One of the biggest things that has always separated drivers is whether they prefer an automatic transmission (sometimes known as a "slushbox", because of the characteristic "slushy" feel it creates when shifting between gears) or a standard transmission (often called, for more obvious reasons, a "stick shift"). (This isn't totally true, since the automatic transmission was invented some time after cars had already begun to be used, but it's been the case for a long time now anyway.)
There are a number of benefits to the standard transmission, but the prevailing reason that most people get them is because they prefer them. Car enthusiasts enjoy the feel of being able to control what gear they're in; It makes them feel closer to the vehicle. People who just want to drive and don't care much about how the car works usually prefer the automatic trannie. This is analogous to the people who do unusual stuff with their computers to customize them, versus the people who just have a basic desktop and do word processing on it and check their e-mail.
Another important factor is reliability. You could debate for quite some time over just how reliable a slushbox is, but it's a basic principle that a standard transmission is more durable and will last longer than an automatic. Indeed, if you don't do something silly to strip the gears on it (like try to shift without pressing the clutch pedal), a standard will last just about forever, while an automatic has a number of smaller parts and mechanisms which will tend to wear over time. However, this advantage is rather outweighed by the need to replace the clutch; on a standard transmission, the transmission itself might last the life of the car, but the clutch, by its very nature, will wear down, eventually requiring replacement... And replacing a clutch isn't a small job. On most cars, a clutch replacement takes at least 2 hours, and that estimate is on the short side.
Then there's fuel economy. People who love stick-shifts like to point out that a car with a standard transmission will automatically use slightly less gas than one with an automatic; However, the difference in fuel usage is generally so small that it's not really a critical factor. This is more an irrelevant excuse to get a standard transmission than anything else.
Another interesting reason is just to learn how to drive one. Many people will, at some point in their life, have a chance to drive someone else's car, and it may be a stick-shift. It has in fact happened to me more than once that I have had to decline the opportunity to drive someone else's car, because they used a stick-shift and I didn't know how to drive one yet. If you are a driving enthusiast, it is probably just something you should know how to do, even if you normally use an automatic transmission in your day-to-day driving.
The automatic transmission's advantages, on the other hand, are pretty much limited to ease-of-use. It's a lot less work because you don't have to worry about juggling the gearshift with the clutch, you don't need to worry about stripping your gears, and you don't need to worry about "launching" your car properly (just press on the gas and it goes), which is especially important when you're forced to stop on a hill, which, in a car with a stick-shift, usually tends to result in the car rolling backwards for a moment before it starts moving forward, unless you're an abnormally quick launcher. Driving a standard transmission is especially painful in stop-and-go traffic, where you're constantly having to change your gear state. Some people enjoy this, while some find it an almost unbearably tiresome chore. You might also make the case that having to concentrate on shifting your transmission takes some of your attention away from the actual driving, which is dangerous, because you might be concentrating on your tachometer or your gearshift when you really should be focusing on the traffic around you. An automatic transmission bypasses these problems entirely.
Advantages or disadvantages aside, there's no question that driving a standard takes more work on the driver's part. However, it's not that much more difficult; If you're already a seasoned driver comfortable with an automatic transmission, it shouldn't take you more than a few hours of practice to start feeling comfortable driving a stick-shift. And if you're a new driver forced to learn how to shift in addition to all the other things a new driver learns, take heart, it's not as bad as it first seems. This article will attempt to explain things from the beginning, and not assume any prior knowledge of the subject matter.
The most fundamental action of driving a stick-shift is, of course, actually shifting the stick. Moving the gearshift lever moves a set of gears, and thus controls which gear is connected to the engine. The gears are only different from each other in size, but their size is crucial. This has to do with the basic properties of how gear interaction works: If a large gear is turning a small gear, the small gear will turn faster than the large gear. For example, if a gear with 20 teeth drives a smaller gear with only 10 teeth on it, the small gear will turn twice as fast. For every time the large gear spins around, the small gear will spin around twice.
On the other hand, the large gear has to work harder to turn the smaller gear. It's very easy to turn around a tiny gear connected to a giant gear; The tiny gear doesn't take much effort to turn, but it will only turn the giant gear for a fraction of a revolution each time the tiny gear makes one revolution. But if the giant gear powers the tiny gear, it's going to have to be pushed very hard. However, this becomes a lot easier if the tiny gear is already spinning at a fast rate. If the tiny gear is spinning 20 times per second, you might be able to suddenly mesh the huge gear with it and keep the tiny gear spinning easily at a fast speed.
