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Save The Manuals: Learn To Drive A Stick

Save The Manuals:  Learn To Drive A Stick

For the first time in several years, the number of new vehicles sold with a manual transmission increased.  According to a recent study by JD Power, about 1.7% of 2023 model year cars sold have come equipped with a manual transmission.  That seems like a small number, however, it is up from just 1.2% in 2022 and 0.9% in 2021.

Manual transmissions were standard in most vehicles throughout the 1960s.  In the United States, automatics have sold better than manual transmissions since at least the 1970s, and by 2007 automatics outsold manuals for the first time worldwide.

Related ArticleSave The Manuals!

Automatic vs. Manual Transmissions

Up until the early 1950s, most cars were equipped with manual transmissions.  GM introduced the two-speed Powerglide transmission in 1950, primarily for Chevrolet vehicles.  As interest grew, so did the refinement of the automatic transmission.  

Manual transmissions offered better performance (and cheaper cost) than automatics for years.  It really wasn’t until the late 1990s or early 2000s that automatic transmissions became more efficient and cost comparable to the manuals they were replacing.  A transmission that started as a two-speed Powerglide now has eight or ten speeds.  

With computer controls and six or more gears, it’s pretty hard to ignore the performance capabilities of today’s automatic transmission.  This and the lack of interest in “shifting yourself,” all but killed the manual transmission in U.S. bought vehicles.

Who Is Driving The Renewed Interest?

For the most part, the renewed interest in manual transmissions is coming from younger buyers.  The Wall Street Journal states more than half of the buyers of manual-equipped Acura Integras have been between 18 and 46 years old. 

Mazda says about a quarter of manual MX-5 Miata buyers are 35 or under. The cars, the Journal says, “entice younger consumers in the same way that vinyl records and point-and-shoot cameras do.”

Other brands like Honda (Civic Si, Civic Type R), Toyota (GR86, GR Corolla, Supra) and Subaru (WRX, BRZ) still offer fun cars with sticks, and even the new Ford Bronco offers a manual transmission with their 2.3L models.  If you want one of those fun models, be prepared to shift them yourself.

Is the pending move to electric vehicles also motivating older drivers to seek out manual transmission vehicles?  It’s possible, and makes me regret that I sold my MINI two years ago.  Regardless, I love to see this renewed interest as it proves that people still want to be engaged in the driving experience.

Can You Drive A Stick?

Even though interest in manual transmissions increased to 1.7% of vehicles sold, that’s still a small number. Is there enough interest to justify car makers to increase the mix of stick shifts?

A BMW survey of shoppers “found that two-thirds of 18-to-34-year-olds are eager to learn how to drive a manual, versus 40% of older respondents who don’t already drive a stick.”  For both young and old shoppers, that’s an impressive show of interest.  Driving a stick shift equipped car can be very fun and engaging, but what if you don’t know how?  The answer is simple: LEARN!

How To Learn?

When I was just learning to drive a car at age 15, my dad took me to my high school parking lot to teach me how to drive a stick.  He was a great teacher, and I learned enough in that parking lot to try it on the road.  I was lucky that dad had access to vehicles with a manual transmission, but not everyone is as lucky. 

Not every dad is a good teacher either, so young learners can easily become discouraged.  In that case, an impartial third party is highly recommended!  As a result of the JD Power study, I explored schools that offered manual transmission classes.  Two key sources surfaced, as detailed below:

Stick Shift Driving Academy

As the name suggests, this business specializes in teaching how to drive a stick shift car.  In fact, it is the only thing they teach.

This is a nationwide network of stick shift driving instructors. They match you up with an independent instructor, who will provide you with the use of a stick shift car and will teach you how to drive stick. 

The Stick Shift Driving Academy offers the three levels of instruction below:

Level 1 ($200):

  • Perfect for: UPS, Valet parking, mechanics moving cars on the lot, automobile detailers.
  • The basic package is ideal for anyone who needs to drive a stick shift at low speeds. You’ll learn how to engage first and second gear, engage the reverse, and feather the clutch to move the car into and out of parking spots, engine bays, and showrooms. 
  • This lesson plan typically takes about one to two hours to complete, though some students finish sooner.

Level 2 ($225–their most popular package)

  • Perfect for: Vehicles under 300 Horsepower, renting cars while traveling
  • Most popular training package.
  • Level 2 gives you a blend of value and experience, with a focus on learning how to go up through the gears, downshift, parallel parking, and parking in parking lots. This is what we’d recommend if you’re going to drive on the open road.
  • This lesson plan typically takes about one and a half to three hours to complete, though some students finish sooner.

Level 3 ($250):

  • Perfect for new Stick Shift Drivers who will drive vehicles over 300 Horsepower
  • Level 3 is where you get prepared for the power and sensitivity of sports cars and heavy duty trucks. The basic mechanics of a 250+ vehicle are the same, but the big difference is in pedal control. You’re going to need precise shifting, RPM management, and power management so that you protect your clutch when getting the lead out. But even more important is managing all of that power at low speeds. Feathering into a parking spot can be tricky when you have a massively powerful engine under the hood. Your instructor will pay extra attention to pedal control, focusing fine foot control and feathering the clutch so that you maintain smooth and steady control at low speeds. The last thing you want to do is accidentally lurch forward and scratch your bumper. 
  • NOTE: This lesson is usually taught with a vehicle that has LESS than 250 horsepower. The core focus of this course is repetition and practice of the maneuvers that are difficult for new stick shift drivers if they drive a powerful sports car AFTER the lesson. Learning these skills does NOT require use of a powerful car. 

To learn more about this company and to find a location close to you, please visit their website HERE.

MINI Driving Experience ($499)

MINI is one of the few car makers who is introducing more models with manual transmissions.  This is not surprising as their cars are designed for spirited driving.  I owned two different MINIs (the last one a stick), and can attest to the fun nature of those cars.

Their MINI MANUAL CLASS is only taught at their Thermal, CA track.  After a brief safety intro, you’ll hop in a MINI to learn how to smoothly work the clutch pedal, when to shift gears while accelerating and what to do in emergency braking situations. Put it all together on their autocross track and become a manual master.

The course runs 3.5 hours on select dates each month.  For more information about this course and the other driving classes they offer, please go HERE.  

MINI takes driving excitement seriously, as shown in this short clip of driving class participants:

https://youtu.be/h0wju9Las5Y

Final Thoughts & Questions

I have owned a number of manual transmission equipped vehicles over the years, and really enjoy the driving experience.  I just started my search for a fun car, and the key requirement is a manual transmission.  Driving a stick is just plain fun, and I highly recommend you give it a try.  Don’t let the lack of skill stop you…there are ways to learn.

Let me know your thoughts or if you have any questions. Please email me at wct.billtaylor@gmail.com, or message me through the Vehicle Nanny Instagram or Facebook pages.

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