Learning how to drive a stick shift is hard. There’s a little shifter knob with a weird pattern, some numbers and an “R,” along with three—yes, three—pedals. That’s a lot to pay attention to. But if you’re sitting on a dealership lot in your brand-new car and no one is there to teach you, check out your owner’s manual.
This story was originally published on March 29, 2018
The other day, my mom and I were in her new Mazda Miata. She bought it after trading in the 2008 Miata that she sold out from under me, but we’re working past that. She asked me to look something up in the owner’s manual, and to my delight, I flipped past a section explaining how to drive a manual transmission.
“Ha, ha, ha,” I thought and also said out loud as I looked at the page. “Look, mom! The owner’s manual has diagrams showing how to drive a manual!”
While it was funny to see it with my own eyes, this isn’t some new thing. The automatic version of the Miata has a section dedicated to graphing out how to shift from park to drive to “manual mode” and back to park, and manuals for cars generally line out how to use any type of shifter because, as silly as it seems to include, it does fall under the “transmission” topic.
Diagrams and step-by-step guides on shifting are in manuals for automatic and stick-shift cars. The Subaru BRZ manual has them, the Honda Civic manual has them, the Hyundai Elantra manual has them—they’re pretty standard. Some owner’s manuals are more detailed and even explain how to get the clutch-acceleration tempo down to shift into first, others just say to “make sure to hold down the clutch when shifting” and to “avoid the red zone on the tachometer.”
But there’s just something so fun and quirky about seeing the various steps to shifting your own gears in the big car book that nobody ever reads. I like to imagine someone buying the car with the funky shifter on the lot without testing it because it’s unique and then realizing, Ah, darn, there’s something up here when they notice that extra pedal. I then imagine them consulting their trusty new owner’s manual to figure out the pressing mystery on their hands.
If they did, the consultation would go a little like this:
“Depress the clutch pedal all the way down while shifting; then release it slowly.” Also please try not to go from fifth to second gear, as that could hurt your new and expensive engine, and please don’t leave the car unattended without the parking brake on, as that could hurt a random passerby.
But the lesson doesn’t stop there. This fancy new Miata of yours has a gear-shift indicator, meaning that if you’re too flustered by the goings on around you to focus on where that unique shifter should go next, the car will let you know.
Thank goodness. This was beginning to look a little complicated.
And if you eventually calm down enough to learn the shifting points yourself, Mazda has handy charts showing about how fast you should be going in each gear. Oddly, those charts say nothing about RPMs.
There’s also a nice video in the online version of the owner’s manual, which unfortunately is one of the ones that never tackles the hardest part of learning how to do all of this—getting the tempo of that clutch release and acceleration down for first gear.
Hilariously enough, the owner’s manual has a full 10 pages on how to use the Miata’s automatic transmission compared to the three dedicated to the manual transmission. Those darn automatics are just too complicated these days.
Even more hilarious is the fact that we’ve been tricking ourselves this whole time. We, as car enthusiasts, felt the need to demonstrate how to drive stick on YouTube. We felt the need to do it to the tune of death metal, and to whittle it down to 10 easy steps. We, as the self-important and self-proclaimed saviors of the universe we are, thought it was our mission to pass this knowledge along.
This whole time, the duty hasn’t been ours. We just wanted it to be. We wanted a purpose. But it’s been right there in the owner’s manual, for all to ignore due to the intimidation that comes with hundreds of mundane informational pages.
Remember that next time you try to get a confidence boost by passing on your exclusive, alluring knowledge of the third pedal and those pesky forward gears.