If you've ever driven a bicycle with manual gear shifters, this concept should be quite familiar to you. There are two sets of sprockets on a bicycle, one on the pedal (which contains the sprocket that you drive with your legs), and one on the rear wheel (which contains the sprocket that actually turns the wheel). If you make the sprocket on the pedal wheel bigger, or if you make the sprocket on the rear wheel smaller, it's harder to start the bike from a stop. You want to start pedalling with a small pedal gear and a big rear gear. However, once you've hit a good speed, you want to change this, and so you "upshift", either making your pedal gear bigger or making the rear gear smaller (or both). This will let your pedalling be of more effect, pushing the bike forward more with less effort on your part. You could keep on biking in your lowest gear, but your legs would have to spin around awfully fast once your bike really gets moving. You can pedal slower, but with no less power, by using your gears.
Your car's drivetrain uses exactly this same concept. When the engine starts driving the transmission's biggest gear (which would be first gear), it can get off to a good start. However, soon the engine will be spinning very quickly. On a tachometer (an instrument which measures how fast the engine is turning), there is a point called the "redline", which is the point where the engine is spinning at a dangerously high speed. Most engines aren't meant to do much more than 6,000 RPM (revolutions per minute), although some sports car engines can go in excess of this (often to as much as 11,000 RPM), but the point is that every engine has its limit, beyond which it's liable to "blow". So how can you make your car's wheels spin faster, without forcing your engine to spin faster? The answer, by now, is hopefully obvious: You change to a higher (smaller) gear. When the engine starts turning a smaller gear in the transmission, the engine speed drops, yet the car's speed remains the same.
What would have happened if you'd simply tried to drive the smaller gear from the beginning? The engine would have had to work a lot harder. In a standard transmission, drivers can (and sometimes do) shift to a too-high gear, which makes the engine's rotation speed go lower than it was meant to be and places a huge strain on the engine. This usually manifests itself as severe vibration. This is what's called "lugging" the engine, and it's as bad for the engine as making it spin too fast. You have to upshift when the car is moving at the proper speed, or the engine won't be able to turn your transmission around.
Upshifting is changing to a higher gear. Downshifting is, of course, shifting to a lower gear, used when you're slowing down. However, if you downshift when the car is going too fast, the engine may be suddenly forced into its redline zone. This is why you need to make sure you're going slow enough when you downshift, just as you need to make sure you're going fast enough when you upshift. The engine and the transmission have an odd relationship; Most of the time, it's supposed to be the engine that's turning the transmission, yet the transmission also turns the engine, or perhaps more specifically, it controls what speed the engine is turning at. In a car which is moving at a particular speed (say 30 MPH), having the car in second gear will force the engine to turn faster than if you had the car in third gear. This is because the engine rotation speed must match that of the transmission, and the speed of the transmission is directly related to how fast the car's wheels are turning. Without even touching the gas pedal, you can force your engine to rev up by simply downshifting.
Generally, each individual car has its own shifting characteristics, such as what RPM level you should upshift at, and which RPM level you should downshift at. The result is that your car requires a delicate balance between lugging the engine and over-revving it, and you need to be aware of how fast your engine is already spinning before you shift gears. There are two ways to tell how fast your engine is spinning. The classical way is to look at your tachometer. However, this takes attention away from the road, and so many seasoned stick-shift drivers have become accustomed to their car's sound, and can tell how fast it is revving just by the pitch of the engine's running sound. Either method works well, as long as you are familiar with your car and where it's best to shift it. For example, in some cars, you can upshift when the engine hits 3,000 RPM, while in other cars, you might be better off waiting for 4,000 or 5,000 RPM before you upshift. There are two important factors which affect what happens when you change gears. One is the engine's "torque", and the other is where the engine's "power band" lies.
Torque, by the dictionary definition, is simply a rotational force. You might think of it as rotational inertia; A big wheel which is spinning around has torque, because even if you try to stop it from spinning, it'll want to keep turning around. Similarly, when your engine starts spinning, it will keep spinning, and it will take some force to stop it. How much torque an engine has is an important characteristic of it; Engines with more torque can quickly accelerate after upshifting, while engines with low torque will tend to accelerate slowly.
