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Every driver should learn to use a manual transmission

Dear Car Fix: My child is learning to drive, and I want her to learn to drive a manual transmission. Can you give me a simple way to explain it?

-- C.R., Clarence

Dear C.R.: I'm glad you're interested in teaching your child to drive a manual transmission. Driving a manual unlocks an entirely new world of driving.

The most important part of a manual transmission is to know the shift pattern. Most cars have five or six gears and one reverse.

The clutch pedal, at the far left, is pushed to the floor when you change gears. Never change gears unless the clutch is engaged!

Neutral is not a gear -- the car won't move. This "free space" is the absence of gear. When the engine is running in neutral, you can rev up the engine, but you won't go anywhere. You'll also be able to move the shifter lever back and forth -- which you can't do when you're engaged in any gear.

Some cars require you to push down or have a lock-out lever before you can get into reverse gear.

The gas pedal works with the gears to give the engine power; when releasing the clutch, start applying the gas.

Choosing the right gear and deciding when to shift is all based on rpms of the engine.

When shifting, make sure to place the shifter all the way into gear -- but don't force it. If you are driving and the shifter isn't all the way in gear you will hear a grinding noise. Just push in the clutch and push the lever all the way into gear.

To be sure you are in the appropriate gear, use your tachometer. The rpms (revolutions per minute) will guide you to shift through the gears properly. A basic starting point is to shift around every 15 mph.

To start the car, put the car in neutral. Most new cars will not start without the clutch pressed down. Alternately, you can start the car in gear with the clutch pedal pushed to the floor.

Driving a stick shift is all about the balance of the gas and the clutch. Bottom line: When the clutch comes up and the gas pedal goes down -- slowly and smoothly! This will become seamless as you learn to change gears.

Once you get the first to second shift, the rest is EASY! Start on a flat road, place the shifter in first gear, start releasing the clutch, as you come off the clutch -- add the gas. You may add the gas quickly at first, but as you get the feel you will smooth out. The place where the clutch pedal is to the floor and you're off the gas is where you take the shifter from first to second. Get those feet and hands working together as a team.

So here is the pattern:

1. Revving high (around 3,000 rpm or at 15 mph).

2. Clutch in and gas off.

3. Move the shifter smoothly from first to second.

4. Slowly off the clutch while pushing on the gas.

5. Completely let your foot off the clutch and press gas pedal to go.

6. Same thing next gear.

It's common to create wear and tear on the clutch when learning to drive a stick shift. If you go slowly at first and pay close attention, your foot can feel where the clutch engages and disengages. If you feel that, you'll put less strain on your clutch and transmission.

At a stoplight, don't get in the habit of holding the clutch in for more than a few seconds. Instead, put the transmission in neutral and use the brake.

Downshifting is the act of moving appropriately to lower gears while slowing down the car. You can downshift to gain control in bad weather, on hills, or for immediate braking. Shift down one gear at a time. As you get to very slow speeds, apply the brakes.

To downshift:

1. Lift off the gas.

2. Push in the clutch.

3. Change gears.

4. Slowly release the clutch to avoid high revs.

5. Then add a little gas.

6. Next, do it again into the next lower gear before you stop.

7. Don't downshift into first, until the car is completely stopped.

Stopping on a hill is one talent that takes time to master as the pressure from traffic around you can cause you to stall or "dump the clutch" and leave tire marks behind you. Find a hill on a side road with no traffic. Come to a complete stop and practice "slipping" the clutch and seeing where it starts to engage so you can get the feel of where you need to be when driving in traffic. Start in first gear, and add a little gas so you start to accelerate slowly as you release the clutch pedal, then release the clutch and add more gas and you will be moving. If you stall, put on your brake and start again.

When parking, remember there isn't a "park" position on a stick shift car to keep it from rolling. For extra safety, leave the car in gear AND use the emergency brake.