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I'm learning how to drive a manual transmission, and just the thought of driving up and down the great hills of Duluth with a stick shift nearly throws me into panic attacks. Anyone have any advice for me, from hills to avoid, tips for a n00b, or good practice places (that have long open areas and no one to hit)?

The picture is from an old soviet road safety manual. "Onacho" is Russian for "Danger!" - pronounced "oh-pas-no"


Long-standing family tradition for new stick drivers: go to the cemetary. Maybe try to find a day when people aren't walking their dogs as much, because that seems to be a lot more popular than a few years ago. Anyway, lots of terrain in a small area, with all kind of different hill grades, and if you hit something, chances are (unless it's a dog/person) it's probably not going to hurt it too much.

I second kistune...cemetery or a mall/college/stadium parking lot.

I learned to drive a stick in my grandpa's '74 toyota hilux pickup, which had a 4 speed tranny with a 4 banger 18RC engine.

two pieces of advice:
1.) if you can't find it, grind it. (KIDDING!)
2.) listen to the engine. it'll tell you when to shift, and when you do work both feet at the same time. clutch on>gas off>shift>clutch off>gas on.

after a day or so it'll become fluid...smooth, like butter.

As someone who has taught several people to drive a manual transmission (though I was unable to teach my wife), I can offer some advice. Have a friend drive you to a deserted parking lot. Flat, level, and empty are good.

1. With the engine off, practice pushing in the clutch without putting the transmission in gear. Repeat this 10 or 12 times.

2. Next push in the clutch, start the engine, put the transmission in first gear and slowly let off the clutch and simultaneously press down on the accelerator pedal until you kill the engine. You WILL kill the engine. Next time let off the clutch a little slower or give it a little more gas. Practice this until you can do it without killing the engine. You will develop a "feel" for when the clutch is grabbing. Its a tradeoff between clutch position and gas pedal position.

2.5 It helps to think of how the clutch actually works. Between the engine and the transmission is a spinning disk called a clutch. Encircling this disk are clutch fingers. As you press down on the clutch pedal the fingers open up and let the disk spin with the engine. When you let out the clutch pedal, the fingers pinch the spinning disk and transfer the energy from the engine to the transmission.

3. Next try to shift from first to second gear. While the car is rolling, press in the clutch and let off the gas (so the engine doesn't race), move the stick from first to second, and let out the clutch while pressing down on the gas. You will notice that it gets progressively easier to shift as you go up the gears (2nd gear to 3rd is easier than 1st to 2nd).

4. Now try some hills. Starting out is the same as in the parking lot but you will need a little more gas

4.5 Some older Subarus had a feature called "Hill holder" which would stop the car from rolling backward down a hill even if the clutch was pushed in.

5. Practice, practice, practice.

You will eventually find that driving a manual transmission is more fun than an automatic (and also slightly more fuel efficient.)

My advice: When starting from a stop, especially on an uphill slope, rev the engine while very slowly letting out the clutch. Do this often. In fact, do this every time you are changing gears. This will be of great help to you.

It's important to remember that you don't let out the clutch the same amount as you push down on the gas. You'll be giving the car more gas, pushing that pedal down more, than the amount you let out the clutch.
Good luck.

I have one point of disagreement with Vicarious. The technique that he or she recomends might be good initialy, but will burn out a clutch quite a bit faster than with normal usage. A fast, almost jarring transistion will save on gas and clutches after a bit of practice. Also , the only time one really needs a clutch is during the initial 1st gear initiation of momentum. After that, one can run through the gears without even touching the clutch.

I drove a manual transmission for several years in downtown Duluth. My #1 area to avoid at all costs would be the SMDC/St. Marys/Miller Dwan area. Not only some of the steepest hills in Duluth but you have to contend with a fair amount of pedestrian and car traffic; mostly being people who don't know where they're going.

Heh, figures that my work would be located in the "avoid at all costs" area. ;)

Just be careful what you drive. I used to consider myself an ace with manual shifting, but learned a couple of new things in a downtown escapade with a Mazda Speed 3. I thought, for sure, I would never stall a car :\

A car like that can be "broken in", but my friend swears that the clutch release is still terribly sharp after several years.