An engine's power band is, quite simply, the RPM range at which it generates the most power. An engine which is spinning at very low RPMs doesn't produce a lot of power no matter what gear it's in, and an engine which is revving too fast generally has reduced power as well. There is a specific range of RPM in which the engine outputs its maximum power. Usually, this point is slightly below the beginning of the redline; For example, if your car's redline starts at 7,000 RPM, the power band is probably somewhere between 5,000 and 6,000 RPM. General-purpose cars usually have a "flat" power band, meaning they produce decent power through most of their RPM range, while a sports car may have a more precise power band; For example, some sports cars might produce significantly more (or less) power at 6,000 RPM than 5,000 RPM. It all depends on the individual car. Race drivers are very concerned with keeping their engine turning in its power band; They will upshift once they have exceeded the power band, and downshift if they go below it.
Being able to drive a stick-shift means more than just understanding your gears, however. That's because to shift gears, you usually don't just move the shift lever and be done with it. (You can do this sometimes, but it's not recommended in day-to-day driving, and we'll get to it later.) Instead, you have to press the clutch pedal while you shift.
What is the clutch pedal and what does it do? The clutch pedal is the third pedal in a car with a standard transmission (the other two being your brake and your gas pedals); The clutch is usually the leftmost pedal in North American cars. It serves simply to disconnect your engine from the transmission. While we have seen that the engine turns a gear in the transmisson because the two gears are meshed with each other, you do not want these gears to be meshed while you are shifting. If you try to shift your gears without first disengaging the engine from the transmission, you will hear an ugly grinding sound; This not only sounds incredibly unpleasant, but also has the effect of quickly destroying your car's drivetrain if you do it repeatedly.
And so you press the clutch; Then you can shift. Once you are done shifting, you let go of the clutch pedal, the engine grabs the new gear you have selected, and the car continues on its way. Sounds simple enough, perhaps, but there's an added complication: When you are driving, you almost always have your foot on the gas pedal. This is normal, because the engine needs a little urging from the driver to keep moving at driving speed. However, when the engine is disconnected from the transmission (i.e. when you press the clutch), it suddenly has a lot less load on it, and if you are still pressing the gas pedal, you stand a good chance of over-revving your engine (putting it into its red zone). Thus, shifting gears is actually a three-piece process, involving not just the gearshift lever, but also the clutch and gas pedals. The exact shifting procedure is as follows:
1. Release the gas pedal. This is so the engine doesn't suddenly rev like crazy when you let it spin freely by disengaging it from the transmission.
2. Push the clutch pedal. This lets the engine spin freely, and means the transmission is also not connected to anything.
3. Move the gearshift lever to the gear you want to select. This moves the gears in the transmission, so that when the engine engages the trannie again, it will be driving the new gear.
4. Release the clutch pedal. The engine will grab the gear, and your tachometer will reflect what effect this new gear has on your engine's rev speed. If you are upshifting and you have upshifted too early, the engine will lug (rev too slowly), and may vibrate the car a lot, or even stall (stop running). If you are downshifting and you have downshifted too early, the engine will end up spinning in its red zone. If the engine changes to a nice, moderate RPM level, you have chosen a good speed to shift at.
5. Resume driving normally.
Note that if you are downshifting because you are slowing down, it is perfectly acceptable to keep your foot on the brake pedal during the shift process; The engine will not be adversely affected by doing so.
Doing this actually isn't so bad once you get used to it. It takes some practice, to be sure, but worse than having to shift gears while you're driving is having to launch a stick-shifted car (that is, to start it moving from a stop).
A car with a standard transmission will stall if you keep it in gear while you are stopped. Even if it's only first gear, the engine will quickly die if the car stops rolling. This is because the engine is still connected to the transmission, and since the wheels of the car aren't turning, neither is the transmission. The engine is basically trying to turn a giant load (the full weight of the stopped car) at idle speed, which will quickly overwhelm the engine. Therefore, when the car is stopped, you must do one of two things to prevent the engine from stalling and stopping: 1. You can keep the clutch pedal pressed in. 2. You can slip the transmission into neutral. Since having the transmission in neutral means, by definition, that the engine is not engaged to the transmission, you can take your foot off the clutch while the transmission is in neutral and the engine will keep running even if the car isn't moving.
