Wednesday, March 7, 2012

My Kids Will Drive A Stick And YOURS Should, Too

My driving adventures began one month after I turned 15. I had a few lessons in an automatic Ford Escort from the driving school and my dad took me out to practice in our family's VW Rabbit. As I take a deep breath and close my eyes, memories flood in.
VW Rabbit Photo Credit
Rabbits are loud. The diesel engine constantly hums and continually vibrates.

Whiplash is a part of daily life. My newly acquired skill of shifting gears may have been jerky once or twice. Or more like .... every time I stopped and started.

The tension at times could be palpable. "Dad! What's wrong?" I'm at a stop sign and can't get the car to move. It's my turn to go. "Are you in first gear," he calmly asks? "Yes!" There are now six cars lined up back of me. He asks again, "are you sure?" My eyes fill with tears. I've killed the car a dozen times. I exclaim, "yes! Look..." I show him while shifting to first yet another time. I try to go. The engine dies. Again. I wanted him to just tell me the problem.

Little did I realize he already had. Just at my breaking point, he told me to depress the clutch and he moved the shifter from third to first. I thought I knew which gear I was in. As such, I wasn't considering that a nudge to the left would have put me in the proper gear. Over twenty years later, I have never repeated that same mistake.

I didn't really care about automatics or manuals until I met kids who couldn't drive one. I was grateful that my father took the time and patience required to teach me. The clutch and shifting are like second nature to me now. Perhaps, it's because I did it that makes me want my kids to learn to drive a stick. But maybe not. A manual transmission's advantages far outweigh the comfort and ease of an automatic.

Why My Kids Will Drive A Stick

It's hard.
Self esteem and self confidence come at at price. Learning to do something that's hard for you builds your character and skill set. Driving a stick takes effort. Effort to learn. Effort to master. Once you've got the stop and go down then do the same thing on a hill. With practice, the initial shifting terror transforms into smooth goodness. Knowing that you can accomplish hard things translates over into other areas of life. I need to work at for what I want.

Shifting requires active engagement when driving.
There's minimal chance for zoning out when driving a manual around town. The consious and subconsious mind is ever aware of traffic, speed and roadway conditions. Senses pull together to form a sweet spot...See the open road. Hear the engine race. Feel the drag. Touch the gear. Shift into a moment of awesome. You've solved a problem and are immediately rewarded with a smooth ride.

Automatics encourage distractions.
Contrast managing a tempermental clutch with a smooth riding automatic. It takes very little skill. But your brain needs to be doing something, so your senses get wrapped up in eating a sandwich and taking a sip of soda while adjusting the radio, programming your GPS and talking on the phone. Oops. I forgot to mention driving. You should be watching out for potential hazards in your path, too. But driving an automatic is so easy that your brain seeks out other means of engagement and forgets to focus on the task at hand.

Texting is practically impossible.
One of our clients called several months ago seeking driving lessons in a manual for her son. She wanted him to drive a stick so he couldn't text and drive. Brilliant. This reason alone is enough for me to teach my children to drive a stick. Bottom line, I want my kids safe. I know they'll push boundaries. They already do that. But in a car, the stakes are much higher.

In the United States, manuals are disappearing.
Make your voice heard through your dollars. Buy a manual. Not only do they encourage safer driving habits, but they are also cheaper and easier to fix than automatics. Also, knowing how to drive a manual gives you tons of options when you are traveling abroad and want to rent a car.

Your first lesson:
I love the guy's smile and swing of the scarf.

In depth instruction:
Have you ever listened to the Click and Clack on NPR's CarTalk show? I love these guys. Click here for their two cents.


  1. My suggestion which was learned too late to benefit my children (I am Bridget's dad)is to start out in a parking lot with the car idling. Put the car in gear, and without your right foot being anywhere near the gas pedal, depress the clutch, put the car in first gear, and let the clutch out slowly until the car is moving. Enjoy steering around the lot with a big smile that you didn't jack-rabbit the car. Then stop and do it again.

    When you can master "finding the clutch pressure point," you are ready to try your right foot on the accelerator pedal.

    The biggest problem learning to drive a "stick" is finding the pressure point. I taught my kids to let out the clutch while pressing on the "gas" at the same time. Doing that consistently well is a task that took weeks or months to master. The day Bridget and I drove out to her boyfriend's house about ten miles away is one of my worst memories. We had to replace the Peugeot's clutch prematurely because of that event, I'm sure. The car had to have stalled from improper clutch/accelerator operation probably 100 times that trip. I think it took ten stalls alone to drive 15 feet up his sloped driveway just to get the rear bumper enough off the street.

  2. I agree that driving a stick shift has its advantages over an automatic shifting car. Automatic car drivers find it hard to convert into manual driving because they’ve been used to easy driving habits brought by automatic cars. But once you learned how to drive on a stick shift, I believe that you can drive any car out there.


    Marvis Carswell

    1. So true Marvis! Thanks for your input.


Thank YOU for sharing your story with us!

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