Originally Posted by 10w40
Getting up to speed
It's time to drive around a bit. You're not going to go out of first gear, so you can stay in the parking lot. First gear is good up to about 15 MPH on most cars - don't exceed this or you will over-rev the engine. Start out in first just start driving slowly around the parking lot. Once the clutch is completely released, wind it up to about 10 miles and hour, then pull your foot off the gas. Whew - it almost throws you through the windshield. This is because engine speed and car speed are directly related, unlike in an automatic transmission where there is more "coast" in the transmission. Once you are down around 5 MPH, give it gas pretty firmly, about 3/4 of the gas pedal. Even on a small car, you'll jerk you head back hard. Again, the wonderful thing about a manual transmission is that it is directly coupled to the engine. Practice smoothly slowing down and speeding up a bit.
Drive around the parking lot in first a bit more, and as you come up to a curve, slowly take your foot off the gas while you push the clutch to the floor and coast around the curve. On the other side of the turn, start pressing the gas pedal to bring the RPM's back up and let out the clutch. The first few times the car will buck, because the engine will be going faster or slower than the transmission. Again, this is where letting the clutch out slowly comes in. As you let out the clutch, keep increasing power to the engine until the two "feel" the same speed. This takes a while to master. Your friend and owner of the car may turn a couple shades of pale here if you over-rev or let the clutch out too slowly so those two disks rub against each other too long. You want to get this down so that the clutch is completely engaged in about 1/2 a second or faster.
Just like the brake pedal, any time you are NOT using the clutch, keep your foot off of it. "Riding the clutch," even if you don't think you are putting any pressure on it, ever so slightly pulls the two plates between the engine and transmission apart. You not only get less power, but you also increase the amount of slipping that wears down the clutch faster. Clutches are very expensive to replace, especially on front wheel drive cars.
If the parking lot is big enough that you can safely drive up to 35 MPH, you can try shifting in the lot, otherwise, let the car's owner take you to that deserted stretch of road you picked out earlier.
The next step is going from first gear to second. This is pretty much like when you practiced pushing in the clutch to coast around a corner except that you are going to move the shift lever from first straight down to second while you have the clutch on the floor. Let out the clutch while increasing pressure on the gas pedal just like you did earlier. Practice this on a straight area of course. Once you get into second gear, you can drive around the lot a bit. Remember, take your foot off the gas when you push in the clutch. If you don't, the engine RPM's will go way up without the load from the transmission.
At what speed should you shift to second? It depends on the car, but in general each gear has a good range:
First from 0 to 15 MPH tops
Second 3 to 25 MPH
Third 15 to 45 MPH
Fourth 30 to 65 MPH
Fifth 45 to ??? MPH
Usually you shift up when you are at the halfway to 3/4 point between the two extremes. First gear is really only to get you going. In fact, it is very easy to start the car in second gear - although don't try this until you get a good handle on the whole process as it is tougher on the disk plates.
When it is time to stop, just do like before, push in the clutch and use the brake pedal to stop. Later on we'll talk about using the engine to slow you down. For now, just keep working on making it second nature to press in the clutch and using the brake pedal when you want to stop. Always go back into first gear to start out again.
Practice 1st to 2nd quite a bit. As you get better at judging the way the engine applies power, you can get to smooth shifts while letting the clutch pedal out quite quickly. This is the goal. If you have trouble getting smooth fast shifts between 1st and 2nd, don't fret - it gets even easier in the higher gears.
While you're waiting for change:
Imagine you are at at traffic light, waiting for the light to change to green. What gear should you be in? Where should your feet be? If you expect it to be a short light, you should have your right foot on the brake, your left foot should be holding the clutch to the floor, and you should be in first gear. When the light changes to green, you can just let your foot off the brake and start like normal.
But, if the light looks like it will be a while, or for any other reason you don't think you will be moving, you should shift into neutral, and while still holding the brake pedal down with your right foot, let the clutch out. As long as the gear shift is in neutral, the car won't move or stall, or otherwise embarrass you. You should do this because having the clutch pushed in really stresses some of the moving parts. In fact, often times you can hear a whining sound when you have the clutch pushed in that goes away when you let it out. Normally a small sound is not a problem, but a very noticeable whine is a sign that the "throwout bearing" may be going bad. Pay a mechanic to fix it, because you don't want it to fail - the clutch can get quite flaky in its operation as the throwout bearing deteriates.
Kick it in high gear:
Now repeat the process from first, to second, to third gear. If you can master this, fourth and fifth are just the same. Drive around in third gear for a bit. Notice that letting off and punching the gas pedal doesn't have the same effect as it did in first gear. But, eventually when you let off the gas, the engine will start going so slowly that it wants to stall - around 15 MPH on a lot of cars. Give it some more gas so it doesn't stall. Notice that it doesn't have the same kind of acceleration from 15 to 25 as 2nd gear did. I won't get into it too much here, but what we're talking about is the power-band for the engine - each engine has a "sweet spot" where it accelerates best. This is why we have multiple gears. We're always trying to run the engine in the sweet spot, and depending on what speed we are going, we have to use different gears to stay within it.
Slow down a bit:
What if you want to go from 35 MPH in 3rd gear down to 20 MPH, and then cruise at 20? Just let your foot off the gas and coast down to 20, or even put your foot on the brake a bit with the clutch still all the way out. OK, I never promised you that the brake / clutch thing was an unbreakable rule, just a good one to start with. So, it is OK to slow down to 20 MPH in 3rd gear and cruise - you don't have to be in second. You won't have as much power to accelerate again while in 3rd, but it will be just fine.
And if you want to go down to 10 MPH? Simple enough, press in the clutch, use the brake pedal to slow to your preferred speed, move the shift lever to second, and let out the clutch as you match the engine speed with the gas pedal. It will be jerky the first few times as the car is often going faster than the engine, so the engine will go up in speed as you let out the clutch, even though you don't give it gas. This is called "engine braking," and is something you will want to use a little later when you have the whole normal stopping thing already mastered.
Have you ever been following a car that suddenly slowed down without its brake lights? Chances are that the driver changed to a lower gear and let the clutch out quickly, which made the engine take some of the extra momentum from the car and slowed down without the brakes. You can't use downshifting / engine braking to bring a car to a stop, but you can use it to slow down. Downshifting as you come to a traffic light is particularly useful: as you use the engine to slow you down, you are automatically in the right gear to take off again when the light changes to green.
A word about first gear. Never downshift from second gear to first while moving. Yes, you can do it and you won't really cause any damage, but it is generally not a good practice because of the potential for over-revving the engine. When you are going that slowly, and of course when you are coming to a full stop, push the clutch in and use the brake pedal. Once you stop, shift to first. And what about the downshifting in preparation for a traffic light - wouldn't it be advantageous to be in first gear when the light switches to green? Not really; first gear is just to get the car moving from a dead stop. If you are moving at all, second gear is where you want to be.
Stop and Go:
Rush hour traffic with a stick shift can be a royal pain. Clutch in, coast, clutch out. Shift up, shift down. You really get to build up those left-leg muscles. If you spend a lot of time in traffic, think seriously about whether a manual transmission car is for you. However, all that being said, always remember second gear. 2nd gear on most cars has an incredibly wide range, from near dead stop to almost 30 or 35 miles an hour. A lot of people just leave the car in 2nd and use the gas pedal to not only speed up, but also to slow down. They only use the clutch and brake pedal when the car in front of them slows down too quickly (you have to leave a little more room between yourself and the car in front of you), or when things come to a complete stop. Give it a try, it's not as hard as it sounds.