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Harmful Manual Transmission Driving Habits to Avoid

While the manual (stick-shift, standard, or just stick) transmission is on its way to becoming a piece of automotive history, there are still new vehicles being produced, not to mention countless older cars still on the road, that employ the old-fashioned three-pedal transmission. At one point, manual gearboxes offered superior fuel economy and performance to automatics, but in 2024 that’s no longer the case. Nowadays, new cars with standard transmissions are limited to sports cars and performance vehicles (they offer a more “raw” and engaging driving experience), and a small number of economy cars. 

For some, driving stick makes daily commutes and weekend canyon drives more fun. Whether you are new to driving a manual or learned on one, we are going to go over some bad habits to avoid if you want to preserve your gearbox and lengthen the life of your clutch. 

How Does a Manual Transmission Work?

Standard transmissions rely on driver input to change between different gear ratios. The faster your car is moving, the higher gear you’ll want to be in. Depressing the clutch with your left foot disengages the input shaft in the transmission, allowing you to select a gear with the lever. Releasing the clutch engages the engine with the transmission in the newly selected gear. For more information on how manual transmissions work, check out this article.

Stick Shift Habits to Avoid

Here are some bad habits to avoid when driving manual. Avoiding these can help preserve the life of your clutch and transmission. 

Don’t Rest Your Left Foot On the Clutch

While it might feel natural to leave your left foot resting lightly on the clutch pedal after shifting, doing this can lead to premature clutch wear. Even a small amount of pressure on the pedal can result in the clutch being partially engaged, causing it to slip and potentially become damaged due to excess friction. After shifting, place your foot on the dead pedal to the left of the clutch pedal. This will prevent you from accidentally riding the clutch. This isn’t as severe as riding the clutch (discussed below), but to get the most life out of your clutch, avoid resting your foot on the pedal.

Pedals in footwell

Don’t Shift Without Pressing the Clutch

This one is pretty obvious. To successfully change gears, the clutch must be depressed. Attempting to shift without pressing the clutch pedal will result in a loud grinding noise. Doing this repeatedly can cause significant damage to the transmission. 

Don’t Rest Your Hand on the Gear Stick

Just like resting your foot on the clutch pedal, it can feel natural to drive with your hand on the gear selector. However, since the stick is connected directly to the transmission, putting any pressure on it can lead to wear and tear. After shifting, it’s best to put your hand back on the steering wheel. 

Gear shifter

Don’t Lug the Engine

Lugging the engine refers to trying to accelerate when in too high of a gear. Doing this puts a lot of strain on the engine, as it needs to work extra hard to overcome the high gear ratio. Think of it like this; have you ever tried to ride a bike, but started in gear 10 rather than gear 1? The amount of effort required to get moving in 10th gear from a stop is significantly more than 1st since you are at a mechanical disadvantage. It’s the same with your car. If you need to accelerate, downshift to the appropriate gear. 

Don’t Ride the Clutch

Riding the clutch happens when you only partially depress the pedal. The result of doing this is the same as resting your foot on the pedal, except in this case it’s done due to poor technique. When the car is moving, shifting gears should involve pressing the clutch pedal to the floor, selecting a gear, and releasing the pedal all the way. Keeping the pedal partially engaged will lead to rapid wear and tear, and in some cases emit a burnt odor. 

Don’t Rely on the Clutch to Hold the Car on a Hill

Hill starts are one of the most challenging parts of driving a manual transmission. Not only are you having to get the car moving, but you are also fighting the force of gravity pulling the vehicle backward. Starting on a hill typically requires more gas input than starting on a flat road. Coming to a complete stop on a hill means you will need to hold the car in place until it’s time to move. Some beginner drivers will use the gas and clutch to hold themselves in place, essentially riding the clutch the entire time they are stopped. Instead, use your brakes to hold the car in place until it’s time to move. 

In Conclusion

Driving a manual transmission vehicle can be fun and engaging, but knowing how to do it correctly is essential for the longevity of your car and more importantly, the safety of you and others on the road. You can prevent premature wear and tear on your transmission by following the tips we’ve discussed in this article. 

Need transmission service? Even when you drive properly, clutches wear out and fluid needs changing. If you drive a manual transmission European car, whether it’s a Volkswagen Jetta or a BMW M5, the expert technicians at Alex’s Autohaus will keep your car running and driving like it should. Give us a call or schedule an appointment at our Midvale repair shop today!

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