: you'll let the clutch pedal up before adding enough gas which makes the engine slow down, lug, and even stall. Lugging can make the car jerk a bit - especially if the engine is high powered. That jerking rattles your leg around and, if you can't leave a heal on the floor to brace it, means the jerking may induce unwanted clutch pedal input/outputs as your leg bounces around - the jerking motion and your leg couple to make things worse. Yuck.
      2: The opposite: you give it a bit too much gas before the clutch starts to engage/bite so the engine revs up. That creates a bit of panic and you end up either "dumping the clutch" (lifting off the pedal quickly) so the clutch grabs or you lift of the gas too much and end up back at scenario #1. Or you do both - dump the clutch and lift off the throttle resulting in a quick jerk followed by a stalled engine.

      Learning on an older car can help... something with an old fashioned manual or automatic choke. With the engine cold so the choke is set, the idle RPMs are typically higher. Ergo it's more resistant to stalling and you can concentrate more on slowly raising the clutch pedal and "feeling" when the clutch itself begins to bite. You don't want to slowly engage the clutch every time - it's slipping against the engine flywheel which a) creates heat that isn't good for the clutch or flywheel and b) wears both of them quickly. But while learning doing it a couple of times helps you learn the feel in your left foot.

      Getting the vehicle moving from a dead stop is the hardest part, especially on an uphill. So stay away from hills at first! Once moving, shifting is typically fairly easy/quick to learn unless the car has a bad/worn transmission. Almost all modern stick-shift cars have synchronizers on the internal bits that do the shifting - these help "rev match" the gears so you don't have to concentrate on getting the engine RPMs "just right." Big truck transmissions, race cars, and some high-powered sports cars have "straight cut" gears without synchros as such gears are physically stronger but they take more technique to shift. Hold the clutch pedal down all the way, move the shift lever into 1st gear, wait for the traffic light to turn green. Right foot is on the brake while waiting. Light turns green: right foot moves to throttle and gently pushes it a little bit. Just as the RPMs are about to increase, the left foot begins to raise the clutch pedal. As the clutch itself begins to bite, the throttle goes down a bit further and the left foot lets the clutch pedal come up faster. When the vehicle speed increases and engine RPMs rise enough to shift into the next gear, the clutch pedal goes down pretty quickly while your right foot eases off the throttle part-way. Let the engine RPMs drop a little bit as you move the shift lever into the next higher gear. Then push the throttle pedal down more as you raise the clutch pedal reasonably quickly again. Lather, rinse, repeat. Like any physical skill it just takes repetition practice. Some folks get it quickly, some need dozens of tries from a full stop to even get one good 1st gear pullout... and then maybe dozens more before they are consistent. After an hour or two on the first day, give it a break. You may find that when you come back to it a day later things will "click" and you'll suddenly make more progress. That's what I've seen on the folks I watched/helped learn stick shifting. Practice in an empty parking lot - no stress from traffic plus you can stop & restart as many times as you need to get consistent at it. And no hills.

      A few other things:
      * On many modern cars the throttle pedal is simply an input to a computer - it's not directly connected to the engine. Instead, the computer uses a small electric motor to open/close the actual engine throttle in response to your right foot. "Throttle by wire" as it's known in the industry... very common now for emissions and MPG reasons. Lugging the engine may make the computer think there is an issue with the motor/throttle assembly leading to a "check engine" light. I've seen this on 3.x liter Ford V6s for example. When it happens the computer switches to a limp-home mode and limits the throttle to very small openings (as the computer isn't sure the throttle can be trusted) so that engine is limited to about 20 horsepower. Very hard to drive. Shutting the engine off for a few minutes resets the distrust issue (at least on that Ford V6) though the check engine light will remain... however the engine will run normally again.