However, when you are trying to make a motionless car START moving, you do of course need to put the car into gear, so keeping the transmission in neutral is not a viable option. This means that you must put the car into first gear (keeping your foot on the clutch pedal so you don't strip any gears), and... Then what? You obviously need to take your foot off the clutch at some point to make the engine start driving the transmission, but if you do so, the engine will stall, right? What you need to do is push the gas pedal at the same time as you are releasing the clutch; doing this will make the engine spin faster, and you need to make it spin fast enough that it can bear the load of driving the car in first gear. This creates the amazingly awkward situation of having to balance the releasing of the clutch pedal with the simultaneous pushing of the gas pedal.
Before you start trying to launch your car, there's one important thing you need to realize about the clutch pedal: The clutch pedal is not binary. Some people incorrectly think that the clutch pedal has only two states: Engaged (the engine is connected to the transmission) and disengaged (the engine and transmission spin freely, independent of each other). This is not correct. In actuality, the clutch pedal has a whole range of motion that you need to become familiar with. When the pedal is pushed in all the way, then yes, the engine is fully disengaged, and when the pedal is released out all the way, then yes, the engine is fully engaged (assuming the clutch is working properly). But what happens in between is also important.
Before you actually "launch" your stick-shifted car to full speed, there's an important exercise that you should probably do several times to get a feel for the clutch pedal's range of motion. With the car stopped on a flat surface (don't try this on a hill your first time!), keep your foot on the clutch pedal, slip the transmission into first gear, and *VERY* slowly start letting the clutch pedal out without doing anything else. At first nothing will happen, but you will notice a very definite point at which the car suddenly starts moving forward. This will be accompanied by the engine's speed of rotation dropping noticeably. What's happening is that the clutch is just barely beginning to reach the point where the engine is having some noticeable effect on the transmission. This is not the normal driving position of the clutch, but if you keep the clutch pedal in this position, you can actually drive the car forward very slowly. Indeed, this is how you drive a stick-shift in extremely slow circumstances (such as heavy traffic crawling along, or maneuvering through tight spaces, although for slightly faster movement you might push the gas pedal slightly and let out the clutch a little more (but not all the way)). If you release the clutch pedal much more, the engine will engage even more, and if you don't give it some gas, it will stall. But if you just keep the clutch where the engine and transmission just barely meet, you can keep the car moving indefinitely without touching the gas pedal.
Putting the clutch pedal into this "partially engaged" state is not only a good exercise for getting the feel of the clutch pedal's range of movement, it's also one of the first steps to actually launching a car from a stop. Regardless of what position the gas pedal is in, you do *NOT* want to simply release the clutch pedal all at once when you start the car moving. If you try doing this, the engine will grab the transmission much too quickly, which usually causes the car to make a characteristic "buck" like an agitated horse. Although this happens frequently to people who have never driven a stick shift before, it's incredibly damaging to both the clutch and engine, so you want to avoid doing it if at all possible. Instead, the correct way to launch a stick-shift car is in stages: Let the clutch out a little at a time, giving the transmission a chance to catch up with the engine. While you're doing this, maintain moderate pressure on the gas pedal so that the engine is revving up at a good speed (about 2,000 to 3,000 RPMs is typical) and ready to take more load. (Don't push the gas pedal down so hard that you rev the engine up to an insane speed; that will make for a very jerky start. If you're revving the engine way past 3,000 RPM, you're probably pushing the gas pedal too much.) After the engine is revving significantly above idle speed, let the clutch out a little more. This will get the car moving faster, because now the engine is hugging the transmission tighter than before. Repeat this process of incresing the pressure on the gas and reducing the pressure on the clutch until the clutch pedal is all the way out. At this point, the engine is fully engaged, and you can happily drive the car along in first gear until you either go so fast that you need to upshift to second gear, or so slowly that you need to start pushing the clutch so the engine won't stall.
Roughtly, then, the procedure for starting a stopped car is fundamentally something like this:
1. Keeping your left foot on the clutch (to keep the engine running) and your right foot on the brake (to keep the car from rolling), put the gearshift into first gear.
2. Take your right foot off the brake pedal, and use it to push down on the gas pedal so that the engine is revving at a good launch speed. This speed will vary from car to car, but 2,000 RPM to 3,000 RPM is typical. The engine requires some revs in order to start. (It cannot start moving from idle speed; It will stall.) So get it revving above idle speed so it has some torque built up.
3. Slowly begin to release the clutch pedal. Keep going until you feel the car starting to just barely move, and the engine to start revving a little slower because it's under load.
