Teach Someone to Drive a Stick Shift in 8 Easy Steps

Driving Stick Shift Easy
Doesn't she look happy? Kim JUST learned to drive the Mazda MX 5 stick shift. Photo: Scotty Reiss

You can do this. And so can she.

You learned years ago, so for you, driving a stick shift is natural. Friends say enviously, ‘I wish I’d learned to drive a stick.’ But teaching someone to drive can be a harrowing, even friendship-breaking experience. Add in a manual transmission and forget it; you may never speak again.

But it doesn’t have to be like that. First, prepare yourself and your friend to learn to drive a stick–preparation is always the key, right?

Then, after understanding the basics and a clear path forward, your friend is just a few minutes away from being a manual transmission driver.

First, read our 9 steps for preparing to learn to drive a stick shift.

Then, here is our guide to getting your friend up and gunning.

8 Steps to learning to drive a stick shift.

1. Learn to power the car with just the clutch

Driving Stick Shift Easy

Remember: Left foot operates the clutch (and only the clutch) and right foot is for braking and accelerating. Photo: Scotty Reiss

Have the driver start the car with the gear shift in neutral and right foot on the brake. Then, with her left foot on the clutch (all the way to the floor) and right foot on the brake, shift into first gear. Have her take her right foot off the brake and slowly let the clutch partially out and see how it moves the car.

2. Learn to slow with the clutch

While she’s still in first gear, have her put the clutch in again, and the car will slow. After a little back and forth, she’ll get a feel for when letting out the clutch gets the car moving and when putting her foot on the clutch slows the engine. She’ll actually be able to drive a short distance (and very slowly) with the clutch about half way out.

3. Learn how a stall happens

If she does take her foot off the clutch without giving it a little gas, she’ll stall the car. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. She needs to understand the point at which a stall happens. Warn her not to ‘pop’ the clutch, or let off it too quickly; if she does, the car will lurch forward. That is not only uncomfortable and dangerous, but it’s hard on the clutch, too.

4. Give it a little gas

Starting in first gear, guide her to slowly take her foot off the clutch and add a little gas, then fully ease off the clutch. Soon she’ll be up to speed and ready for step five.

5. Shift gears

Mazda3 Shift Recommendation

An indicator on the dashboard of the Mazda 3 shows when the car thinks you should shift gears and recommends the next gear. Photo: Scotty Reiss

As the car gains speed, guide her to push in the clutch and pull the gear shift back into second gear, then ease off the clutch as she adds a bit more acceleration.

6. Listen to the engine

As she shifts to second gear, she should hear the engine getting louder. When she shifts gears, the engine should quiet down again. Ask her to listen to the engine for a sign she should shift into third gear, and then, into fourth.

7. Learn to brake

This is really important. When braking to come to a full stop, she should put in the clutch at the same time she applies the brakes to avoid stalling out. You can also teach her to shift into neutral; this will also prevent a stall. For light braking, though, the clutch does not need to be used.

8. Learn to back up using clutch power

Many times backing up only requires slowly letting out the clutch. Let her get the feeling of backing up using the clutch. If she’s not moving fast enough, urge her to give it just a little gas.

Some things to keep in mind:

After you’ve successfully mastered the parking lots at the local church and Town Hall, it’s time to head out on the road. But there are a few other things to keep in mind that will complete the lesson:

Hill Hold: Most newer cars have hill hold, so when putting the car into first gear and taking your foot off the brake on a hill, the car won’t roll back. Older cars may not have hill hold, and if the car she’s driving doesn’t, it’s worth practicing on a hill before heading out into traffic on hilly roads.

Downshifting to slow down: Once she gets skilled, you can teach her to use engine braking by downshifting, which adds to the fun of driving a stick.

When parking, put it in gear AND apply the hand brake: You don’t want to risk the car rolling away.

This is a lot to learn all at once. Don’t sweat it. Some of this will come intuitively for experienced drivers. Probably one reason why many people don’t learn to drive stick is that they attempt it before they have much driving experience at all, and it can be frustrating.

With patience, she’ll get it. And with practice, she’ll love it.

If you have any doubts at all, you can see how Kim Tate learned to drive the six-speed Mazda MX5, which is an easy car to learn to drive a stick in, and she did it in 30 minutes.


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Journalist, entrepreneur and mom. Expertise includes new cars, family cars, 3-row SUVs, child passenger car seats and automotive careers... More about Scotty Reiss