Were you perchance learning to drive stick on that intersection where Piedmont goes to Wisconsin around eight thirty or so tonight? Because I saw a little car jolting about four times through that intersection and thought, 'Well there's a bad place to learn'....:)

I would like to amend my comment per Bill's response to my comment:

When starting from a stop, rev the engine to 3500 rpm, then slowly let out the clutch. Do this at every stop, and through every gear. This will guarantee long life for your clutch disk.

My suggestion for big hills like Lake Avenue is to 1) Avoid stopping if possible. It's amazing how many red lights you can avoid just by not rushing up to the waiting line of cars. Approach slowly so you can get the green light. 2) If you have to stop put in the clutch, put your foot on the break and put on your emergency break. When the light turns green pop the car into first gear and almost at the same time release the emergency brake. Voila....no roll back.

Where was Ruthie when I needed her? I had a moderately traumatic experience on Lake Avenue in the Summer of 1990 with my first ever car only a few days into owning it. It was a Subaru but did not have this hill grabber feature. It was a Friday afternoon, about 3 pm and I was going UP from superior street to first. I got caught in a red light. So when it turned green ... I killed the dang thing. Then killed it again ... and again. I ended up sitting there with a long line of cars behind me through at least one, and maybe two lights. However, once I got a feel for how to start out from that position it never happened again. And the cars behind me were actually very polite. Little or no honking as I recall which made it a bit more bearable.

Learning? I had actually done two or three trips up and down the seven bridges road. There are quite few twists and turns along the way and obviously lots of hills so I think that was a good place to start. But I probably should have practiced more but I was young and thrilled to have a car, you know the feeling ... It's actually a pretty good memory now that i think of those days. It is way more fun to drive a stick, although the love van is automatic and I wouldn't have that any other way.

One more thing, I also learned very quickly (the hard way) that you MUST apply the parking break even if you are on a flat surface. But thats another long story so I'll spare you the details.

I learned to drive manual over a couple days AFTER I bought my first car, which my dad had to drive home for me, ahem. There isn't that much to it, really--just getting a feel for it, which takes a little practice. Shooting up Lake Ave. or 26th Ave. East is a bit daunting, especially if some clown is tailgating you at every stop, but it's not that big of a deal--normally.[1]

[1] Normally. Once upon a time when I lived in NC, I did get stuck in a giant, crawling, stop-and-go traffic jam going up a steep hill. And the jerk in the old Volvo behind me kept insisting on creeping up to within inches of my back bumper every time we lurched forward 5 yards. I didn't hit him though--his car or his mouth--and I eventually escaped. [The worst part was that the traffic jam turned out to have been produced by a Celine Dion concert at the DeanDome.]

"Live with it!"
I grew up in Duluth and didn't know any different. I've always driven a stick. People stress waaaayyyy too much about this. Just drive.

@ Silly Goose:
I have yet to actually practice on the "open road", so if you're stuck behind someone stuttering in traffic, it's likely some other n00b...

Every car I've ever owned/driven consistently has been a stick. And yet I managed to stall out a rented diesel Mercedes van like three times a day for two weeks straight this winter.

Lesson: Sometimes if you stall out, you can blame it on the car. Even if that's not the case, you'll feel slightly less stupid.

When stopped in an uphill position at a stop sign or red light, push the clutch and brake pedals. Next if you have a hand-operated emergency brake, engage this as well. This will allow you to take your foot off the regular brake and focus on just the gas and clutch pedals. Obviously you will have to keep one hand free to disengage the emergency brake when you get going but it will all come together in time.

The parking brake is your friend. Use it when stopped, especially on hilly terrain. Get your revs up, let out on the clutch and release the parking brake...off you go.

Driving a clutch in Duluth is a ZEN experience. You must take a breath and relax... you can do it...

Start in second, rather than first, on a big hill. Gives you more time to let the clutch out.

The parking brake is for doing donuts, not for holding the car on hills. I second bh's sentiments.

When I hit 16 in Duluth, our family test that granted you permission to drive the little manual trany car: drive it up Lake Ave without stalling it!

We did plenty of practicing in the UMD parking lots.

In my personal experience sticks work well in Duluth because they are easier to control in the snow. Also they are so much fun to drive! A good place to practice in the woodland area (off of Woodland Ave and Oxford) because there are rarely other cars there and lots of hills to practice on. That's where I learned!

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