4. Press the gas pedal more, as necessary to keep the engine turning at about the same speed.
5. Release the clutch pedal more. Keep easing out the clutch pedal (adjusting pressure on the gas pedal to maintain engine revs as necessary) until the clutch pedal is out all the way. The engine is now engaged with first gear, and the car will be moving.
It's actually a bit of a trick figuring out how much to press the gas pedal and how much to release the clutch simultaneously. This will definitely take a lot of practice. Although you can read this description of the process to understand what you need to do, you won't be able to do it smoothly and consistently until you've actually practiced it many times. (Compounding the problem is that different cars tend to have different ranges of clutch pedal action, so even if you learn how to launch a car well, you might have to re-learn the process slightly if you ever drive a different car.) Obviously, having a large, open space with little traffic is ideal for practicing, but such spaces might be hard to find; a parking lot sounds like a good idea, but they usually have a lot of traffic in them during shopping hours.
Your location during this practice activity leads me to the next important point: Besides not giving the car enough gas (which will cause the engine to stall), the other mistake you might make, which can be even more serious depending on where you are, is to not release the clutch enough. If you have the engine revving but the clutch is still too far in for the engine to be driving anything, the car is mostly still in neutral. If you're on a flat surface, this isn't a big deal, but if you're starting the car from a hill, the car will start rolling down the hill. This is why stick-shifted cars will tend to roll backward when they are started while facing uphill; The fraction of a second between the moment the driver releases the brake, and the moment the engine revs up and the clutch engages, leaves the car free to roll backwards. (One more reason to leave a good amount of space between your car and the car in front of you when you're stopped in traffic.) Experienced drivers learn to minimize this by launching the car quickly, but even so, they're only human. If it makes you feel more comfortable, you can keep the handbrake pulled when you're pressing the gas, then quickly release the handbrake when you release the clutch, but this practice is not recommended, because then the engine will start trying to drive a car that can't move because it's locked by the brakes. This handbrake trick is often done by new stick-shift drivers practicing their uphill starts, and you might be able to get away with it, but you're more likely to have the engine stall or do some other strange things. Trying to make the engine push a car while the brakes are engaged is never a good idea. (Same reason you use your right foot for both the brake and gas pedals instead of keeping your right on the gas and your left on the brake: You never want to be revving the engine and holding down the brakes at the same time.) The only "right" way to launch a stick-shift car on a hill is to synchronize your clutch-pedal and gas-pedal movements such that the amount of time the car can roll is minimized. The only way to be able to do this well is to practice. Find a good place to practice where you have lots of room and few or no cars to hit or pedestrians to run over, and practice, practice, practice!
If you drive a stick-shift, you might also like to know what "engine braking" is. It is, essentially, the use of your transmission to slow your car. This is another purported benefit of having a standard transmission: If your brakes fail, you can stop with your engine. In practice, however, engine braking has only a slight effect on your car's speed, and it cannot stop a car in any reasonably short or controlled length of space and time.
Engine braking operates on a very simple principle: If the transmission is in a lower gear, this will tend to slow the car down if you don't press the gas. Just as the engine has to work harder to turn the transmission when the engine's gear is larger, so the wheels (which are connected to the transmission) have to work harder to turn the engine, which is what they're doing when the car is coasting and you're not pressing the gas. Selecting a larger (lower) gear forces the wheels to be under a stronger load, which will help them to slow down. The theory is that if your brakes ever fail, you can downshift, wait until your car has slowed a bit, then downshift again, and all this downshifting will make your car slow down more. It's true, but as I said, the effect is rather slight.
Incidentally, the fact that the transmission can turn the engine is exactly the principle that allowed people to "push-start" their cars in the old days. You don't see this happen much anymore, but back in the days when a lot of cars were stick-shifts and, for whatever reason, people tended to have trouble with starting their engines (even though those engines ran fine when they actually got spinning), a relatively common practice was to start the car by simply pushing it quickly (usually rolling it down a hill) while the gearshift was engaged (i.e. not in neutral). The result: The wheels, spinning from the motion of the car, would turn the transmission, and since the gearshift was engaged, the transmission would, likewise, turn the engine. When the car got moving really quickly, the engine would start turning at its normal operating speed, and hopefully by the time the car got to the bottom of the hill, the engine would be running, eliminating the need for a starter motor. DO NOT try this on a car with an automatic transmission! Unlike a stick-shift, a slushbox usually does not actually change gears unless the engine is running, so even if you move an automatic transmission's shift lever from "Park" to "Drive", the transmission will probably not gear up, and trying to force the wheels to roll while the engine is off will be totally ineffective and likely to wreck the transmission as well. For that matter, don't try to push-start a stick-shift, either, since modern cars tend to have mechanisms that can get damaged by this practice. It's an antiquated practice from the past which you should not try, but it's an interesting illustration of the effect the car's motion can have on the engine by transferring torque to the engine, from the wheels, via the transmission.
