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Teach Your Teen to Drive a Stick Shift

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author photo by Autotrader September 2008

Though manual transmissions are often called "standard," there's no typical way to convince your teenager that he or she should be driving a car with one in it.

For you, the parent buying the car, the choice to go standard is easy: Cars with manual transmissions are often cheaper than their automatic counterparts, get slightly better gas mileage and can be easy to handle for longer trips, such as traveling to and from college.

But your child might not feel as enthused about learning how to drive a stick shift, so we've outlined a simple way to get him or her off the bench and into the driver's seat. Read our tips below for teaching how to make using a clutch a cinch.

Practice on an older car. Newer cars have "stickier" transmissions, and let's face it — you want this process to go as smoothly as possible.

 Find a flat, empty parking lot. You don't want your teenager worrying about hitting light poles or other cars while he is learning. Also, you might want to start teaching in the middle of the parking lot so there's lots of room to move around.

 Introduce your teen to the pedals. There are three pedals, from left to right — the clutch, the brake and the gas. Make sure your young driver readily knows which is which.

Review the shift pattern. Each gearshift has a simple diagram to show your teen where the gears are. First, third and fifth gears are along the top; neutral is in the middle; and second, fourth and reverse are at the bottom.

Make sure your teen engages the parking brake. Enough said.

New drivers, start your engines. Instruct your teen to press down on the clutch pedal, move the gearshift into neutral and start the car.

Conquer first gear. Tell your new driver to — while still pressing the clutch pedal — move the gearshift into first gear, or the top-left position on most cars. Be sure to point out that this is how to shift into reverse, too.

"Brake" out. Have your teen apply the foot brake and release the parking brake. The new driver can slowly release the foot brake when he is ready to start moving. As a co-pilot in this new venture, you might want to locate the parking brake yourself, just in case.

Everyone, listen to the car. Have your teen driver release the clutch pedal slowly, and when he hears the engine begin to slow down, to slowly press the gas pedal. Have him continue to release the clutch until the car starts moving.

Watch the RPM gauge. When the engine accelerates to about 3,000 RPM, instruct your young driver to take his foot off the gas and pull the gearshift down into second gear, all the way down and to the left. Say these gear-location directions out loud to help your teen remember.

Shift, rinse, repeat. Each time the engine reaches 3,000 RPM, tell the new driver to shift up into the next gear. Since you're practicing in a parking lot, your teen probably won't move out of second gear. Regardless, make sure he knows where all of the gears are.

Discover downshifting. To have your teen master shifting down, teach him to release the gas to slow down. Then have him press down on the clutch and move the gearshift down one gear at a time. Once the car is in the lowest gear, have your teen driver release the clutch and brake simultaneously.

Teach how to stop. Instruct your teen to stop the car by downshifting into second gear and pressing down on the brake. Then have him press the clutch as the car slows down, and make sure he doesn’t downshift into first.

Encourage, and be patient. There will probably be many jerky stops and starts along the way. But don't worry — your teen will eventually get the hang of driving a stick shift.

So take a couple of deep breaths, buckle your seatbelt and maybe recruit a few manual transmission-driving family members to help with the learning process. Practice makes perfect!

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Teach Your Teen to Drive a Stick Shift - Autotrader