      * If you have a choice on what car to learn on... pick one that has similar forces between the clutch pedal and throttle pedal. And avoid those with "sticky" throttle pedals - many take a bit of a shove to move them off the idle position and then they move too easily beyond that. All that does is make it MUCH more likely you'll do the herky-jerky thing. One pedal being much stiffer than the other is harder to learn on - just one more thing to remember/concentrate on. A light clutch pedal with a heavy throttle pedal is tough... stiffer clutch but lighter throttle pedal isn't so bad and is how most cars will be. Again, I've found many cable clutch setups often are stiffer so another reason to avoid them.

      * Starting on an uphill... takes practice and good foot coordination. Or use the parking brake - most stick-shift cars have a hand operated parking brake lever. While your right foot is on the brake pedal, firmly set the parking brake. Now you can move your right foot to the throttle pedal without worrying about the car rolling backwards. When the traffic light turns green, start the normal clutch pedal & throttle pedal sequence... as soon as you feel the clutch begin to bite ease off on the parking brake. Eventually you'll be able to "slide" your right foot from the brake pedal to the throttle pedal but save that for later. Or "heel and toe" where you twist your right leg/angle so the right foot can be on both pedals at once. Again, takes practice. Racers do this all the time - minimizing the time "wasted" moving the right foot from brake to throttle and back again. When that foot is moving between pedals the car isn't accelerating or decelerating at its max capability so race lap times suffer...

      * RPMs to shift at? Depends on the torque characteristics of the engine. Small 4 cylinder motors typically need upshifts (e.g. 2nd gear to 3rd gear) at 2500 RPM or higher. V6s maybe at 2000 RPM or higher. On V8s maybe 1500 to 1800RPM and higher for non-sports car V8s, 2000 or so for sports car V8s. The goal is to have the RPMs that result after the shift is complete not be so low that the engine lugs or is gutless. Those numbers are for reasonable first-guesses for daily around-town acceleration levels and decent MPG... delaying shifting to higher RPMs helps when you "mash the gas" and want to accelerate. Use the tachometer's "red line" limit as a guide - most engines make best acceleration when you shift a little before red line though that clobbers MPG and is unnecessary most of the time. Shifting about 1000 RPM higher than the "normal" shift RPMs is a good compromise between MPG/efficiency and having a bit more fun acceleration. You'll find the sweet spots - both on the tachometer and "by ear" - in your car with time. Big engines or diesels? They often max out at 3000 RPM or so - roughly half was a gas engine red lines at - so my RPM numbers above don't apply.

      mpc
      Last edited by mpc; 09-18-2018, 11:24 PM.

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      • #5
        To me, learning things like this is dependent upon it becoming "instinct". This is what is (or used to be) taught in Karate. Long drives won't help, 4 way stops and around the blocks and up and down small hills are the best where repetition is needed. I think the best illustration is like when I learned "typing". The first day, the instructor made us repetitively hit the keys under our fingers that we rest on. ASDF-JKL; We did that for 30 minutes, Next day we moved back and forth over the G and H and ". Then we made up back and forth with short words with "A" in it. Then we started with vowels added - for 30 minutes. it was nothing but repetitiveness to the point it became "instinct".

        AS a child, we learn differently than as a teen or adult, where learning new things move to a different region of the brain - so I have been told on several occasions.
        Hank Lee

        Experience is what you get when you don't get what you wanted!

        Comment


        • #6
          I guess I am in the perfect place to learn stick then! Pretty hilly setting with lots of stop and go. Most locals here also speak another language--car horn--so that will provide extra motivation.

          My first car, a Mazda Protege 5, had the option to do manual shifting (without the clutch) so I am familiar with shifting based on sound/RPM, but it's not something I used a lot.

          Anyway, I think I have a line on a potential instructor. I don't know what he/she drives so hopefully it's not something fancy.

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          • #7
            You certainly dont need an instructor, that seems like throwing money away.

            Millions of 15 -16 year olds learn it every single year, and have for more than half a century.