When you've started to get the feel of shifting from gear to gear without stalling the car, over-revving the engine, or grinding the gears, you've got the basics down, but you'll probably need to refine your technique over time. In particular, one of the things you'll need to learn to do is to not press the clutch to the floor most of the time. Many people have an instinct to push the clutch pedal as far as it will go when they shift; this is to avoid grinding the gears, but in truth, you don't usually need to push the pedal very far to keep the gears from grinding. You can tell when the engine becomes disengaged from the transmission when the engine's revs suddenly go back to idle. If you watch for this, you might be surprised at how little you actually need to press the clutch pedal before it happens. This will vary from car to car, but on most properly-tuned cars, you barely need to nudge the clutch pedal to shift. If you push the pedal all the way to the floor each time, this will tend to wear out the clutch a lot faster, so it's yet another habit you'll want to get out of. You should probably push the clutch a little farther than you need to so you don't underestimate the distance needed and end up stripping your gears, but do learn how much clutch pedal is enough. In a similar vein, don't keep the clutch pedal down when you're stopped. For most people, when you're stopped at a red light, the natural instinct is to keep the gearshift in gear and the clutch pedal down so that you're ready to launch as soon as the light turns green, but this also wears the clutch down faster. To help your clutch last longer, when your car is stopped, shift into neutral and keep your foot off the clutch until you're actually ready to move the car.
Once you've become proficient at the basics of driving a standard transmission, you may want to get into the more advancing shifting concepts if you're a driving enthusiast. One of these is the practice of "power shifting", which is basically shifting without pressing the clutch. Can it be done? In short, yes it can, but it requires a lot of precision from the driver, and it really is not recommended unless you're in a race, because you're liable to kill your transmission.
Another shifting technique you may hear of is "double-clutching". What is double-clutching? It works basically like this when upshifting:
1. Release the gas pedal.
2. Press the clutch pedal.
3. Move the gearshift into neutral.
4. Release the clutch pedal.
5. After a moment, press the clutch pedal again.
6. Move the gearshift level into whatever gear you want to switch to.
7. Release the clutch pedal.
And this is how you double-clutch when downshifting:
1. Release the gas pedal.
2. Press the clutch pedal.
3. Move the gearshift into neutral.
4. Release the clutch pedal.
5. Press the gas pedal to rev up the engine, while the transmission is still in neutral.
6. Release the gas pedal.
7. Press the clutch pedal.
8. Move the gearshift level into whatever gear you want to switch to.
9. Release the clutch pedal.
This is essentially like normal shifting, except that the clutch is momentarily released between shifting from one gear to another, and when downshifting, the engine is briefly revved up with the gas pedal as well. (This brief spurt of gas pedal pressure is called "blipping" the throttle.) Why is this done? It has to do with a mechanism called a synchromesh. Without going into a painfully technical explanation here, suffice it to say that the engine is not actually connected directly to the transmission; Rather, the engine's output goes to the transmission through a shaft called a layshaft. This layshaft exists to help the engine and transmission rotate with each other at a speed that's mutually acceptable. When you select a gear, between the time that you move the gear shift lever and the time you release the clutch, the synchromesh makes the layshaft spin at a speed that will let it mesh with the engine nicely when you release the clutch. Double-clutching is done to manually match the speed of the layshaft with the transmission, instead of having the synchromesh do it. This is normally only done in vehicles which don't have a synchromesh, but some drivers do it just to save wear and tear on their synchromesh if it is not working properly, or if they just want to prolong its life. It is also commonly done when racing, as letting the synchromesh do all the work when you're driving fast will wear it out quickly.
It is hoped that this information will have been helpful to people who are interesting in learning how to drive a car with a standard transmission. As with any other skill, it takes practice, but the rewards are worth it, assuming you're a car nut.
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