            To me that's a little like paying a landscaper just to learn how to mow your lawn.

            Sent from my SM-N950U using Tapatalk

            Comment


            • atgcpaul
              atgcpaul commented
              Editing a comment
              I would if I had access to a car with a stick, but I don't. Actually, that gives me an idea. My neighbor said he would teach me (but he doesn't have a manual either). I could try to rent a car with a stick for the day and learn on that with him.

          • #8
            Originally posted by atgcpaul View Post
            . . . I'm going to find a local instructor but how long do you think it will take to become good enough at driving stick? I've been driving for 20+ years and I think I'm a good driver. I just don't know how to drive stick. I'm trying to get a feel for how much I should expect to pay.
            Thanks
            Paul
            I don't know how expensive things are there, but just be glad you are not in Japan! The equivalent of $20,000 for a "drivers certificate" from a driving school to present to the drivers license bureau to take a driving test. And if you failed the test, which 60+% did, then there was another $5000 for a driving school "refresher". I doubt that has changed since I was there.

            Up until the mid - 90's, Japan would allow a new drivers license from another country to be used get a license in Japan. Then they changed the law that you had to have had the license in the other country for 3 or 6 months before you could use it in Japan to get a license there. The reason was - Japanese would take a month long vacation in Hawaii or California, apply for and get "an easier to get" driver's license in the USA and then return to Japan and swap it for a Japanese license. In effect - spend the $20,000 on a vacation and get a sure thing driver's license that would transfer to a Japanese license.


            An interesting side note on a cultural experience with our Japanese license: When we arrived in Japan in 1986, we went and used our USA license to get a Japanese license. LOML and my USA license had our middle initials in it instead of full written-out names. The Japan license bureau in Tokyo took it that way and didn't say a word about it. 5 years later, we moved to the Osaka area; our license were changed to reflect the Osaka area address. Again the names stayed the same. Then we moved to Toyota City (Nagoya suburb) in 2004. Our license were still valid so the address change was noted on the back - until they expired, at which time we could renew with the license to reflect the change on the front of the new license. After being in Toyota City for about 2 months, we got a call from the Police department - calling us to go there and bring passports and driver's license. We did. They said our driver's license were illegal. We were not allowed to have "initials" for our middle names. DL MUST be like our passports. He asked why we did "initials for middle names? I replied, "They did that in Tokyo and we didn't have any say in the matter." The Officer said, 'Well, that is wrong!" I said - OK. We will pay for new license (about $50.00 each). They took our license back while we waited for them to make us new license. Then we heard the cultural sound of "sucking noise". (Japanese, when frustrated, do a very verbal semi-loud sucking of air in through their mouth). ( I started laughing silently when I heard that.) In a few minutes, the guy came out with a perplexed look on his face and said "There is not enough room to write your full names on our license." I asked "Well then, what can we do?" He replied: "Can you just keep these like they are?" I replied "OK with me if it is with you."

            I love those cultural moments!
            Hank Lee

            Experience is what you get when you don't get what you wanted!

            Comment


            • atgcpaul
              atgcpaul commented
              Editing a comment
              Yikes! Fortunately I have a license and a new local license is being mailed to us just by showing our US license to the local DMV (which is partly handled by their post office system).

              Over here all the driving schools have little plastic triangles with a "learner" symbol stuck on top of the car--like a small pizza delivery sign. So you know immediately whom to avoid. After they get licensed and drive their own car, they have to hang this little yellow placard in their back window which in the local language translates to "new driver". I don't know for how long it has to stay.

              In Ireland and Northern Ireland, some cars had big red "N"s, "L"s, or "R"s on their back windows. I asked the taxi driver from the airport what those meant. Basically different degrees of new car drivers.
              https://www.tripsavvy.com/learner-no...reland-1542996

              If I remember from watching a Japanese TV show (on NHK), several different kinds of stickers are applied to Japanese cars to indicate similar things.
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